Selling photo gear online is a great way to generate some extra money, give others in the photography community a chance to acquire new gear, and–let's face it–make room for more gear! To do it successfully, you not only need to be honest. You also need to be specific about your gear and the terms of payment. By imagining what concerns and questions a prospective buyer might have, you'll give yourself a great blueprint for what to put in an online ad for your used gear.
Everyone loves the latest stuff, especially photographers. But maybe the gear you thought you would use every day is now the gear you use once a year. Maybe you're looking to upgrade for more features, or move from landscape to portrait work. Like the treadmill in the spare bedroom that you hang your dress shirts on, some of your photo gear is just gathering dust. Other equipment you may have even forgotten you still had, and you're pleasantly surprised when it works. Like the celebrities you're surprised are still alive, you dig to the back of the gear closet only to find gear that once gave you hours of entertainment isn't gone just yet. Then it occurs to you–somebody else might want that gear! You could sell it and buy new gear! Just think of that first 50 mm lens you haven't used in years as the Ed Asner of your photo gear collection.
But commerce with strangers–especially the kind that we only meet through cyberspace–can make even the boldest capitalist feel as though he's rolling the dice with his photography budget. The fear of deceptive or shady advertising, or outright fraud, is right around the corner. It's your job as the seller to make a potential buyer feel at ease. Put yourself in his or her shoes. What would a buyer wonder about your equipment? All kinds of things about its condition, primarily. But don't stop there. The buyer also wants to know about you. Not personal stuff like why you have an irrational hatred of pineapple as a pizza topping. But trust-building things, like whether you're being honest about the age and condition of the gear, and how quickly you'll ship it out. Certainly, having a good eBay feedback history is critical if you regularly sell gear through online auctions. But what if you don't sell gear that often and you want to put out a simple Craigslist Ad? Then the confidence has to come in the ad itself–from little old you. It's the online sales equivalent of having a firm handshake and looking someone in the eye.
Of course, if selling your used gear quickly to people who are satisfied with their new purchase holds zero interest for you whatsoever, then by all means please follow these 8 tips and the knuckle-headed advice that follows.
1. Write a frustratingly vague description.
Nobody has time to read a bunch of details about that lens, flash or camera bag. You’re probably including decent pictures anyway, and that’s what people are going to want to see. So just say “camera bag” or “flash” in your ad and move on. They’re probably going to Google it, so why waste everybody’s time? Just a few quick words and then move along and let the cash roll in, Chief.
All good lies have a little truth sprinkled in. Yes, the pictures of the items you’re selling will be important, and, yes, potential buyers will often Google what they are looking for prior to seeing your ad. But a specific description is also important for what it says about you. If you have little care or attention to detail in the ad, what will a would-be buyer conclude about how you treat your gear? It may seem tedious, but marketers know that buyers like to read descriptions. While unloading your old crop-sensor camera may not require a lengthy, moody adventure tale worthy of a Panama hat from the J. Peterman catalog, it’s always important to give your buyers something to whet their appetite.
Another great reason to give sufficient detail is that you don’t want the hassle of wrestling with the aftermath of a seller who thought he was buying something else. Or worse, a buyer who believes you deliberately misled him. Don't be that guy.
2. Don’t include pictures.
Sure, you’re selling photo equipment. Sure, you’re hoping to sell it to photographers. But honestly, they’ve already looked it up on Amazon and B&H and they’ve done a Google image search or three. No picture you take is going to be as good as the stock photos they’ve already seen, so why bother?
Seriously, why would anyone try to sell photo gear that doesn’t include a PHOTO? Granted, it doesn’t have to be the best photo you’ve ever taken, with a histogram balanced like a Wallenda on a high wire. But still, a buyer needs to know more than the fact that you have a particular lens for sale – she wants to see a picture of your lens!
Why is it so important to see pictures of used gear? At the heart of this desire is the concept of “fungibility.” No, fungibility has nothing to do with athlete's foot. An item is fungible if every unit is indistinguishable from every other unit. Commodity markets, for example, rely on the concept of fungible goods–that every bushel of wheat is considered indistinguishable from every other bushel of wheat. Cash is really the ultimate fungible item. For the most part, consumers believe new gear from a manufacturer is fungible. Suppose I walk into a camera store and ask for a particular tripod, the Tycka 65″ TK101 in black with red trim. The store's employee has three in stock. I don't much care which one of the three I walk out of the store with. I trust that as long as it is the same make and model as the one I want, each one is the same.
But this changes a bit in used markets. We don't trust in the fungible nature of used gear. Each Tycka 65″ TK101 had a different life experience as it matured from the new market to the used market. To put it bluntly, it's 2017 and nobody trusts you enough to buy your old gear without seeing a picture. If you don’t understand this by now, you should not be entrusted with the responsibility of using the internet. Or a fork.
3. Take your sweet time responding to prospective buyers.
All the important answers are in your ad, right? If some dunderhead has to ask dumb questions like, “How long have you owned this?” or “Why are you selling this?” then she’s just being nosy and wasting your time. If you make her wait a few days to get an answer, she’ll just be intrigued even more. If you’re in a rush to respond to questions, it just makes you look desperate.
Answering questions promptly makes you look desperate? Good grief. You’re selling photography equipment online, not finding a date for your junior prom. You’re also competing with the resources of every retailer, as well as others selling used gear. Yes, there will always be some time wasters. But most people value their own time, too, and won’t ask you questions if they aren’t really interested.
Some say that customer service is dead. I think it’s just transformed. Discount big box stores have pushed traditional department stores into the background, or out of business entirely. I’ve seen Millennials who think that a simple “May I help you?” from a department store sales representative qualifies as a jarring micro-aggression. When pushed to choose between face-to-face personal service on the one hand, and a discounted price with a reasonable warranty or return policy on the other, we’d rather have the discount.
On the other hand, we also have instant or near-instant information: 800 numbers, chat, email. Even Twitter serves as a customer service platform for many retailers. Customers still want good customer service, but they want it on their own terms. A prompt response doesn’t make you desperate, it makes you considerate. It also increases your chances of closing the deal.
4. Be mysterious about why you’re selling.
Yes, it’s a very common question: “Why are you selling it?” But why is that really anybody’s business? Maybe you want to upgrade your gear. Maybe you’re looking to generate cash for travel photography. Maybe you think that a trend of making light modifiers from gluten-free materials is about to be the next big thing in photography. Whatever your reason, this intrusive nitpicking into your motives should not be rewarded with information!
It's a natural question. It doesn't always mean, “I think you're a crook and your gear is broken.” There are plenty of legitimate answers: upgrading your gear, switching brands, no longer interested in the underwater-drone-time-lapse-portrait fad, etc. If you can’t provide a simple, straight-forward answer for this question, you’re either way too paranoid about people knowing your business, or you’re trying to unload shoddy gear. Don’t be so touchy.
5. Don’t bother pointing out your gear’s flaws.
People buying or bidding on used gear tend to know the risks. Backpacks get threadbare near the shoulders. Older lenses have auto-focus issues sometimes. What do they expect? It’s used gear. Spending time talking about flaws only makes people think that gently used gear is in really bad shape when it’s not. Why highlight the negatives?
There’s no better way to increase confidence in a used gear buyer than to be honest and up front about the flaws in the gear that you’re selling. If there is some minor damage, make sure the pictures show it. If there are major flaws, definitely tell them about it. Hiding flaws is just smarmy.
6. Be coy about how much you want for your item—everyone loves a mystery!
Half the adventure in buying used gear is the wheeling and dealing. Auctions are loaded with strategy. Online haggling is just part of the process. It’s just some good-natured capitalism at work. Telling buyers exactly how much you want for the item just ruins the fun and makes your ad seems like everybody else’s. So throw in lots of phrases like “make me an offer” so you make the buyer do the work and don’t undersell yourself.
No, no, and no. Modern online selling involves potential buyers who want to know your price. At a yard sale, the “make me an offer” type of approach might work for some folks. But not online. Buyers won’t tolerate being asked to read your mind. There are too many ads, too easily posted. They will just move on to the next one.
7. Don’t bore people with shipping details.
If you're shipping the gear, don't bother anyone with details about how you're going to ship it. Nobody cares about that. They really just want to know about the stuff they bought, so instead of shipping info, use that time stressing the cool features of your gear and how it will make the buyer look like a “serious” photographer. Besides, shipping usually just puts a damper on the online buying experience and makes prospective buyers remember why they like buying from brick-and-mortar stores. As the seller, it's your job to remind them about the convenience of shopping in their pajamas and Garfield slippers, not bother them with the pesky fine print. Honestly, talking about shipping in an online ad or auction is a buzzkill. It kind of makes you seem like the hall monitor of the internet.
If this is your inner-voice, he needs laryngitis.
It's precisely because buyers are going out on a limb making online purchases from strangers that they need you to be specific about shipping. Otherwise, they will assume the worst: that you'll overcharge for “shipping and handling” like some 80's infomercial hocking a 12-volume set of Time-Life books commemorating the “Rise and Fall of the AMC Gremlin.” (Spoiler alert: mostly fall). Or since you're not mentioning the shipping, they'll assume that you're not going to bother to protect the equipment with bubble wrap and it will show up on their doorstep in a dozen pieces like so much modern art. Whether you add a flat-rate, build shipping into the cost, or have some other method to handle shipping, make sure to discuss it. You don't have to dwell on it, but don't make the buyer ask you about it.
8. Make sure to use every social media platform ever invented to promote your gear sale.
Don't stop at websites that are designed to promote online sales like Craigslist, eBay, or any of the other photography marketplaces. After all, you have Facebook friends you can pester. Maybe your lab partner from freshman year biology class who you haven't spoken to in twelve years would be in interested in your used camera bag. Don't limit yourself to Facebook Groups, either — everybody from Great Aunt Ellie to Kenny down in Accounts Payable needs to know that you're unloading some used photo gear. And don't stop at Facebook, either. Twitter, Instagram, that old MySpace page. And LinkedIn, while you're at it. Just let everybody know that you've got gear to sell. The Internet isn't a microphone, it's a megaphone, so shout it out loud!
On behalf of Great Aunt Ellie, don't. Just don't. This is the kind of thing that makes your friends want to stop reading your Facebook feed. The web makes sorting those who are shopping for photo gear easy to separate from the folks that aren't. You should take advantage of that. It might not make any difference in selling your gear, but at least you'll still have friends who will let you take pictures of them.
Any professional or serious hobbyist photographer has to grow. Most of that growth comes in acquiring new knowledge, and skills, and in networking with like-minded photo enthusiasts. The gear is secondary. But there are legitimate reasons to pursue new gear. It can expand our platform for new areas, subjects, or techniques. Or it might give us a kick in the complacency, rekindling our interest. The Golden Rule applies to online selling–treat buyers as you would want to be treated.
For tips on buying used gear online, see my previous article 8 Colossal Mistakes Buying Used Photo Gear Online.