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When is it worth it to sell an item on eBay?

This article is intended for the casual eBay seller, not full-time sellers. It lists the steps required to sell a single item once on eBay. It shows the estimated time required for each step. Using your hourly income, you can compare selling the item on eBay versus giving the item away as a gift or donation. In general, it takes about one hour of your time to sell a single item on eBay. Therefore, if the item is worth less than you earn in one hour, it is probably better to give the item away.

Steps and Time Requirements

1	gather item accessories together
1	find a used box the right size for the item
1	weigh the item
1	arrange item for picture
2	Get out camera and take picture of item
2	transfer picture to computer
1	crop/adjust pictures 
1	upload pictures to website

3	research item title, pricing, and category on ebay
5	write title and description in html form
2	use shipping calculator and decide on shipping price
5	list item
		choose category
		enter title/description
		enter picture url
		enter shipping terms
		review and make corrections

5	answer item questions
1	send ebay invoice to buyer
1	print packing slip or end of auction email

1	remove old labels from box
2	get newspaper/filler for box
4	securely pack item
1	enclose packing slip
1	tape box closed
3	write return and shipping address on box
5	go to UPS/USPS and mail item (excluding travel time)

10 minutes	ORGANIZING
15 minutes	LISTING
 7 minutes	SELLING
12 minutes	PACKING
 5 minutes	SHIPPING
49 minutes

Sample Calculations

Expected sale price of item: $20
Expected shipping collected for item: $10
Expected actual shipping cost: $5
eBay and Paypal fees estimate (assume flat 10%): $2

Total sale price: $30
Net income (total sale price - shipping - fees): $23

Value of your time: $40 / hour
Cost of your time: $33


It only makes sense to sell an item on eBay when you can make back at least the value of the time required to sell the item. Otherwise, it makes more sense to give the item away for free or donate it. Both of these take considerably less time than selling on eBay. Rather than taking the item to a donation facility, you can often get give it away just by asking your friends/family to see who wants it.

When selling multiple, different items, only a few of the above steps can be combined for efficiency. Only when you sell the same item over and over, or have a large volume of items can you gain efficiency. Therefore, the total time required to sell multiple items is just the time estimate times the number of items.

The calculations show that the sale price of each item should approximately equal 80% of your hourly income. For example, if you make $10 / hour, then the sale price should be at least $8.

Some items require more work than others. For example, selling a CD or book is much easier than selling a computer. The time requirement should be adjusted depending on how many item questions are expected and how long it will take to write the description. You also need to make provision for the case where the item is returned to you by the buyer, or the buyer backs out and you have to relist the item. Either of these can bust your budget.

Created 2006-05-29, Last Modified 2011-07-24, © Shailesh N. Humbad
Disclaimer: This content is provided as-is. The information may be incorrect.