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What Not to Sell on eBay

There are times when it just isn't worth the hassle or the risk


Various colored computer discs (Digital Composite)
Mark Harwood/ Iconica/ Getty Images
It’s often said that eBay is the best place on earth to sell anything and everything. In the broad sense this is true, but in fact there are a number of things that you generally shouldn’t sell or try to sell on eBay, since doing so could undervalue your item, endanger your own status as an eBay seller, or even endanger the buyer(s) that you transact with. Here is a rundown of such things, in no particular order:

  • Very common and inexpensive books, software, CDs, and DVDs. Very simply, unless you are a professional eBay seller with a ready source and broad stock of such items at discount prices, you’re probably not going to get very much money out of these kinds of items on eBay. They’re just too common, and even when new their values are often less than the price of an average lunch—not to mention that most buyers in the world would rather simply pop over to their favorite local shop to buy or rent a very common book or movie, rather than wait days or weeks for it to arrive after paying shipping costs that may be larger than the value of the item itself. If you’re really determined to sell such items on eBay, try Half.com instead, where your listings don’t expire after just a few days and there is a ready audience of buyers for these kinds of items.

  • Perishable items. To put it most simply, perishable items don’t like being shipped via normal shipping methods in small quantities. Leave the grocery selling to grocery stores and trade in durable goods on eBay unless you’re already an expert in such matters.

  • Items without value. Though the nature of eBay can tend to make us think otherwise, there are some types of items that just don’t have much intrinsic value. Any used consumable falls into this category—things like empty printer inks or toner cartridges, or used up batteries of various kinds. These things simply aren’t very much use to most people and won’t generate much revenue. Many durable goods fall into a kind of grey area at the edges of this category—worn-out clothing, for example, or very heavily used consumer electronics that are beginning to lose some of their functionality or reliability. Though such items may attract bidders or buyers—in the case of vintage clothing, for example—you should exercise your better judgment in deciding whether there is really any value in the item(s) you want to sell.

  • Big-hassle items. Though it can make good business sense to sell very difficult to ship or deliver items on eBay, it can also represent more trouble than many eBay sellers are willing to cope with. Unless you have a ready process, workflow, and set of policies in place to deal with such complications, the selling of major appliances, furniture items, oddly shaped items, or very high-value goods is probably best left to those who trade in such items on a regular basis as a component of their eBay business model, and who are prepared for difficult processes like shipping freight.

  • Intellectual property. This is another category that is best left to those who are willing to commit to it as a business model. Included in the intellectual property category are such things as software, media, artwork, text, or information, whether you’re the author of these things or not. Because eBay is careful to protect intellectual property owners’ rights, it can be a bookkeeping and regulatory headache to trade in such goods, and it is certainly against eBay rules (not to mention in violation of international copyright law) to sell intellectual property to which you do not explicitly have the rights—even if you found it “for free” somewhere via a Google search.

  • Things that should no longer be used. This is a broad and eclectic category of items but includes anything that might present a danger to those that purchase it. Included here are toys or childcare products for which recalls have been issued, antique items that have been made obsolete by later safety regulations or realizations that they are unsafe to use (for example, household items containing lead or lead paint), or items that are used beyond their ability to be used safely (for example, dying or damaged power tools). At the very least, when selling such items you should take care to include strong warning language and to make it possible for customers to return items with which they are dissatisfied.

  • Anything dangerous to ship or that runs afoul of eBay’s rules. All explosive or flammable fuel substances fit into this category, as do things like most alcoholic beverages. For a complete list of items that violate eBay’s rules (and that will likely be removed from eBay if you attempt to list them), please see eBay’s prohibited and restricted items list.

Clearly this list isn’t meant to be absolute—it’s full of grey areas. It is, however, the sort of list to keep in mind when you are trying to save yourself the kinds of headaches that most sellers want to avoid as a general rule—customer service or shipping difficulties or, in more serious cases, eBay violations or law enforcement entanglements.

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