I've had quite a bit of luck lately clearing out our basement and selling the stuff using Ebay. Several hundred dollars worth of luck (not including postage and auction fees). It's not so much the money as the human behavior observed watching the auctions wind down. People get frantic and bid irrationally.
A typical auction lasts 5-10 days. The first 95% of that time is simply to show your item to window shoppers. Bidding primarily takes place in the final 20 minutes. That final 20 minutes is a hoot. During the window shopping period the seller can see how many "watchers" there are (people who've bookmarked your item because they are in some way intrigued by it, no matter how useless it is). This is an indication of the interest. Greater than 4 watchers and you can nearly be guaranteed there'll be a last minute frenetic scramble to "win victoriously." I reluctantly parted with one of Frankie's items we purchased 5 years ago for $150. Up until 20 minutes before the auction ended, the bid was $20 (2 bids) and there were 12 watchers. In the final 10 minutes there were 7 bids by two people and price ended at $81 - and that was a local "pickup-only" because the item was too big to ship. It's hilarious to watch.
A friend asked me the other day why don't I just put the item up for a "buy it now" price (rather than auction)? I think it's because when you start an item at 99¢ (the price I start all auctions), buyers are lured into thinking there's a chance of getting a bargain, whereas if you place a simple price on the item based on what the market will bear, no interest - no sale.
The most valuable thing I've learned from selling is how amazing our country's post office is. If you learn the workings of usps.com (NOT .gov), you'll learn that the post office will send you mailing supplies (boxes and envelopes) for FREE, allow you to print shipping labels from your cheapo printer, pay postage online and even schedule pickup. Mail fees are often flat rate and dropoff can be made at any 24 hour center (like at Henderson and High) or can be picked up from your front door - FOR FREE! Used properly, you may NEVER have to interact with a human again for most of your postal needs. It's amazing.
Ebay's not just a marketplace but a platform for interesting human behavior experiments. Stay tuned for a fun experiment I'm repeating after some conversation with a psychologist I spoke with today at a birthday party Frankie attended.
My Ebay tip: I end auctions on Friday between 12 and 1. People are happy, bored out of their mind, and not exactly on task at their day job.
going once, twice ...
ps Seth Godin has a great post on the irrational behavior exhibited at auctions.