How to get the most from online sales
The fine Kiwi tradition of scribbling a hand-drawn garage sale ad on the back of an uprooted real estate sign is on the way out.
Savvy sellers have migrated en masse to the online world, and the dominant player is auction giant Trade Me with its some 3 million active members.
Browsing through some of the wackier listings proves that one man's trash is indeed another man's treasure.
For compulsive hoarders, online auctions offer a perfect way to force themselves to clean out the clutter and make some sweet moolah at the same time.
The rule of thumb is that if you haven't used something in the last year, then it's time to give it the flick.
But if you want to get the most bucks for your junk, there's a bit more to it than just chucking up an auction and hoping for the best.
The first decision is choosing the marketplace. Trade Me is synonymous with online auctioning, but it's not the only game in town. It's not the cheapest, either.
Your garage sale returns are going to be eroded by a fairly hefty 7.9 per cent commission, or slightly less for higher value items.
Rival website Sella has no such success fees, but also has a much smaller membership base of around 650,000.
A string of other free alternatives have popped up like mushrooms in recent weeks, but none is a serious contender so far and some have had some well-publicised security issues.
The trade-off is between maximising eyeball exposure and cost. Hawking your goods to a broader audience on TradeMe may well make up for the fees. But if you're sick of fees, try holding out for the price you want on a free website.
We delved into the Trade Me forums to glean some hot tips from the savviest sellers, but they were reluctant to give up their trade secrets.
Martin from Wellington summed up the general feeling:
"I imagine that if anyone is ‘savvy' they are clever enough to know not to publish such a competitive advantage on a public bulletin board for someone else to make an easy buck from."
Luckily veteran marketer Michael Carney, author of the book Trade Me Success Secrets, was more forthcoming.
He says the most important factor is crafting the auction title, which has to hook people in when they're scrolling through listings.
But it's also crucial because of the way Trade Me's search engine works.
Most people shop by searching for keywords, and those in the headline make the top of the list.
That means you have to get all the relevant keywords into the title while still making it stand out.
A generic "toaster" auction probably isn't going to push anyone's buttons, but "Four-slice Russell Hobbs toaster, perfect for flatting!" might appeal.
Then there's the description. It should of course contain all the important facts and figures, but Carney says elements of humour or story-telling can work as well.
Being a spelling Nazi is a good trait for a trader, too. Witness the "White buttoned shit" currently for sale in the men's clothing section that will struggle to feature in key word searches.
No-one wants to buy something they can't see. The "Gallery" option, which is free on Sella and 55c on Trade Me, is almost always going to be worth it.
Trade Me reckons Gallery listings get up to 80 per cent more bids, and Carney suggests using a colourful or high contrast image to draw people in.
Getting good visuals is crucial to Lenny Wills, owner of Trade Me secondhand store Circa.
"A photo is at least 50 per cent of the sale," he says.
Wills happily pays the 10c fee to list multiple photos, which is a trifling expense when "it's 0.01 per cent of your sales".
He uses natural light where possible, a nice clean background and snaps close-ups of detail or flaws.
But his biggest secret to success is the elbow grease used to clean furniture, polish glass and scrub out fridge freezers.
"We've found the biggest difference when we're selling something and getting really good money comes down to a very clean, presentable item," he says.
Timing is also crucial.
"Hardly anyone will be awake to furiously bid on an auction that shuts at 3am on a Tuesday," says Trade Me spokesman Paul Ford.
An auction closing during an All Blacks test or the season finale of Desperate Housewives is no good either.
Ford suggests checking the current site statistics (trademe.co.nz/About-trade-me/Site-stats) to check the optimal listing time.
"For instance, right now the busiest time of the week is after the family Sunday roast between 8 and 9pm."
Of course, if every trader listed their auctions at 8pm sharp on a Sunday it would be a joke. If there's a lot of competition for an item you're selling, then try listing midweek at a reasonable time.
Trade Me and Sella both offer separate categories for $1 reserve listings where you can try and start a bidding war for your item.
"A $1 reserve strategy is a tricky one, if only because it is possible that you end up selling your item for $1," says Carney. "And that's not uncommon."
He says it can work if you're offering a sought-after item that a lot of people are buying. That's because it gets a ton of views and saves to people's watchlists.
If you're more interested in just getting the junk out of the house, it can be a bit of fun too.
But if you're trying to sell a valuable but obscure collectable or something that really needs the right buyer, stay away.
Trade Me publishes lists of its sell-through rates (www.trademe.co.nz/Community/SellThroughRates.aspx) which gives a good indication of how hot your item is.
The ubiquitous iPods fly out the door like hot cakes (50 per cent), while highly specific textbooks take a long time to sell (1 per cent).
Otherwise if you're in no particular hurry, a good strategy is to list your item at the price you want for it, and drop the reserve if it doesn't sell.
While almost everything is free on Sella, Trade Me offers a range of potential listing upgrades to pimp out your auctions and make them stand out from the rest.
We've already suggested that investing in Gallery listings and adding multiple photos will probably pay off.
Carney reckons the combination deals, which place your listing ahead of others with a bold title, can also be worth doing for higher-value items.
But the chance to splash across the home page, which costs $39, should be reserved only for "a really hot item", he says:
"It does give you a lot of eyeballs, but obviously you've got to be able to earn back that fee."
Imagine trying to sell an iPhone for your first-ever auction. You'll be lucky to get any bites at all from traders wary of getting scammed.
You'll certainly make more money online by being honest and building a profile.
Trade Me's Address Verified sellers have a 25 per cent higher sell-through rate, for example.
Once you've built up a base of recommendations from fellow users your iPhone auction might take off.
Being scrupulously honest in your auctions is critical to build feedback. If it's got a chip, then take a photo of it, says Carney.
"If that stops people bidding, it also avoids unsatisfied customers."
Quite apart from the ethical considerations, it will come back to bite you on the bum if you don't.
Be upfront about shipping costs ahead of time too, and don't muck around.
"Once you've got the money, get the product out the door and into their hands as quickly as possible," Carney says.
Go on - clean out that cupboard.
- © Fairfax NZ News