A 'Newbies' guide to eBay antiques dealing

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A 'Newbies' guide to eBay antiques dealing

Hello, and welcome to my first eBay guide
I've been contemplating writing a basic guide for a while to share my experiences of the first two and half years of eBay antiques dealing - this isn't a 'how to' guide but more a list of learnings, pitfalls and observations I've discovered over the last 28 months - everyone will run their businesses differently and of course everyone will make mistakes too!
If you're thinking of becoming an antiques dealer you will almost certainly have a deep passion for your subject - you will of quite possibly been a collector of many years and will fondly remember your early purchases as a child when your parents or grandparents took you around antiques fairs or shops...........sound familiar?
So what has prompted you to 'take the plunge' now?
You might want an extra income or maybe a complete change of career?
Perhaps you've some money to invest that will pay better returns than bank accounts?
You could even be retired with more time on your hands now?
Whatever your reasons the most important piece of advice I can offer is:
Without exception, every antique dealer I know does it because of their love of the subject and not because of the potential financial rewards - I've often heard it said that selling antiques won't make you a millionaire (at least 99.9% don't).
If your primary reason of entering the trade is to 'get rich' this may not be the vocation for you - don't get me wrong, if done correctly you can get a comfortable living from it but many people see it as a lifestyle business that allows them to do the things they want to do rather than a vehicle to vast riches.
Ok, with that bombshell out of way and providing I haven't put you off already perhaps I can offer some practical advice about how to get started?
As I mentioned earlier, most dealers will have made the transition from being a collector to a trader - to me it's unimaginable that someone would start a business with zero knowledge of their subject.
Before you buy any antiques your first stock purchase (or more properly an investment) should be some good reference material - whether it be silver hallmark books, books about vintage toys, military medal guides or art nouveau glass - all of these reference works are written by experts in their respective fields and they offer practical advice for what to look for, what to pay, where to find it and how to avoid buying fakes.
Sounds obvious really doesn't it?
'Doing your homework' as I call it not only increases your level of knowledge but allows your customers to trust your eBay items descriptions and more importantly your judgement - mistakes can be costly, not only on your bank balance but in terms of customer retention!
It goes without saying that there are many, many professional and informative websites on the world wide web that cover a vast array of antiques related subjects - these are good but are no substitute for inspecting and handling antiques in person - the fastest way I learnt was going to local antiques auctions, inspecting items, looking for damage or signs of repair - the big antiques fairs are also great platforms for meeting some extremely knowledgeable and passionate people that are more than happy to explain and show their items to you.
It's worth noting that traditional auction houses have no legal obligation to disclose damage or repairs made to items they are selling which can be a potential pitfall if you haven't viewed and item and are perhaps bidding online - if you are registered as a business seller on eBay you are governed by the distance selling regulations which allow buyers to return items, for whatever reason within a specified timeframe - this is because buyers have not had the opportunity to view before buying i.e they are buying blind and relying on your accurate descriptions (it goes back to 'doing your homework' as I mentioned earlier) - in that respect it pays to be honest and informative with your item descriptions.
So, you've learnt your subject - what next?
Buying antiques is easy!
You hand your money over to the dealer or raise your hand at auction and keep it up until you've won the item - the real art (and sometimes difficult part) is selling the item and making a profit.
You should consider what you want to sell - do you want to be a general dealer or more specialised - being more specialised will certainly narrow the field of potential customers for you but it could also make you a 'go to' person for a collector.
If you're new to eBay, dealers have 3 selling options to consider, one of which carries a greater risk than the others.
1. Auction style listings where items start a certain price and prospective buyers bid on it during a 7 to 10 day period - providing there is no reserve set the item will sell to the highest bidder.
2. Buy it now with best offer facility - you list your item with a fixed price but you give potential customers to 'haggle' with you over the price until a mutually acceptable price is agreed.
3. Buy it now - a fixed priced listing where you get your the price you're asking.
My thoughts on these 3 options are:
Number 1 - in my experience, the most risky option - it's entirely possible for you to lose money on an item (particularly if they are relatively common or run of the mill) - a lot of traders start items at 99p to hook people in and you should get bids on an item if you have a low price point but don't be surprised if the highest bid doesn't meet your expectations - the flip side to this is that you may have a rare or one off item that will make a good price because there is high demand for it and it will exceed your expectations - the upside to this method is you will most probably sell the item, whether you'll make a profit is another matter.
Number 2. Buy it now with best offer gives you a better option if you want to sell an item and there is room for movement on your price (much the same as haggling at a fair). If you decide on this option be prepared for some interesting and potentially insulting offers e.g. your price £60 - price offered £15 (this actually happened to me) - eBay is FULL of buyers who are dealers looking for bargains - they may send low offers on 50 items in one day to various people and only need to get lucky once for it to be worthwhile for them - they are relying on how desperate you are to sell an item.
You shouldn't react negatively to these offers despite how frustrated you might be - either politely decline the offer or send a counter offer - some buyers will 'try it on' to attempt to buy an item cheaply but most are more realistic than this.
Number 3. Buy it now at a fixed price gives you complete control over you pricing - occasionally you may get a message from someone expressing an interest and asking if there is any price movement - you can either politely decline to reduce the price or attach a reduced price offer to the message sender.
The downside to consider with this option is that items may not sell as quickly as you'd like if potential buyers feel the price is too high as they love to feel they are 'getting a deal'.
Now you've decided your selling format what else should I look for?
So you've listed your first items - the photographs look great, you've listed the item at a price that'll give you a profit......suddenly 'watchers' start appearing.
Let me be controversial here - Watchers mean nothing!
I never, ever get excited about watchers on my items - and there's a good reason why.
I split watchers down into 3 categories:
1. I've got one, or my mother/uncle/granddad has one and want to see what it's worth.
2. I'm a dealer who might have one and want to see what it sells for - or is waiting to see if the price gets reduced.
3. I may have a genuine interest in buying at the right price - I may be waiting until I have the funds to buy the item when I get paid.
If you have an item listed that has 20 watchers it's reasonable to assume that possibly only 3 of those people have a serious and genuine interest in buying the item - sometimes you can have 20 watchers and not sell the item in a 30 day listing in which case you can refer back to points 1 and 2 above.
If your item fails to sell and you relist it the same watchers will be informed of it being relisted - if you reduce the price they will also be informed of the price reduction too so for some people it may pay dividends to perhaps have hundreds of watched items and just play the waiting game.
These are just a few of the things I've encountered since starting to trade on eBay though there are more which I hope to put into a follow up guide with some do's and don'ts of trading.
I hope that any readers of this guide who are new to eBay and are thinking of starting an antiques business will of found it useful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article and Good luck!
Matt.
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