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5 Key Steps To Take Before You Sell Anything On eBay – A Guest Post From Alicia Kan


As I have said, my 2014 resolutions require some advance clearing. First up, space, both physical and mental. I have a few pieces of very nice clothing (not to mention 10 pairs of new-in-bag Freed pointe shoes from my daughters days as a dancer) that felt too nice for Goodwill, and too old to give away here. Our local consignment shop was still full from the crash of 2008. I considered eBay, but had absolutely no idea how to begin.

Enter Alicia Kan, an Internet buddy and excellent communicator, to explain the practicalities and unforeseen pleasures of selling on eBay. If you always thought you might give it a shot, but were to shy to start, this is for you. Alicia, take it away.

In 2009 I put up most of my wardrobe for sale on eBay.

I had left my corporate job and eBay was a fantastic place to make some modest return on investment while building a new wardrobe. More importantly I met women who shared my style sensibility and would continue to love my clothes.

That said, selling on eBay can be complex. Misunderstandings with buyers are common, and the site is not the easiest to navigate for help. There is no incidence-free formula but I found that for the occasional seller such as myself, doing the below before clicking the Sell button will make the process quicker and easier.

Research the competition and play with pricing

Your Goyard bag is undeniably special; not so on eBay if there are 300 other sellers offering the same model. An initial reconnaissance is necessary homework for strategic pricing. Before listing, find the answers to these questions:

  • How common or unique is your item relative to what’s on eBay?

  • Has anyone ever sold a similar item and at what price? eBay has a feature that allows you to search for past auctions or sales based on keyword.

  • What is the demand? You can gauge this roughly by bidding activity and number of watchers.

 eBay charges listing fees and a final value fee (FVF). PayPal, eBay’s preferred payment method, will also take a commission on any payment processed through their platform. You can create a spreadsheet to play around with pricing, building in costs such as mailing supplies, or you can use my calculator as a guide. (ed. note: this is a Google doc, which you should be able to access if you have a Google account.)

Take lots of photographs

After the headline, the photo is the most critical sales tool. Bad pictures can’t sell even the most awesome item; conversely I’ve seen the most ordinary object get into a bidding war because it was photographed beautifully. Some recommendations:

  • Use natural light as much as possible; flash photos are seldom flattering.

  • Photograph your item against a severely plain background, devoid of distractions. You want all attention on your item and nothing else. Butcher’s paper works a treat.

  • Take as many pictures as you can from every angle you can think of. Have a mixture of full shots and close-ups, including labels. Buyers feast on pictures, and eBay gives you 12.

  • Crop, sharpen or adjust the contrast on your photos as necessary. You don’t have to have Photoshop; your computer’s image editing program is good enough.

 Should clothes be photographed on a mannequin? Undoubtedly a wrap dress looks better on a dress form than on the carpet, but it’s not necessary. Just make sure garments are free of wrinkles, look good on a hanger and don’t compete with the background.

Currently, the trend on eBay is to be short on descriptions and have the pictures do all the talking – a smart way to head off the occasional abusive buyer who complains about misleading copy. Make sure yours are eloquent.

Measure and weigh

There is no hard standard on measurements but one thing is certain: Measurements are better indicators of fit rather than the confusing array of sizes we have today.

I normally measure garments flat, indicating in my listing that measurements are to be doubled. For shoes the insole, heel height and width are the bare minimum – you will always get questions whether they’re true to size, in which case refer buyers to the measurements rather than what’s on the box or sole. For boots where it’s hard to get to the insole, measure the length of the outer sole with the heel flush to a wall.

Why weigh? Because eBay’s postal options require mailing weights. Having this information on hand will speed up your listing. Invest in a simple scale that you can buy from Office Depot.

If you need a listing form for measurements and weights, here’s mine that you can adapt for your own purposes.

Create a template with your terms and conditions (T & C)

We’ve all seen eBay listings where T & Cs rival Apple’s 50-page user agreements. This is a reflection of the occasional abusive buyer I mentioned earlier.  Having said that, it’s always good practice to spell out whether you’ll take returns, your shipping practices – overnight or only on weekends? – and whether you sell to overseas buyers.

Keep your T & Cs as factual as possible; resist the 18 point all-caps, vivid fonts and exclamation points. If you need a bare-bones list, here are some that you can borrow. You want a document that you can easily cut and paste.

Stock up on packing material and open an account with the US Postal Service (USPS)

You’ll need boxes, envelopes, packing tape, bubble wrap and/or tissue. USPS Priority Mail boxes are free if you sign up online. As an eBay seller you will be eligible for mailing discounts from the post office, and shipping Priority means you can print mailing labels at home and schedule pickups without leaving the house.

Should you offer free mailing? eBay’s research shows that likelihood to buy goes up when postage is free. You can build the cost of postage and mailing supplies into your prices.

Surprise, there’s a sixth step: Prepare for joy.

Last year the mother of a good friend passed away. Jan was a Texan housewife who had kept everything, often in their original boxes and packaging.

Through her clothes we were able to retrace the arc of Jan’s sartorial life.  From a 1951 navy Balmain dress to the Taxco silver jewelry she collected in later years, Jan was drawn to intricacy and detail.

She wasn’t alone. When we put up her wardrobe on eBay, there were delighted notes from bidders who had all but given up in finding a particular Enid Collins bag or Ceil Chapman dress.

One woman was overwhelmed to find a fortune cookie necklace by Miriam Haskell. ‘My daughter had given the exact same one to me years ago,’ she wrote, ‘but my house was broken into and the necklace was lost. I can’t believe I have it again.’

And that I think is the ultimate reward of selling on eBay. More than the money you’ll make, it’s the gaps you will fill, the reunions you’ll unwittingly orchestrate. Perhaps our possessions have a divine destiny of journeying around. There is no better airport to see them off than eBay.

Alicia Kan is a marketer obsessed with vintage. Her startup Chiffon & Champagne, an online marketplace for gently used bridal wear, launches in 2014. Alicia, thank you very much. With any luck, my white cashmere Kiton suit will find a wearer at last.

53 Responses

  1. I read through out of curiosity about the process and appreciate the careful, well-written details, but oh my! I can’t imagine doing this myself. It will be interesting, though, to track your progress on eBay, Lisa and I’m sure there will be purchasers happy with your offerings. Good luck!

  2. I’ve been selling on Ebay for years, I’ve really only had one bad experience but be prepared for the most banal questions from people – will that Hermes belt fit round my waist?
    Had to tie my tongue.

  3. Too nice for Goodwill? Many Goodwill locations now sell their best things on If you’re really not in it for the money, you might consider this option. Otherwise, why not just admit that you want to make some money?

    I personally donate everything to our local Assistance League thrift store. It’s a great organization, and they do research to price things appropriately, and put some items up on ebay themselves. The money they makes goes toward many good projects including a food pantry for low income seniors.

    1. I do like the idea of making some money, but that wasn’t the primary motivator. I suspect that in fact the return on the time I will need to invest will be very small, except on my daughter’s ballet shoes – an easily evaluated commodity that’s also easy to photograph. Our local Goodwill is very much a warehouse, and I just couldn’t imagine plopping these clothes on the racks there. My imagination did not extend beyond what I’ve actually seen.

    2. I think eBay might perhaps do a better job at uniting specialty buyers and specialty items. Pointe shoes are very, very specialized items and a buyer at that level of ballet would have been previously fitted for them and would want clear pictures, sizing, maker, and the ability to ask questions. You will make some young dancer happy to have found them. Thank you (and your guest) for demystifying the eBay process.

  4. Excellent tips. I would add that when adjusting photos more than a tiny amount, say so, e.g., “contrast enhanced to show detail,” otherwise buyers will be disappointed.

    I like your final step, and it reminds us that when especially pleased with a purchase, a special message is in order–a reward for the seller similar to commenting on a blog.

  5. I don’t think I have the patience to sell on ebay but my daughter successfully sold a Stickley piece to a woman in Manhatten and a Zuni bracelet to a collector in Arizona. Both buyers paid top dollar and were delighted with their purchases.
    Good luck with your transactions…perhaps you’ll share with us what you decide to do with your profits!

  6. I have listed on both eBay and and find the latter far easier–just open a shop with as little as one listing. Terrific photographs are necessary. There, Alicia Kan is spot-on.

    1. @Margaret, Thank you! Obviously I had too many flash photos at the beginning. I ended up investing in a very simple lighting kit that helped me take more photographs over Chicago’s drearier months.

  7. Wow, how generous of Alicia to give us this marvelous, detailed tutorial. LPC is right, you ARE an excellent communicator, Alicia. Who would ever have guessed that Step Six would be part of the seller’s experience? I know that as a buyer, I’ve often been overjoyed at this or that find, but I hadn’t considered that my joy would be the seller’s joy as well. I’m so glad to know this. Many thanks to you both!

  8. I have several things for sale now on Ebay, including two Chanel jackets. I gave them to a woman who specializes in selling on Ebay and then takes a percentage. I don’t have the patience to do it myself, measuring etc.

    Good luck on yours!

    1. Kathy,how did you find the person to sell your items,or is she a friend?Think this is the way to go,would not have the patience to do it myself.

  9. Have you given any thought to consignment shops? Care is always taken and
    there is that little return on what you’re selling.

    Many consignment shops are part of charitable organizations.

  10. I have been selling things on ebay for years now and these are all excellent tips! Out of hundreds of sales, I’ve only had one bad experience with a buyer who was unhappy with her purchase, and one person who failed to pay. I usually go overboard on my descriptions to make sure there is no misunderstanding.

    1. @MarlaD, Good move. I started with too much detail, most of which was subjective. Had one overseas buyer who won a debate on sizing minutiae, so I always refer buyers now to measurements.

  11. Interesting article! I’ve purchased things on ebay before and have wondered about selling as well.

    I am not a buyer of premium-brand clothing and usually donate things I’m done with to Goodwill with no regret. I’ve taken to valuing my give-aways with prices from Goodwill for tax purposes. When I compare those with bid prices on ebay for brand-name items, say Eileen Fisher sweaters, the difference can be major!

    I know of at least one blogger who had an ebay store and was stocked it from thrift/Goodwill excursions. For premium items I don’t see a reason to let someone else pocket the profit when you can do it yourself; Goodwill has plenty of donations without the occasional lot of ballet shoes.

  12. Great post! I needed some motivation to help me clear out that second closet…and such a good point about debatable description–I will concentrate on taking more photos!

  13. Helpful instructions but would never have the patience.Kathy’s way sounds interesting.

  14. Great post; thanks for writing this!

    I’ve known a couple of people who had side businesses on ebay. One would troll our local Goodwills, consignment shops, etc. for clothes and then resell on ebay. She was meticulous about photographing & measuring and did very well.

  15. I. too, questioned “too nice for Goodwill”. In this day and age, with “thrifting” so in vogue, you can be sure that high-end shoppers will cull out your treasures, and I believe that the staff at Goodwill have become very savvy as to brands, etc., so that your donations would net them a premium. You will get a receipt and be able to claim that on your taxes. Seems like a win-win to me.

    1. @Kathy, I can see you might think that, but in my neck of the woods, Goodwill is very downscale. I’ve shopped there with/for my son, who likes to thrift. Then our consignment/named charity shops are extremely upscale, and, overstocked, and the one I contacted essentially told me to go away. In terms of charity/volunteering, my resolution this year is to focus on mothers and children. Besides, this way I get to figure eBay out, something I’ve always been curious about. And inform readers who are interested too, win-win;).

    2. @Kathy, Point taken :) And there may just be a little laziness in my approach. Keep us posted on the excitement of watching bids and whether or not the return is commensurate with the effort,

  16. Great tips and thank you so much. My husband sold his little vintage English sports car this fall on ebay and it was our first experience with selling. I thought at the time it would have be nice to know more about the whole process before we plunged in.

  17. Funny timing bc I was finally start selling on eBay! I would give away to charity shops but what I have noticed locally is that the volunteers volunteer purely to get first dibs on good items and keep it form themselves. It is a trend that is starting to really take hold and funny I think they eBay it! So what I was thinking of doing is eBay but then donate the money which would probably get more from eBay than donations. So thanks for the tips!

    1. @Coulda shoulda woulda,

      At the Assistance League this is strictly prohibited, to not jeopardize the organization’s non profit status. In fact, a good portion of the donations come from members/volunteers themselves.

    2. volunteers volunteer purely to get first dibs on good items and keep it form themselves.

      Which was why I never minded my mandatory shifts at the Junior League Thrift shop in Memphis – $12 for a silk Michael Kors suit that I wore to work for years.

  18. I’m doing a big clear-out right now too — just got done boxing up all my elderly electronics to send to a service that wipes them clean of data and then either resells or recycles them properly. That’s a bunch of stuff I’ll never see again. And I’ve been putting things on the curb for the metal scavengers. But I do have some clothes that I’d like to sell on EBay. The tip about not saying too much in words is something I’d not heard before — I usually write a funny little narrative about my item. I’ve had good luck selling out there in the past. Anything that doesn’t sell after 2 rounds goes to our local quarterly consignment sale.

  19. Thanks, Alicia, for your generosity in providing all the helpful documents. You offer superb advice. I sold on EBay a number of years ago, starting with my own garments and then adding some great items I found thrifting. I gave up on this when Canada Post’s prices skyrocketed, and American buyers were not willing to pay enough for me to even cover costs. I did “meet” some lovely people, and continue to do so as I shop on EBay. Sounds like you are a 5-star seller :)

    1. @Cynthia Peterson, Thank you! I wish I had constant 5-star ratings but unfortunately it was dinged by a buyer who had a very firm idea of what XS was. I’m sure you’ve encountered your share. Can relate completely on the postal challenges. eBay does offer now a global shipping service. Have you tried it? It eliminates all the paperwork and fuss on your end.

  20. @AggieK I live in London and haven’t heard of them but think something should follow suit here. There are a lot of instances where things haven’t been too kosher. In fact one store got so many complaints that it got closed down! But obviously I know not all of them are like this but for some reason just around where I live.

  21. THANK YOU! I want to send you a dozen roses for these great tips! Thank you to out guest columnist. I was asked by a dear friend to write descriptions for her new online resale shop, Boho Bella. We’re not live yet but hope to be up by mid-March. Sheila Burnham, the brain behind BB, also graciously asked me if I could write a blog/newsletter for her site. It’s the 1st chance I’ve been given to write fresh copy, other than posting to blogs. It’s exciting, scary, and fantastic–at once. She sells lots of stuff through ebay. I know many who buy & sell there. Sheila’s experience has been competition can be intense; one must mark items lower there to be competitive; she uses the tools our gracious guest provides. She does well but got tired of not getting enough ROI (Return On Investment). One must respond quickly to stay on top of bidding, questions, etc. For her, ebay eats up too much time. She runs her own graphic design firm. To her, it works best for lower priced items but not as well for high end. Sheila found opening an Etsy shop a better fit: > ROI. I’ve bought from both. I prefer the Etsy experience: I find vendors easier to work with & they’re more willing to cut shipping costs if one buys more than 1 item. In fact, I’ve made some new friends out of some vendors.
    The Palm Beaches are full of consignment shops. Many socialites automatically consign their clothes & accessories. Some shops which handle couture and high-end OTR (Off The Rack) actually have stopped accepting clients bc their “regulars” keep them well-stocked Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, St. John, & Manolo Blahnik. You wouldn’t believe what was offered around here when the Bernie Madoff scandal hit & many women found themselves desperate for funds. The older PB Jewish population of PB shrunk by 100s, if not 1000s, as Madoff’s son-in-law often used the Palm Beach Country Club members as a source for connections. There was even a fist fight at Maf-a-Lago one night when he dared show his face at a Gala; the uproar was so great.
    So there are quite a few different options for selling your gently-used cast-offs; each one has it’s +s and minuses. To successfly resell, one should consider alternatives and choose the best fit for oneself.

    1. The older PB Jewish population of PB

      Which was why when I lived in Miami and shopped consignment, I looked like a little old Jewish lady. Most 30something professional women have the sense not to wear a green silk pantsuit to work, but I thought I rocked. And had I been going to a mah-jong game, I would have!

      (PS I love the women who consign their nice clothes! Keeps me dressed the way I want and I have money left over for other things.)

  22. I have a collection of “Seventeen” magazines from the mid and late 50’s.
    I loved the magazine as a young teen and devoured them. I acquired quite a collection through eBay, and in some cases I had two or even three of the same one. When I put them up for sale I was contacted by a special person.

    Her mother had been cover model, Dolores Hawkins, a top model during the
    50’s and 60’s, she graced many “Seventeen” covers. I was able to comb through and find for her the issues with lots of pictures of her mother as a young model. She also lives in Santa Barbara, my home for 30 years. It was just thrilling for us both – and so unexpected.

  23. I’ve done some closet-clearing on eBay, a lot of “changing sizes” in jeans. It really is work, but you’ll get your system going after you do it for a bit.
    I think watchers do not show demand as often they are just sellers of similar items. I look at completed sales in the ‘advanced’ section

    1. @Gayle, Thanks for explaining the “Advanced” section on ebay. What a gr8 tip! I have been toying w/ the idea of buying “new to me,” good to know ebay is a very good source.
      To “gold digger,” honey, if you think you rocked: in Miami where bright colors are de rigeur, you probably did! Good for you!

  24. Shipping supplies like boxes and tyvek envelopes are always free from the usps. If you accept payments through PayPal you can also print 1st class labels (usps only does priority and above) with insurance and delivery confirmation – which is free (not the insurance). Somebody from Etsy even posted a ‘secret’ url to enter and print labels through paypal even if the person had not paid that way ( – yikes! I hope that works! If your credit/debit card gives you a percentage back, use that to buy shipping from usps because buying from paypal uses your paypal balance so no pay back. (I ship a lot being an on-line custom jeweler so I get up to $50 back per month!

  25. To anyone in the UK – I donate my good ‘stuff’ to oxfam as they seem to price it properly . My niece was a volunteer with them & her job was to trawl eBay for sale prices of similar items . Any designer items were treated properly & passed to a specific sales area . In this way the maximum is raised . Yes, we all like to find a bargain but shouldn’t people benefit the charity by paying a fair price for an item?

    1. Hi guys. Apparently a lot of people are unable to comment. SO sorry. If you have a great suggestion, I’d love it if you emailed it to me at and I will put it up here so everyone can see. I don’t know what’s up, technically, I am trying to sort it out.

  26. Thanks, helpful article make me happy to read this. I am photographer and well selling royalty stock to get extra coin. I love my work and happy with that.

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