How to Sell on eBay and Other Online Marketplaces 

On September 3, 1995, the still fledgling internet was to change forever. Software developer Pierre Omidyar created a new subsection on his business website for a social experiment: could he auction a broken laser pointer online, or at very least get an idea of what it would fetch at a real-world auction?

Eventually, his broken device sold for a modestly impressive $14.83, or £9.76. Pleasantly surprised but not entirely certain that the winning bidder knew what they'd got themselves into, Omidyar got in touch to make sure the winner knew that the item they'd bought wasn't working.

"I'm a collector of broken laser pointers" was the reply, which inadvertently kick-started an online revolution. Omidyar quickly realised that there was a buyer out there for almost everything, provided the price is right. Soon, the small auction page he'd set up was given much more prominence on the website for his consulting firm, Echo Bay.

From there, of course, the auction site grew immensely, eventually going on to become the eBay that now welcomes millions of visitors every day across the whole world.

Now, eBay isn't just an auction site but a whole marketplace, allowing retailers to set up shop without actually setting up a shop. It offers a location where millions of users are already searching, whilst leaving the user without needing to buy their own digital or real-world premises. It isn't the only one, however, as the likes of Amazon, Asos and Play also now offer such a service; enabling retailers to sell their wares on a global, well-established site that already has safe payment infrastructure in place.

Understandably, this prospect has appealed to millions of people across the world. So what exactly is needed of them to set up as a trader at an online marketplace.

Set up shop

The first task for any would-be marketplace retailer is setting up their account. This requires a little forethought and research to find out which store would be best to use. Look into the competition to find a market that's not empty but also not totally saturated. The overall direction of the host site will also play a part: Asos is almost exclusively fashion whilst Play is more for tech and entertainment. Amazon and eBay, on the other hand, have a much broader remit.

With the host decided upon, next on the checklist is having a think of how many items are going to be sold. Part-timers looking to shift goods intermittently - or those who sell high-cost but low-volume items may find the basic memberships to be fine. Anyone looking for a more involved selling process (typically around the 30-sales per month mark) may be required to sign up for a premium account. Whilst these will often cost, they will offer greater benefits than the basic account packages.

The price is right?

Some marketplaces will make their money from taking a share of the total sale value. is one such example, which has a sliding scale of percentages that it charges for each item, depending on the category in which it falls. For example, books music and video are the most expensive, with fees of nearly 15 per cent. This then drops to 7.75 per cent for more costly items such as computer hardware or electronics. Amazon also has a similar scheme, although the percentages are slightly different.

eBay, meanwhile, has a somewhat unique setup, where sellers are charged three times, but not as much at each. Every single lot - whether auction or 'Buy it Now' - generates an insertion fee. This is payable even if the item does not sell, although can be negated by listing it for less than 99p to begin. Once items sell, the retailer has to pay a percentage of the total value.

The last cost comes from adding extra info above and beyond what is offered for free. Anyone wanting to add more pictures, details or information than the standard setup needs to pay a nominal fee.

Researching categories, account types and listing fees beforehand will help users to price their goods accordingly - thus protecting them from any nasty surprises later on down the line. Whilst a cheaper product is more likely to sell much quicker - traders would be wise to ensure their profit isn't entirely wiped out by the time fees and charges are taken into account.

Delivering on delivery

Covering the cost of shipping will fall on the buyer, although it is the seller's responsibility to ensure the goods are delivered safely and in a timely fashion. It is the buyer who also gets to determine the geographical boundaries of their sale; deciding whether they only want to attract domestic buyers or target the international market as well.

Trading internationally will - of course - open up a huge new market of potential buyers, but also means more postage and packaging costs. Retailers should carefully consider this issue and - provided they are happy with the additional requirements - think about reaching a much larger, more international audience than the limited domestic one.

Once geographic boundaries have been set, sellers then just have to concentrate on delivering the goods securely. It makes good business sense to package products effectively because, if some start arriving at their destinations broken or damaged, it will not only cost to replace but word will soon get around on forums or feedback pages.

To ensure the only words people have about a salesperson are positive, they must ensure delivery is quick and painless. At this point, the buyer has already been happy enough with the offering to part with their money, so the delivery is the only variable left that can impact whether the experience is a positive or negative one.

These are all serious considerations and can sometimes make it feel that selling on a marketplace is nothing but hassle, fees and bureaucracy. The fact of the matter is, however, that there's no way a start-up could reach the market penetration and website architecture that these market leaders have straight off the bat. After all, they have been at it since around 1995.

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