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Maximizing Ebay Profits

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by Douglas Linn

Ebay is the primary way to dispose of excess Magic cards; it generates enormous traffic, is relatively safe to sell through, and it allows for easy visual displays of your items. The bidding mechanism of Ebay gets buyers emotionally invested in cards, encouraging them to bid more and follow your items. This week, we will look at the major question of selling on Ebay: whether to use Buy-It-Now (BIN) or a traditional auction to sell your cards. Though the choice looks small, a good decision can make a difference of 20% or more on your sale.

Traditional Auctions

It's easy to understand the appeal of a traditional Ebay auction – people compete against each other for your goods, often paying more than they originally intended to because they want to “win” the bidding, as well as win the item. The major appeal of an auction is that it will almost always sell when listed. This generates cash in hand for more card purchases later. A fundamental investment principle is that it's better to have cash today than have that same amount of cash at any time in the future, so a guaranteed cash-out with an auction has a strong appeal. Let's look at what happens during the life of an item listed:

  • The item is listed
  • A few people see it early and add it to their Watch List. Some want to bid on it later, some are curious to see what happens to it.
  • Between one and four days in, a bidder or two bids on it. It may sit at only a few dollars for many days, even if it is a highly desirable card.
  • In the last day or two of the auction, more serious bidding occurs. People are getting emails from Ebay that they are being outbid. Other folks want to bid on the card, but they do not want to wait until the last minute to try and snag it.
  • In the last hour, people start “sniping” by trying to get their bid in last, where nobody can re-raise them.

In that last day or so, you see the real bidding take place. People do not want to bid only to be outbid later; this is part of the Ebay psyche. Often, people will watch your items to see what develops with them, and the watchers often end up being your winning bidders. So, then, it follows that you want to generate a lot of watchers for your items.

The necessity of getting page-views and watchers leads me to my first point: successful Ebay auctions occur only when you are dealing with a card in high demand or a genuine curiosity of a card. This should be a huge guiding factor for you when considering whether to use an auction or BIN. Here are some examples:

The price we pay to pimp our EDH decks...

Sol Ring is an essential part of any EDH deck. They are highly in demand. Many people also want a Beta Sol Ring, which generally sells for $50-100 on Ebay. Putting up a Sol Ring, especially a Beta one, on auction means that many people will be looking at the card, bidding on it and bidding against each other. Looking at Ebay now, you will see that recent Beta Sol Rings have all had 10+ bidders warring over the card.

In contrast, a Japanese Foil Pernicious Deed is way cool, but unused outside of EDH. Only the most committed EDH players are going to seek out a $40 card that they cannot realistically use anywhere else. Putting one up for auction, especially with a starting bid of $1, would be disastrous, since so few people are looking for that card. Only one has sold recently on Ebay, while many have been listed with BIN. Listing a premium card like this with little niche appeal will not net you what you really deserve.

I recently sold a set of four Eureka as an auction instead of BIN. First, the BIN sets on Ebay were sitting stagnant at $350, which nobody is realistically going to pay. I noticed that in the past sixty days, many people had been bidding and buying single Eurekas, meaning there was a demand for it. On top of that, nobody had auctioned a full playset, which meant that mine would have a novelty value to a buyer field that was actively looking for Eurekas. My goal was to sell the set and make some money, not wait for some fool to come along and pay a highly inflated BIN price. In the end, I sold the cards for over $50 each, a $10 premium over what individual Eurekas were selling for in bidding and BIN.

When you are looking at your card and wondering how to sell it, consider how many copies have already sold and how much interest those auctions generated among bidders. Was the bidding furious and among multiple people? Was it two people trying to one-up each other? Also, consider the card's appeal. A dual land or a card like Moat has enormous appeal, since it is useful in EDH and Legacy. It is a great candidate for an auction, since a lot of people will bid on it in an attempt to get a “deal” and end up paying more. One will also have less competition with other auctions, since few people realize the power of auctioning those cards instead of putting them on BIN.

He keeps coming back, and every time, he steals your wallet.

If you are selling Standard cards, pull up the tables at the Magic Online Trading League and use the Price Guide feature on the left side of the page to look up a card. Pull up the page and look at Vengevine with me. You'll see a column that says “Average” and this is the average price the card sells at- easy enough. Next, check out the “Raw N” field, which represents the raw number of auctions that have closed on Vengevine. At the time of writing, there were over 800 auctions for the card, meaning that the information we get will be very stable. The most important figure to look at after considering those is the “StdDev” field, which stands for “standard deviation.” The simple way to understand this number without a statistics class is to figure that the StdDev represents the range above and below the average price that an individual card will sell for. If Vengevine averages $33 and has a deviation of $3.50, it will sell in a range of $29.50-$36.50. Understanding this will inform whether you want to put the card up for auction. If there are a lot of auctions for the card and you are comfortable making say, $30 on your Vengevines with a guaranteed sale, then put it up for auction. If you want to command a small premium, put them on BIN instead.

Finally, my last tip is a subtle one: people will often bid on items that are ending around 10pm EST. You need to use the Ebay feature that sets when your auction will go up and make all of your auctions end at 10pm EST. It costs ten cents and nobody realizes how useful it is. Folks on the East Coast are winding down their day and catching up on their auctions. On the West Coast, prospective bidders have gotten back from work and are thinking about your item. If you have it end at 2am EST, your auction will not generate that vital last-minute bidding frenzy because over half of your American bidders will be asleep! Look at this poor seller who ended his item at 2:35am EST and got less than half of what these cards usually sell for, simply because he didn't spend ten cents to have it end at the optimal time. Don't give up value for your cards because you didn't end them at the time when people want to bid!

Buy-It-Now Selling

BIN selling has an advantage over an auction because you can determine just what your item will sell for. On the other hand, if you did not research well, your item might not sell at all. While you can set up a hybrid BIN-auction, this article mainly focuses on setting up your listing with the intention that you want it to end with BIN and not with an auction.

HOW much for shipping?!

Let's understand the motivations of someone who uses BIN. I use it often, and here are my reasons: I don't like to wait for odd times when an auction will end (if you use my tip above, you won't have this problem as a seller!), I want to be guaranteed the cards now and I don't want to have to split my attention across trying to bid on multiple auctions to get one set of cards. If you are selling to me with BIN, I am willing to pay a (modest) premium over what the cards sell for at auction. When I started selling on Ebay, I would mark down my BIN cards to about 80% of what they sold for at auction, because I wanted to sell them, guaranteed. There's a phrase that describes what I was doing - “getting ripped off.” I misunderstood the role of BIN; its best use is to get in-demand cards into peoples' hands when they do not want to bid on them. It has a secondary role in protecting the sale price of obscure or low-demand items (like the Pernicious Deed example above).

If you are setting a BIN price for an in-demand card, like our Vengevines, you must research the market. There are plenty of completely awful Ebay sellers who don't do any research and attribute ridiculous prices to their cards. They usually do this because they are running a physical store as well or running their Ebay store as their business and they are poor businesspeople who cannot keep other costs down enough to sell at a competitive price. If you look at their BIN listings, they often do not sell anything of value. On top of that, their shipping prices are often more than $3 for a single card. Their tactic is to sell a card and make the money on shipping. This is a bad profit model for you and it angers buyers who want to get your item and then notice a $4 fee for shipping (which does not include insurance or tracking!).

When doing your research on who else is selling the same card in BIN, you must remove the outliers who think they can get $55 for their Vengevines. You must instead look at who is selling for a reasonable price and determine whether you want to undercut them or match them. Since we're still going with our Vengevine example, the green card is highly sought-after at the moment and many BIN auctions close every day. It is not unrealistic to decide that many of the people listing their sets at $130 will sell, removing those auctions from the market. Thus, you could list yours for $135 (a 3.8% markup) and still stand a good chance of selling them. I must warn you that many sellers have multiple sets of cards that they will list at a price that will consistently beat you if you are trying to get a small premium on the market. When Zendikar fetchlands came out, Ebay sellers raced to see who could sell for $50 a set at the beginning. Those sellers who had a high enough volume that they could sell at that price killed the sellers who thought they wanted $60 a set and they could consistently sell, every day (since the fetches were Rare and thus, easy to amass sets of). At that point, it was a race to $45. So many sets were being listed that the only way to guarantee cashing out on the fetchlands was to sell at a bare price. If you are selling cards where many dealers are going to be listing at a consistent price, understand that you will never beat them with a modest premium.

If you encounter a market on Ebay with many people selling the same card and they are all dancing around a similar price, then you should find the lowest-priced seller and attempt to undercut them. Consider that any bidder looking at whether to BIN your auction or theirs will look at shipping prices as well. You must undercut the other sellers with shipping as well as BIN price. This is easy, since realistically, it takes less than a dollar to ship a card in a toploader and a bubble envelope. I prefer to sell my items with a $1 shipping fee than give free shipping and have to mark up the price of the item by a dollar. If the market is selling their items at a $2.50 shipping charge, though, you are free to tack that onto your item as well, since buyers will not have much of a choice in shipping.

Just finding a picture of one was hard...

If you are undercutting the market, especially a well-populated market, how much do you undercut by? A dollar or two? I think that's giving up a lot of money; you can effectively undercut people by selling your items on BIN at a quarter off their BIN price. Twenty-five cents means your item appears as $27.75 instead of $28.00 or even $27.99. Your listing comes up at the top when people sort BIN auctions by “total price + shipping.” Your best goal for getting your item to sell with BIN is to make sure that your auction is near the first listing on that auction price page.

If you are selling something like our Foil Pernicious Deed, an auction will not do well, because you will probably have to start the bidding at $30 or more – higher Ebay fees and less bids (psychologically, people do not want to start a bid on an item for $30). Instead, the cost of listing it with BIN is minimal – under a dollar, and Ebay will let you relist the item if it did not sell for free, once per auction. Again, remember to look at the field, determine how often people are going to want this card, and either tack on a small premium (for moderately in-demand cards) or undercut the existing sales (for both high-demand and very low-demand cards).

Happy selling!

Quick Recap - 5 Tips to Get More Out of Your Ebay Auctions!

  • Use auctions to sell unique, obscure or emotionally-bonding cards because the bidders will bid a premium over the BIN auctions
  • Close your auctions at 10pm EST.
  • Research the field for BIN auctions
  • Your best bet is to usually undercut the field by a quarter
  • Your goal with BIN listings is to assure you are at the top when people sort auctions by price.

Douglas Linn

Doug Linn has been playing Magic since 1996 and has had a keen interest in Legacy and Modern. By keeping up closely with emerging trends in the field, Doug is able to predict what cards to buy and when to sell them for a substantial profit. Since the Eternal market follows a routine boom-bust cycle, the time to buy and sell short-term speculative investments is often a narrow window. Because Eternal cards often spike in value once people know why they are good, it is essential for a trader to be connected to the format to get great buys before anyone else. Outside of Magic, Doug is an attorney in the state of Ohio.  Doug is a founding member of Quiet Speculation, and brings with him a tremendous amount of business savvy.

View More By Douglas Linn

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15 thoughts on “Maximizing Ebay Profits

  1. Nice article. I enjoyed the psychological look at what buyer's are thinking. I haven't used Ebay to sell in awhile and am thinking of using it soon, so the timing of this article was perfect for me.

  2. Just an additional tip that may be obvious, but just in case…while the "end at 10 p.m. eastern" is good advice, I'd add to NOT have the auction end on Friday night! A good deal of your target audience will be at FNM and unavailable to bid! And some of them may even be out on dates!

  3. One thing to note is that using Free shipping instead of $1 shipping gets eBay to put your item higher in the search rankings. If there are 9 pages of items it doesn't matter that your auction is 0.25 cheeper when you are on page 7.

  4. Ebay is not even that good to use for selling cards anymore unless you own an ebay store. Losing ~16% between paypal fees and ebay fees makes it much more beneficial to sell on sites like MOTL. Ebay has pretty much runs it course when it comes to the average person using it to sell magic cards

  5. For a lot of older cards, like Eternal cards, the exposure that Ebay gives your item is worth a lot. I'll agree that the 12% hit is a bummer, but if you think you'll get more than 12% over what you would get on MOTL, then you should do it. Also, selling on Ebay will just about assure that you get some money, which is good for making sure your inventory turns over.

    Finally, though Ebay protections are a little less than they used to be, a lot of people, myself included, feel better about buying/selling on Ebay than on MOTL as a new user (that last part is v. important).

  6. 2 Responses:

    Point 1) MOTL means that if a card is selling for $X on eBay, then you will get that +/- a few %. Not $X-16% (it is 12% plus the paypal fees at 4%). Plenty of ppl pay via GIFT option on paypal for MOTL so you don't lose anything

    Point 2) There are plenty of trust-worthy ppl worth trading with that a new user can build up references and therefore feel better about having to trade on the site. Only if you are not careful and don't do your homework are the chances of getting ripped off significant

  7. I'm still reading the article but I have a question. Is it worthwhile to purchase card lots via Craigslist or even Ebay, with the hopes of selling off the singles? Is it too much of a diamond hunt (i.e. too much work for too little gain) to pick up cards that way?

  8. Replying to the two Mikes in order : )

    Mike #1, ebay collections are usually picked over and you are competing against a lot of people who want to make your bet worth less. I would do CL ones though, as long as people didn't think their Grinning Totem was worth $30.

    Mike #2: You use the "Start this auction at X Time" function. It'll put the auction up at that time and end it exactly a week afterward.

    Hope that helps!

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