Business on the Side

It was early summer. Travis Chen, now a third-year ICS major, was ready to move out of his freshman dorm and move into an apartment in Corona Del Mar.
As he packed his belongings into cardboard boxes, he made sure to set aside a few things that he did not need anymore such as video games, used toys and some old clothes. With those items, he was ready to make some money.
As a tradition, most families make some money off their old belongings through weekend garage sales, but Chen did not have a garage at his dorm. What he did have instead was a computer with an Internet connection that could do the same job, but better.
About three years ago, Chen discovered, a Web site where people sold and bought new and used items on the Internet. He started out just browsing through the various items for sale but soon became one of the millions of sellers who make money by selling new and used items.
EBay is self-described as ‘the world’s online marketplace for the sale of goods and services by a diverse community of individuals and small businesses.’ Many of its users have described it as a colossal online garage sale minus the dust and the stingy neighbors.
The Web site offers a wide variety of items, where people can buy and sell anything from collectibles (such as antiques and dolls) to practical merchandise (like clothes and cookware). Recently, a woman from Florida just managed to sell a half-eaten 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich bearing an image of the Virgin Mary to a casino for $28,000.
To buy items, users first type in keywords to search for the items they want to buy. After they have found an item that interests them, they can purchase it through two different methods. If the item is listed as ‘buy it now’ merchandise, the user can purchase the item at a predetermined price. However, most people enjoy purchasing through the auction method where they place bids online to compete for the item with other interested buyers.
During the auction process, the buyer enters the maximum amount he or she is willing to pay for the item and eBay places the bids electronically. The users can either monitor the bidding online or they can simply look out for an e-mail from eBay indicating whether they have won the bid.
To sell, the users will first have to open a free account with eBay that allows them to list the items they wish to sell.
After that, they must provide a description of the item along with its condition. Depending on what is being sold, the seller may have to provide a picture of the item.
When the auction ends, the seller will receive an e-mail from eBay, indicating the buyer’s information and the chosen payment method.
Both the buyer and seller are then ready to go through the payment transaction using their credit card, a check or money order or the ever-popular PayPal.
Purchased by eBay in 2002, PayPal uses existing financial infrastructures of bank and credit cards to complete the financial transactions. Once the payment is received, the seller would pack and mail the item to its new owner.
Although eBay makes the selling process easy to understand, sellers still need some tips to make the most money off of their goods. Chen suggested that sellers browse through similar products that are currently on sale and see how much they were sold for in order to get ‘the market price.’
Chen also advised sellers to put some thought into the descriptions of the items.
‘I try to tell the buyers exactly what it is so that they are not disappointed or surprised,’ Chen said.
However, it is important to put keywords in the descriptions so that the items will appear when buyers perform a keyword search. Chen also tries to include the personal significance of the item when he can. For three buckets of old Legos, Chen made sure that the buyers knew that those Legos ‘accompanied him throughout his childhood years.’
Chen also emphasized the importance of posting a picture of the actual item along with the description. ‘Pictures are huge. People don’t trust people without a picture. I would never buy an auction [item] without a picture,’ Chen explained.
With those tips, Chen eventually managed to sell his 1996 Acura Integra for $4,600 within the first three days he listed it on the Web site.
Although Chen was able to make some money through selling used belongings on eBay, he was still considered a recreational eBay user. Other users across the country make eBay a much bigger part of their lives. Many students and housewives run small businesses through buying and selling on eBay.
To accommodate advanced users who want to make the most out of their eBay business, the company has started eBay University.
The university offers three types of classes, which are offered in nearby cities.
The classes are one-day long, cost about $60 and offer help for both beginning and advanced sellers, including tips and tactics for maximizing sales. Users can also seek help from online lessons that are about $20 per class.
Students can learn the classroom materials at the comfort of their own homes. The university allows its users to find a certified eBay specialist who lives nearby, offering one-on-one consultations that are targeted toward the users’ specific needs. The cost of these lessons varies with the instructor and location.
For the users who do not want to pay extra money for the instructions, eBay has also set up an online community with discussion boards, chat rooms, free workshops and an answer center.
These cyber communities allow the users not only to receive technical help from the experts but also converse with other sellers about their experiences.
Major bookstores also sell self-help books on how to succeed in eBay selling.
‘It’s easy. I’d say go for it towhoever is interested,’ Chen said, supporting people who are thinking about joining the eBay community, a place that was able to turn Chen’s childhood Lego companions into a practical $800 that he later put toward school fees.