How To Build An Effective eBay Presentation

by Craig Stark

#47, 11 July 2005

Part III: Bibliographic Data, Condition Description and Terms of Sale

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It's one thing for a buyer to be interested in a book you've listed; it's quite another for that same buyer to feel safe about bidding on it; and still another for him/her to feel safe about bidding it up. Accumulating positive feedback helps the cause, but it's also important to show your potential buyers exactly what your books are, exactly what kind of condition they're in, and exactly what you'll do if they don't agree that they're exactly what you say they are.

If this sounds too exacting, it really isn't. There are 3 simple steps, most of which can be accomplished in a few minutes by filling in a generic custom template. Since very few eBay sellers take the trouble to do this, here's yet another opportunity for you to stand above the crowd and - this is what happens when you do - pocket higher final values.

Bibliographic Data

The following information should be included somewhere in your listing, either in textual or image format:

  1. Title

  2. Author (or Editor)

  3. Illustrator (if applicable)

  4. Illustrations (color or b/w, woodblocks, engravings, etc.)

  5. Publisher (including place of publication if important)

  6. Date of Publication (include copyright date if different)

  7. Edition (if you don't know what it is, don't guess)

  8. Binding (hardcover or softcover, cloth, leather, etc.)

  9. Size (state width and length in inches)

  10. Number of Pages

  11. Other (remainder, ex-lib., ARC, etc.)

It's usually convenient to put most or all of these items in one place but certainly not necessary. It may make sense to give one or more of them special weight - for example, if there's a collectible illustrator or telltale issue points that establish state on a valuable first edition, put the good stuff front and center, and template the rest.

Condition Description

There's a sliding scale of importance here. Books are purchased for different reasons, and a book's condition may or may not be a huge issue to your buyer. The trouble is that you have no reliable means to determine where your buyer stands on the scale. To be safe, therefore, it's always best to describe condition in detail - or take pictures that leave no doubt. Or both. The more collectible a book is, the fussier you should be, but in general, describing major flaws is sufficient. If it's unclear what constitutes a major flaw, stay tuned for an upcoming BookThinker series on book condition.

It improves my efficiency to use a template for this as well: start with a description that covers most of the books you have and alter it as needed. See this article for more information on writing the kind of condition descriptions that will help you maximize profit

Terms of Sale

I suspect that not everybody will agree with me on this, but terms of sale, in my opinion, should always be based on this one-sided approach:

Don't tell your buyers what's going to happen if they don't live up to their end of the bargain. Tell them what you intend to do for them - period - including what you'll do if they're not happy with what you've sold them. Put the performance burden on yourself, and leave it there.

You may think you're protecting yourself by attempting to head off problems before they occur, but using threatening terms of sale sets a tone that may actually breed problems later on. Or scare buyers away. Remember, your buyer needs to feel safe with you - be assured that, if anything goes wrong, you'll make it right.

Include an assurance of good packaging, some indication of how quickly the book will be shipped, and a crystal clear indication of shipping cost, preferably flat rate. If you can't furnish a quote up front because it's dependent on the buyer's location, give them enough information to compute it themselves - for example, state approximate shipping weight and your mailing zip code.

If problems come up later, handle them case by case. Killing an angry customer with kindness works far more often than not. Refund - always, anytime, for any reason, even if you stated a 30-day time limit on returns and restricted them to disagreements on condition only. If you don't stand behind your stuff, who will? Also offer to pay return postage. Also offer negotiated discounts when appropriate. This one may be very hard to swallow: if your buyer doesn't opt to insure an item, and it gets lost, pay for it. Be patient, endlessly understanding, even if the customer is a freaking moron. If you take this approach, problems will be minimal, and you won't ever get caught up in them. Also keep in mind that the lower your sale price is, the more likely you'll run into a problem customer. Lesson: sell better books!

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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