Can You Make Money with Online Auctions?
By Kathy Dickinson
Yes, you can make very, very
good money on online auctions; and it can be relatively easy work if it's
done properly. I pulled in $23,000 working part time in one year. I’m a
stay-at-home mom and wanted to pay for my own doll collection instead of
intruding on my husband’s income. If I need to, I can use the business and
my collection to make money for daily expenses.
Here are some suggestions for success
Be Realistic. Are you willing to do a little planning, sit in front of a
computer, take photos, go to garage sales, write letters, be extremely
organized? If not, don't do it; find something else to do.
Try To Sell What You Know And Enjoy. However, be careful; collectibles may
find their way into your house to stay. On the flip side, if you like dolls,
don’t pass up vintage porcelain Disney plates or Homer Loughlin transfer
ware at a garage sale; 50 cents can easily turn into $11.00.
Do Some Research. Check the closed auctions on ebay and Yahoo for items you
know you can find, and keep mental or written notes about their ending value
and condition. The first time a particular item shows up on an online
auction, it will skyrocket because nobody has seen it before. Each time the
same item shows up, usually within days because sellers get excited and
think they will make a buck, the value will usually dive bomb and then level
off. When you do your research, be careful.
Public Auctions. When buying at public auctions, try to buy inexpensive box
lots. I've always had much better success at splitting up box lots I
purchased at public auctions than attempting to resell one object. Unless
there is something extraordinarily expensive in a box lot, they usually sell
for a lot less. The messier the box, the better because nobody else wants to
look through them thoroughly.
Garage Sales And Rummage Sales. Second to downright free, the absolute best
way to obtain items for resale is garage sales and rummage sales.
In our area, and probably in most areas, the classifieds for garage sales,
flea markets and antique shows come out in the newspaper on Thursday. If you
can, buy a street map book covering a 50 mile radius in your area; and
containing all the streets organized by page and area. Go through the
newspaper ads and make a list of the sales in the order you will be
attending them, and, if possible, go to those places on Thursday evening,
rather than Friday or Saturday. It's what all the dealers do. Ignore friends
who say that's an awful thing to do. I've never had anybody complain; they
were grateful to unload anything they could.
Do not go to the garage sales that say no early birds in the ad. Don't get
out of your car if their dog isn't on a leash, or if their boa constrictor
is loose in the yard.
Try to plan your grocery shopping or other errands for the same time line so
you won't be using extra gas.
Don’t go to garage sales with friends who also buy for online auctions; it’s
the best possible way to wreck a friendship.
Estate Sales. Choose only estate sales where the prices aren't outrageous.
You'll get to know the organizers after a while and learn to avoid the ones
who charge an arm and a leg.
Business Cards. Make an inexpensive, but very stylish business card and hand
it out everywhere you go; especially at garage sales. Don't give the card to
them, however, until you have purchased whatever you want. Send word out to
friends and family that you will be selling (and ignore their warnings that
it won't work).
Consignment. Take things on consignment. That way you don't have to invest
any personal money in the item. Don't be afraid to charge 30% for
consignment work. You are doing just as much work as a public auction house
is doing, and possibly more; and I haven't had anybody complain yet. Be sure
to create a written agreement for consignment items, especially for friends
and family if you know you may have potential problems with them.
Appraising. Don't make free trips to assess items in someone's house. It's
called appraising and the best dealers charge fees for appraisals. Tell
everybody who calls that you charge $15.00 for appraisals; and they get
their $15.00 back if they sell to you. It gets the tightwadding users (I'm a
tightwadder, but not a user) off the phone very quickly; and you won't waste
I've had several antique dealers tell me that was wrong to do, but those
same dealers are hurting financially, some have closed their stores, and
I've chosen to ignore their advice. They spend a lot of money in gas driving
around the countryside, only to have people tell them they'll sell the
item(s) in a garage sale.
Digital Camera. Buy the absolute best digital camera you can afford, even if
you have to find a way to make monthly payments. My most recent camera, a
SONY Mavica FD95, was purchased from Circuit City, on a 12 month no interest
payment plan because it was the first time I charged anything there. I paid
it off in 8 months. The camera was originally $900.00; it was on sale for
$600.00 as an open box item; when I arrived at the register, they sold it to
me for $400.00 plus sales tax. Circuit City's return policy on open box
items is very lenient, and they don't charge a restocking fee for them. I
didn't have to return it, so I'm happy and I'm sure they're happy.
Photographs, contrary to popular belief, hide a multitude of sins, so be
sure your description is very accurate and very detailed, especially the bad
stuff. Believe it or not, if you do, your sales will sky rocket. Even if you
don’t know much about the historical value of the item, the least you can do
is describe its defects and attributes.
Computerized Graphics Programs. Buy the absolute best computer graphics
program(s) you can afford. The best combination I've found is Adobe
Elements, and Paint Shop Pro. Adobe Elements is perfect by itself, I just
like to do oddball things with my graphics once in a while, and Paint Shop
Pro complements Adobe perfectly. Don't buy a cheapie $50.00 program. You get
what you pay for.
Photography Stage. Set up an inexpensive photography stage with a heavy duty
cardboard box, pure white fabric backdrop that has a little bit of texture,
and two clip on lights. So far the best thing I've found is pure white
sweatshirt material. The texture will reflect the light properly. A flat
surface seems to blur the lines in the object. I have a large cardboard box
standing on end; the "upper" end of the box has been slit to pull the fabric
through for support. Another choice would be a flat-backed chair or rocking
chair that can be placed near an electrical outlet because the stage can be
broken down and put away easily. Try to make one that can stay up
Shipping Supplies Get free boxes for shipping at Walmart; the USPS has many
free shipping supplies, too. Free priority boxes and other supplies can be
ordered from http://www.usps.com. They will be sent directly to your home.
Getting And Staying Organized.
Design and print out some pieces of paper that will contain fill-in blanks
for your auction information. I do this to prevent mistakes; I am
interrupted a lot by a fourteen year old and a seven year old; plus a
variety of pets. I print my auction cards four on a sheet, and cut them
apart. The "card" can go into a clear plastic bag with the item until it is
sold. It will also be useful to delete information in batches in Windows
Explorer after the auction is closed. After you are completely done with it,
save it for scrap paper.
Create a file folder in Windows Explorer on your C Drive labeled "Auctions".
Create subfolders for "Photographs"(with subfolders of numbers from, say,
0001-0009, 0010-0019, and so on; doing it this way makes it easier to upload
photos), "Receipts", "Invoices, "Shipping Information", "Descriptions" (with
subfolders "Matrix" and "Items"). Use all subfolders to store appropriate
information. Take a couple of minutes to back everything up on disc at least
once a week.
Make a matrix for your auction description with all the information that is
repeated for each auction, and store it in your Auctions, Descriptions
folders in your C drive.
Assign a number to each object instead of a group of letters; if you are
doing power selling, it is the best way to stay organized.
Photograph your object and assign it a number, and consecutive numbers for
each additional photo. Use the first number to save your auction description
in a word processing program. Because photograph files and word processing
files have two different file extensions, the first number that was used to
photograph the item can also be re-used for the word processing file. If the
item doesn't sell and you want to relist it, or put it on a web page, you
won't have to write the description again. If your description should change
the next time for any reason, you won't have to write it again. For
instance, my charge card system has been up and down, so I've had to change
my matrix descriptions a few times. I went through a period of time thinking
I wouldn't use PayPal, and changed my mind again. If you have to re-use the
information, always save the file out as the same number, plus a letter
(such as 0456a), or a new date (such as 0456 05.18.2002) so you don't cover
up the old description. That way you can re-use the item description.
Design an invoice matrix that can be copied and pasted into an e-mail to
your customer. Print out the invoice on the backside of used paper so you
can find the information if your computer is down.
Design a receipt matrix that can be filled in and printed out for your
customers. By federal and state law, a business has to have receipts for
every transaction. Receipts will also help organization. File your receipts
on disk, giving each a file number beginning with the last four letters of
their last name, and a number on the end.
The only online auction service I use is Andale page counters. It's free. In
general, timewise, online auction services are no more efficient than my own
system, and mine never breaks down. I figured out the services are also very
expensive. I tested each and every one of them, and none of them are
complete. Each has good qualities, but since each is missing an important
function, I wouldn't pay for an incomplete service anyway.
I have buckets of items to be loaded, and buckets of items that have been
loaded. If something didn't sell after a couple of listing attempts, I
either figure out if I want to send it to the Salvation Army, or a public
auction. If you itemize on your taxes, donations can be written off, however
remember you will get only approximately 10% back on the total; sometimes
that's a lot better than a garage sale.
The Internet runs better in the morning, so I try to get my photographing
and writing done in the evening.
Make manila folders for each stage of the auction, such as "Consignment
Work", "Invoices", "Process Payments", and "Feedback".
Use an automatic computerized check register to keep track of your income
and expenses. Choose a program that will print a report at the end of the
year. I wish my Microsoft Money '95 would run on XP, but it won't. My
Quicken program will run reports, but they aren't compacted into one-liners
with totals. Create two computer program accounts, one for your checking,
and one for mileage. The checking will tell you all of your income and
expenses. The mileage will track your mileage for you.
Dealing. If you become a dealer, be very very honest about everything.
People will come back to you if they trust you, and they will recommend you
to someone else without thinking twice. The biggest and most successful
antique dealers in the country are very honest.
Give customers every choice they can possibly make for selling their item,
and the pros and cons for each choice, especially on multiple items. I've
twice had people come back to me to sell over 200 dolls each because I gave
them all their options for selling. They did their research and came back
because I was the best choice for their goals.
Yahoo Auctions. People think I'm nuts when I say this, but every hot item
I've ever sold on Yahoo has ended with much higher bids than it would have
on "other" online auctions.
The name of the game is always money, and I'd rather be in a cost effective,
profitable place. I've tracked much higher page views on Yahoo. It's a lot
easier to list things on Yahoo; much more efficient and much less costly.
Yahoo is grossly and undeservedly underrated, and I can't figure out why
everyone hasn't noticed it yet. I can talk about my success on Yahoo until
I'm blue in the face, and everybody goes "elsewhere" instead. I run things
on "elsewhere" once in a while to keep my rating up, but I don't like doing
it. I figured out one day that overall "elsewhere" gets more of my money in
commissions than a public auction house. Some things just don't sell, and
adding up listing fees, and commissions, and dividing them by total sales
can amount to a total shock.
If something is gonna sit on Yahoo, at least I didn't have to pay 30 cents,
and sometimes plus, for something that wouldn't go. Yahoo has a 5 cents
listing fee up to $9.99; and their commission is much lower. “Buy It Now” is
free on Yahoo.
Avoid Scammers. My ads say all sales are final, errors will be cheerfully
corrected. When I didn't have it in my ads, I had terrible problems. People
would bid on a whim and try to send things back. When I got them back,
pieces were missing, replaced or broken. It's an auction, not a store. In
addition, a public auction house will give the audience a few minutes to
ensure the item wasn’t broken while it was handled. In this case, my
descriptions are complete and accurate.
Remember, Customers Can't See Your Face. If they write something incredibly
rude, and you get ticked off, they can't see you. Use it to your advantage.
I've found I can back off and do something else for a couple of hours and
cool down before writing back. I've had that happen probably only five or
six times in over 2,000 sales, so the odds are that the number of rude
people you will get are extremely slim. The majority of customers are
extremely grateful for kind attention and good products. In the same vein,
never respond to an accusation with an accusation, just politely repeat what
you need from your customer. People cool down quicker when they can't keep a
fight going, especially when they realize they can't push your buttons.
Don't Be Afraid Of Negative Feedback. Unless the negative is deserved, it's
usually troublemakers and scam artists who leave negatives, and it's easy
for others to see their attitude in their response. I have neutrals and
negatives from a few I deserved because I was ill for a while, but I have
some additional negatives from people who shouldn't have even been on ebay
or Yahoo. I don't know how somebody can get thousands of feedbacks with no
negatives, but God bless them if they can!
I Don't Hold Items For Mailing On Checks Under $50.00. It's not worth it.
I've had only one bounced check in over 2,000 sales, and I managed to get
the buyer to send me the amount of the check, plus the amount the bank
charged me in money order form.
If the high bidder wants to back out at the end, politely ask them to pay
for the listing fee and the auction commission. I've only had this happen
once. The buyer was very willing to oblige, and gave me a little more! That
was a nice surprise in the mail!
Presentation. Ensure that your grammar and presentation are gorgeous.
Smarter looking ads get higher bids.
Copyrights. If you decide you want to sell copies of outdated products, such
as doll clothes patterns, or music, consult the federal government copyright
web page first. Don't consult attorney-based pages; the information is
usually incomplete; not always, but usually.
No Reserve Auctions. Always start your auction with no reserve unless you
have invested enough money to make you uncomfortable. No reserve auctions
always end higher than reserve auctions.
Kathy Dickinson Halea's Doll Clothes