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I received lots of offers very quickly. Is this a scam?

What to think and how to decide about rapid-fire offers on your item listing


I received lots of offers very quickly. Is this a scam?

Getting lots of offers can and does happen. In fact, it can be a very good thing.

Image: eBay

So you did some pricing research, listed an item for sale with a great title, description, and photos, and decided on a whim to entertain offers made by buyers.

Now, minutes after posting your listing, you're being peppered by a seemingly endless stream of offers, some of them pretty good, maybe even much more than instant sale was willing to pay you for your item.

What gives? Is this a scam? Should you just ignore these offers? And if it's not a scam, is there any reason not to take one of them right away?

What's Going On

In fact, chances are that the offers you're receiving are real.

One of the key things that eBay does in the economy is called market arbitrage. This is when enterpreneurs around the world buy things cheaply in one area or venue in order to sell them at a markup in another area or venue where prices are higher.

For example, if someone has connections to a particular region where they know they can immediately sell a used iPhone 4 at a 50 percent markup over average U.S. prices, it makes good business sense to watch eBay and to buy as many of these as possible, then export them to the area where they're more valuable for a profit.

Does this really happen?

You bet. There are a lot of professional buyers on eBay that use either commercial tools, their own software, or even entry level workers to browse eBay for particular kinds of goods that they know they can sell in a particular place and for a particular amount.

Buyers like this do their math carefully and know both what goods they're targeting and at what price they need to buy in order to turn a profit.

Most of the time, they do two things:

  1. Immediately buy any feedback-sound items of this kind that are listed at or below the price they've calculated. If the iPhone 4 is one of their targets, and they know that they can make a good profit any time that they can get one for $250 or less, they'll buy any working iPhone 4 devices that they see at or below this price on eBay, no questions asked.

  2. Make offers on any such items they can that are listed over that price. Using the same example, they'll also look for all of the "Best Offer" listings selling iPhone 4 devices and offer the sellers in question $250 each for them, whatever the asking prices.

Since they know that they can turn a profit any time they can get an iPhone 4 for $250, they're happy to buy and offer for as many as they can this way.

So what do I do with my offers?

This leaves you with the question of what to do with your offers.

If you've received a large number of offers very quickly for a listing you've just posted, start by being happy—it means that your item is in demand and doesn't need to go unsold.

Then, do this:

  • Wait. If you've received five or ten offers right away, there's a good chance that you've got a globally in-demand item on your hands. You'll probably receive more of them. Don't accept any offers right off the bat; instead, wait a day and then come back to your listing to see what offers have come in then.

  • Throw away the deadbeats. Check the feedback of your offerers (since you want to sell to a reliable buyer) and decline any offers that come from low-feedback or poor-feedback buyers. There's no reason to risk accepting an offer from someone that tends not to follow through, that is just barely starting out, or that is having cash flow trouble.

  • Throw away the lowballs. You'll probably see a range of offer prices. After culling the poor buyers from the list, also decline all but the top one or two offers. There's no reason to accept less when you've already been offered more.

Time to Decide

At this point, you have a decision to make. Offers expire, and most professional buyers won't offer twice if you don't accept the first time around.

You can either decide to accept the best offer you've received or your can choose to forego the offers you have in hand and hold out for whatever your asking price is. Don't discount the latter—since your item is in demand, you may well get your asking price if you've done your research before listing the item. Just because you heard from a lot of professional buyers immediately doesn't mean that the general public is ignoring you; they just don't operate as quickly.

At the same time, there are benefits to selling to professional buyers that can tip the balance in their favor:

  • An active offer is a guaranteed sale. You might well get your asking price at the end of the day, but it's true that you also might not. The offers you have in hand are guaranteed sales.

  • An active offer is an immediate sale. Accept the offer and you won't be waiting to access your funds as long—unless for some reason PayPal decides to place a hold on them, a decision that PayPal makes and that is generally unrelated to what you choose to do with the offers you've received.

  • Professional buyers are more professional. Private buyers can be picky, can suffer from buyers' remorse, can be in need of technical support, and can create other unexpected headaches at times. Professional buyers have likely bought a lot of this item already; they know what it is, how to use it, aren't likely to want to send it back, and probably won't ever contact you again. They'll buy, pay, and move on to the next purchase. It's a business.

  • They can also represent a business opportunity. If you have access to more than one of this item, think about the offer carefully. Is there money for you to be made here, at this offer price? If you think there might be, consider accepting the offer, making the sale, and including a prominently placed note when you ship your item saying, "If you like this one, I have N more available at the same price—would you like to start a business relationship?" Then, provide contact information. You could end up saving yourself the labor of eBay selling and turn a nice profit. DON'T simply contact the professional buyer electronically to make this pitch, since that would be against eBay rules and could leave you suspended. eBay is active in searching for this kind of dealmaking using the eBay messaging system. Instead, make the sale, then include enough information with your delivery to invite the buyer to communicate with you directly about the potential for a future arrangement.

Not Everything is a Scam—But Be Smart

The range of scams experienced by buyers and sellers on eBay often leads eBayers to suspect any unusual behavior to be wrongdoing, but there are cases—like this one—in which an unusually fast and large number of offers can mean an opportunity, rather than merely a risk.

If you've just got one item to sell and you've received offers from professional buyers, there's little risk or harm in accepting the best of these, making the sale, and being happy about the result.

If you think you've found a profit opportunity, offers like these from professional buyers can prove to have been a boon, or even life-changing. You may be about to become part of another seller's sourcing chain. Just remember, at the same time, that once you've formed a business relationship with someone outside of eBay, you're on your own and operating as a business in your own right. eBay doesn't police sales that happen outside of eBay; be sure you're street-smart, enterpreneurial in your outlook, and cut out to operate your own business before you decide to go all-in.

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