How to Create a Listing on eBay: A Beginner’s Guide

You’re on the threshold of adding your items to all those that go up for sale on eBay every day (and perhaps also shedding from your home some of the valuable things you haven’t touched in years). Some listings are so hot that sellers quadruple their investments. 

Other items, unfortunately, are so stone-cold that they may not even sell. Although, when you pay attention to your listing and tweak it as you go, I’ve found nearly everything sells eventually.

In this article, I explain the facets of setting up your listings and take the mystery out of the page you fill out to get your auction going (or item selling) on eBay. You get some advice that can increase your odds of making money and standing out from the over 1.2 billion active listings on the site worldwide. I also show you how to modify, relist, or end your listing when you need to.

1. Get Ready to List Your Item

Before you list your item, make sure that you have these bases covered:

The specific category under which you want the item listed: Ask yourself where you’d look for such an item — and also remember the categories you saw most frequently when you conducted your market research with the eBay search function. (Further on, I show you how eBay will help you here as well.)

What you want to say in your item description: Jot down ideas. Take a good look at your item; especially if it’s in its original box, go over every inch of both the item and its box, and make a list of keywords that describe it. Keywords are single descriptive words that can include the following (this is hardly a complete list):

  • Brand name
  • Complete model name (research helps here)
  • Size of the item (citing measurements if appropriate)
  • Age, date, or country of manufacture
  • Bar code to find the UPC (Universal Product Code) or GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number)
  • Manufacturer’s part number (MPN)
  • Condition (new or used)
  • Rarity
  • Color
  • Size
  • Material

Whether you want to attach a picture (or pictures) to your description via a Uniform Resource Locator (URL): Pictures sell items, and it’s important to have multiples. You can upload photos to eBay easily from your computer, or store them on a website and use the URL to bring them into your item’s description for extra punch.

The price at which you think you can sell the item: Be as realistic as you can. (That’s where your market research comes in.)

2. Examine the Create Listing Page

Begin by clicking the word Sell in the navigation bar at the top of the eBay page. After you’ve clicked, you land at your Seller Hub. On the top right is a link to Create Listing. Click there and you’ll have a choice to list a single item or multiple listings, which helps you set up a template that will appear the same if you have many listings. 

You can fill in the individual details separately for each listing. If you’re not a product specialist, you may want to have different information for each of your items. I sell many different types of products, so I create each listing individually. That way I’m sure not to leave out any details. Once your business ramps up to dozens of items a week, you might automate more.

When you dive into the listing process, be sure to read what appears on the forms. Filling out this virtual paperwork requires a few minutes of clicking, typing, and answering numerous questions. The good news is that when you’re finished, your listing is up and running and (I hope) starting to earn you money.

Before you begin, you have to be registered on eBay as a seller. If you still need to register, go to our guide on eBay seller account registration and fill out the preliminary online paperwork. 

If you’ve registered but haven’t provided eBay with your financial information (credit card or checking account), you’ll be asked for this information to set up your seller account before you proceed. Fill in the data on the secure form, then you’re ready to roll.

You have lots of choices for selling an item on eBay — three, in fact. Three ways may not seem to be very dizzying unless you’re trying to decide psychically which format is the best for you. Here’s what you need to know about each type:

  • Auction: This is the tried-and-true format that made eBay famous. People enjoy auctions for desirable items, and you can combine the format with a Buy It Now option for those who want to buy the item immediately. Often, if you’re selling a collectible item, letting it go to auction may net you a much higher profit — just remember to do your research before listing.
  • Fixed-price: As with shopping at the corner store or any e-commerce shopping site, a fixed-price sale is easy for the buyer to comprehend and complete. This includes items you sell in your eBay Store.
  • Classified ad: If you don’t want to put your property, services, or other valuable items up for auction, and you’d like to correspond with the prospective buyer, this is the option for you. Although this option originated with eBay real estate sales, the Classified ad is available in specific categories; if it’s available, you’ll find it on the listing page under Format (on the advanced listing form). The cost of your ad is $9.95 for a 30-day listing ($150 in the Real Estate category).

When listing your item for sale or auction, here’s some of the info you’re asked to fill out:

  • Category: The category where you’ve decided to list your item (required).
  • Title: The name of your item (required).
  • Description: What you want to tell eBay buyers about your item (required).
  • Photos: Upload your images that you want to appear at the top of your listing. You are allowed 12 for free (the first picture becomes your Gallery photo, which appears in searches). You can add more to your description (there’s no extra charge for this), if necessary. (Chapter 14 has more information on using images in your listings.)
  • Item location: The region, city, and country from which the item will be shipped (required).
  • Quantity: The number of items you’re putting up for sale in this listing. In an auction it is always one (required).
  • Starting price: The starting price (sometimes called a minimum bid) you set (required in an auction).
  • Selling price: If this is a fixed-price listing, you have to post the selling price of the item.
  • Best Offer: Whether you want to allow potential buyers to make an offer for your item.
  • Duration: The number of days you want the auction or fixed-price listing to run (required). The option Good ’till cancelled will repeat your listing every month until it sells.
  • Reserve price: The hidden target price you set for an auction. This is the price that must be met before this item can be sold (optional).
  • Private: You can keep the identity of all bidders or buyers secret with this option (optional). This type of auction is used only in special circumstances.
  • Buy It Now: You can sell your item directly to the first buyer who is willing to pay this price. This is optional in auctions but required in fixed-price listings.
  • List item in two categories: If you want to double your exposure, you can list your item in two categories. Note that double exposure equals double listing fees (optional).
  • Shipping details: Here’s where you can indicate where you’re willing to ship an item. If you don’t want the hassle of shipping out of the United States, check the option that restricts shipment to USA only. You can individually select different countries as well (optional).
  • Shipping and handling charges: eBay requires you to show your shipping charge in the listing. Buyers are more likely to bid or buy right then and there if they feel your shipping costs are reasonable or free. Consider that when you list a flat shipping charge (or even free shipping) on your listing, eBay will take that into account when deciding how your item shows up in search results.
  • Payment instructions: Here’s the place you put any after-sale information. Until eBay changes to Managed Payments for all sellers, you are required to accept PayPal or at least one electronic payment or Internet merchant credit card option for your items. (These are the safest options anyway.) This information appears at the top of your listing when the sale is completed, under the Shipping and payments tab of the listing while it’s active, and in the End of Listing email (optional).

When eBay Managed Payments takes over on the site, buyers will be able to pay for their items in a multitude of ways – but you will get your payments directly from eBay.

  • PayPal and immediate payment: Fill in this area if you want to require the high bidder to pay through PayPal immediately when using Buy It Now. Add the Immediate Payment option if you want the winner to pay with a click of the mouse (optional).
  • Return policy: You are required to state whether you are willing to accept returns. You can give the customer as few as three days to return the item (that cuts down on spurious returns). It’s okay if you don’t accept returns, but you must post that information in your listing.

3. Fill In the Required Blanks

Yes, the selling form looks daunting, but filling out its many sections doesn’t take as long as you may think. Some of the questions you’re asked aren’t things you even have to think about; just click an answer and off you go. Other questions ask you to type information. Don’t sweat a thing; all the answers you need are right here. In this section I describe all the required info; later in this chapter, I talk about optional stuff. After you click your category, you land on the official Sell page.

eBay has two different types of Selling pages. One is “advanced” and the other is the “quick listing tool.” If you do not see all the options mentioned in the chapter, eBay may make some (unintended) decisions for you about how to list your item for sale. To be able to fully customize your listing and take control of all the options, click the Switch to Advanced Tool link in the upper right corner of the page to get the full-featured Sell Your Item form.

Selecting a category

Many eBay sellers will tell you that selecting the exact category isn’t crucial to achieving the highest price for your item — and they’re right. The bulk of buyers (who know what they’re looking for) just input search keywords into eBay’s search box and look for their items. Others may select a category and peruse the items for sale to see whether a particular one strikes their fancy (just like going to the mall but without the parking hassles).

On the first page of the Sell form, you select the main category for your item. Type the UPC or the ISBN number from the code of a new product. If there is no visible barcode, type at least three keywords that best describe your item into the box provided, and then click Search.

Here’s where your creativity can come into play. Who says that a box of Blue Dog (the famous dog icon painted by Cajun artist George Rodrigue) note cards belongs in Everything Else (where most greeting cards are listed)? If you look around, you may find a better category, such as Art. The Find Categories tool appears the second you open the selling page. Just click the associated link to browse for categories. Check to see whether anyone else is selling the item (and in which category) — or just let this tool help you pick a good category.

You can browse the categories by clicking (surprise!) the Browse Categories link on this page. This will help you select your main category and the thousands of subcategories. eBay offers you this wealth of choices in a handy point-and-click way.

Most bidders scan for specific items in subcategories. For example, if you’re selling a Bakelite fruit pin, don’t just list it under Jewelry; keep narrowing your choices. In this case, you can put it in a costume-jewelry category that is especially for Bakelite. (I guarantee that the real Bakelite jewelry collectors out there know where to look to find the jewelry they love.) To narrow the category of your item, just keep clicking until you hit the end of the line.

Creating the perfect item title

After you figure out what category you want to list in, eBay wants to get down to brass tacks — what the heck to call that thing you’re trying to sell.

Think of your item title as a catchy Internet story title. The most valuable real estate on eBay is the 80-character title of your item. The majority of buyers do title searches, and that’s where your item must come up to be sold! Give the most essential information right away in the form of keywords to grab the eye of the reader who’s just browsing. Be clear and informative enough to get noticed by eBay’s search engine.

Here are some ideas to help you write your item title:

  • Use the most common name for the item.
  • If the item is rare, vintage, or hard to find, mention that.
  • State the item’s condition and whether it’s new or old.
  • Include the item’s special qualities, such as its style, model, or edition number.
  • Avoid fancy punctuation or unusual characters, such as $, multiple hyphens, and L@@K, because they just clutter up the title — and buyers don’t search for them.

Adding item specifics

Item specifics can be a bit confusing until you understand what they accomplish in your eBay listing. Whereas many people find your item through eBay search, others may find it through a search on Google or Bing. Because each seller may list the same item with different keywords, there needs to be some universally identifiable information for most products.

Each category on eBay has varying options for which items specifics are requested. Do yourself a favor, add as much identifiable information on your item in this area. It can make a huge difference in how many people find your item.

Here’s how to fill out this area. Under the Add item-specific head, be sure to fill out as many of the requested specifics. Below each entry is a box with a drop-down menu; you may find the specific you are looking for there. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, select the Enter your own option and type in the appropriate identifier. If you have a specific that is not listed, click the plus sign next to Add custom item-specific and write it in yourself.

Most importantly, if available, add the following:

  • GTIN (Global Trade Identifier), which is also known as a UPC (Universal Product Code) number, that appears on almost every retail product. It can be found below the bar code on the package.
  • ISBN number for books. The ISBN number appears below the bar code on the back, or on the inside of the book on the publisher’s information page.
  • MPN: If possible, find the manufacturer’s part number on the item and type it in an existing or custom box.
  • Brand: Type in the manufacturer’s name.
  • Size, color, and edition if applicable.

Writing your description

After you hook potential bidders with your title, reel ’em in with a fabulous description. Don’t think Hemingway here; think QVC. You can write a description that sells as well — all you have to do is click in the box and start typing.

Here’s a list of suggestions for writing an item description:

Include a clear list of the item’s features. Be brief and stick to the facts if you’re not trying to sell an especially coveted collectible or used item. Give every possible bit of information that your buyer might want to know about the item for sale, and stop there. There’s no emotion in these descriptions; people just want the facts.

Accentuate the positive. Give the buyer a reason to buy your item, and be enthusiastic when you list all the reasons everyone should buy it. Unlike the title, here you can use as much space as you want. If there are any “industry specific” descriptors for your item, be sure to include them here, so fans of the item will know you understand the products you sell.

Include the negative. When it comes to used merchandise, don’t hide the truth of your item’s condition. Trying to conceal flaws costs you in the long run; you get tagged with bad feedback and a refund. If the item has a scratch, a nick, a dent, a crack, a ding, a tear, a rip, missing pieces, replacement parts, faded color, dirty smudges, or a bad smell (especially if cleaning might damage the item), mention it in the description. If your item has been overhauled, rebuilt, repainted, or hot-rodded, say so. You don’t want the buyer to send back your merchandise because you weren’t truthful about imperfections or modifications and report you to eBay because it arrived “not as described.”

While you’re at it, promote yourself too. This helps when you’re selling an item against very competitive sellers. As you accumulate positive feedback, tell potential customers that quality customer service is the byword of your business. You can even take it a step further by inviting prospective bidders to your eBay profile page. 

Wish your potential bidders well. Communication is the key to a good transaction, and you can set the tone for your listing and post-sale exchanges by including some simple phrases that show your friendly side. When it comes to a one-of-a-kind item, offer that you will provide additional photos on request.

Listing the number of items for sale

Unless you’re planning on holding a Multiple Item listing, the number of items is always 1 — which means that you’re holding a traditional auction, or listing a single item up for sale, or just selling a single unit of an item. If you need to change the quantity number from 1, just type the number in the box.

A matching set of cuff links is considered one item, as is the complete 37-volume set of The Smith Family Ancestry and Genealogical History since 1270. If you have more than one of the same item (two sets of cuff links), I suggest that you sell them one at a time. You are much more likely to get a higher final price for your items when you sell them individually. Never try to sell items that belong in a set as separate items.

Sellers can’t have more than one identical fixed-price listing up at a time. You may have duplicate auctions, but only one of the duplicate auctions without bids will appear on eBay at a time.

Setting a starting price

What do a baseball autographed by JFK, a used walkie-talkie, and a Jaguar sports car all have in common? They all started with a $0.99 starting price. eBay requires you to set a starting price, also called a minimum bid — the lowest bid allowed in an auction. 

You may be surprised to see stuff worth tens of thousands of dollars starting at just a buck. These sellers haven’t lost their minds. Neither are they worried that someone could be tooling down the highway in a $100,000 sports car they bought for the price of a burger.

Setting an incredibly low minimum (just type it in the box without the dollar sign but with the decimal point) is a subtle strategy that gives you more bang for your buck. You can use a low starting price to attract more bidders who will, in turn, drive up the price to the item’s real value — especially if, after doing your research, you know that the item is a hot seller.

If you’re worried about the outcome of the final bid, you can protect your item by using a reserve price (the price the bidding needs to reach before the item can be sold). Then you won’t have to sell your item for a bargain-basement price; your reserve price protects your investment. The best advice is to set a reserve price that is the lowest amount you’ll take for your item and then set a minimum bid that is ridiculously low. Use a reserve only when absolutely necessary because some bidders just pass up reserve auctions.

When entering a starting price, type only the numbers and a decimal point. Don’t use dollar signs ($) or cent signs (¢).

Buy It Now for auctions

eBay’s Buy It Now (BIN in eBay-speak) is available for auctions. This feature allows buyers who want to purchase an item now to do so. Have you ever wanted an item really badly and didn’t want to wait until the end of an auction? If the seller offers Buy It Now, you can purchase that item immediately. 

If you’re the seller, you can entice your bidders to pay just a tad more to have the satisfaction of walking away with the item free and clear. Just specify the amount the item can sell for in the Buy It Now price area — the amount can be whatever you want. 

If you choose to take advantage of selling a hot item during the holiday rush, for example, you can make the BIN price as high as you think it can go. If you just want the item to move, make your BIN price the average price you see the item go for on eBay.

When your item receives a bid, the BIN option disappears, and the item goes through the normal auction process. If you have a reserve price on your item, the BIN feature doesn’t disappear until a bidder meets your reserve price through the normal bidding process. To list an item with Buy It Now, the Buy It Now price needs to be at least 30 percent higher than the auction’s opening bid, and you need to list the item for at least $0.99.

Setting your auction time

How long do you want to run your auction? eBay gives you a choice — 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 days. Just click the number you want in the box.

My auction-length strategy depends on the time of year and the item I’m selling, and I generally have great success. If you have an item that you think will sell pretty well, run a 7-day auction (be sure that it will cover a full weekend) so bidders have time to check it out before they decide to bid. 

However, if you know that you have a red-hot item that’s going to fly off the shelves — such as a rare toy or a hard-to-get pair of Nikes — choose a 3-day auction. Eager bidders tend to bid higher and more often to beat out their competition if the item is hot and going fast. Three days is long enough to give trendy items exposure and ring up bids.

No matter how many days you choose to run your auction, it ends at exactly the same time of day as it starts. A 7-day auction that starts on Thursday at 9:03:02 a.m. ends the following Thursday at 9:03:02 a.m.

With items selling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you should know when the most bidders and buyers are around to take a gander at your wares.

Reserve price

Here’s a little secret: The reason sellers list big-ticket items like Ferraris, grand pianos, and high-tech computer equipment with a starting bid of $1 is because they’re protected from losing money with a reserve price. The reserve price is the lowest price that must be met before the item can be sold. It’s not required by eBay but can protect you. eBay charges an additional fee for this feature that varies, depending on how high your reserve is.

For example, say you list a hardback book — a 1939 first edition of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. You set the starting price at $1, and you set a reserve price at $500. That means that people can start bidding at $1, and if at the end of the auction the bidding hasn’t reached the $500 reserve, you don’t have to sell the book.

As with everything in life, using a reserve price for your auctions has an upside and a downside. Many choosy bidders and bargain hunters blast past reserve-price auctions because they see a reserve price as a sign that proclaims “No bargains here!” Many bidders figure that they can get a better deal on the same item with an auction that proudly declares NR (for no reserve) in its description. As an enticement to those bidders, you see lots of NR mentions in auction titles.

On lower-priced items, I suggest that you set a higher starting price and set no reserve. Otherwise, if you’re not sure about the market, set a low minimum bid but set a high reserve to protect yourself.

If bids don’t reach a set reserve price, some sellers send a Second Chance offer through the eBay system. Two caveats if you try to circumvent eBay fees and contact the bidders:

  • Side deals that circumvent eBay fees are strictly prohibited. eBay can suspend the seller and the buyer if a side deal is reported.
  • eBay won’t protect buyers or sellers if a side deal goes bad.

The private listing

The User IDs of bidders and buyers are hidden in a private listing. Typically, sellers use this option to protect the identities of bidders or buyers for high-priced, big-ticket items (like that restored WWII fighter). 

Some eBay users may not want the world to know that they have the resources to buy expensive items. Adult/Erotica items are also auctioned privately.

Click the Customize link within the sections on the Sell page if you can’t find some of the options listed here (such as the Private Auction). Click Save after selecting the option you want to use in the window that appears.

Filling out the item location

You should list the area and country where you live on eBay. When you indicate where you live, you are informing the bidder about what kind of shipping charges he or she can expect. This information is entered when you register. 

You may want to think about narrowing your geographical area if you live in a large area, such as suburban Los Angeles (who, me? ), which sprawls for miles. A buyer who lives close to you might make a deal more likely. When you conduct a face-to-face transaction, it is best to do it in a public place. 

Setting shipping terms

Ahoy, matey! Hoist the bid! Okay, not quite yet. Before you run it up the mast, select your shipping options. Here are your choices:

  • Ship to the United States only: This option is selected by default; it means that you ship only domestically.
  • Will ship worldwide: The world is your oyster. But make sure that you can afford the time for the extra processing of customs forms or use eBay’s Global Shipping Program.
  • Will ship to United States and the following: If you’re comfortable shipping to certain countries but not to others, make your selections here; they show up on your item page.

4. Review and Submit Your Listing

After you fill in all the blanks on the Sell form, you come to the Preview Your Listing page. Scroll down the page and confirm that all the information appears as you intended. If you think you’re ready to join the world of e-commerce, follow these steps:

Step 1: Next to the Submit listing box, click the Preview link.

A pop-up page opens, showing you exactly how your listing will appear on eBay. Here’s where you can catch mistakes before your item is listed.

You also may find the preview page helpful as a last-minute chance to get your bearings. You can go back to any of the areas that need correcting by clicking the Edit Listing link back on the selling form. Make category changes or any other changes and additions, and then head for the Verification page again.

Step 2: Check for mistakes and review your fees for listings and options (if any).

Nitpick for common, careless errors; you won’t be sorry. I’ve seen eBay members make goofs such as the wrong category listing, misspelling and grammatical errors, and missing information about shipping, handling, insurance, and payment methods.

Step 3: When you’re sure that everything’s accurate and you’re happy with your item listing, click List it button.

A Confirmation page pops up. At that precise moment, your listing begins, even though a little time may pass before it appears in eBay’s search and listings updates. If you want to see your listing right away and check for bids, your Confirmation page provides a link for that purpose. Click the link, and you’re there. You can also keep track of your items by using the My eBay page.

All item pages come with this friendly warning: Seller assumes all responsibility for this listing. Some eBay veterans just gloss over this warning after they’ve been wheeling and dealing for a while, but it’s an important rule to remember.

5. Edit Listings

When you fill out the Sell page, don’t worry if you make a mistake you don’t notice until the auction has begun. Erasers are available, and eBay allows revisions. 

The game allows you to make changes at two stages: before the first bid is placed and after the bidding war begins. These sections explain what you can and cannot correct – as well as when you must accept the little imperfections of your item page.

Making changes before bidding begins

Here are the things you can change about your auction before bids are placed (or after 12 hours have passed):

  • The title or description of your auction
  • The item category
  • The item’s starting price
  • The item’s Buy It Now price
  • The reserve price (you can add, change, or remove it)
  • The duration of your listing
  • The URL of the picture you’re including with your auction
  • A private listing designation (you can add or remove it)
  • Accepted payment methods, Checkout information, item location, and shipping terms

As soon as you revise a listing, eBay adds a small note to your auction page that reads: Description(revised). You can think of it as a common courtesy.

To revise a fixed-price listing or any auction before bids have been received, follow these steps:

  1. On the page of the item you want to revise, click the link Revise your item at the top left. Whenever an auction does not have any bids, a message appears on your screen to let you know you can update it.
  2. On the Revise Item page, which looks like the Sell form, you can edit your item.
  3. Change the item information and then click Save and Continue at the bottom of the page. The newly revised page will appear on the screen.
  4. Once you are satisfied with your revisions, click Save Changes. You are taken to the newly revised item page, where you see a disclaimer from eBay stating that you have revised the listing before the first bid. To make further revisions, click the Back button of your browser and edit your listing again.

Making changes after bidding begins

If your listing is already live and receiving bids, you can still make some slight changes to it. All newly added information is clearly marked as such. In addition, eBay puts a time stamp on the additional information in case questions arise later from bidders.

You can edit your item’s description after receiving bids on eBay. Make all of the additions you want if you still need to describe your item, if you discover new information (that vase you thought was a reproduction is actually the real thing! ), or if a lot of potential bidders are asking the same questions. However, anything you put there the first time around will remain in the description.

Be careful not to let an oversight turn into a failure to communicate – and don’t ignore iffy communication until the item is purchased. Ensure your description is accurate now to prevent problems in the future.

Always check your messages to see if potential buyers have any questions about your item. Being truthful and courteous when responding to a request for information about flaws is important. Your buyer questions will decrease as you become more familiar with eBay (and with writing descriptions). If you enjoy good customer service in your day-to-day shopping, here’s your chance to give back.

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