Forget the stuffing, what about the stuff?

21-12-2004

It's Boxing Day and the horror of all those unwanted presents is really sinking in. This year online auction site eBay is offering you a way to get rid of them. But if you don't fancy the hassle, others will do it for you. Richard Wray reports

It's late on Christmas Day, you're stuffed with turkey, sprouts and cranberry jelly and surveying your presents. It dawns on you that none of your loved ones had any idea what you wanted. Several of them have even managed to buy you the same item. What do you do?

You could ask the giver for the receipt, explaining that it really was not your colour or you have never been a fan of Charlotte Church, so you can claim a refund. But for most people, unwanted Christmas presents will end up either in the bin or at the local charity shop.

This week, high street bank Abbey announced that, as a nation, we waste �1.3bn on unwanted gifts. So why not make some cash out of those ill-chosen presents? After all, the internet has made the world's ultimate flea-market, eBay, possible - and practically anything can find a buyer.

The online auction house will launch a major TV and radio advertising campaign on Boxing Day to persuade recipients of unwanted presents to take the plunge. For the uninitiated, setting up as a seller can be daunting - so a new breed of dotcom entrepreneurs are taking the hassle out of online haggling.

David Brackin, a 30-year-old alumnus of management consultants McKinsey, and his chum Fraser Pearce, set up StuffUSell.co.uk earlier this year to help people who would otherwise throw out their unwanted things, to make money by selling them on eBay.

"The thing most people do not realise is how much sells," he says, which should raise the hopes of anyone looking to find a home for 15 pairs of Santa socks. StuffUSell has flogged everything from a batch of American car number plates to a fully fitted kitchen.

The company does everything for sellers, from collecting the items to be sold, photographing them, creating a listing on eBay and running the auction to collecting payment and to delivering the goods to the buyer. It also deals with the numerous charges that eBay levies on sellers, all for a flat percentage of the sale price.

"The reason we take a percentage commission is because we are all interested in getting the best value," he says. "Our ideal customers are people who understand eBay is a good idea and would like to sell their stuff but would rather get someone else to do it than engage in all that hassle," he says.

So far StuffUSell, based in London, has concentrated on house clearances and dealing with homeowners carrying out a bit of spring cleaning. It also works with businesses looking to use eBay to sell their wares or clear excess stock, but it is now gearing up for the Christmas rush.

StuffUSell offers to collect an unlimited number of items for �10 - roughly within the M25 - but potential customers are also free to drop off smaller goods at its locations in London's Earls Court and Finchley Road. From then on it deals with the entire process.

StuffUSell advises potential sellers on how much they can expect to get for their item, based on their knowledge of what has been sold on the site over recent weeks. Importantly for sellers who have better things to do with their time than sit at a PC answering emails, they will also deal with queries from potential buyers during the auction process.

Such queries, says Mr Brackin, "cover a whole variety of things and typically include scams, as well as people saying 'can you ship overseas?' and 'is that a scratch I can see in the photo?'."

StuffUSell takes 30% of the final sale value of items over �50, and 40% for items sold for a lower price. On particularly high-value goods or batches of identical items, such as a CD collection, its charges are negotiable.

eBay brokers such as StuffUSell.co.uk and rivals Auctioning4U.co.uk and SellStuffEasy.co.uk, help first-time sellers get over one of the basic hurdles of eBay - that buyers prefer to buy from sellers who have amassed a certain credibility within the eBay community.

When an item is sold, both buyer and seller are allowed to report back on eBay about each other. These recommendations - or criticisms - give a fair indication of whether that seller is worth buying from. New sellers lack these credentials; many gain them by buying goods before starting to sell, but using an outfit that sells on a regular basis is another option.

For people with a bit of time on their hands, though, running your own auction can be great fun, according to Richard Ambrose, category manager at eBay.co.uk. His top tips for first-time sellers are to get a decent photo, look for similar items already being auctioned to give a good idea of which of eBay's 12,000 categories it should be in, and above all not to lie about what you are selling.

"Be as clear and honest as possible - if the thing you are selling has any faults or defects it's best to describe them as clearly as possible," he says.

You'll need to decide a starting price for the auction. eBay charges "insertion fees" based on this starting price. These range from 15p for a starting price of 99p or less to �2 for an item selling at more than �100. Mr Ambrose reckons "if you set a low starting price you are more likely to attract bids and that draws people to your item as momentum builds behind the auction."

Auctions last one, three, five, seven or ten days - with seven being the default and most popular. At the end of the auction eBay charges a further fee based on the final sale value, which ranges from 5.25% for an item sold for less than �30 to 1.75% for an item at more than �600.

The next issue is payment. The majority of sellers use eBay's own Paypal system, which acts as a clearing house between the seller's bank account and the buyer's account, credit or debit card. Again, however, there is a charge. While free for the buyer, sellers must pay a 20p fee plus 3.4% of the value of the transaction - which will of course include the cost of postage the seller has added to the final value of the item sold.

After an auction is closed, the onus is on the buyer to make the first move and Mr Ambrose advises: "if you do not know the buyer, wait for their payment to clear. But then make sure you get the thing in the post straight away."

So will eBay be able to take unwanted handknitted jumpers? Its clothing category has been one of the star performers of 2004 and listings even include socks, "but the emphasis tends to be on designer clothes rather than granny's knitted jumpers," says Mr Ambrose.

"But if you do have other excess presents that you do not particularly want it's a very good time to consider making the leap."

The Guardian

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