10 Tips for Buying & Selling Photo Gear on eBay!

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Photo by Joey Spadoni

The title of this post could have easily substituted the word “anything” for “photo gear” but photo gear is what I know and so that’s the focus here.  I’m now at 1,000+ auctions strong on eBay and have the bruises to prove it.  Along the way, I’ve learned a few things…

First, however, it’s worth noting that eBay is an on-line community.  As is the case in any community, the fundamental common sense rules of decency apply.  If you are good to others, you’ll reap the benefits of that kind of behavior.  If you are a $#%^, then you’ll pay the price.  And as in many neighborhoods, there are the scoundrels… those who prey upon the uninformed, the inexperienced, the overly trusting.  Read on to learn about some ways to avoid the perils and to be successful on eBay — whether as a buyer or seller.

  1. Actually read the feedback.  Oftentimes, you may be looking to purchase something from an eBayer with a lot of positive feedback.  Indicated next to each seller’s (and buyer’s) name will be a number showing how many instances of feedback they have received.  In a number of spots on the site, the percentage of positive feedback of that tally will be noted.  The higher the percentage the better, right?  Right… but beware: some eBayers have achieved very high feedback scores because they purchase, not sell, a lot.  If you go through and review the feedback, note if a disproportionate share is due to their purchasing behavior.  If so, that does not indicate that they will also be a good seller.
  2. Check the return policy.  Many sellers indicate that they will not take a return no matter what.  Oftentimes, that’s self-protective behavior as some buyers will experience remorse and then return an item not in the same condition as received.  Still though, I stay clear of sellers who expressly state they will not entertain a return request.
  3. Beware shoddy and incomplete descriptions.  I’m amazed by how many listings contain bad typos, poorly taken photos and  egregiously missing information (e.g., regarding the condition of the item they are selling).  Stay clear.
  4. Look for sellers who know something about what they are selling.  You may be interested in an expensive 70-200 f2.8 lens from a seller with thousands of successful auctions under their belt.  But take a look at what they typically sell.  If it’s custom made dresses for dolls, be wary in trusting they they understand how to properly evaluate the condition of the item you want to buy.
  5. Watch out for sellers who infer that their item has a proper US warranty when in fact it’s grey market (i.e., an import).  It’s not that buying an import is necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that any seller who tries to deceive by suggesting that an item has a US manufacturer’s warranty when in fact it’s their own warranty or a third party warranty doesn’t deserve my hard earned.
  6. Consider asking the seller a question or two… just because.  Simply because a seller doesn’t have a lot of feedback doesn’t mean they aren’t honorable or that the item isn’t worth buying.  If in doubt, I have found it helpful to ask a few questions about the auction and the seller’s responsiveness and the degree to which they will provide useful information can be a good way to gain confidence.
  7. If you’re selling, sell on Sunday nights.  My best auctions start and end on a Sunday night.  I can’t say I know the specific reason for that, but it almost always holds up.  Also, end auctions at approximately 10:30pm Pacific Time (i.e., 7:30pm Eastern Time).  You’ll maximize the number of people who will be available to bid.
  8. Always (and I mean always) start auctions at $.99 and without a reserve price.  I have found that I draw more interest early on and the bidding tends to get more intense (a good thing when you’re selling) as the auction closes.
  9. Always, always, always be honest.  Always describe your items completely accurately.  Avoiding surprises builds trust and enhances reputation in the community.
  10. Ship fast.  I always ship within 24 hours… and more typically within 12.  That is a guaranteed way to generate positive feedback and to delight your customers.

I’ve had a few nightmares on eBay and there is a growing trend whereby a bidder will come in right at the end of an auction and overbid on your item, thus effectively shutting down all other bidding.  That buyer, often someone with zero feedback and who became a member within a few days of your auction ending, will never pay.  This is a growing problem on eBay and one I hope the company can fix.  Nevertheless, I’ve purchased and sold many items over the past twelve years or so with much success.  Following the above steps will improve your chances.

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