How do I sell online? 6 Profitable Secrets for Success in Online Auctions

If the stat-monkeys at Bloomberg are to be believed, more than 80% of all American adults have used online product listings to sell their possessions.  Whether you are downsizing your closet or starting an antique business, this means a lot of competition for your target customers.

Rise above the commercial clutter with these six strategies used by the most successful online auction pros. Just be warned: You might find yourself dreaming about quitting your day job once the money starts rolling in.

1.     Accurately Appraise the Item you are Selling

Since competition on the internet is so fierce for most auctions, you will get a pretty good idea of your realist sale-price by browsing competing auctions.  Account for the relative condition of your item, its rarity, and the last price that it sold for.  Unique items and works of art are more difficult to value – but your price decision represents a trade-off between the likelihood that the item will sell and the profit you will receive.

2.     Choose the Best Auction Venue

Sometimes it seems like there are just as many auction venues as there are people trying to sell things on them, so be sure to pick the venue that suits your niche the best.  Some specialty items, like baseball cards, are best listed on the hyper-specific auction boards that serve those enthusiasts. Online auctions rely on huge amounts of traffic to give low and mid-market items the broadest possible audience, but the quality of the traffic isn’t as high as you could receive at a specialty auction.

Pay attention to the “nickel and dime” charged by online auction companies.  While it is worth investing in a company that provides you with Escrow protection and high visibility, all of the fees can add up – reducing the overall take from a successful auction.

3.     Forget Reserves

Reserves can imply a straight sale.  Reserves take away from the excitement of an auction, discouraging the kind of repeat bidding that turns auctions into runaway successes.  If you absolutely cannot accept below a certain value for an item – consider setting a lower starting bid, but never use reserves to attempt to boost your final selling price.

4.     Presentation is Everything

No matter how valuable your listing is, nothing will discourage bidding like a poor-quality photo.  Since customers cannot personally view your product in an online auction, your photos it the only opportunity they have to appraise the item in question.  Take professional-quality photos in a well-lit room against a plain backdrop, and photograph your item from every angle to ensure that it is well-represented to prospective buyers.


Figure 1- Some companies sell  cheap portable photo-kits  that will greatly increase your photo quality   Photograph. June, 2009. Courtesy of

Figure 1- Some companies sell cheap portable photo-kits that will greatly increase your photo quality

 Photograph. June, 2009. Courtesy of

5.     Be Honest

Avoid the temptation to exaggerate or to hide negative details about your listing.  Even if you convince someone to bid on your item despite its flaws, you risk chargebacks and a refund process that can result in the loss of your auction privileges and strikes against your merchant accounts.

6.     Talk to Your Customers

Online auction platforms, just like brick-and-mortar businesses, only succeed through customer-service and consistent effort.  Follow up with your clients and ensure they were satisfied with your auctions.  Above-all, solicit positive feedback from your satisfied customers, bolstering your online reputation and increasing the trust people put into your listings.


For a market-savvy seller with good photographic equipment and a selection of mid-market items, online auctions can be a goldmine. While you might not get rich overnight, your profits through online auction sales can be considerable.


Additional Sources:

Bamberger, A. 2011. [Accessed 7/9/2014]