To Bundle or Not to Bundle

Determine simply how and when to bundle items for sale.

One of the most common mistakes sellers make on eBay is selling too many things together as a lot. Sure, it’s easier to list fewer auctions, but bundles are usually worth much less than the same items sold separately, and may even be less likely to sell.

One of my favorite eBay anecdotes involves a single auction for a large lot of model trains, for which I paid approximately $800. I then turned around and sold about half the collection, all told, for about $800. I estimated the value of the remaining items to be about $1,000, all of which I effectively got for free. (This is similar in concept to arbitrage, but relies more on skill than on simply taking advantage of inefficiencies in the marketplace.)

Obviously, the original seller of the collection would’ve earned quite a bit more money had he listed each item separately. But how could he have known?

The most direct approach is to compare the expected value of a collection with the total expected values of the separate items [Hack #42] . But this can take a lot of time, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another auction with exactly the same items.

So instead, just ask yourself this question: “How likely is it that any single bidder will want all of the items I’m selling?”

Bidders who buy large collections or lots typically do so with the intention of reselling some or all of the items. Since they’d only do this if there were profit in it, it’s unlikely that anyone would pay the full value of such a collection. However, if there’s a good chance that a single perso will want to keep all of the items you’re selling, then you very well may get what they’re worth.


Never bundle unrelated or incompatible items. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to sell two camera lenses—each designed for a different brand of camera—in the same listing. Anyone who would bid on such a listing would likely be interested in only one of the lenses, and as a result wouldn’t bid higher than that single lens is worth.

Accessories can go either way. Sometimes, adding $50 worth of accessories to an item will increase the desirability of the item by at least that much, if not more. Other times, it won’t make a lick of difference.

Take, for example, a $300 handheld computer, sold along with a $40 flash memory card, $25 leather case, $10 screen protector, and $150 worth of software. Accessories such as used leather cases (at least the cheaper ones), used screen protectors, and especially the software are all pretty much worthless when sold separately, but will probably raise the value of the handheld if sold together. Why? Because it is likely that any single bidder will actually want all of those things, and that person might pay more to avoid having to buy them separately.

So, what if you have two or more identical items? certainly, they’re compatible with one another if they are indeed identical, but would anyone ever use them together? In the case of the aforementioned flash memory card, for instance, a single $40 card might raise the value of the handheld by $25 to $30. But if you have several memory cards, the odds are pretty remote that any single person would want them all. Instead, try including one of the cards in the same auction as the handheld PC and sell the rest separately.

Naturally, the market for your particular item will be different, but this should give you an idea of the methodology used to determine the practicality of bundling related items.

Leveraging Dutch Auctions

If you have a large quantity of an inexpensive item, you may be inclined to sell the entire lot in a single auction. But who is going to want 4,000 pairs of shoelaces, even if you do offer them all at the low, low price of only $200? Naturally, it also doesn’t make sense to list them separately at 5 cents apiece, but there are other options.

Probably the best choice is a Dutch auction, but not necessarily the kind you might expect. The nature of a Dutch auction suggests that if you have 4,000 items, you enter a quantity of 4,000, wherein a single bid buys a single item. But then you’d be back where you started—handling up to 4,000 different customers at a nickel apiece.

Instead, try selling 400 bundles of 10 for $4.00 each; so a single bidder would be able to buy 10 pairs of shoelaces for $4.00, 20 pairs for $8.00, and so on. You’ll have to build only one auction, you’ll get 8 times as much money per shoelace, and you’ll be much more likely to get any money at all for your bizarre collection.

Multiple Listings of Identical Items

So you have a bunch of identical items to sell, but you don’t want to bury them all under a single Dutch auction listing? Rather than one listing with a quantity of 400, why not 400 individual listings? Apparently, you’re not the first person to think of this.

eBay allows sellers to have a maximum of 10 identical listings running at any one time, mostly to keep sellers in your position from overwhelming search results and category listings with floods of identical items. This is also in your best interest, because buyers assess the value of an item [Hack #42] by its uniqueness; too many of an item only serves to make overly-common items unpalatable, to the point of forcing buyers to modify searches to exclude your listings [Hack #18] . But if you’re creative about it, you can unload your burdensome inventory without breaking any rules:

Spread it around.

Divide your 400 items into 10 identical Dutch auctions, each with a quantity of 40. Then, schedule your listings [Hack #48] so they’re staggered throughout the week, and at least one ends and another starts each day.

Use shorter durations.

The 10-listing limit applies only to concurrent listings, so if you have a lot of stuff to sell, you can move more product in less time by shortening your listing durations [Hack #48] . This allows you, for instance, to have up to 20 three-day listings or 70 one-day listings appear on eBay in any one-week period.

Add some variety.

If you must work around the 10-listing limit, vary your offerings. If the items come in multiple colors, try 10 listings in aquamarine, 10 in chartreuse, 10 in viridian, and 10 in malachite. Or if there are accessories available, try some creative bundling: 10 listings with leather cases, 10 with car chargers, 10 with matching ear muffs, and 10 with all three (the infamous superbundle).

Make it someone else’s problem.

Sell your entire inventory as a lot by clicking the Lot tab when specifying the quantity to sell: specify 1 for the Number of Lots and then 400 for the Number of Items Per Lot. Then, hope that some enterprising young fellow—with more time on his hands than you’ve got—buys all your stuff for a single price and then, presumably, finds a way to resell the items [Hack #92] for a profit. Of course, if you feel particularly enterprising, you can seek out bargains like these by browsing any of the Wholesale Lots subcategories listed at

See Also

  • See Chapter 7 if you’re running a business on eBay or simply a busy seller who needs to move a lot of product.

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