small change toward a rich life

Shopping debacle; Craigslist rescue

Last September, I proudly blogged about my bargain-hunting skills in purchasing two sets of dinnerware online.

The Corelle worked brilliantly for everyday dishes, so much so that I went back and bought 4 more each of the plates and bowls, even though the price by that time was slightly higher. They’re lightweight, virtually indestructible, and stack efficiently in the cabinet, freeing up more much-needed space.

The Pfaltzgraff I bought was a disaster. They just didn’t look anything like I expected based on the online photos. The color actually clashed with our dining table. In short, I hated them. They were worse for my purposes than the gift set of stoneware we already had.

Jak and I repacked the four large boxes and hauled them off to the post office, only to discover that return shipping would run over a hundred dollars. I estimated I might get $20 back of my original $134. Ouch!

So, never mind that — I was certain I could resell them for more than $20! We lugged (okay, mostly Jak lugged) the boxes back home and into our garage. Where they sat for several months …

Last weekend I finally got around to creating a Craigslist ad. I spent around an hour and a half on it, including price research and calculations, copywriting, and combining/resizing product photos to fit Craigslist requirements.

I gave as much detail about the dishes as possible, including an explanation of how I’d screwed up by buying them sight unseen in the first place. The one thing I didn’t reveal in the ad was that I’d only paid $134 (including tax and shipping) for the set originally. Instead listed the original retail price ($540) and best currently available online price ($400) for the entire 41 pieces, and set an asking price of $200.

The Seattle area Craigslist gets over 1000 posts per day in the ‘for sale – household’ category alone. I figured I had little chance of interesting an impulse buyer; no one who wasn’t specifically searching for dinnerware would ever see the ad. So I was prepared to repost for weeks or even months, until the right person saw my offer.

I got lucky, and 24 hours after I’d posted the ad we had reduced our garage clutter by four large boxes and increased our cash by two hundred dollars.

So I actually netted a $66 profit on the ill-considered purchase; even considering the hours lost at the post office and creating the ad, we did okay. I do not recommend that anyone go specifically looking for clearance items that they can resell locally as a money-earning proposition. The risks of not finding a buyer at the price you need are too high.

But as disaster-recovery goes, it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve definitely learned to consider weight and return shipping cost when ordering items online. Fortunately my bargain-hunting and ad-writing skills helped compensate for my online-shopping audacity!

Chuffed with my recent success, I’ve compiled some suggestions for creating successful online ads in places like Craigslist and Ebay.

Nine Tips for Creating Online Classifieds

  • Time your ad for seasonal demand. If you aren’t forced to sell something immediately, consider whether demand might be higher in a different month. For example, we have a child’s desk that both our kids have outgrown. Rather than posting in June, I’m going to wait until mid-August, when people are starting to prepare for the new school year. Clothing types are obviously seasonal, and certain items (like toys) may sell better in the month or so before Christmas.
  • Always include photos. For brand new items, manufacturer photos are fine. For used items, always take your own — using a generic photo of a new item to sell a used item is misleading and may backfire. If there are any blemishes on the item, take a close-up photo — don’t hide it!
  • Edit and resize your own photos. On Craigslist, any photo larger than 300px on a side will be reduced on upload to 300px. If you can use a photo editor like Photoshop, it’s best to resize the photos beforehand, so that you can control the sharpness and detail quality of the end result.
  • Give as many details as possible. Dimensions are often important, whether you’re talking about the diameter of a plate or the width of a couch. Fiber content, construction, history of use … one of the best things about online classifieds is the lack of space limits!
  • Explain why you’re selling the item. If you don’t include this information, many people will worry there’s some flaw in the product that will make them regret the purchase later. Knowing the reason someone is selling makes people more comfortable with buying it.
  • Mention any defects. If the item has a chip, scratch, stain, rip, or hole, do not omit this information. You want a buyer who genuinely wants the item you have, flaws and all. Implying a nonexistent perfection will waste your time and antagonize potential buyers when they discover the truth.
  • Illustrate the relative value of your asking price. Always include the retail price and/or price paid in your ad. If shipping is significant, as with furniture or (ahem) heavy stoneware, factor that in as well. Make the case that your asking price is a good deal compared to what’s available elsewhere.
  • Include all relevant search words. Use both ‘dishes’ and ‘dinnerware’ in your text, or ‘sofa’ and ‘couch’. Focus on nouns first, but don’t forget adjectives — when a search for ‘chair’ returns a thousand results, buyers will start adding parameters like ‘blue’ or ‘oak’ or ‘queen anne’.
  • Format your ad for easy scanning. Don’t be afraid of white space. If bold text is available, use it (sparingly!). Bulleted lists are great for item details; if true lists aren’t available, fake them with line breaks, spaces, and asterisks. Limit use of all-caps to one word, such as ‘NEW’ — long strings of capital letters are harder to read.

(Photo by acloudman.)


One response

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  1. Susan says

    Great Deal!!!

    (I found ya!; Miss you two on WoW!!)


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