Online Auctions for Fun and Profit

Game tickets, antique china, power tools, jewelry, laptops, cars, pianos--they're all available online, new or used, cheap or pricey. If you haven't learned the in's and out's of the online auction yet, this is a good time to start. With the holidays just around the corner, think of online auctions as another option for finding gifts, decorations, and those gotta-have's that always seem to pop up around this time of the year. Have a house bursting at the seams with too much good stuff already? Downsize online, and pick up a little cash to cover the holiday bills.

Getting Started
The Unofficial Guide to eBay and Online Auctions by Dawn and Bobby Reno and EBay in a Snap by Preston Gralla are just two of the books the library owns which can give a good overview of online auctions. Click here for a more complete list. If you're totally new to the game, read on for some answers to commonly asked questions.

How Do Auction Sites Make Money?
Sellers pay the bills here. A small amount for posting an item. A small amount for extra pictures. A small percentage of the profits of sale. It adds up. Buyers need not pay anything but sale prices and shipping.

The Mysterious Reserve Price
Talk about misleading. A seller might give a starting price of, say, a dollar for a very high-end item. Before you get too excited and jump on it, remember there may well be a reserve price. That's the lowest price which the seller will really take to close the deal. It may be way, way beyond that initial dollar bid. Sometimes sellers will tell you up front what the reserve is. That's nice. Sometimes they won't, and if there is no other bidder, you'll be stuck in an impossible situation, unable to bid higher without competition. If this happens to you and you really want the item, contact the seller directly to see what can be done.

"Just Looking"
There's an online auction equivalent of this. It's called putting something on the watch list. When you begin an account with eBay, you get access to a page called "My eBay" which records your transactions--what you won, what you didn't win, but also what you are watching. If you choose to watch something, it then goes on your watch list. You'll be able to easily track the price from your "My eBay" page, and you'll receive an email notification when it's about to close. Very good for when you spot something, but you're just not sure it's the exact thing you want.

Bidding the Max
So, you've found a real deal, truly want it, and don't want to miss out. How should you bid? It's usually recommended that you bid the most you'd realistically want to pay for the item. If you choose not to do so, you run the risk of someone coming in at the last minute (literally) and grabbing it out from under you. When you place your maximum bid, the auction house will automatically increase your bid by small increments as you are bid against, so at least you will have had a fair shot at acquiring it.

Is It Guaranteed? Caveat Emptor
"Let the buyer beware." This saying applies to online auctions as well as everywhere else. While you will find guarantees on some auctions, the hassle of enforcing them often isn't worth the cost. If you have any questions about the item, do, do, do email the seller. A day's worth of email communication is worth the potential disappointment when an item isn't what you were expecting.

Perils of Shipping Fees
It's up to the sellers to determine what they want to charge for shipping. Here's where those too-good-to-be-true deals pop up. For example, a seller might charge a very low starting bid with no reserve for an item. Is it a great deal? Could be, but if the shipping is wildly inflated, it's no bargain. Be sure to check shipping fees before bidding.

What's PayPal?
For those who don't enjoy having their credit card numbers bandied about the Internet, PayPal provides a way to move money without so much security risk. Again, the sellers are the ones who put out the extra money that pays PayPal's bills. PayPal is free to buyers. Most eBay sellers accept PayPal from their buyers. Other merchant sites use PayPal, too.

Avoiding and Dealing with Nasty People
For every thousand good transactions that go on, there is that percentage that goes wrong. Perhaps the buyer doesn't pay or the seller doesn't deliver the goods as promised. How does the rest of online auction society protect themselves from such louts? Feedback. At eBay, buyers and sellers are requested to post a quick note about the transaction when it's completed. Feedback is publicly accessible, so check the seller's feedback rating before bidding. Sellers and buyers who get enough bad feedback find that no one is willing to do business with them. Become truly infamous through feedback or eBay's other complaint channels can get sellers or customers banned.

Online Auction as Business Tool
Many business have discovered that online auctions are a terrific way to unload those items that just weren't moving or to get rid of outmoded computer equipment. If you are selling many items, you may choose to open an eBay store. If you think your business could profit from an online commerce connection, check out these resources:

J.K. Lasser's from eBay to Mary Kay: Taxes Made Easy for Your Home-based Business: Control Your Taxes for Maximum Profit by Gary W. Carter
When the tax man cometh, J.K. Lasser prepareth, with expert advice for home-based businesses.

Selling Beyond eBay: Foolproof Ways to Reach More Customers and Make Big Money on Rival Online Marketplaces by Greg Holden
Ready for more online business opportunities? Here's how!

Starting an e-Bay Business for Dummies by Marsha Collier.
A practical guide for beginner who wants to turn a profit on eBay. Lots of details on setting up shop, stocking that shop, and doing online business safely.

Learning about Online Auctions--Online
These books can be read from your home computer. Click here for more information on our ebook collection.

Bargain Hunter's Secrets to Online Shopping by Michael Miller

Building Your eBay Traffic the Smart Way: Use Froogle, Datafeeds, Cross-selling, Advanced Listing Strategies, and More to Boost Your Sales on the Web's #1 Auction Site by Joseph T. Sinclair

eBay Photos That Sell: Taking Great Product Shots for eBay and Beyond by Dan Gookin and Robert Birnbach

eBay Timesaving Techniques for Dummies by Marsha Collier

How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business by Greg Holden

Sams Teach Yourself e-auctions Today: Bidding, Buying, and Selling at eBay and Other Online Auction Sites by Preston Gralla

Specialty Guides
For aficionados, these guides contain wisdom to increase sellers' profits and avoid buyers' pitfalls. All are online resources.

Buying & Selling Antiques and Collectibles on eBay by Pamela Y. Wiggins

Buying & Selling Music, Instruments, and Music Collectibles on Ebay by Mark Abdelnour

Buying & Selling Sports Collectibles on eBay by Bill Froloff

eBay Motors the Smart Way: Selling and Buying Cars, Trucks, Motorcycles, Boats, Parts, Accessories, and Much More on the Web's #1 Auction Site by Joseph T. Sinclair and Don Spillane

Auctions for Fundraising
Frequently charities and other non-profits will hold galas, black tie auctions, and other fundraisers that attract glitterati to see, be seen, and have a good time doing so for worthy causes. Then there are the online auction sites with a charity affiliation. Here, you won't necessarily be tippling champagne, but you will be doing good and having fun shopping at the same time.
Rather like spending an afternoon at the thrift shop of the same name but with better search capabilities. However, bear in mind you can only perform an initial search from the front page. Requires sign-up.

eBay: Giving Works
EBay makes it easy to find what you want and yet still buy from a charitable source. Either search by keyword or browse by category, but all items will be affiliated with a charity.

Fundraising on eBay: How to Raise Big Money on the World's Greatest Online Marketplace by Greg Holden and Jill Finlayson
Perhaps you're on the fundraising committee. Check this book out to learn how to turn eBay into source of income for your group.