eBay Article: Selling Stamps Profitably
In many ways stamps and philatelic items are the perfect items to trade on eBay. Compared to many items they are small, light and cheap to ship and lend themselves well to online display. However, as with any form of selling, they still need to be advertised, promoted and pitched effectively and eBay is no exception.
Before you sell a stamp on eBay it is worth thinking through the logical process a buyer will negotiate before they make that winning bid. First they must find your listing, next they must recognise that listing as something they want, third they must see that your stamp is in the condition they want and, finally, the listing needs to encourage them to name a price they are willing to pay.
So let's look at each of these steps in order and see how sellers can help buyers to find, appreciate and bid for their stamps.
The first step is for buyers to find the listing. Too many sellers simply assume an eBay listing will be found and structure the listing to address that assumed viewer. In truth the primary aim when wording a listing is to help buyers find the listing before going on to pitch the stamp to the potential purchaser.
In years gone by eBay listed all auctions (and buy it now listings) in the order they end. This encouraged many buyers to simply scan the closing auctions. As a result eyecatching headlines could help a sale but this is no longer the case. By default eBay now distort the order in which offers are presented to buyers according to their so called "Best Match" algorithm. While I am no fan of this technology I have to accept it is in default use and work with it. This means sellers cannot assume their listings will ever make it to the very top of eBay's category pages simply because the auction ends soon. Therefore it is very important the titles of listings are worded to maximise the hits achieved from buyers using eBay's search engine.
Far too many sellers still use terms like "Wow!", "L@@k" and "*Must See*" in their listing titles. Why? Have you ever searched for one of those terms? The very limited space available in your title is the most valuable space in your entire eBay listing to get your stamps found by potential buyers... so don't waste it!
Ask yourself what terms a buyer will be searching for if they want to buy your stamp. For GB stamps there is a good chance UK buyers will search by the Stanley Gibbons catalogue number - usually abbreviated in the format SG123. If your stamp is likely to appeal to North American buyers then the Scott Catalogue number is a useful keyword. Older UK stamps often use stamp colors as a reference. You need look no further than the 1840 1d black and 2d blue for examples of this. There's little excuse for not using catalogue numbers as you can find a previous year's catalogue selling for a fraction of their original cover price on eBay. In my opinion the SG Concise catalogue is an essential reference for sellers of GB stamps.
More modern stamp issues usually have standard names and descriptions applied to them. Apart from the topical subject involved people will search for terms like "Machin", "Commemorative", "Smilers" etc. They may also be looking for stamps in a certain condition and, again, these tend to be standard terms and abbreviations like "mint", "NHM", "MM", "VFU", "FU" etc. Our home page has a quick checklist of the abbreviations most commonly used to describe stamp condition. Your eBay listing titles need to include all the relevant keywords a searcher is likely to use to locate your stamp. It is estimated that over 90% of all the searches carried out on eBay only ever search the titles. Very few people opt to search within listing descriptions so make your title count.
Building a good feedback reputation on eBay and earning positive "Detailed Seller ratings" (DSR) is the way to make sure your listings will get the best exposure in eBay's default search results. There's little more I can say to help here except advise all sellers to communicate properly with their customers, treat them fairly and despatch items quickly without overloading any shipping charges. If you maintain high service standards and earn good feedback & DSRs in addition to writing effective keyworded titles then your items will get found easily by buyers. Now it is time to pitch the sale to potential buyers.
Most buyers of stamps on eBay will have viewed hundreds or thousands of listings before. They will usually know roughly how rare, valuable, collectable or desirable an item is and any attempt to "oversell" can easily put otherwise serious buyers off. Likewise, an optimistic start bid or buy it now price is more often than not a simple waste of cyberspace. Buyers will mostly want to see a factual description and good clear images. Condition is everything in stamp collecting and full, fair descriptions including realistic quality and condition remarks are essential. This can build trust and significantly reduce the potential for after sales complaints.
Take the time to give fair and full descriptions. All too many sellers try to speed up the listing process by offering just a few words and a quick snapshot coupled with their standard terms and conditions pasted in. This is lazy and will result in a measurable decline in sale prices and profitability over time.
eBay is one place where pictures really can say a thousand words. Make images as large and clear as you can - serious collectors will appreciate it. Whenever appropriate think about displaying front and back scans to demonstrate a stamp's condition. For covers, if the postmark is likely to appeal to some collectors, think about offering a close up of the mark.
A good description will fully document all the facts about the item being sold. It wont ramble on using unjustified superlatives and the images will confirm the written description is accurate. If this process is done well then the stamps will sell themselves to buyers.
Finally we come to the most sensitive aspect of eBay listing. Price. Successful sellers maintain a high sell through rate. They avoid their overall profit margins being eaten in to by the time and cost involved with high levels of relisting unsold items. It is far better to reduce the wasteful cost of relisting in terms of time and money and invest those savings in being a little more competitive when setting your opening bids or buy it now prices. You may be surprised to learn that it is not at all unusual for lower start bids to result in higher average sale prices over time because those sellers quickly become bookmarked and added to buyers favorite sellers lists.
Before eBay came along, most collectors would have to sell surplus or unwanted stamps and collections to the trade or via expensive auction houses (who often sold to the trade!). It was not at all unusual for collectors to receive only around 50% of the standard retail prices typically asked by dealers for the same stamps, and often less. The arrival of eBay allowed many collectors to achieve much better prices (much to the annoyance of many dealers in the early days!). But some collectors now seem to expect very full retail prices for their stamps and, in many cases, this is entirely unrealistic. The result is often a high level of non-sales. Be realistic, appeal to buyers by being competitive. Do a little research before listing your items. Check closed auctions for similar stamps. Do you really want to spend time and money listing things that have little if any chance of selling? If research suggests you can't sell a particular stamp without making a loss then consider whether or not to even try? Maybe this is just a stamp to put away for the future?
You must put yourself inside the potential buyers head when you list items on eBay. Make sensible judgements and try to build a reputation for always offering attractive, well described and competitively priced items. If you do this you will quickly earn a place on many buyers favorite seller lists guaranteeing you more views and more competition for your future listings. Even if you are only a hobby trader, your long term success will depend on far more than one sale. Maximising the profit on one sale is not the aim to prove successful in the long term. Maintaining an overall healthy profit margin across all of your sales is the aim even if you end up taking the odd loss on some items in order to attract and keep a regular following among buyers.
Finally, to succeed on eBay always remember to treat other eBayers with the same courtesy, respect and fairness as you expect and appreciate from others. Successful trading usually requires building durable and productive relationships.
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