Myth # 68: Free Listing Days are eBayís generous gift to you.

Fact: Free Listing Days are eBayís attempt to increase its revenues during traditionally slow periods. Their value to the seller is not quite what you might think.

To help cope with your own slumps, study what eBay itself does during slack periods. Often, it holds a fire sale, known as a Free Listing Day. Popularly known in the newsgroups as FLDs, these random acts of kindness always generate a great deal of excitement. Hereís your opportunity to list items without paying those noxious listing fees! EBay offers a FLD from time to time throughout the year, and never announces when the day will be until about 24 hours in advance.

There are also a few variations on the theme, which include ďlisting ceilingĒ days in which the maximum listing fee is fixed at, for example, 50 cents no matter how much the item costs. Or, you may be able to list using special features such as Buy It Now, or the Gallery, with no extra charge. Sometimes a particular type of listing, such as Fixed Priced offerings are available with no listing fee. Is eBay being generous, here? After all, such bonuses are usually announced by eBay as a ďspecial thanks to our customersĒ or some similar drivel.

In truth, eBay is a corporation that has a responsibility to its stockholders, and, like any corporation, everything it does is implemented as a way to help the company grow, increase its profits, or burnish its PR image. Thatís exactly as it should be. Get that notion that Free Listing Days, or any other bonus from eBay, are a form of customer appreciation out of your head. You may indeed benefit from this generosity, but there are other reasons behind the gesture. If you know the real reason for Free Listing Day and its variants, you can approach the bonanza with open eyes, and avoid the potential pitfalls. Here are the important things you need to know about these promotions.

Free Listing Days increase eBayís revenues during slow periods. The promotions are always staged when they will do eBay the most good, not you. So, if eBay expects a very slow week between Christmas and New Years, itís a good bet that a FLD will be scheduled then. Perhaps an upcoming July 4th weekend will be a four-day affair, and itís likely that the vast majority of eBayers (both buyers and sellers) will be busy then. EBay is certain to suffer a hit in terms of fewer listings, but the real money to be lost will come from the Final Value Fees (FVFs) the company will not reap from those sales that never happen.

Free Listing Days encourage lots of listings during those slow periods, and a multitude of listings is what attracts bargain hunters. So, eBay trades off listing fees against the FVFs, figuring that even the most lethargic seller wonít ignore the chance to list some items for free, and that even the busiest buyer will check out the site in search of bargains. The net result is more business for eBay during an otherwise slack period. The company doesnít really consider that itís losing those ďfreeĒ listing fees, because absent a Free Listing Day, a majority of the listings wouldnít have been made anyway.

Forget the idea that listing fees are a bad thing, something that should be reduced or eliminated from eBay, and which make a disproportionately large dent in your profits. Listing fees are actually just a cost of doing business, and, in one sense, a benefit to you. Listing fees are the only thing that prevent hordes of inexperienced sellers from posting millions of auctions for total junk 365 days a year. Non-eBay auction venues that had no listing fees are either MIA, or have now seen the error of their ways and added listing fees. Whatever individual benefits you might gain from reduced listing fees would be offset when impatient buyers found it more difficult to find your offerings in a sea of trash.

Free Listing Days increase the background noise in the auction community. Be honest. When a FLD comes along, donít you post every single item youíve had mouldering in your garage but didnít think was worth selling, simply because you can now list it at no cost to you? Thatís what every other seller does, too. As a result, the auction listings are clogged up with junk that normally wouldnít be listed at all. Itís easy for the most desirable auctions to be lost entirely amidst all the clutter. Unless youíre recycling old listings that you had waiting in the wings, you wonít want to invest the time in creating new ďfreeĒ listings if your auction is likely to be buried beneath a pile of dreck.

One good indicator of the noise factor your auction faces is how many auctions normally appear in your particular category. If the category is usually over-crowded with 5000-10,000 listings, a Free Listing Day is only going to make things worse.

I always make some informal checks on FLDs of categories that I know well. One category that usually has 500 or so listings blossoms to 1000 or more during a free listing day. Iíve seen a videogame category that generally has 2500 listings balloon to 4000 listings when listings are free. So, if you choose to list your items on a Free Listing Day, youíll be contending with increased competition from legitimate auctions, as well as a lot of junk. Thatís probably not sufficient to dissuade you from listing, but you should be aware of it.

Free Listing Days are a great time for experimentation. If you have some auctions with approaches you havenít tried before, FLDs are the time to experiment. Perhaps youíd like to see if a lower or higher starting price would be effective for an item you sell regularly. Maybe youíd like to offer bonus items, or combine two related items into a single auction. Listings are free, so use your imagination.

Free Listing Days are Free Relisting Days? In the past, eBay has allowed relisting an item originally posted on a FLD, but which didnít sell, and, if the item sold the second time around, refunded the second listing fee. Donít count on this being a permanent feature, and there hasnít been a recent FLD I could use to see if this practice is still in effect, but itís a possibility. When you relist an item you can change the auction title, description, and photograph, so you could potentially use your free listing to relist a completely different item, and still possibly qualify for a listing rebate the second time.

Act Now! Quantities are limited! One huge problem with Free Listing Days is that, like any day, they are only 24 hours long. If youíre not paying attention to eBayís announcements and e-mail messages, you may not discover the freebie until itís half over. Or, you might have other plans for that day. Instead of posting 200 free listings, you have only time for a dozen or two. To bludgeon the TV infomercial analogy into the ground, I must add, But wait! Thereís more!

Iíve known sellers who keep 300-400 ďplaceholderĒ auctions for nothing in particular available for instant posting when a FLD appears. Once the auction is listed during the Free Listing Day hours, the seller then takes his or her good old time revising the listings one at a time. You can substitute your own description, change the title, modify the category, and if you host your own pictures, you can even change the photograph. As long as your dummy auction has received no bids (presumably from some dummy) you can change just about anything.

I canít really recommend this practice, because the manual revision is likely to be extremely time-consuming, but it is a ploy that many sellers use successfully.

List higher ticket items. When free or fee-limited listing days come around, I always list more of my higher-ticket commodity items. You can do this, too. If youíre like many eBay sellers, you spend your summers haunting garage sales and your autumns visiting thrift stores, and accumulate a large stash of stuff to sell the rest of the year. Thatís my spouseís eBay mode. Our home has a four-car garage, but our vehicles all must be parked outdoors (and we donít even live in California!)

A Free Listing Day should be your impetus to go through your pile of salables and look for the items you think will bring the highest prices. Perhaps youíve been saving them for holiday season selling. Get them out now. If you really think some merchandise might bring a better price at a different time, list it anyway, but use a higher starting price or Buy It Now price than you might normally consider. The worst thing that can happen is that the item wonít sell at all, leaving you free to relist it later. You can probably recycle the auction youíve already created.

The higher-ticket approach also works if you sell commodities. I have one package of booklets that I usually list at $24.95 because my listing fee at that price level is 60 cents, versus $1.20 for the same item listed at $25.00 or more. Instead, Iíll have a $28.95 Buy It Now price on the package. About half my buyers choose the Buy It Now price, while the rest are content to make an ordinary bid of $24.95 and wait until the auction ends to get it at that price. To encourage the BINers, I generally have only one or two auctions for this booklet package active at any one time.

All bets are off if listings are free. I might list 10 identical packages with the same $24.95/$28.95 BIN combination. My only cost is 50 cents for the 10 BIN add-ons. I donít care if a few buyers stomp my BIN prices and wait for the auction to close normally, because I still have others available with Buy It Now buttons to tempt the impatient. Or, I might list 10 packages at $26.95 as Fixed Price auctions, and pay nothing at all for listing.

At the same time, I am listing various odds and ends I have that were riskier to list before because the listing fees might have been $2.40 to $4.80 each. If they donít sell, Iím out nothing but the time needed to create the auction.

If youíre clueless about an itemís value, use a Free Listing day to get a clue. You found this incredible ďMy Mother The CarĒ lunchbox, autographed by Jerry Van Dyke and Ann Sothern, in absolutely mint condition, complete with its original packaging. As far as you can tell, nothing like this has ever been offered on eBay. You canít find a price for the lunchbox in any of the price guides. Google, Antiques Roadshow, and all the collector forums you checked canít help you put a price on your prize.

Itís possible you have a real find, but itís also possible that even the most dedicated collector wonít any more interest in this lunchbox than the American public did for the television show nearly 40 years ago. Do you list it for $1.00 with a $500.00 reserve? Would a $350.00 Buy It Now price be a good bet? What should you do?

On the theory that the true value of something is what the market is willing to pay for it, Free Listing Days are a good time to trot out all the stuff of unknown value. Offer your items with an opening bid thatís higher than you suspect the true value to be. List your lunchbox for $200.00 opening bid with a $750.00 Buy It Now price. Offer your copy of Lisa Marie Presleyís first CD, autographed by Elvis, for $500.00 with a $1000.00 Buy It Now, because you suspect the autograph is a forgery anyway. Ask $50.00 for that ceramic plate you got at a garage sale for 50 cents. None of these will cost you anything to list.

If you get no bids at all, you can be fairly sure that your opening bid price was too high. Your price might have been fair, but nobody was searching for your item at this particular time (after all, FLDs occur during slow periods.) Set a lower price next time around.

Should your merchandise be snatched up for the BIN price, you can guess that your price was too low, but at the same time be happy that you received more than you ever dreamed youíd get. After all, you conducted your best research, so itís not like you were completely in the dark about the object.