where "word of keystroke" begins

November 6, 2003 -- Selling at eBay: focus on research techniques

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM US Eastern Time (Standard Time = GMT -5, Daylight Savings Time = GMT -4) on Thursdays.

To connect to the chat room, go to

Since the chat itself happens at a rapid pace, it's often difficult to note interesting facts and URLs as they appear live. Here's a place to take a more leisurely look. I've rearranged some of the pieces to try to capture the various threads of discussion (which sometimes get lost in the rush of live chat).

Please send email with your follow-on questions and comments, and suggestions for topics we should focus on in future sessions. So long as the volume of email responses is manageable, I'll post the most pertinent ones here for all to see.

These sessions are hosted by Richard Seltzer. If you would like to receive email reminders of our chat sessions, simply send a blank email message to or go to and sign up there.

This is one of the longest-running chat programs on the Web. (Please let us know if you know of ones that are older.) We've been doing this since June 1996.

For transcripts of previous sessions and a list of future topics,

For an article on how to make "business chat" work (based on this experience),

For articles on topics related to this one, check our newsletter, Internet-on-a-Disk

Threads (reconstructed afterwards)



11:46 - Richard Seltzer
       All, please introduce yourself as you connect.

11:48 - TracyMarks
       My name is Tracy Marks, and I've been selling at Ebay for about 15 hours a week since spring 1999. I also teach a workshop on how to sell at Ebay. In this time period, I've made about 10,000 sales, mostly to repeat customers. Before I say anymore, I'd like to find out who else is here!

11:50 - Bob Zwick
       Hi everyone.

 11:51 - Richard Seltzer
       Welcome, Bob. Are you doing much selling at eBay these days?

11:52 - Bob Zwick
       actually eBay has always intimidated me. I'm hoping you and Tracy can change that.

12:00 - TracyMarks
       Bob, what intimidates you about Ebay, and what if any questions do you have about searching/researching items?

12:01 - Bob Zwick
       Selling mostly intimidates me. I just don't understand the different ways to sell and their implications.

12:03 - Richard Seltzer
       Bob -- I believe (Tracy please correct me) there are three ways to sell: regular auction (where you start with a low price and hope the bidding gets it up), Buy It Now (where you set a fixed price), and eBay store auctions (which can be either regular or fixed price, but where the items are organized by your categories and the auctions don't have to end -- you can have many copies of the same thing for sale continuously).

12:13 - Richard Seltzer
       Bob -- You might want to consider selling your audio books on CD at eBay, setting up an eBay store (about $49/month). I'll be talking about eBay stores next week.

12:14 - Bob Zwick
       Sounds interesting. I would like to learn more about using eBay. Tracy, did you say you teach a course about selling on eBay?

12:16 - TracyMarks
       Bob, twice a term at the Cambridge Center for Adult education in Cambridge MA I teach a 6 hour workshop (2 3 hour sessions) on Selling at Ebay. I also teach the same course at Lexington Community Education, and will be doing so at several different adult ed centers as well beginning in the winter.

12:29 - Bob Zwick
       Tracy - if you would be interested in teaching a live online class about eBay I could provide a web classroom.

12:30 - TracyMarks
       Bob, let's talk about that in the future -- an online class on Ebay selling. It's definitely an option, esp. in December or early January when my schedule is lighter.

12:31 - Bob Zwick
       That would be great. I'm booked til the end of this month with Global Learn Day.

12:16 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- what kinds of things are your "alums" selling at eBay? and can you give any examples of how well they are doing?

12:18 - TracyMarks
       Richard - I don't often hear from my students after class, except for those that use me as a consultant. The ones that are doing best have antiques, rare items. One is a manager of a rare bookstore and really knows the out of print market, so it starting to do well in his specialty.

11:49 - Richard Seltzer
Welcome, Tracy. I've been selling at eBay since 1998, but at first did it haphazardly, just selling stuff from the basement/attic. Now, for about a year I've been selling books on CD ROM at eBay, using eBay as a sales channel for my publishing business.
Tracy, is eBay now your main source of income? Are sales steady enough for you to depend on them?

11:51 - TracyMarks
       No, my main source of income is teaching and consulting - ebay is just a sideline, but one that enables me to pursue several expensive hobbies and pay off all the costs and profit as well. My average sales are around $1200 a month, with more than half of that profit.

Research at eBay

11:53 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- You indicated that you wanted to focus on eBay "research" today. Can you please start off by explaining the purpose and importance of research at eBay? What can you learn from it?

11:59 - TracyMarks
First, you can learn if an item you have to sell is selling, and for what amount, and when it is selling. Second, you can discover items that are selling for a decent amount...... and use that knowledge to locate and buy those items at a considerably lower cost for resale.

12:00 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- do you use your research mainly to write your descriptions or to plan your business? And do you mainly do wide-open auctions or "Buy It Now" (fixed price)?

12:01 - TracyMarks
       Fixed price and buy-it-now are two different options. I use buy-it-now rather than fixed price..... I use research to determine: a) whether an item is worth trying to sell and what price to set for it if it is b) what items to look for to buy for resale.

12:01 - Richard Seltzer
       And once you've done a particular search (to find the price, the competition, the descriptions the competition is using), how often do you go back and do it again? Are such things generally stable at eBay? Or are they constantly changing?

 12:02 - TracyMarks
       Let me give an example. Let's begin with searching completed auctions. There are at least four ways to get to completed auctions: a) from the ebay site map (left column); b) by doing a regular search on the search page, and choosing COMPLETED ITEMS under display in the left column; c) by doing an advanced search, checking COMPLETED ITEMS; d) by going to a category browse page, and choosing COMPLETED ITEMS.

12:03 - TracyMarks
       Of course, the keywords and search operators you use will make a difference, and whether you search only in one category, include pricing information, or include description as well as title. I can talk about later. However once you've done a search, if you want to determine what's selling best (and what you may want to buy and resell), order your results by PRICE by clicking on price, and if necessary also choosing the selection for higher-priced items first.

 12:03 - Bob Zwick
       I use eBay to find current prices for items I sell through normal channels or things I am purchasing again through normal channels.

12:03 - Richard Seltzer
       Bob -- I believe (Tracy please correct me) there are three ways to sell: regular auction (where you start with a low price and hope the bidding gets it up), Buy It Now (where you set a fixed price), and eBay store auctions (which can be either regular or fixed price, but where the items are organized by your categories and the auctions don't have to end -- you can have many copies of the same thing for sale continuously).

12:04 - TracyMarks
       You then make a list of the kinds of items that are doing well that you might want to sell.....then you look for them on Ebay (will talk about favorite searches) and elsewhere and buy them low whenever you can find them to resale.

12:05 - TracyMarks
       Richard, if you choose fixed price from the selling form, you choose a fixed price. If you choose auction, you have the option of doing buy it now AND auction both together. The latter is what I find most successful. Not doing fixed price, but doing an auction WITH a buy it now option.

12:05 - Richard Seltzer
       Do you always search for "completed" auctions? Do you ever have a need to know what's selling for what right now?

12:05 - Bob Zwick
       Since we are talking about research. I'll stay on topic. I think you mean finding out what sells well on eBay.

12:06 - TracyMarks
       Right Bob, Ebay is a great place to find items which you wish to resell at Ebay or elsewhere. Plus, as for example with books, you can find books that are selling well at Ebay and then go to or and look for the book for half the price it's selling at Ebay....and buy it for resale.

12:07 - TracyMarks
       When you research active auctions, you don't have any idea of the final sale price of the item. Many items will have no bids but will sell well at the end or by buy-it-now. 90% of my sales are buy it now via the auction and therefore won't come up in an active search.

12:07 - Richard Seltzer
       Bob -- for fixed-price, Buy It Now auctions, you also want to establish an effective price. What are these kind of things generally selling for? What are would-be customers likely to find attractive? If the typical selling price isn't high enough, you need to come up with other merchandise to sell or go elsewhere.

12:08 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- please explain why your auctions "won't come up in an active search"? Will they come up in a search for "completed" auctions?

12:08 - Bob Zwick
       I see. Tell me more...

12:08 - TracyMarks
       Here's a method I use successfully. Based on finding out books which are selling well at Ebay, and books which I've sold for a decent profit at Ebay, I have a list of about 15 or so items that always sell well and sell immediately. I buy them up EVERYWHERE at a low cost whenever I find them....and sell them for a profit immediately.

12:09 - TracyMarks
       Richard, if someone does a buy it now, what they paid for an item won't come up in an active current search because it didn't show a bid or purchase till it was done. And yes, it will come up in a completed search.

12:09 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- Does it pay to do one-off sales like that -- finding a particular book, then offering it for resale at eBay? I find that the process of listing items can be very time-consuming and tedious. I find it best selling items that I have many of or that I can make more of. Then one description works over and over again.

12:11 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- that sounds like a good strategy (your book selling). Are books the main item you sell? I thought you were mainly selling photos.

12:11 - Richard Seltzer
       How does research at eBay help you in your photography business?

12:11 - TracyMarks
       Exactly, Richard. For example, there's an out of print video I use in teaching one of my classes. It is listed as FIVE BUYERS WAITING most of the time at Amazon Marketplace, and is usually listed for $65 or more there. As soon as it appears on Ebay, I purchase it - by BUY IT NOW if I can, usually for about $20, then I resell it immediately either on Ebay or Amazon for about $40 profit. I do it with the same video about twice a week. One description, used over and over. Using favorite searches is a key....will talk about that.

12:12 - TracyMarks
       I sell figure skating photos 7 months of the year, but from May -October they don't sell. I sell books 12 months of the year (and some videos).

12:12 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- Please explain how "favorite searches" works.

12:14 - TracyMarks
       Now here's the key with buying multiple copies of an item to keep reselling. Once you find out an item is hot, you do a search for it on Ebay and put it in your favorite searches. You can do that by clicking on the favorite searches tab OR by clicking on ADD TO MY FAVORITE SEARCHES after you've done a search. Ebay then will email you AS SOON AS an item matching your description is listed and you can put it on your watch list immediately or if it has a BUY IT NOW option, do a BUY IT NOW. I have about 15 FAVORITE SEARCHES for the 15 books (and 2 videos) I sell repeatedly and at any given time have about 20 of them on my watch list. When it looks like I can get a good deal, I buy the item...and later resell it. And I can use the same description over and over, except to alter it slightly if the condition of the item differs.

12:15 - TracyMarks
       One can get to the favorite searches tab from the My Ebay page.

12:19 - TracyMarks
       When it comes to buying items for resale, I highly recommend having a niche. Several kinds of items that you know well and can buy repeatedly so you can keep listing the same items again and attract repeat customers who are interested in similar items.

12:23 - TracyMarks
       Bob - Getting started at eBay, what you'd want to do is click on the SELL YOUR ITEM form and fill it out, step by step, using Ebay's help. Researching other items can help though -- you'd do a search for items similar to what you want to sell and see how other people are describing it. Sometimes you pick up particulars that you didn't know about the item that way (you don't copy what they say but learn from it). When you search under completed items, you will often discover that the items that are selling and for a likely profit have much better descriptions than those which don't, and you can learn from that what works. Also in what category to list the item.

eBay stores

12:15 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- During the skating photo season, do you have a reason for not setting up an eBay store? That seems to make sense when you have control over the products you sell -- are able to make unlimited copies.

12:17 - TracyMarks
       So far, Richard, I haven't been convinced that having an Ebay store would be worthwhile for me. Since I have about 3000 of my photos on my skating photo website, I can also sell from there....and my photo buyers check out my offerings on my website as well. ... I haven't heard many success stories about Ebay stores - you may be doing better than most people with your store!

12:21 - TracyMarks
       Richard, I may want to hear more about how you make an Ebay store successful in the next chat! So far I haven't been convinced that paying the monthly fee will garner more profit than listing all my items for sale at Ebay directly. Much I'm sure depends upon the kinds of items you sell.

12:23 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- The main advantage of the eBay store comes from the "merchandising". When you have a store, they for-free include prompts about 3 of your other items with every email and every Web page screen related to a sale of yours. That leads to repeat business and multiple-item sales.

Alternatives to eBay

 12:18 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- It sounds like you have a very effective opportunistic approach at eBay. Research tells you what is hot and also tells you when you have a chance to buy those hot items at a low price for resale. When you resell, do you do so anywhere besides eBay and Amazon? Are there other effective online outlets?

12:20 - TracyMarks
       I sell at Ebay, Amazon, Yahoo and Ebay does best. I get perhaps $300 worth of sales per month at Amazon, and far less at and Yahoo. Am not sure Yahoo is worthwhile. will be collapsed into Ebay next spring...

12:20 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- with my books on CD business, I get about a third of my sales at my Yahoo store and two thirds of my sales at eBay. At eBay about two-thirds of my sales are regular Buy-It-Now, and one third are through my eBay store. Opening a store made a big difference in my revenue.

12:21 - Richard Seltzer
       I've tried Yahoo auctions, but have never sold anything there. I sell very few at Amazon, through their marketplace. Are you selling through Amazon auctions or Amazon marketplace? I have about a hundred second-hand books for sale through (now owned by eBay), but only sell about one every two months.

12:23 - Bob Zwick
       Richard - do you get full retail price for your CD books on either Amazon or eBay stores?

12:25 - TracyMarks
       Richard, I'm selling through Amazon Marketplace. A key again here is to note what items are selling well there and list those. A really useful hint is to find out what items at Amazon Marketplace say BUYERS WAITING, go find that item at Ebay, and list it at Amazon after you buy it. Instant sale!! You can find out by searching around Amazon or for example with books or videos or dvds, subscribing to

12:25 - Richard Seltzer
       Bob -- At Amazon, through their Advantage (consignment program), I sell my book CDs at an elevated price so I can get a decent return after Amazon takes its 55% cut. At eBay, I sell at the same prices as at my online store at Yahoo, except items that I normally sell for $29, I sell for $24 at eBay, because of the price-related cut-off points they have for what fees you have to pay. From my Yahoo store, there is no charge for shipping in the US. From eBay, I charge $1 for shipping. I tried lower prices at eBay, as a test, and the lower price did not at all increase volume.

12:26 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- How do you do searches of that kind at Amazon? How can you limit a search to items with "Buyers Waiting?

12:26 - Bob Zwick     (Re: 12:23 - TracyMarks 'Bob - what you'd want to do is click on...')
       Thatt's good to know. A little research can save me from wasting time selling the wrong items and let me know what to expect to get for an item before I list it.

12:27 - TracyMarks
       I have a list of about a dozen or so items I sell that often have BUYERS WAITING listed at Amazon so as soon as I buy it I list it on Amazon and sell it immediately. With the video I mentioned, I buy it out EVERYWHERE so it's very difficult for anyone to find it anywhere except through my Ebay listings and Amazon.

12:28 - TracyMarks
       Richard - it's not exactly possible to limit a search at Amazon to BUYERS WAITING. But when one does a search there, the items that show up at the bottom are usually out of print, not available, and some of those will have BUYERS WAITING. The key is to find a number of BUYERS WAITING items and just focus on the sames ones again and again.

12:29 - TracyMarks
       The site is very interesting. It is database of all items at that have BUYERS WAITING. It's time-consuming to sort through, but that's all you get......the items out of stock that people want that no one is offering. You can subscribe for 30 days free; beyond that, you pay.

12:30 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- that database sounds interesting. How often is it updated? And what do they charge for a subscription?

12:32 - TracyMarks
       It's updated daily I think (datasift). Don't recall the current charge - it's somewhere between $15 - $30 a month. A friend and I split a subscription for awhile, both using the same id....My primary criticism of it is that it doesn't have good search options, and there are literally THOUSANDS of items at Amazon with buyers waiting. It takes a lot of time to search through the database.

12:29 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- Do those 15 hot items that you are always looking for include any books that are both out of print and in the public domain?

12:30 - TracyMarks
       I haven't paid attention to public domain books, Richard. That appears to be your specialty! You might want to get your 30 days free at Datasift to see the complete list of all the BUYERS WAITING items.......very helpful for knowing what people are looking for and what you can provide them for immediate sale.

12:33 - Richard Seltzer     (Re: 12:30 - TracyMarks 'I haven't paid attention to public domain books, Richard. That...')
       Tracy, I was just thinking that if those books are such sure sellers, you might want to be in a position to publish them yourself. Have you ever checked to see what the copyright owners might want to charge for the rights?

12:34 - TracyMarks
       Richard - I'll leave that to you -- looking for books to publish yourself! I'm out of that market now - after spending many years in self-publishing.

Articles, books, and other resources for eBay sellers

12:31 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- have you written articles with your eBay sales advice? If so, are they available on your Web site? URLs?

12:31 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- Have you benefitted from advice in any eBay-related books? If so, what books would you recommend and why?

12:33 - TracyMarks
       Richard - I don't have articles up on Ebay selling, just the kit of handouts I give students in my classes, which includes among other things actual Ebay help pages and the Ebay selling form.......

12:37 - Richard Seltzer
       Tracy -- any eBay books to recommend?

2:39 - TracyMarks
       Richard, I haven't read a book on Ebay selling in several years so I'm not up to date with the current books. Much of the material I've seen is dated. I find the online support groups the best resource for current information and advice.

12:40 - Richard Seltzer     (Re: 12:39 - TracyMarks 'Richard, I haven't read a book on Ebay selling in...')
       Likewise, I haven't read eBay books. But I did recently see one called (I think) eBay Hacks at a local bookstore. It looked tempting. Ever hear anything about that one?

12:41 - TracyMarks
       Not familiar with that, Richard. On some of the Ebay resource sites, there are lists of books for sale about selling at Ebay, but I haven't found the ones I've seen too valuable at this point. Often they provide long lists of wholesalers, but if everyone's using the same wholesalers, or the wholesalers themselves are selling wholesale on Ebay, it's hard to make a profit here.

Tools for managing sales at eBay

12:32 - Bob Zwick
       Tracy - do you use any software tools to prepare your eBay sales or to manage sales ?

12:34 - TracyMarks
       Bob - I don't use any particular software tools with Ebay, but many if not most regular sellers do so. I have links to some of them on my Ebay resource page - feel free to use it - at
That's my primary online resource for Ebay selling.

12:36 - TracyMarks
       ALSO - there are many very useful support groups for Ebay sellers that you might want to join. I have some of the listed on my links page. I'm on and and I also sometimes check the ebay sellers newsgroup at google and some of the Ebay forums. If you go to the site map, you'll find advice forums in every category at Ebay.

Christmas season activity at eBay

12:36 - Bob Zwick
       Does your eBay business pick up very much during the Christmas season ?

12:36 - Richard Seltzer     (Re: 12:36 - Bob Zwick 'Does your eBay business pick up very much during the...')
       Last year my eBay business dropped as Christmas approached. It was pretty steady for most of the rest of the year (a bit slow in June and July).

12:38 - TracyMarks
       Bob - Yes, my Ebay business does pick up during the Christmas season, but I find that the Christmas season on Ebay is generally November 15- December 12....It doesn't go as late as offline because of time involved in auction endings and shipping. Much depends on the kinds of items you sell. I sell my photography well before Christmas, and also remainder books, especially art books. There are a number of excellent sites online for buying books on remainder, but you really have to know what you're doing here, because a lot of books are on remainder because no one wants them. Plus it's not worth the time to sell books which normally retails for small amounts. The art history books I sell are usually $50 or more retail.

Importance of finding your niche

12:40 - TracyMarks
       I can't emphasize enough the importance of having one or more niches....and selling repeatedly within those niches. Either the same item or similar items (building a base of repeat customers)

12:41 - Richard Seltzer     (Re: 12:40 - TracyMarks 'I can't emphasize enough the importance of having one or...')
       Amen. With repetition you have a chance to make a reasonable profit for a reasonable time investment. You don't want to end up writing a new description every time you sell an item (unless you are selling very rare items for hundreds of dollars a piece).

12:41 - Bob Zwick
       Have you found a niche that is something that you personally like or just one that sells good ?

 12:43 - TracyMarks
       Bob, I ONLY sell what personally interests me. That way I enjoy myself more, sell to customers with similar interests, enjoy all the items I get and sell, and come across as knowledgeable and enthusiastic about what I sell. Apart from figure skating photography, for example, I sell a lot of art history books and Jungian psychology books. The great thing about art history books is that I get to look at a lot of expensive beautiful art books and scan my favorite photos in them before selling them for a profit <-:

Importance of including photos with your eBay listings

 12:42 - Bob Zwick
       Do you include a picture with everything that you sell ?

12:43 - Richard Seltzer     (Re: 12:42 - Bob Zwick 'Do you include a picture with everything that you sell...')
       Absolutely. Photos are very important. It's also worth the extra 50 cents for "gallery" -- having a small photo of your item appear in the search/category listings.

12:44 - TracyMarks
       Bob, I recommend not just one picture, but many pictures. If you're going to sell an item repeatedly, it's worth the time to have a number of quality pictures.

12:44 - Richard Seltzer     (Re: 12:43 - TracyMarks 'Bob, I ONLY sell what personally interests me. That way...')
       Amen again. Selling at eBay can be very tedious. You need to love what you are selling. If you aren't interested in it, the whole experience could be very painfully dull.

12:45 - TracyMarks
       Example of one of my art book listings. I've sold this one repeatedly for six months...It's not the hottest seller but generally sells about once a week.


 12:42 - Richard Seltzer
       All -- we're at the end of the hour. Thanks very much for joining in. I'll post an edited version of the transcript soon in hopes that others will benefit from this info. Any chance you can come back next week?

12:46 - TracyMarks
       I'll see if I can drop by next week. Are you doing Ebay stores, Richard? I'm sure I can learn from you on this topic.

12:46 - Bob Zwick
       I'll do my best. Next Thursday is getting close to GLD. I enjoyed today's break from the rat race. Thank you Richard and Tracy

12:38 - Richard Seltzer
       FYI -- upcoming schedule: next week eBay stores, the week after eBay admarketplace (banners at eBay for about 10 cents a clickthrough); then Thanksgiving, then google Adsense, then Google Adwords.

Previous transcripts and schedule of upcoming chats --

To connect to the chat room, go to

The full text of Richard Seltzer's books The Social Web, Take Charge of Your Web Site, Shop Online the Lazy Way, and The Way of the Web, plus more than a hundred related articles are available on CD ROM My Internet: a
Personal View of Internet Business Opportunities.

Web Business Boot Camp: Hands-on Internet lessons for manager, entrepreneurs, and professionals by Richard Seltzer (Wiley, 2002). No-nonsense guide targets activities that anyone can perform to achieve online business success. Reviews.

a library for the price of a book.

This site is Published by Samizdat Express, 213 Deerfield Lane, West Roxbury, MA 02132. (203) 553-9925.

Return to Samizdat Express

Pet Care | Surgeon: Los Angeles Plastic Surgery| Facial Surgery: Los Angeles Facelift | Hair Loss? Try Hair Restoration | Online Auction | Pet Owners: Veterinary Directory | Health Directory of Nutrition Business | Pet, Home, Garden | Wholesale Distributors | Class Action Lawsuits | Mortgages | Mortgage Refinancing | Home Loans - Mortgage Loans | Mortgage Refinancing Loans |