How to Decide What to Sell on eBay

Last updated: May 30, 2017 - 10:33am EDT

Before you get started as a seller on eBay, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is: "what am I going to sell?" While this question seems simple enough at first glance, there are a number of things that you need to consider before deciding on what you're going to list for sale. Here are seven things that you should think about before settling on the best items to sell on eBay.com for you.

7 important considerations when deciding what to sell on eBay

1. Know what you can't sell.

Before you even start thinking about what kinds of items you'd like to sell, it's important to know what kinds of items eBay forbids people from selling (or at least only allows the sale of under certain conditions). This saves you the trouble of spending hours researching the best way to sell a particular product, only to have your listings taken down as soon as you post them (and perhaps worse)! eBay has specific policies for different types of restricted items, but in general, here are some products that you need to be careful about trying to sell:

  • alcohol
  • coins, paper money, and stamps
  • drugs and drug paraphernalia
  • electronic surveillance and circumvention equipment
  • firearms and other weapons
  • gambling-related items (e.g. lottery tickets or slot machines)
  • items issued by governments, police, or military
  • tobacco
  • wildlife-based products

For a full list of restricted items, as well as links to specific policies concerning these items, click here.

2. Choose to focus on a few products, or sell a variety.

One of the first decisions that you need to make when deciding what to sell is whether you're going to specialize in selling only a few different types of items, or instead "go wide" and sell all sorts of assorted wares. The reason for this is that you only get a limited number of free listings each month, so you can only advertise so many unique items before you have to pay listing fees in order to post things for sale. An "eBay Stores" package (more on these later) can help alleviate this by giving you more free monthly listings and lowering your listing fees, but it will cost you money, too.

If you don't have much experience selling things in general, our advice would be to start small. Don't worry about getting a Stores subscription, and stick to researching and selling a few unique items in similar categories. You may find that you're comfortable selling a limited inventory, or you may decide that business is good enough that you want to branch out. If you do decide to expand, consider getting a Store to improve your selling performance.

3. Research what sells best on eBay.

An easy way to get a sense of what people are looking to buy right now is to browse eBay's "Collections" section. There, you'll see groups of similar items that lots of buyers have their eyes on, either thinking about making a purchase or waiting for something new to come up for sale. If you have your heart set on selling a particular class of items, you can also click the drop-down menu next to "Explore Collections" and select a specific category to see popular collections of items in just that category.



Another idea that's particularly good when you're starting out as a seller is to dedicate your store to items geared toward a specific season, holiday, or other celebration. For example, you could sell costumes and other spooky paraphernalia for Halloween, or you could sell toys and festive ornaments for the Christmas season. This is a simple but effective tactic if you have a relatively small inventory that you don't necessarily need to be trying to sell year-round.

If you're still having trouble deciding what to sell, here are a few categories of the best-selling items on eBay, directly from eBay itself:

  • smart phones
  • video games
  • video game consoles
  • tablet computers
  • audio headphones
  • MP3 players
  • digital cameras
  • laptop computers
  • shoes (especially women's shoes)
  • women's handbags
  • guitars
  • watches

As you can see, different types of electronics often sell relatively well on eBay. That's because they're usually in high demand, and cost a decent amount of money to boot. Plus, some pieces of technology can spur bidding wars in auctions if they're very popular or otherwise hard to find!

4. Figure out how you're going to source what you sell.

Another important thing that you need to think about when deciding what you want to sell is where you are going to get the items to sell in the first place. Some common ideas are:

  • Handcraft them yourself (as a hobby or as a business)
  • Buy them as junk and then repair them
  • Find them at discount shopping events, such as garage sales or flea markets
  • Buy them from wholesale retailers such as Alibaba or AliExpress

5. Determine your selling expenses.

eBay isn't an entirely free selling platform; after all, it has to make money somehow to support itself. Plus, in addition to paying for eBay's selling services, you may also need to budget for other selling costs, such as buying postage supplies or paying shipping charges. The following are some common expenses that you should be prepared for when selling on eBay:

  • "eBay Stores" packages ­– these are all-in-one business solutions that help you manage and market your selling account on eBay, though they come with monthly (or annual) costs. They are completely optional, although having one affects many other types of fees.
     
  • Listing fees – you are allowed to post a limited number of item listings for free each month. If you go over your limit(s), you will have to pay a listing fee for each item over the limit. The exact fee is based on the listing format and what level of eBay Stores package you have (if any).
     
  • Final value fees – eBay will take a commission on each item that you sell equal to a percentage of the item's total sale price (excluding taxes), up to a certain amount. If you have an eBay Stores package, final value fees will vary based on what type of item(s) you're selling, but will always be capped at $250 per item. If you don't, final value fees will always be 10% per item, up to a maximum of $750 per item.
     
  • Shipping expenses – you'll also often incur costs for getting the products you sell to the people who buy them, including purchasing postal supplies and paying for courier services. These will depend on the dimensions and weight of the items that you sell, as well as where you are shipping them to. You can pass some of these costs on to your customers if you wish, but doing so will count towards the total sale prices of your items, which will result in higher final value fees on those items.

As you can see, there are a number of different expenses that may affect your choices of what kind(s) of items you want to sell, how much you want to sell, and how much you want to charge for it all. If you want to get a sense of how much overhead you're going to be paying, these tools can help:

  • Shipping Calculator – see how much you'll be paying a courier service to ship any one item that you sell, based on its dimensions, weight, destination, and other factors.
     
  • Fee Calculator – figure out how much you will be paying eBay in fees for any one item that you sell, based on what category you're selling it in, how much you expect it to sell for, what level of eBay Stores subscription you have, and so on.
     
  • Fee Illustrator – decide which eBay Stores subscription (if any) is right for you based on what category of items you specialize in selling, how many items you list (and sell) per month, how much your items usually sell for, what your average shipping costs are, and so on.

6. Settle on selling formats to use.

There are two primary selling formats on eBay: "auction-style" and "fixed price." The former allows you to accept bids for your listed item, and then sell it to the highest bidder. The latter allows you to sell your item to a buyer at a static price without them having to bid for it. There are some hybrid options as well. Here are a few basic things to consider when choosing your selling format:

  • Auction-style listings generally make more money than fixed price listings, since bidders will probably offer to pay significantly more than an item is worth (depending on how much they want it).
     
  • Auction-style listings generally don't last as long as fixed price listings. This means that if your items don't sell in auctions, you have to renew their listings more frequently.
     
  • You generally get fewer free auction-style listings per month than free fixed price listings (though you can earn extra free auction-style listings if your items sell).
     
  • Auction-style listings generally have higher listing fees than fixed price listings.

Therefore, in general, it is usually better to save your auction-style listings for big-ticket items that you are confident will both sell in short order AND make you a significant profit. For less expensive items that you can wait to sell and can make you steady profits, consider sticking with fixed price listings.

7. Do research to help set your price ranges.

The various expenses and fees for selling on eBay will likely have a significant influence on not only what you sell, but also how much you sell it for. After all, unless you're desperately trying to get rid of a particular item, you're almost never going to want to sell it at a price that ends up making you less money than what you bought it for. Here's the catch, though: if you set your prices too high, buyers might ignore your wares in favour of those from less pricey sellers. So how do you strike a balance between trying to turn a profit and actually making sales?

One thing that can help is choosing to sell items that you already know a lot about. This likely means that you already have some idea of their market value, and possibly also how much people are willing to pay for them... especially in auctions. If you're a little in the dark on this front – likely because you're either selling a type of item that's new to you or trying a new selling format – then it's perfectly fine to check out what the competition is doing.

Search around eBay for items similar to the ones that you want to sell and note their asking prices and/or opening bids. You may want to try an advanced search, too, if you're looking for something really specific, or want to see how much people paid for items that have already sold . You may even want to try researching the prices of similar items on eBay competitor websites, such as Amazon. This should give you a good idea of how – or if – you can price your wares competitively enough. One last thing: be sure to factor shipping charges into your calculations!

 

Those are some basic guidelines for figuring out what you want to sell on eBay. Check out the rest of our course on how to sell on eBay to learn about other topics, including how you can sell things on eBay and what it will cost you to sell.

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