How to make eBay pay

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Every month, 17 million of us log on to the auction site – but getting to grips with selling your stuff can be tricky. Genevieve Roberts shares the top tips to boosting bids

It's the modern farewell for unwanted gifts, abandoned exercise equipment of resolutions past, long-ignored kitchen gadgets, even entire kitchens – and 19 pairs of shoes a minute.

But there's an art to bidding an eBay goodbye to possessions and a significant difference in price for items from effective sellers, compared with their less-successful online neighbours.

Over the last three months, Jimmy Choo Hobo bags sold for between £68 and £500, Hermes ties from £3 to £97 and high-end Concept 2D rowing machines from between £450 to almost double at £870. Set up in 1995 and now the world's biggest online auction site, eBay is used by 17 million people in the UK each month and has become a mirror for our culture: with Black Swan's release, sales of ballet shoes rose by 54 per cent. Now is the time to get rid of sapphire rings, with sales over the last fortnight up 40 per cent on February last year. But if your item doesn't happen to fit conveniently with the nation's latest interest or catch the eye of a certain Mrs Blair, there are still ways of increasing your chances of selling at a good price.

The perfect picture and listing

Crucial in achieving a high price: clarity for both pictures and descriptions. Ruth Szyszkowski, eBay spokeswoman, says: "You don't need to be David Bailey – just ensure the picture is clear, in good light and shows the item as true-to-life as possible. Take a few different angles and include pictures of faults or defects."

Also, the item description should be detailed. Lisa Rodgers, 36 – an eBay fan who has successfully sold items every month for the last five years – says: "Condition is really important. I wouldn't be inclined to buy baby clothes from a home with smokers or pets, so I always mention this in my descriptions."

The best time to sell

Sunday evenings are the busiest time on the site, Szyszkowski says. End your auction then and you're most likely to get the highest number of people browsing and bidding. Exceptions to the Sunday night rule include industrial and business items, which sell better during the week.

Extras you should offer

For designer gear, certificates of authenticity and dustbags can make the difference and earn you a sale, Szyszkowski says, but most important is to be clear about what you are – or aren't – offering.

Tricks used by unscrupulous eBayers

Keep your wits about you: most scammers won't be as obvious as the occasional scallywag roaming eBay offering to pay via Western Union for goods that they'd like shipping to Lagos. Online, there are tales of people taking delivery of goods, using them, then returning them and asking PayPal for a refund. Also, there are reports of people tampering with auctions by making top bids with no intention of buying. Inform eBay immediately should you suspect that you have run into an unscrupulous user.

Is it better to use "Buy it now" or hold out for a full auction?

The fact is, eBay started out as an auction site, but now more than half of all items are sold at a fixed price.

If you're selling your old granite kitchen worktop and need it out before getting a replacement, then an auction has an absolute deadline. But if you have, for example, a technical piece of equipment that is very specialised, it is worth offering as a Buy It Now for two months, because the chance of multiple bidders upping the offer is slim. A £1,000 Chesterfield sofa from Harrods up for auction at 99p may only get £10, according to Brackin, so offer as a Buy It Now purchase. In contrast, for a "busy marketplace" item, like an iPad, a 99p auction will reach a good price.

Is it worth getting a third party to sell your gear?

"We'd encourage sellers to have a go themselves before paying costs to a third party," Szyszkowski recommends.

Self-christened "trading assistants", companies such as Stuff U Sell, take commission from 20 to 50 per cent. They say they help people moving home, or who haven't got time to self-eBay. And they achieve high prices: a Mulberry Bayswater clutch bag, selling for an average of £140 over the last three months from a bargain £12 to a heady £455, sold for £400 with Stuff U Sell, while a rowing machine averaging £695 reached £815!

Best postage and packaging options

"Listings with free or multiple-item discounts encourage buyers to purchase additional items," Szyszkowski says.

"When buyers search items, they can sort results by price plus postage, so items with free or low postage costs rank higher. Even if you offer free postage, buyers appreciate the option to pay to get items quicker."

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