tbod's Guide On How Not To Sell On eBay (Part 1)

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Why Am I Writing These Guides?

I have had my own eBay account for over three years and was responsible for eBay sales for a small shop for a year prior to that. I am currently buying items on eBay for myself and family, and selling odd things I discover as I clear out my workroom.

During my four plus years on eBay I have been disappointed, amazed and downright appalled by the standard of many of the listings I have encountered. I have lost count of the number of times my jaw has dropped and I have shaken my head thinking "How the **** do they expect to sell anything with a listing like that?". Occasionally I am moved to laughter, more often to tears...

This is the first in a series of Guides inspired by some of the dreadful practices I have encountered.

The purpose of this particular guide is to point out some of the common problems I regularly see in eBay listings and how to avoid them.

Part 1, The Listing

In order to sell an item on eBay it is necessary to list that item and the resultant listing is your gateway to all sales:

  • If you get it right your item will sell and you might even make a profit.
  • Get it wrong and it will never sell or, worse still, it will sell but generate so many problems you wish you had never bothered.

Although it is quite difficult to put into words precisely what makes a good listing good and a bad listing bad it should be immediately obvious when you look at a listing which side of the fence it lies.

All listings should contain a number of key elements including some or all of:

  • A description of the item being sold
  • Photographs of that item
  • The seller's terms and conditions

The Description

A good description should, above all, be 100% honest.

The item should be accurately and honestly described and contain sufficient detail for a prospective buyer to decide if this is the item for them. Try and anticipate the sort of things a buyer would want to know and make sure you include them as part of the description.

It is equally vital to include details of any and all known faults with the item, however small. Some people might ask "Why should I do that? It might mean my item doesn't sell..."

And my answer is; for precisely that reason!

Some people can be funny buggers and it is impossible to know what might be important to any given buyer. What, to you, might be a little scratch or dent you dismiss as being nothing could be a major deal breaker for your buyer. You instantly become a liar and a thief, if he had know about that massive gouge along the side of the case he would NEVER have bought your stinking item.

For the sake of a few words and possibly a picture showing the blemish you could end up seriously out of pocket: you pay him to return the item, refund his money (including P&P)and he still leaves you abusive negative feedback!

Hell Hath No Fury Like An eBayer Scorned...

Below are some examples of Good and Bad listing practices. Let us assume, for the purposes of illustration, we are trying to sell a PC base unit.

A Good Description

I am offering for sale a fully functioning Dell Optiplex GX 260 PC.

This model is housed in a black SFF (Small Form Factor) case and features a 2.0GHz Intel Pentium IV processor, 256Mb of RAM, a 80Gb hard disk, CD ROM drive and floppy disk.

Rear connectors: VGA, PS2 mouse, PS2 keyboard, Serial (DB9), Parallel (DB25), mic in, line in, line out, ethernet, two USB 1.1 ports.

Front connectors: headphone socket, two USB 1.1 ports.

The case is a little scruffy with a number of minor scuffs as is to be expected from a second hand PC but it is mechanically sound and functions perfectly. The lighter grey flap (with DELL badge) that covers the front USB ports and headphone socket stays open but no longer locks shut but this does not affect the operation of the computer in any way whatsoever.

This auction is for the base unit ONLY, no keyboard, mouse or monitor will be provided.

Although there is a Microsoft XP COA (Certificate of Authenticity) attached to the side of this computer no operating system is currently installed. The buyer will need to have a suitable operating system and be able to install it on the computer. I am sorry but I am unable to assist in installing your OS.

A BAD Description



You might laugh, but the BAD description shown above came from a genuine eBay listing I saw a few months ago.

The good description includes pretty much everything a buyer might want to know about the machine and lets them know exactly what IS and (more importantly) ISN'T included in the sale.

Also, compare the presentation. While the good listing is laid out neatly with grammatically correct sentences organised into paragraphs and impeccable spelling, the bad listing is ALL UPPER CASE and (despite it being only three words long) full of errors.


Photographs are as much a part of the description as the words and, contrary to popular belief, the camera can - and frequently does - lie. So ensure your photographs are 100% honest and do not hide any defects.

You don't need an expensive 10 Megapixel camera with a zoom lens to take photographs for use on eBay, the most basic of models will suffice. 

For example, even a camera with a 1.3 Megapixel resolution (which hasn't been made for years) would be more than adequate as it will produce a 1280x1024 image which is the same size of the majority of PC screens. While it is almost impossible to find such a beast these days some camera shops take in old cameras in part exchange and chuck the obsolete ones so you might be able to get one for next to nothing. Alternatively, an old 3 Megapixel camera can be picked up on eBay for considerably less than a tenner including P&P simply because nobody want them anymore... Why not pick one up and keep your decent camera for best?

While it is beyond the scope of this guide to tell you how to take a decent photograph and I am by no means an expert photographer I can certainly give you an idea of what (in my opinion) you should aim for and what to avoid.

  • Ensure your photographs are well, and evenly, lit
  • Try to eliminate shadows wherever possible.
  • Place the item to be photographed against a background of a contrasting colour:
    • place most items against a white background
    • place very light items against a contrasting colour eg: pale blue.
  • Suitable backgrounds for small items:
    • a couple of pieces of copier paper taped into an 'L' shape to act as base and back
    • the inside of a cardboard box which has had the front and top removed and the insides painted white
  • Suitable backgrounds for larger items:
    • a plain white wall
    • a piece of melamine board (eg: white contiplas)
    • an old sheet draped over the back of a sofa and across the floor
  • If the background intrudes on the image simply remove it using a graphics package. I can highly recommend the Gimp which is an excellent piece of free, Open Source software which is also available for Microsoft Windows.
Another eBay guide suggested photographing small to mediium sized items in a bathtub but I have not found that to be particularly helpful, I ruined two PCs before I realised they meant an empty bathtub!

Good Photographs

Below are some examples of (reasonably) good photographs of the item for sale (the PC) taken by an enthusiastic amateur (me) with a basic digital camera. They were resized to 640x480 prior to uploading.

Untouched  Background Removed

These photographs are good because the subject fills the frame, everything is in focus and details can be clearly seen. I would not use the first image, where the original background had acquired an unpleasant colour cast but the second one where it has been removed. This is far superior to the first as the subject stands out far better against the plain white background.

Side View    COA

Similar comments apply to these photographs: subject centred in the frame, good focus, details clearly visible. Note how the product key has been deliberately obscured in the second photograph. This is to prevent someone from using it illegally.

Rear Connectors     The Internals.

Once again, subject in focus and centred in the frame. In the resized originals (640x480) all the legends are clearly visible on the back panel and the major components easy identified inside the case.

Bad Photographs

Below are a couple of bad photographs of the same item.

This photograph is seriously out of focus, the subject is in the background when it should be in the foreground and there are a lot of extraneous items in the photograph which are not included in the sale eg: monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse etc.

This photograph is badly framed, with the actual item for sale (the PC) off centre. The focus is better but, once again there are extraneous items which are not included in the sale (see above) and these obscure and distract from the subject.


The good photographs were well framed, in focus and with the subject dominating the image. They were uncluttered by extraneous items not relevant to the sale and the eye was drawn to the subject.

The bad photographs were poorly framed with the subject off centre and (or) in the background, they were out of focus and cluttered. In addition they were dominated by extraneous items the buyer might justifiably assume were included in the sale when actually they were not.

As a final comment on photographs, I always think having items of furniture and an assortment of crap in the background looks tacky and unprofessional.

Photo Hosting

eBay have their own photo hosting service which you can use to display multiple pictures in your auction but as there is a 'per photo' charge for this service I have never used it. I am therefore singularly unqualified to comment on the capabilities of their service.

Personally I have always used an external photo hosting service, photobucket.com, and have found it to be perfectly adequate for my needs. You do, however, need to ensure your albums are private and you use direct http links to your photographs (not their carefully crafted HTML ) or you may unwittingly allow any eBay user who visits your listing to edit - ie: vandalise - your beloved photographs!

Photo Presentation

Presentation of photographs can be a very personal thing, some people just 'bung in' a whole bunch straight after the description and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach I find it messy, inelegant and it makes the listing overly long and unwieldy.

Occasionally I will scatter my photographs throughout the listing in a magazine layout style but more often than not I use one of my custom 'picture show' designs.

Each design features a single large photograph surrounded by thumbnails. The central photograph is 640x480 (sometimes 1024x768) and when a thumbnail is clicked the large photograph is replaced by a full sized version of the thumbnail.

I have written a number of different designs which display between five and 24 photographs in little more than the space of a single one:
  • a single column of five thumbnails to the left of the main photo (five photos)
  • a single column of five thumbnails to the right of the main photo (five photos)
  • a single row of five thumbnails below the main photo (five photos)
  • two columns of five thumbnails to the left of the main photo (ten photos)
  • two columns of  five thumbnails to the right of the main photo (ten photos)
  • two rows of five thumbnails below the main photo (ten photos)
  • five thumbnails to the left and five to the right of the main photo (ten photos)
  • five thumbnails to the left, five to the right and five below the main photo (17 photos)
  • five thumbnails to the left, five to the right, five below and five above the main photo (24 photos)
In the last two designs extra thumbnails have been added to fill in the corner positions.

Terms and Conditions

First of all, do you actually need to include any Terms and Conditions? From some of the listings I have seen I truly believe some sellers think the purpose of T&Cs is to deter prospective buyers from bidding!

If you do decide to include T&Cs bear these things in mind:

  • put them towards the end of a listing
    • putting them at the start of a listing, ie: before the item description, gives the wrong impression.
  • be reasonable
    • Some of the T&Cs I have seen would turn your stomach, nobody in their right minds would ever bid if they had bothered to read them
  • don't go mad!
    • I have seen listings with pages and pages and pages of T&Cs which dwarf the remainder of the listing. This certainly makes me suspicious and deters me from bidding

The following examples feature a few extracts from T&Cs I have seen, the actual T&Cs tend to be a bit longer.

Good T&Cs

  • As a seller I am only able to leave positive feedback so it is only fair that you leave feedback first and I leave mine in response to yours.
  • If you have a Zero or Negative Feedback score and wish to bid on one of my items I would be grateful if you could contact me before bidding. Should you fail to do so I reserve the right to cancel your bid and block you from bidding on future auctions.

Bad T&Cs



The good T&Cs (taken from my own) describe what I require from a buyer in a non confrontational manner and are designed to put them at their ease.

The bad T&C are very confrontational and aggressive in tone. They make me wonder;

  • "Do I want to deal with this character?" and
  • "If he's like that now what will he be like if there is a problem?"
While a bad set of T&C s can dissuade me from bidding on an otherwise good listing I don't think God himself could write T&Cs good enough to persuade me to bid on an otherwise bad listing.


A good listing will give you a better chance of selling your item. It will generate fewer questions from prospective buyers and give you a significantly greater chance of ending up with a happy buyer who will leave you nice positive feedback.

A bad listing gives a bad impression of the seller so if a prospective buyer hasn't been instantly turned off by the dreadful 'look and feel' or the most appallingly draconian T&Cs you could ever imagine and looked elsewhere for a bargain they are more likely to ask questions of the seller. (Believe me this will be a hideously pointless exercise and the subject of a future Guide.) Furthermore, because there are fewer prospective buyers an item with a bad listing - if it sells at all - will generally attract a significantly lower final price.

Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you will encounter problems with a sale:

  • a buyer who claims the item was damaged in transit
  • a buyer who simply can't be satisfied no matter what you offer
  • a psycho stalker who is determined to ruin your feedback rating because they believe you have slighted them in some way real or (more likely) imagined

If you are unfortunate to find yourself in this position a good listing could help you to win your dispute (particularly if it relates to a fault that was clearly mentioned in the listing) whereas a bad listing could ensure you lose it.

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