The Net Cost

Online auctions are a thrifty way to exchange your old stuff for something new.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Many of us would like to replace our old gear with new. But most of us aren't millionaires (and besides, where would we put it all?). Online auctions may be the answer. These auctions are great places to sell your old gear and use that money toward the purchase of a new product. For instance, when I bought a new pair of 14-channel FRS radios, I reduced my net cost to $10 by selling my older two-channel Cobra radios on eBay. All you need is an e-mail address to make a sale, but a little skill will increase your return and help you avoid potential problems.

Some Basic Rules
Before listing anything in an online auction you need to know two rules: the Golden Rule and the auction's rules. Internet sales involve trust. You should list each item as if you were going to bid on it yourself. If the product is used, describe its condition and disclose any blemishes accurately. Many buyers will gladly pay a fair price for a bow that's shot a lot of arrows, but nobody wants to learn the string needs to be replaced after his check clears.

When I upgraded my riflescope, I sold the old one in an online auction. My ad disclosed that it had been on my rifle for about three years and it had marks from the rings. The buyer was happy to get a good deal on a fully functional scope, and I was happy to offset the price of my new one.

It's important to know the auction's rules before you list anything because once a buyer places the first bid, you're usually committed to sell the item for whatever the final price is. Some things to know in advance: What are the auction's charges? (Usually a small listing fee plus a percentage of the final price.) Do you have to pay those fees if your item doesn't sell? (Often you only have to pay the listing fee.) Will the auction help you collect the payment from the high bidder? (It can send notices and threaten to bar the buyer from bidding again, but it can't make him write a check.) Many auctions list tips for sellers and have a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page that can ease you into some successful sales.

Setting a Fair Price
Once you're comfortable with the auction's rules, and you've written a description that accurately describes what you have to sell, it's time to set a fair price for the item. If you price it too low, you may have to sell it for less than you'd like. If you price it too high, you may not get any bids. The best way to estimate what your item is worth in an online auction is to study closing prices on similar products. Then price your item low enough to attract multiple bidders who will raise the price by bidding against each other but high enough so that you won't lose money if it sells for the opening bid.

Your auction should also reveal who will pay shipping charges, where you will ship, and how much it will cost. My items always end with what I will charge for shipping in the lower 48 states. I've sold several items to buyers in Canada (and one to a buyer in Nigeria), but there were no surprises when I e-mailed that shipping costs would be a little bit more. Many sellers just state that the buyer pays shipping, but more people will bid if they know up front how much extra it will cost to get the package to their door. Sellers can estimate shipping charges through UPS at www.ups.com or through the Post Office at www.usps.com.

Attracting Potential Buyers
Once the item is listed, and an accurate description and shipping charge is disclosed, you'll be just like hundreds of other online sellers. To get the best price, you'll have to attract more attention to what you have to sell.

Adding pictures to your auction is the best way to attract bidders, but that will require a digital camera or scanner. Before I had a scanner I often added a link to the manufacturer's Web site if it displayed a picture or description of what I was selling. For example, when I sold severall TruGlo Rite Site sights, my ad stated that you could view a picture of the product at www.truglosights.com. Of course, if your item is used or differs from the manufacturer's photo, you must reveal the specifics.

Sometimes you can gather sales leads from the closing prices you reviewed before listing your item. Most auctions let you learn the bidders' e-mail addresses after the auction closes. If you list a similar item, you can send the unsuccessful bidders a link to your auction.

When the auction closes, your item is sold. What happens next can help you make future sales. For example, sellers should always leave positive feedback for trustworthy buyers, and they should request that the buyers do the same. As your feedback rating increases, bidders will have more confidence in you and your listings.

Good communication is key to a happy buyer. E-mail the buyer promptly after the auction closes, and tell him how to contact you. Let him know in that first communication that you leave positive feedback for all successful sales. Send him an e-mail the day you receive payment, and let him know how long it will take to clear. Then e-mail another notice the day you send the package. Much of the positive feedback I have received notes that I stayed in touch with the buyer, increasing the individual's confidence that he would be getting what he paid for.

Online sellers have little risk if they make sure payment clears before they send the item. If a bidder refuses to pay, the seller can ask the auction to remove its charges and can relist the item or offer it to the second highest bidder.

Profit Margin
Through online auctions, I've sold everything from used arrows to books to hundreds of dollars of archery products I bought at end-of-season sales. One time I picked up four pairs of LaCrosse Gamemaster 900 Gore-Tex boots at a closeout sale and sold three of them online for what I paid for all four. That netted me a $200 pair of boots for free. My profits have never come close to letting me quit my day job, but over several years they have paid for a new bow, two new guns, and a couple of out-of-state hunting trips. You can find more tips in the Federal Trade Commission's Guide for Buyers and Sellers at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/online/auctions.htm.