Stuck with a hoard of unsold stock?  Selling things online is a great way to clear your desk of unsold articles.

Selling things on the Internet is not very difficult, and pretty safe if you play the game right. Many people have been selling things online for many years, and have experienced great success. Here’s the basic process for unloading your things online, boiled down to a few simple bullets:

   1. Decide how much money you want for your item (include postage and insurance)
   2. Put your item in front of potential buyers.
   3. Carry out the actual transaction.

Decide how much money you want

Before you go ahead and sell something, you must have a clear idea of how much you want in return. Often times an online sale is accompanied by some haggling, so you need to ask yourself two questions:

    * What is the least amount of money you are willing to accept?
    * What is the highest reasonable price you can imagine fetching?

The least amount of money you are willing to accept should be a number that allows you to sleep easily the night after the sale. If you advertise an embroidered set of linen for R100 you can be sure someone will buy it, but I am also sure you will be quite upset with yourself later on.

The highest reasonable price you can imagine fetching should be a number that makes you happy, but more important, one that is fair to the buyer.

Be sure to include packaging costs and to establish posting costs, locally and internationally, as well as insurance costs.

Putting your item in front of potential buyers

In order to get your item sold, you need to put it directly in front of as many potential buyers as possible. The two main types of places to do this are classified listings and auction sites. List on classified sites first, and never at the same time as on auction sites. This is because auction sites lock you into a binding contract with the winning bidder. If your auction ends on eBay, then you receive a higher bid from a classified ad an hour later, you are required to pass up that higher bid and sell your item to the eBay winner.

When listing items on classified ad sites, try to use as many relevant sites as possible in order to reach as many potential buyers as possible. Here are some excellent places to post your classified ad:

    * craigslist
    * Facebook Marketplace
    * Google Base
    * Gumtree (Euro-centric, but also has a few sections for the U.S., Australia and New Zealand)
    * Kijijiji
    * MySpace Classifieds
    * Windows Live Expo

You have an additional advantage if you are an university or college student. At most of these institutions, students set up unofficial web sites in order to cover campus life and activities. Many of these sites feature message boards. Post your listing here, or e-mail the site administrator and ask to have a page created for your item.

Auction sites are another great place to list items for sale, however most of the time you must list on one auction site at a time. When your auction comes to an end you are contractually bound to sell the item to the winning bidder. eBay is the clear front-runner in the online auction category.

Make sure your listing is attractive to buyers

You could spend hours posting your item for sale all over the Internet, but it’s all a waste of time if your ad is a turn-off for potential buyers. The composition of your ad is crucial to making a sale. Here are a few tips:

    * Use a descriptive title with appropriate keywords that gets straight to the point. Avoid flashy tricks and special characters that make you look like a spammer.
    * Including photos is an absolute must. Your item is far more likely to sell if the buyer can see exactly what you are talking about.  If necessary, include photos taken from different angles.
    * Write a short, accurate description that tells the buyer exactly what he will get for his money and leaves nothing to the imagination. Be honest and specific with regards to the condition of used items.

Carry out the actual transaction

Once you’ve found a buyer, you need to carry out the actual sale. At this point you must do everything possible to keep yourself safe and avoid being scammed. Whether you meet in person or deal through the mail, you need to ensure that you get paid and keep yourself safe.

If you are meeting the buyer in person, the only form of payment you should be willing to accept is cash. No personal checks, no cashiers checks, no nothing. I don’t even take money orders. It’s cold hard cash or nothing at all, because anything else can be used to scam you. Additionally, meet in a crowded public place and make sure you either take a friend, let someone know where you are going, or both.

If you deal through the mail, only accept payment through reputable channels. Personally, I don’t see a reason to accept anything other than PayPal. Anyone with Internet access, an e-mail address and a credit card can use PayPal’s system. If a buyer asked to mail me some form of cheque, I would figure something’s up. Specify the methods of payment you are willing to accept when the auction begins, not afterwards.  Internet transfers can also be a safe and verifiable method of payment.

Request and verify payment before sending out the item, especially if the site you are selling through does not provide feedback on past transactions in which this person was involved.

Ship the item with insurance and a tracking number as proof that you have upheld your end of the deal. If you choose not to use insurance and a tracking number, the buyer can dispute the fact that you ever sent the item.

Read eBay’s “Safe Trading: Avoiding Transaction Problems” for more helpful tips on keeping yourself safe from online fraud.