How to Sell Services and Intangible Goods on eBay

woman sitting at a desk with a headset on, smiling
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Not every eBay seller uses the platform to sell tangible consumer products. Some eBay sellers specialize instead in offering intangible goods (information, software, or data of various kinds that's delivered entirely virtually) while others still are purveyors of services (their time, expertise, or labor).

Selling intangible goods can pose special problems for sellers and their feedback and seller performance ratings because it's often tough to keep buyers and sellers on the same page without a recognizable brand name, product, or photo to clarify what the listing is offering. Here are eight tips to help sellers of intangible goods perform well on eBay.

Be Clear About What You're Selling

This is frequently a big problem for service sellers, who often fail to get the title right by using ambiguous titles ("My expertise in home remodeling at your service!" or "Professional real estate investor can help inspire your group!") that don't tell buyers what they're purchasing or bidding on. Unclear descriptions further compound the problem.

Before posting a listing for intangible goods, ask yourself what, exactly, you are offering to deliver or to do, where you will deliver or do this, for how long, and precisely what is included so that you can clearly explain this to your buyer ("Home Remodeling: Five hours expert consulting by phone or Skype!" or "Real Estate Investing: Expert one-hour onsite lecture for your group").

Don't Lead With Personal Hype

There is a place in your listing for bullet lists of your personal qualifications and accolades, but it's not at the beginning. This can turn into a soup of superlatives that leave your buyer wondering what's actually on offer and why they should care that you're so great.

At most, include one brief, general statement of qualifications to start your description or listing ("I have 20 years experience in home remodeling and have won awards at dozens of regional expos" or "Thousands of audience members have heard me describe my successful career in real estate investing"). Then, spend the next several paragraphs on the actual product you're offering (your time, your service, etc.) rather than talking about yourself.

Be Clear About What You're Not Selling

Service sellers often get themselves into trouble by not clearly spelling out what's excluded from the sale, leading to disputes later on when buyers expect more than the seller was prepared to deliver. In your item description, use disclaimers to spell out those things which might commonly be desired by buyers but that you don't want to include in this sale ("Your purchase here does not include additional labor time for design work or other tasks; you are purchasing only the telephone or Skype time, which will occur during normal business hours, as compatible with my existing schedule" or "Price does not include the printed materials and website access that accompany my presentation; your audience members will have to buy these individually").

Be Clear About Terms

There is a space in the listing form to answer this question, but it's also important to spell it out. Under what conditions will you give your buyers a refund? Under what conditions won't you give them a refund? If you offer a "satisfaction guarantee" of some kind, who gets to determine when the terms of this guarantee are met, and what are you willing you do to attempt to ensure that they are met? Particularly if your labor time or other similar open-ended resources are on the hook, it's important not to expose yourself to an ongoing commitment for the price of a one-time job.

Have Someone Proofread Your Listing

Because descriptions for intangible goods tend to be harder to write and less punchy and effective than listings for tangible goods, it's useful to have someone other than yourself proofread your listing(s) before you post. Ask them whether they were enticed by your copy and if there were any areas where they felt lost, overwhelmed, confused, or just plain bored.

Include Multiple Great Photos

Don't make the mistake of imagining that since no physical goods are on offer, there's no need for photos to make the sale. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Since you're selling something abstract, it's tougher to get buyers to pony up the cash without a clear picture of what you're going to deliver.

If you're selling yourself in some way (your time, your expertise, your speaking, your consulting, your labor) get a professional to take glowing, inspiring pictures of you doing what you do and include these in your listings, along with descriptions. If you're selling software or information, get screen grabs and include them so that people can see for themselves what they're buying, rather than having to imagine it using your prose.

Abide by eBay's Rules

To ensure that eBay doesn't remove your listing, be sure that you're clear on eBay's policies related to intangible goods and services, including policies on digitally delivered goods, compilation and informational items, and listings with "no items" attached to them.

Service sellers, particularly those who provide boutique services, are particularly vulnerable to inadvertent rules violations in this area. To sell intangible items on eBay, you have to be sure that you don't violate anyone else's claims (copyright or IP claims, for example, of the sort protected by eBay's Verified Rights Owner Program), and that your buyer can determine in some way whether or not you have delivered what you promised.

Don't Treat eBay Like a Yellow Pages Ad

If your plan is just to use eBay listings as advertising to direct people to your service (by virtue of eBay's large audience of buyers or the press' periodic focus on one or several eBay auctions), think twice before listing. EBay specifically forbids the use of item listings simply as ways to direct customers to your "real" business outside eBay. If you do this in your item listing (whether by links, in your description, or in any other way), eBay will pull your listings and may eventually suspend your account.

Selling intangibles on eBay can be a tough row to hoe. Services are often inherently local. Software and information are inherently tricky thanks to intellectual property and digital delivery concerns. EBay customers are not always accustomed to searching the platform for either of these things to begin with.

Successful service sellers will tell you, though, that it can be done on eBay.