How (not) to sell dolls on eBay

The vast number of collectors of fashion dolls are also sellers of fashion dolls. Some people are retailers as well as collectors, but the main reason people sell is to generate funds for the market’s newest shiny objects. Fashion doll collectors are a notoriously fickle lot. What they are scrimping and saving to buy today, they are selling at half-off tomorrow to buy something new. In recent years, I’ve seen collections turn from vinyl to resin seemingly overnight. Although my own collection has undergone a similar transformation, I tend to be a hanger-on to dolls no longer in vogue while my collector friends march on ahead of me to the next trend.

And yet, in the two decades I’ve been in this hobby, the hundreds of Barbies that once populated my shelves have given way to Tyler and Co. and many of her 16-inch sisters. Child dolls created by Annette Himstedt, Jan McLean, and Helen Kish also adorn my doll room. I’ve even returned to the 12-inch crowd in the form of the occasional Fashion Royalty gal who joins the ranks. In all, I probably have about a dozen Barbies left—out of the hundreds that once populated my mini-Mattel Altar of Pink.

In the very recent past, even my strong determination never to let those expensive, fragile, bitchy-looking fashion resin BJD monstrosities onto my shelves has come crashing down as two Numina sisters and a Modsdoll somehow made their way into my home. And then they were joined by two child resin BJDs, which had previously looked like grotesque alien children to me. (What’s worse—I actually sold some vinyl dolls to afford them. Oh, the hypocrisy!)

Now Tonner’s fashion dolls—and even the occasional Silkstone Barbie—still make their way into my home. I still purchase more Tonner dolls than any other. With the possible exception of Paul Pham, I think Robert Tonner continues to corner the market on beautifully realistic facial sculpts. And, of course, I do not have to sell a kidney to afford a Tonner doll. But when a gorgeous resin BJD does turn my head and I “have to have” her, there usually isn’t an extra $600 floating around in my bank account. So the rows of girls currently lining my shelves cower in fear as I contemplate how much each is worth and who to vote off Dolly Island.

But turning those dollies destined for new homes into cash is no easy proposition. It’s not that there aren’t potential buyers out there—there are plenty. The question is how to reach them and entice them to buy your goods. So below is a brief primer on how to sell a fashion doll in today’s secondary market—even if you have to do it on EvilBay.

Rule #1: Treat eBay as a last resort.

The first rule of selling on eBay is to avoid eBay at all costs. Long-time eBay sellers will tell you that the world’s largest flea market has become incredibly hostile to sellers to the point that their sales have become entirely dependent on the good will of their buyers—which is often in scant supply. Over the years, eBay has slowly chipped away at any recourse sellers once had against dishonest—and sometimes outright criminal—buyers. And we are not talking nickles and dimes here—high-end fashion dolls can be quite pricey.

Listing eBay’s sins against buyers would take up more space than I care to dedicate in this column, but suffice it to say that the company now compels sellers to accept returns from buyers for any reason and to pay the buyer’s return shipping on top of that. Oh, and your seller rating will suffer as well. I once had to accept a return from a buyer for a baby doll that the buyer claimed was defective because the baby doll would not stand up. I paid return shipping and had my nine-year-running 100% rating downgraded. Because this woman expected a baby to stand up.

Yes, it’s gotten that ridiculous.

And the fees have quadrupled since I joined eBay in 2004. The company now cheerfully takes a whopping 10% cut of your sales in return for its stellar customer service. And, of course, eBay also owns Paypal, and, since sellers are required to conduct their transactions through Paypal, they too can raise their transaction rates at will. It’s like paying to be mugged—twice—with each transaction. And until a viable competitor arises, those double fees are going nowhere but up.

Rule #2: Explore alternative selling venues.

So before heading to eBay with your precious dollies, exhaust all other resources. They do exist, and they can work well. Sellers on doll boards not only avoid eBay’s headaches and fees, selling within the doll community also often means dealing with a much more honest group of people. Over the past ten years, I’ve had two doll deals conducted on doll boards go bad. On eBay, I’ve lost count. Doll boards do a terrific job at policing their own communities. Buyers and sellers know that if they screw one person, their names quickly become mud as their identities spread like wildfire across the dolly universe. And it’s not a large group of people we’re talking about, so it’s not difficult to ruin your reputation across multiple boards after a deal gone bad on just one board. As I’ve said before, you don’t want to f*** with doll collectors.

When searching for venues for selling your dolls, don’t just limit yourself to your local doll message board. Collectors have set up swapping/selling/trading Facebook pages specifically for collectors of specific dolls. Mister Dollface, a new collector-run secondary marketplace, has gotten off to a good start. I’ve had some very smooth transactions on both Facebook and Mister Dollface, although not without first doing my due diligence. Honest buyers/sellers should always be happy to provide good references. Use caution and common sense before approaching any deal—particularly a pricey one.

And speaking of pricing, keep in mind that when you are selling off eBay, you are saving yourself not only the hefty eBay fees, but also a potentially significant amount of pain and suffering. So when pricing items for sale on a doll board, Facebook, or Mister Dollface, I start with what I think the doll will sell for on eBay, deduct eBay’s 10% fee, and then take another 5%-10% off for avoiding what I call eBay’s general “pain and suffering.” So if the doll sells, it’s ultimately not for much less than I would have gotten on eBay, and the savings is passed on to the buyer. Everybody wins.

Rule #3: Do your homework.

So, if the informal, online doll collector network is such a great place to sell, why do we need EvilBay at all? One word: Reach. eBay’s vast, international reach means that more potential bidders will see your goods than on any other venue. When I really need to sell a doll fast, EvilBay is unsurpassed in its reach to interested buyers. Dolls that have lingered for months on the doll boards to which I belong often sell in days on eBay. So, whether you have a particularly expensive doll to sell and need a wider reach, or if you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you must go to the Dark Side, follow these tips:

Rule #4: Price to sell.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that about 75% of the fashion doll auctions currently listed on eBay are priced in the upper stratosphere of the market. I’m sorry, but an unremarkable mint Tyler Wentworth doll from the 2006 line is not going to fetch you $249. No matter how many times you renew your auction.

The optimism I see in such auctions is truly stunning to behold. And it gives people like me a chance. Sellers who know how to price, sell. And they can sell high. One weekly reseller of mostly Tonner products lists each item on eBay at $9.99. And her items often fetch top dollar.

But sometimes they don’t. Pricing competitively also means taking a risk. How much of a risk is, of course, up to you. But whatever you decide, do yourself a favor and don’t price your item in the dark. Do your homework. Researching price is one thing eBay does make ridiculously easy. A simple advanced search of completed listings will tell you what amounts your item has fetched in the recent past. And it will likely give you a longer list of overly enthusiastic prices that bidders have passed on—repeatedly.

My own strategy is to take the average winning bid and price somewhat below that. How much below? Here comes the gambling part. Simple psychology will tell you that bidders are more likely to bid an item up if the starting price is low. That’s why an item with a starting bid of $29.99 may ultimately go for $225, while the same item listed at a BIN of $225 will linger unpurchased indefinitely. When bidders see a $29.99 starting bid for an item worth eight times as much, they are more likely to take a gamble to get a “deal,” even if they ultimately end up paying the same price as a fully priced item. Thrill of the hunt and all that.

So let’s say I have a doll that I wish to sell on eBay. I research past prices and find a high-selling price of $150 and a low-selling price of $100. So I list the item at $75, which will hopefully make the item attractive to bargain-hunters hoping to score a deal. The risk, of course, is that bidding will stop at $75, and I will end up low-balling myself. The rosiest outlook is that I will start a bidding war and the auction will close on the high end—or beyond. Pricing the item very low, say, at $9.99, can attract a good number of bargain hunters and ultimately drive your item sky-high as bidders lose their collective heads in the auction’s waning moments. But, like all bets, don’t count on it. It does happen. But not always.

Rule #5: Take damned good pictures.

Following this simple rule will put you heads and shoulders above your eBay competition. Nothing—and I mean nothing—can make your item more attractive to potential buyers than a few decent photographs showing the item to its best advantage. This especially holds true today, given that most bidders no longer bother with actually reading the item description at all.

I have scored more than a few bargains on eBay by bidding on poorly photographed items that I knew to be valuable. And I have sold at higher-than-market prices items that I managed to photograph particularly well.

You don’t have to be a gifted photographer to make your item visually attractive to potential bidders. Just light your item well, take crisp, clear images, and highlight those little details (shoes, earrings, embroidery) that make your item worth its asking price. This is the best no-brainer advice I can give you on achieving eBay selling success.

Rule #6: Protect yourself.

eBay’s never-ending slew of policies hostile to buyers has put on the onus on us to protect ourselves. Of course, there is only so much we can do within the eBay universe, but some proactive measures may shield us from potential problems before they begin.

First, try to protect yourself from well-publicized “past offenders.” Many doll boards will keep lists of the eBay IDs of dishonest buyers and sellers, and those lists are often updated frequently as IDs are changed and new scammers emerge. Adding these individuals to your “blocked bidders” list on eBay may provide you with some measure of protection.

Also pay attention to your auction “boilerplate,” which should detail your terms of sale. eBay will not enforce any of these terms, of course, but there is the off chance that a bidder will actually read your description and police him/herself. Terms in my own boilerplate include “final sale,” “no full or partial returns,” “please ask all questions before bidding,” and “payment expected within three days.” Again, non-enforceable, but there’s the off chance someone may read it.

One can dream.

Rule #7: Use eBay “services” as little as possible.

Over the years, eBay has multiplied its convenient seller “options” that exploit its ability to rob you of more of your already-miniscule earnings. All-inclusive international shipping services are but one. Avoid these like the plague.

I’ve always avoided squabbles over shipping fees but simply offering flat rates. Sometimes this works in my favor, sometimes not. But it all generally works out in the end, saving both me and the buyer much unnecessary grief. The buyer is under no illusions as to what the shipping costs will be, and it is much, much easier on my end. And my educated guesses are usually pretty accurate. For example, for an average-sized Tonner doll box, I’ll usually charge about $13, and the actual costs, nation-wide, generally fall into that range.

*****

Whether you’re a newby collector or a hardened veteran like me, selling online isn’t for the faint of heart. But that said, it’s also–at least for me–one of the most exciting things about the collecting experience. Refreshing my collection by letting go dolls that I have cared for and loved in favor of new discoveries yet to be experienced is fun. And trying to get top dollar for my dolls can be an enjoyable challenge. But–whether you list on eBay or elsewhere–always look before you leap, and remember that, in today’s online environment, the first rule of doll commerce should always be: “Seller beware.”

5 thoughts on “How (not) to sell dolls on eBay

  1. Great post, Barbara! I think all of the information is good common sense but for those of us who don’t sell often it’s a great reminder how things have changed and how we need to protect ourselves!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for another good post, Barbara. I have been buying and selling on evilbay since 1997 and am currently a top-rated seller. Knock on wood, but as a seller I have yet to experience the ripoffs, etc. reported by many on the doll boards. I have not been so lucky as a buyer.

    eBay has become so complicated to navigate that I agree that for many sellers it should be the last resort. The list of ebay pitfalls for sellers increases every quarter with their latest and greatest policies that appear to be written by people who have never even sold on evilbay. That being said, there are some best practices that help avoid some pitfalls and that generate lots of repeat buyers.

    These best practices that have served me well over the years particularly now with all the constant changes.

    1) Describe in detail what you are listing. If there are flaws, mention them. If you show dolls or other props for illustration or modeling purposes, state that they are NOT included. If you have a rare and beautiful doll modeling an outfit you’re selling, state that it is NOT for sale (or mention it’s for sale in another listing). List specifically what is included in your listing so that upon receipt a buyer is less likely to ask for something that they assumed would be included (like hose or stands, etc).

    2) Don’t behave like an A–hole to anyone on eBay even if they are behaving like one. KILL them with kindness. They lose interest quickly if you don’t engage (I let them have the last word). Don’t write nasty defensive things in your listings that make you sound like you don’t respect buyers and consider every buyer a potential scammer. If people ask you questions, don’t assume that they won’t buy anything. I recently had an international buyer who was brand new to eBay ask me nearly 20 questions are she contemplated buying items from me and then during the process of buying from me. She bought 4 dolls that I was having a hard time selling, left positive feedback when they were received, and then purchased 4 more.

    3) Learn how to pack and ship efficiently, particularly if you’re selling internationally. I avoid the global shipping program for all but the most expensive dolls because it is so costly to international buyers. Offering reasonable shipping prices is a big competitive advantage since so many sellers overcharge for shipping. I actually prepack, weigh and measure everything I sell before I list it. This is also helpful if I have a bunch of stuff sell and I’m scrambling to get it all ready in time for the mail carrier to pick it up. Offer combined shipping where it makes sense. Insure international items using third party insurers if you ship via first class international. Use eBay labels–you can get tremendous discounts, particularly for international buyers. If I overcharge buyers by at least $1 because of those discounts, I refund the difference.

    4) Give excellent customer service. I have lots of repeat customers both domestically and internationally because I always try to treat people the way I want to be treated. And I have definitely been screwed by careless and unscrupulous sellers. I have had the same buyers purchase 12 items at a time and once they receive them, come back and purchase more. My repeat customers are a real nice bunch of people. I have had at least 20 people purchase Kellies and Barbie items from me over and over again this year alone. Remember, most buyers are fellow collectors, not scammers.

    5) Accept returns and consider giving partial refunds. Yes, it runs against the conventional wisdom I’ve seen on the doll boards. I have had a 2 week return policy for years and I have received 3 returns since 1997. One of them was initiated by me because I discovered a flaw after shipping that I hadn’t disclosed in the listing. Another one was for a Christmas ornament that I didn’t examine carefully and the last was for an item that was bought by someone who didn’t read the description carefully (she paid return shipping). I honestly believe that if you say you don’t take returns and you screw up by not disclosing a flaw that you didn’t notice you risk sending the message that you are an unreasonable person. If a buyer is unhappy, they may conclude that you have a crappy attitude because you don’t stand behind your items and therefore you deserve to get stuck with paying return shipping or having your dolls damaged. People can be very vengeful if their concerns are not addressed to their satisfaction. I say this at the risk of enraging those here who are honest and have been scammed and I do not mean this as a personal attack on anyone. Bad stuff does happen even if you stand on your head to get things right. But it is possible to overlook flaws and that is another reason to take clear photos as Barbara recommends. Then you can refer to them and discover that yes, something you didn’t notice got by you. That is why I occasionally give partial refunds. If I find evidence that I screwed up or the buyer is describing something that sounds plausible based on things I’ve come across in the past in dealing with that type of doll, I own my mistake and make amends to the buyer.

    6) Sell internationally particularly if you are selling low end items. A third of my sales are to international buyers. I am hesitant to sell expensive dolls internationally, which is why I use the global shipping program for that stuff only. But I haven’t sold a lot of dolls worth over $250 on evilbay (the most expensive item I’ve ever sold was a vintage Barbie for $1500 and that sold domestically).

    Yes, eBay can be a challenging marketplace and if you’ve never sold there before, I wouldn’t recommend starting unless you spend a lot of time researching their policies. But from the beginning, it has been, for me, a great way to connect with other collectors. I’ve actually made friends on eBay that I have corresponded with regularly for years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good, informative post. I definitely need to sell some dolls, so this advice is well timed! I do buy a lot off of eBay and I used to buy a fair amount from theDollPages site before they went down. I will have to take a look at Mr. Dollface. When buying off of any site, I do try to stick with sellers that I know or that I have had previous positive experiences with. Thanks again for all the good advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! As a Canadian buyer, I have had many wonderful transactions (via doll boards, e-bay and other forums) with sellers from my own and other countries. The best thing about e-bay is that I know immediately whether a seller will ship to my country. The worst thing is e-bay’s Global Shipping Program which adds ridiculous import fees and increases shipping costs. Even worse, so many e-bay sellers don’t understand how the GSP works or how it negatively impacts their sales.

    I appreciate all the honest, pleasant sellers who are willing to ship outside of their own countries using an economical shipping method. They’ve allowed me to add many beautiful dolls, outfits and accessories to my collection that I would not otherwise have been able to acquire.

    Liked by 2 people

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