7 Lessons I Learned About Selling on eBay
About a year ago, in the process of my regular decluttering efforts, I began selling a few items on eBay. The more I looked around, the more things I found that I thought, “I could donate this, but first let me just post this on eBay and see if anyone bites.” Of course, selling on eBay can be tricky, because for inexpensive items, it would be easier to donate them and call it a day. But I approached the eBay selling as a sort of fun experiment to see what household items could earn me some extra cash. And, while I was at it, I made plenty of mistakes.
1. Don’t underestimate shipping costs.
It took a few miscalculations to learn that I could easily cheat myself out of profit by underestimating shipping costs.
When listing an item, a seller can choose a flat shipping rate, or calculate the rated based on the package’s dimensions and weight, along with the buyer’s zip code. A calculated rate would be the ideal choice if the seller knows the exact size and weight of the item, including the box and packing material. This works well for someone who sells the same items over and over, but I’ve sold a variety of items. I don’t always know what the final shipping size and weight of the package is going to be, so I tried to approximate the shipping cost. I screwed up a few times and ended up paying $2 or $3 extra for shipping, which isn’t much, but if I’m selling a $10, that’s a lot.
eBay provides the convenience of purchasing postage/shipping directly from their site at a discounted rate. If you don’t know the exact weight and package size for the item, then at least provide a good estimation when you list items so you don’t lose money when costs end up being more than expected. Or another option is simply to price the item several dollars higher and then just offer the buyer free shipping.
2. Don’t overpay for shipping supplies.
I learned the hard way that boxes at shipping stores cost a lot of money. When I was selling a graduation cap and gown, I needed a box that would accommodate the hat. I found exactly what I needed at a shipping store, but I paid about $4.00, which I wouldn’t do again. These stores have to make a profit, so they charge high prices for boxes.
Dollar stores offer some basic boxes and bubble mailers for a dollar, and even grocery stores don’t charge much for small to medium boxes. For larger boxes, I recommend keeping Amazon boxes, or find a friend or neighbor who orders a lot from Amazon. I use bubble mailers a lot for selling some of my old costume jewelry, so to keep from buying new ones, I cut up a few large ones from my Amazon purchases.
3. Don’t underestimate eBay and PayPal transaction fees.
These fees can eat into profits very quickly, so always account for them when deciding on a listing price. Final value fees, which apply after an item sells, is 10% for most items. There is also now a final value fee on shipping charges (yes, this seems unfair to me, but eBay needs to make a profit), so it might be better to ask for a higher price for an item and then just offer free shipping. (All the eBay fees are listed here.) PayPal fees inside the United States are 2.9% plus a fixed fee of $0.30.
4. Most items are better off sold as a “Buy It Now” than as auction.
From the research I’ve done, auctions aren’t the best way to sell on eBay today. Unless you are selling a particular hot item that generates a lot of interest, you might get only one bid. In this case, you might as well just set a fixed price.
5. Invest in a small, inexpensive postal scale.
After several time-consuming trips to the post office to use the postal scale, I bought this inexpensive scale on Amazon, which by now, has paid for itself. Most of the items I ship are on the small side, so this is perfect for what I need.
6. Learn how to properly pack breakable items.
It goes without saying that a seller wants the items to arrive to the buyer in one piece. But for an inexperienced seller, it can be a challenge to figure out how to wrap a breakable item so it gets to its destination intact. I learned this the hard way. I sold a lamp with a metal base and porcelain shade, and the shade arrived shattered. The buyer sent a photo, and I had to reimburse her. This made me skittish about shipping anything made or glass of porcelain. Since then, I have sold two small pieces of china without incident. I found myself waiting in nervous anticipation of a note from the buyer about a broken item, but I didn’t hear anything. Success! I’m still never certain about how much packing material to use around a breakable, but it does seem to help if the item is packed securely enough that it can’t shift in the box.
7. Be patient.
I found that most of the items I posted eventually sold if priced well. I was surprised by how quickly some items sold. One of the quickest items to sell was a cutlery/silverware box in decent condition that was put on the curb as trash. It sold in about a day. Of course, some items just don’t sell quickly, and there really is no way to know if the right seller will come along. If you need to unload some items quickly without waiting 6 months for them to sell on eBay, then donation might be the best route to take.