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Sell safely on eBay

Take advantage of eBay opportunities, stay safe and avoid the fraudsters

When most people think of eBay they think of collectors and car boot sales, but the famous auction site is good for business too. In fact, 10,000 companies in the UK make a living solely on eBay.

Quote�10,000 companies in the UK make a living solely on eBay.�End Quote

Back when I was running my games company, we had a basement full of redundant stuff. Some of it was quite valuable - old phone exchanges and almost-new computers. Today, all that would have gone on eBay, helping the bottom line and clearing the space for something more useful.

However, eBay is also useful for selling what you make, whether it's clearing out excess stock or selling online to a huge market without the hassle of setting up your own e-commerce store. Think of it as affordable e-commerce website hosting.

Horror stories

We've all heard horror stories of people being ripped off on eBay and so I asked Garreth Griffith, head of trust and safety at eBay UK, how companies can succeed and protect themselves on his site.

He advises businesses to start by putting themselves in the customer's shoes for a minute. It's all about trust, so think about what a customer needs to do business with you:

Over-describe products to avoid misunderstandings and stand out from less professional competitors.

Add a returns policy or warranty to give the buyer some reassurance about doing business with you.

Use the feedback mechanism to get the best possible rating. Give good customer service so that a bad transaction doesn't escalate into negative feedback.

Set up an 'about me' page on the site. You can post things like your company address and phone number there.

Provide trustworthy payment mechanisms. Sign up for PayPal. Follow eBay's own recommendations, and don't accept Western Union or other money transfer payments.

Then we moved on to how to protect yourself as a seller. "The main risk for businesses is being targeted in some way by fraudsters or malicious buyers," says Griffith. Be very wary of offers and deals that seem too good to be true. Don't ship goods until you are certain - absolutely certain - that you have the payment.

Buyer requirements

Quote�You can exclude bids from countries you don't ship to or buyers with negative feedback.�End Quote

Use eBay's buyer requirements tools to control who can buy from you. For example, you can exclude bids from countries you don't ship to or buyers with negative feedback, unpaid item strikes or who aren't signed up with PayPal.

You should also watch out for email and other phishing scams. This is especially true in businesses where more than one person has access to the company account. So control access and educate employees. Make sure your computer is fully protected against viruses and so on.

Finally, Garreth had a few tips about making life easier on eBay:

Use Turbo Lister or Selling Manager Pro rather than online forms for listing items. It's much more efficient if you have lots of items to post. Big sellers can use very sophisticated third party auction management tools like Market Works or Channel Advisor.

Consider listing stock items using the 'shop inventory format' as these don't have end dates like ordinary market format auctions. In fact they look more like conventional e-commerce listings although you can still list items in the normal market place to attract attention to your shop.

Consider using a professional to advise you. A trading assistant - an expert seller who is independent of eBay - can be a great way to get started. Typically they take a percentage of the transaction value (just like a retailer).

However, Garreth saved the most important bit of advice to last: "eBay is a lot of work to do properly. It takes more effort than people think." You need to plan ahead and think about security as well as business to make the most of it.

What next?

Learn more about selling on eBay, and read about some businesses that do it already, with our guide to running an eBay shop.

You can get general advice about using auction sites safely from Get Safe Online.

Matthew writes a new column every fortnight. Subscribe and get each edition direct to your inbox.

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