Providing aid with art of the eBay deal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Like Amazon and Yahoo, eBay is a name recognized by techies and non-techies alike.

Nearly everyone knows that it's a place to buy and sell pretty much anything. There are other Internet auction sites, but none comes close to eBay for brand-name power. And for good reason: eBay is the largest online auction site.

Buyers come to eBay for the best chance of finding the particular thing they want. Sellers come for the largest pool of buyers, which they hope means the best chance of selling at the highest possible price.

Buying things on eBay is pretty simple. Selling, however, is a little tougher.

You have to figure out how to categorize your item, what to ask for as a minimum bid, and what to say about the item. You'll want to take and upload a digital photo that does the item justice.

You're becoming a copywriter, salesperson, marketer and photographer - then you become a negotiator as you monitor the auction, as well as a shipping department and an accounts receivable and credit department when you haggle over delivery and payment methods.

Practice will improve your eBay selling technique, bringing you higher returns. But what if you just want to sell one or two things now, and aren't sure when or if you'll be selling again? Or what if you have sold something small like CDs or albums for a few bucks, but now hope to receive thousands for that antique armoire, celebrity autograph or first-edition book?

You could turn to an eBay Trading Assistant. These experienced pros will handle your sale for a commission percentage or a fixed fee that ranges from around 10 percent up to as much as 40 percent. Some also charge additional service fees - each assistant sets his or her own rates because they're independent contractors not officially part of or working for eBay.

You contact them, ask if they're interested in selling what you've got, negotiate the terms, then set an appointment for photos and pickups.

Your local paper may have classified ads for assistants. Or maybe you'll see a business card for one on a neighborhood bulletin board. And eBay has its own Assistant page for officially registered helpers: http://pages. ebay.com/tradingassistants .html. There you can search for an assistant in your area and inspect their specialties and reputation (the feedback other eBay users have given about this person's integrity and ability).

Some Assistants will help you a little; some will take over the entire process, including the writing, photography, payment, and shipping. Some even have their own storefronts, perhaps in combination with a small retail business.

Those storefronts may have inspired another eBay assistance option: retail assistance companies. The first I've seen is AuctionDrop.com. They call it "retail" eBay help.

So far AuctionDrop has stores in San Carlos and Los Altos, Calif., with plans for San Rafael, Calif. Whatever you want to sell, you just bring it to them and drop it off. They handle every step of the online auction and send you a check, minus their commission of 20 percent to 38 percent (the bigger the price on the item, the lower the percentage cut).

AuctionDrop has recently added a $10 to $20 up-front charge for anything more than a minimum eBay listing. If the item sells, the upfront amount is credited toward the commission. (They probably added this charge to avoid people dropping off lots of unsalable, small-ticket stuff. )

Is assistance worth the costs? On a small item, probably not. Losing 40 percent or more is worthwhile only if the thing you're selling is of no value to you at all and you don't have any time or patience for doing eBay yourself. On a large item, it may well be worth the freight.

An expert could well sell that antique for $5,000 when you might only reap $3,000, easily profiting you more than the 20 percent or so commission - not to mention the trouble of packing, shipping and properly ensuring payment.

What about eBay "buying" assistance? Help with finding the right thing and paying the least?

I haven't seen anything about such services. For now you're pretty much stuck doing it yourself or calling upon a tech-savvy, eBay-friendly buddy.

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