Yes, You Can

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the Book Fair’s eBay account. Yes, I know it pains you to realize that all this time you thought you could read Uncle Blogsy’s deathless prose only three times a week, you could have peeked at our eBay listings and experienced the same literary style. (And only one paragraph at a time besides.)

A lot of my acquaintances are frightened of eBay, for which all these news items on HOW NOT TO BE CHEATED are largely to blame. They give the impression that eBay is full of scoundrels out to cheat you personally. There are no more scoundrels on eBay than there are in the offline population, and even THEY generally cheat you impersonally.

When buying on eBay, your real danger is not so much dishonest sellers as dumb ones: the ones who sell you a rare first edition not knowing why the words “BOOK CLUB EDITION” are printed on the endflap. Asking questions will help you avoid the clueless. And that is all the advice I intend to give you about buying except, of course, for “Buy from me.”

But with ten years’ experience in selling, I can pass along a brief and not exhaustive list of tips I have picked up the hard way.

Picture: There are still people who hate online shopping because they can’t pick up the object and look it over. A photograph gives them a little idea, at least, and you can post one photograph for free with every listing.

Warts and All: If that porcelain miniature banana box you’re selling has a crack in one corner, show that in the picture. In fact, do a second picture with a close-up of the crack. Put it right up front. It’s nice to get that feedback that says “Even better than it looked in picture” and at least they can’t accuse you of hiding it from them.

Detail: “Model Car” will not make your listing stand out among the 23,000 other models for sale today. “Model 1948 Hupmobile Imp” is a big improvement. “Model of the car in which the hero and heroine climb into the back seat in the movie Gidget Meets Harry Potter” is even better. But know when to stop. I know that you want to add six paragraphs about how the 1948 Hupmobiles used the Sachs-Viertel KA-68 axle, which was a marked improvement over the pre-war Cullen Combo L-789, but you’re going to lose me after the first sentence.

The Rules Are Silly But Obey Them: I had a listing deleted by eBay because a customer complained that I had not specifically stated that the basketball card I was offering for fifteen cents had been thoroughly researched to make sure it wasn’t a forgery. Do you know how frustrating it is to have a listing deleted? It ceases to exist. The money you paid to list it reappears in your account, the bidders are told it’s a no-go, and every word you typed in and picture you posted disappears. The listing never happened. Nowadays, there are some rules that will keep you from posting an item in the first place. Did you know it is illegal to sell paper money with Saddam Hussein’s picture on it in Germany? I could not evenm finish my listing until I clicked on the box to say I would not be shipping this anywhere in Europe.

Ship Quickly: My problem, antelope dumpling, is that I come from an era when everything said “Allow six to eight weeks for delivery”. Nowadays, things are paid for electronically, and many a customer, if you have not shipped within 48 hours, thinks you’re out to cheat them. Trying to explain that you never thought that piece of junk would sell and therefore you have to go out and find a box big enough for that vintage cardboard wishing well with plastic bluebirds will avail you naught.

One way of dealing with this is selling some type of item which is of a standard size. Fountain pens, for example, will generally take the same size box every time. So you list ‘em, put ‘em in the box, and all you need to do is slap on a label and ship. This will a) provide a quick, efficient shipping method which ensures your customer will get the goods on time and b) keep you from competing with me, since I usually don’t have fountain pens to sell.

Happy listing. When you’re celebrating your tenth anniversary on eBay, be sure to tell everyone Uncle Blogsy was your role model. They won’t care, but I can use all the publicity I can get. 

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