Thursday, April 26, 2012

Selling your Unwanted Items Online

With spring in full swing, thoughts turn to cleaning out and getting rid of the clutter. Online clearing houses provide an easy way to lose the junk and make a quick buck at the same time - it’s really a no-brainer. That being said, many are intimidated by sites like eBay, Kijiji and Craigslist, because they’re not familiar with how they work. Give it a try. Do it right and you’ll be hooked in no time!

Although eBay was the forerunner, I tend to favour Kijiji and Craigslist. eBay charges a nominal fee for postings, yet it’s free to list on Kijiji and Craigslist. The latter sites also work on a local platform, and that’s critically important when you’re selling a couch, for instance. eBay provides a single international forum and although the audience is wider, there’s a level of hassle involved in figuring out shipping costs, wiring money back and forth, packaging awkward items and sending them around the globe.

Thus, if you’re just unloading a few bits on the side, I’d recommend going for the local boards like Kijiji or Craigslist. Selling something covetable or valuable? eBay may be the better way to go.

Step 1: Figure out what you want to sell.
Where do you begin? The first thing you need to do is identify what you want to sell. If you’re paying for storage fees, that’s a good place to start - you could also begin with your attic, basement, garage or spare room.

We wanted to reclaim our basement. We were tired of tripping over all of the crap we’d accumulated over the years, every time we went to do laundry or get the hose. Those prints we received as a gift were valuable, but we never cared for them. That leather couch looked great in my old apartment, but it no longer suited our current home. Everything was simply rotting away down there in our dank, dark cellar - so we decided to use it, or lose it!

So what can you flog on these sites? You may be surprised. We’ve sold everything from cars to piggy banks, ceramics to tools, records to filing cabinets - you name it. If it’s of value and in decent shape, pretty much anything goes.

Step 2: Take a photograph of the item.
There’s an art to selling well. It may seem obvious, but you need to clean it up, wipe it down and make it sparkle. As long as repairs bring a financial return - glue it, sew it, steam it, fix it. The value will drop significantly, if it’s flawed. Call it fluffing, putting lipstick on a pig, or rouge on a corpse - there’s no denying that everything looks more appealing when it’s clean and cared for.

Sales drop by 50% if there’s no picture, so take crisp, clear photo/s. Show the entire item in a complimentary light. Ensure it’s captured in a fitting environment, taking the item’s purpose, colour and style into account. That might mean moving that old chair from a skanky corner of the basement to a pretty room upstairs - and be sure to keep it there, until it’s picked up. You may need to provide multiple views. For instance, if you’re selling a trunk, you should photograph the item both open, and closed. Also, crop your pictures to create focus.

Just be sure that the picture you attach is accurate. Don’t attempt to deceive. If the chair has a big rip in the side, don’t try to hide it. There’s no point in luring buyers in on false premises, since it’ll just end in frustration on everyone’s part. Be positive, but be honest.

Step 3: Write a concise and compelling description about the product.
Start out with a clear and factual header. For the body of description, address the item’s main features and translate those to benefits. It’s important to include as much critical information as possible, without being too wordy. Highlight the item’s salient qualities. What is it? What are the composite materials? How many are there in the set? Are there any notable flaws? What’s different about it (vintage, limited edition, comes with accessories, etc.)?

Only include brands if that will increase the perceived value. In other words, if you bought that couch at a certain Swedish flat pack store that we all know and love - leave it out. You may as well put ‘cheap junk’ in the header. However, if you picked it up at a designer furniture store, say so.

To close, sum up why the customer should buy it and explain what next steps need to be taken. Keep it professional by using complete sentences, as well proper spelling and grammar (this includes ensuing emails). No one wants to spend time deciphering the difference between what you say, with what you actually mean.

Step 4: Set an appropriate price.
Many of us have the tendency to overvalue our stuff, and undervalue everybody else’s. You need to be realistic when setting the price. Research identical or like items already posted, or search competitive sites - it’s virtually impossible not to find something similar, somewhere.

My modus operandi is to undercut the lowest advertised price slightly. Keep in mind, the point is to get rid of your junk. That being said, sometimes rogue dealers post silly prices for reasons unknown. Stay within the realms of normalcy and aim for a competitive price. If everyone else is selling similar patio umbrellas for $50-$75, post yours at $49. All things being equal, people tend to go for the lowest price.

Avoid trickery, such as bait and switch. For example, it’s deceptive to advertise DVDs for a $1 in the header - when they’re actually selling for $10, once you click through to the description. It’s not clever, it’s unethical. In the end, your items will sell for whatever they’re really worth.

Step 5: Communicate well with potential customers.
You’re dealing with the general public, so you’ll get all kinds. You are in charge of how you want to conduct business. Be polite, professional and always take the high road. Most buyers are a pleasure to work with, but there can be exceptions.
Expect tire-kickers. It’s important to answer all queries thoroughly and promptly. Perhaps this nibble may not turn into a sale, but then again, it might. Shake off low-ball offers. It’s up to you if you want to negotiate, but if you’ve priced your item correctly, you shouldn’t have to. If you’re courteous in your response, you allow the buyer to save face. They might be interested in purchasing your item, regardless.

Set up specific times for viewing and pick up. If you can, exchange cell numbers. Regardless of how you orchestrate it, you will get ‘no shows’. When that happens, try contacting the purchaser once to see if there’s a legitimate problem - and let it go if they don’t respond.

Avoid meeting buyers elsewhere - it comes back to the ‘no shows’. It’s about as much fun as being stood up on a date. Additionally, cheeky buyers might ask you to deliver the item, which I would also discourage. Is it worth your time and expense? What if the item gets damaged enroute? Don’t be a chump. If the person’s truly interested in purchasing your item, they’ll come to you.

If someone asks you to ‘hold’ an item on their behalf, politely inform them that for practical purposes you have to work on a ‘first come, first serve basis’. Don’t turn away potential buyers in favour of these charlatans. If they’re desperate for it, encourage them to move quickly. You may also be contacted by out-of-town buyers. Personally, I don’t need the hassle of packaging and shipping, even if the customer is willing to pay for it. As such, I simply suggest they send someone local pick it up on their behalf, or graciously decline the offer. Be as cordial as you possibly can, throughout the exchange. Keep in mind that these are your customers and being courteous (but firm) simply makes good business sense.

Other helpful tips:

  • Take a few extra minutes and post each item on Kijiji and Craigslist. There’s about a 50% response rate from each site - with little or no overlap. More exposure equals a better chance of selling your item, at a fair price.
  • Personally, I’m not a big fan of paid options these sites offer, such featuring your ad on the lead banner, etc. Considering the small margins, ad placement is rarely worth the extra investment. People will find your item, if they’re truly in the market for it.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes time for the right buyer to come along. If you can’t wait to unload it - drop the price until it sells. Otherwise, hold on to it until you get a decent return.
  • Once you do make a sale (i.e. after money changes hands), remove the ad from all relevant sites, immediately. It’s important not to frustrate your audience by promoting items that are no longer available.
In the end, we managed to reclaim our basement and make over $1500 dollars - simply by selling our unwanted junk online. I hope this gives you the impetus to start your own ‘clear the clutter’ campaign. Please send me your tips, ideas and feedback - I’d love to hear about your online selling experiences.

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  1. Hi Cathy, great first blog. You always amaze me at the money you make! Didn't you make $1,000 from a garage sale once?! What kind of "junk" are you selling:)? I will definitely give Craig's List a try next time.

  2. Thanks Angela! The stuff we've been selling is bits of old furniture, prints, a briefcase, DVDs and all sorts really. It's true that one person's junk is another person's treasure. Another yard sale coming up in late May....

  3. Your comments on writing a good description reminded me of the guy in Moncton who told such a compelling story about his snowblower on Kijiji that he got about 1200 emails. Then his ad went viral and over 200,000 people viewed it by the time this was written...

  4. Wow - that must be some exciting copy about snowblowers!!!!