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Many years ago eBuyer commissioned an article on "Creating the perfect auction listing." I got half way through when I got an email saying that the magazine had unfortunately closed. I never finished the article, but I decided to post what I had done here. Hopefully, it will give you a few ideas and something to think about next time you are on eBay.

How to create the perfect auction listing

The perfect auction listing needs the perfect title of course. The title text is very important because not only does it need to describe the product, it also needs to contain keywords that are used in searches. For example, if you were selling an Apple iPod, you would include the phrase "MP3 player" in the title. Everyone knows the iPod plays MP3s, but including the phrase ensures your listing turns up when people search for "MP3 Player."

The length of a title is limited to 55 characters, so think carefully about the words and include extra information in a subtitle if necessary. For example, if you are selling a digital camera, the subtitle could include the number of megapixels, the size of the memory card, or the fact that you provide a money-back guarantee. It costs 35p extra, but it is definitely worth it for anything you expect to sell for more than a few quid. Some people use all capitals for the title in the hope of making it stand out, but it looks ugly.

The perfect auction listing will have a descriptive title and a subtitle providing additional information.

Photo perfection
Few items sell without a photograph and a good quality picture is essential. The perfect listing would include a Gallery picture too. If you select the Gallery option when creating your auction listing, you will be charged a few pence more, but it significantly boosts the number of people visiting your auction page. The Gallery image is displayed when people browse auction lists and draws their attention.

Some buyers only click on auctions with gallery pictures. It is tempting to copy a photo from the manufacturer's Web site, or scan in a photo from a magazine, but then the image is not a true photo of the item being sold. If you do this, you should say so in the description. Of course, the photo should match the description. You can run into problems with standard product shots and the colour may be different, or the specification might not be the same.

There is an auction listing for the iPod Nano shown here and the photo is not even a Nano! This will cause problems with the seller when it is delivered.

This seller has correctly pointed out that the photo is from the manufacturer and is not of the specific item being sold.

Describe it well
One of the biggest problems with purchasing goods on eBay is with the item not matching the description. You can see a typical problem in the screen shot below. This auction is for a 20Gb iPod Nano. Any iPod enthusiast will tell you that Apple don't make 20Gb Nanos and they are either 2Gb or 4Gb. The description goes on to say that it holds over 5,000 songs on its 20Gb hard drive. Apple only quotes 1,000 songs on its largest capacity model, and it is a solid state device and does not have a hard disk drive.

Make sure the description and photo are accurate. This auction is wrong on both counts.

These are basic mistakes and the perfect auction listing should be designed to avoid problems with buyers demanding refunds or threatening negative feedback. If an item is new and it in its original packaging, you can describe it as new, but otherwise you should not refer to is as new.

Saying it is "As good as new," implies that it is perfect because new goods are expected to be perfect. This means that any slight imperfection will irritate buyers, so it is better to describe as being in good or even excellent condition. If the item has any flaws, no matter how minor, you should clearly state them in the description. Be as accurate as you can and don't miss anything.

The first paragraph of the description should be short and simple. Just enter a few sentences saying what it is and what is does or is used for. Subsequent paragraphs can go into more detail, such as the specifications (if relevant), condition and so on. You can go into more detail further on, but having a brief description first enables people to immediately tell whether the item interests them. Those that are interested will read on, while those that aren't can move on.

Starting price
What is the perfect starting price? Sellers constantly wrestle with this problem. Although a low starting price attracts visitors and encourages bids, you risk selling at below cost price. Do you just want to get rid of something that is cluttering up your home, or are you selling for profit? It is easy to clear out the clutter in your attic or garage setting starting prices of 1p and it is a lot harder to make a profit.

A paperback book and a BMW are obviously very different, but you can choose 1p starting prices for both to attract attention because you can also specify a reserve price for the BMW as it is worth more than 50. Remember that an item can sell for the minimum, so choose it carefully.

Keep it low enough to attract potential buyers, but high enough to discourage people looking for 1p bargains. Something like 50 percent of the final price you are likely to get would be a good compromise. So a 20 starting price for an MP3 player that people perceive to be worth 40 is attractive to serious bidders, but keeps time wasters away.

Buy it now
A Buy It Now (BIN) button is an important part of the perfect auction listing, but it is not something that many people give much thought to. A BIN button enables someone who wants to buy the item at a fixed price to skip the auction process.

You will see examples of BIN buttons that are too low or too high and this results in either no response from buyers or no profit. You need to look at it from the buyer's point of view Suppose the item originally cost 5 and that you would like to get around 10 for it. This would make a nice profit, so you create a BIN button for 10. To attract buyers to your auction page (and to save on charges), you set a starting bid of 99p. How are buyers likely to react? Most people will look at the 10 Buy It Now and the 99p starting price and take a chance with a 99p bid.

Even if more bidders come along, they might still get it for 7 or 8. That's much better than the Buy It Now price. The BIN price and starting price need to be chosen so as to work together. Calculate the cost of the item, add a bit for a profit, and that's the BIN price. In the example above, you could set a BIN price of 7 and a starting price of 3. This makes people think twice about bidding or Buy It Now. Should they bid and risk the price going over 7 or get it for the fixed price? This makes the BIN much more attractive.

Shipping costs
The perfect auction listing from a buyer's perspective is one with low shipping costs. People are irritated if they think you are trying to make a profit, so it is essential that you find out the shipping costs and list the true cost. You should aim to make a profit on the sale price and not the shipping cost. The Post Office Web site has some useful information about the cost of shipping, so use it.

You should state whether you are willing to ship abroad and to increase the number of potential buyers, you should. Of course, your auction listing will need to specify the costs. The perfect auction listing will also include your location. Some buyers think twice about bidding on items by a seller based abroad and they feel safer with someone based in the UK. Listing your location can therefore boost your sales.