Selling Online: Buyer and Seller Etiquette

Jon Fesmire |

Of the many amazing things the Internet has brought us, one big one is the expansion of business opportunities for individuals. It used to be that if you had stuff to sell, you’d need to network with friends, go door to door, or open up a physical store.

With sites like eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist, and apps like OfferUp, you can sell products you make or items you no longer need much more easily.

Here, we’ll cover important etiquette for buyers, sellers, and for both.

General Tips for Sellers and Buyers

The cardinal rule of online business ethics is to be professional. First, that means being polite, even if the other person gets rude. If there is tension, try to diffuse the situation and come up with a fair solution. Remaining professional, even in the face of adversity, looks good for you. It shows your character.

Once the decision to purchase a product has been made, always make sure the other party knows what’s happening. On sites like eBay, that means the buyer needs to pay as soon as possible. The seller will see when the money comes through. For the seller, that means letting the buyer know when the product has been sent and about how long it will take to arrive.

With apps like OfferUp or Letgo, where the sale is made locally and people meet to make the exchange, that means both parties being upfront about when and where they’ll meet, and arriving on time. It also means that if either party needs to back out, they inform the other immediately with an explanation. That way, the buyer won’t show up and get nothing, and the seller will know that they can put up the listing again.

Make sure the payment is accurate. For the buyer, that means getting as close to exact change as possible. For the seller, that may mean having change, or using a system like PayPal Here, Venmo or Square to accept credit card payments. If paying with cash, both parties should count the cash to make sure the amount is accurate, neither over nor under what is owed.

Both parties should leave an honest review. That way, a smooth translation looks great both for the buyer and seller and will help them with future purchases or sales. If something didn’t go right, be honest about what it is, and about what did go right.

Etiquette for Sellers

This process starts with the seller when they put an item up on one of the aforementioned sites. So, let’s cover the best etiquette for sellers.

Before you post your item, take good pictures of your product from different angles. Natural lighting is best, so if you can take pictures in the shade on a sunny day, that’s ideal. Show imperfections in the item and be honest about its overall condition.

Some useful acronyms you’ll commonly find on sites and in these apps include NWT, or new with tags, NWOT, or new without tags, EUC, or excellent used condition, or GUC, good used condition.

Give a full description of the item. Try to anticipate what questions buyers might have and answer them. Give measurements for larger items, like furniture, and sizes for clothing. If you’re selling items with specialized measurements, like gages for toy trains or scales for miniatures, include those. Also, include where you are and how far you’re willing to go to meet someone for the exchange.

When pricing, round to the dollar. This makes it easier for the buyer to have exact or close to exact change, and easier for you to make change.

In addition to the selling etiquette we've mentioned before, here are some specifics for each of these major platforms.

  • Selling on eBay and Etsy

Send the order as soon as you can after the payment comes in, and don’t forget to pack the merchandise so that it will ship safely. eBay allows buyers and sellers to rate each other. So, the more friendly, helpful, transparent, and prompt you are, the better your review will be. If the buyer has been easy to work with and pays quickly, give them a good review before you send the product.

Etsy, on the other hand, only allows buyers to review sellers. Be as professional as possible, and make sure your products are of high quality. If you can, make it possible for buyers to ask for modifications. For example, there are Etsy artists who sell decals for the back of car windows. Many allow buyers to ask for a decal to be a smaller or larger size, with the price adjusted appropriately.

When pricing your items, check to see how much other sellers charge for similar items. You can then decide if you want to match their prices or sell your items for less.

  • Selling on Craigslist and OfferUp

These sites are local, and it's generally understood that buyer and seller will meet to make the exchange. If you only ship items, you may want to use eBay instead. Or, you can specify in your listing that you will ship the item. We suggest adding the price of shipping to the item, then offering free shipping. We’ll cover how to meet safely in a moment.

Etiquette for Buyers

When you find something you might want to purchase, read the post carefully. There’s a good chance that any question you may have will already be answered. If not, send a message to the buyer with your concise question about the item.

Give a prompt reply when you hear back. If you have decided not to purchase the item, be honest about that. If you know you want to buy it, make an offer or agree to the price. Don’t lead the buyer on. If you’re genuinely interested, let them know. This way you don’t waste the seller’s time and they will be able to keep the listing up.

If you thought you wanted to buy it, then change your mind, let the buyer know. Whatever you do, don’t ghost them! The seller will need to move on to the next potential buyer.

When it comes to sales via eBay or another site where the seller will mail you the product, accept their listed shipping prices and times. Sellers often work hard to make sure these prices are low and that times are as fast as possible.

  • Buying on eBay and Etsy

We all want to avoid getting scammed online. There are a few things you should check when purchasing on eBay or Etsy to avoid getting scammed. First, check the seller’s reputation. If they have a lot of good reviews by a variety of people, it’s a good bet they’re someone worth buying from. If they have no sales, however, that doesn’t mean they’re scammers. They’re probably legitimate sellers who are just getting started.

So, follow the old axiom that if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

eBay has a money-back guarantee if you don’t receive your item, reducing your risk. However, if the seller sends you the wrong item, you could be out of luck, and out of money. Follow your instincts here, and shop around on either side. Chances are people are selling the same type of item who has a good reputation. Yes, this will make it tough for new sellers to build up their business, but as long as they’re fair about their prices and up-front about their products, buyers will get a sense of their legitimacy.

There are two major ways to be on eBay. Often you can do a buyout on an item if there have been no bids on it. Otherwise, you bid what you’re willing to pay. The bid will bump up to the next highest number, but by putting in the maximum you can pay, if someone else tries to outbid you, you will remain just a step ahead of them. Don’t bid more than you can afford, because you will be legally required to pay if the bidding gets that high.

On all of these sites, check for similar listings to price check. You may see an item that excites you for $100, but with a little research, you may find that the market price is $80.

  • Buying on Craigslist and OfferUp

Here’s one big advantage to purchasing via Craigslist or Offer Up: You don’t pay until you see the item. This is because in general, buyers and sellers on these platforms meet to make the exchange.

You’ll want to be safe about this. If possible, use the same protocol that online daters use for a first date, and meet somewhere public. A cafe is generally a good spot.

Of course, if the item being sold is large, like a set of furniture, or the seller has to be at home to watch the kids or something similar, you may have to meet at the seller’s home. In that case, we encourage you to use Google Street View on Google Maps to see what the neighborhood is like before going and make the exchange during the day. You may also want to bring a friend with you. If you have a bad feeling about it, don’t make the deal.

If you’re an online seller with a significant amount of inventory, we urge you to consider renting a self storage unit. This will save you space at home or in the office while providing a safe place for your sales items. Our “Storage by City” section will help you find a great site near you.