Saturday, June 4, 2022

Making eBay Efficient and Fun

I was once eBay-phobic, but have made the process so efficient that it's now a delight. Here are tips.

Between eBay fees, credit card fees, packaging, postage and handling, you won't make much even on a $20 sale. But if you can learn to create tidy listings (eBay, Craig, NextDoor, FB Market) quickly, and streamline your fulfillment, it becomes an absolute breeze; worth it even for a few bucks here and there; or even just to escape the shame of throwing away useful stuff. eBaying is the new "donating". It's like this cool thriving circle of regeneration.

First, get a free account at Pirate Ship, a beautifully sleek web app that imports order data from ebay and offers you shipping choices (all discounted). Great service, too (they communicate in pirate-speak). Note that options like Priority Mail flat-rate and media mail (which you must ALWAYS use for books/audio/video) are available; you just need to dig around a bit as you plug in the particulars for a given shipment. And remember that padded envelopes ship way more cheaply than boxes.

For shipping, weigh with a good digital kitchen scale (don't buy a postage scale, they all suck). Weight limit is usually 10 lbs, but you won't be shipping heavier items much. Get this tape (don't use a tape gun for small packages; they're too unwieldy) and this handy little tape measure. Print labels out (Pirate Ship makes it easy) and stick them on with tape (see below).

If you don't already have an enormous collection of small and odd-shaped cardboard boxes (which are expensive and annoying to buy one-by-one), treat yourself to Amazon Prime for a while and order every damned thing you ever need to buy (toilet paper, tissues, toothpaste, eyedrops...everything!) that way and save the boxes. Just do it for the boxes. Also buy (e.g. from Staples) some 8x10 and 9x12 clasp envelopes and some 5x9 and #3 (8.5 x 14.5) poly bubble mailers. EBay seller TheBoxery has the best prices. Remember you can "shrink" large padded envelopes by folding them over on themselves and taping, and shrink clasp envelopes by cutting from the opening side and taping shut.

Buy all that stuff and set aside a dedicated space for eBay activity so you're not constantly reinventing the wheel ad hoc for each sale and shipment. Keep dedicated tape and tape measure and scale handy there even if you have similar items scattered elsewhere around your house. I also keep dedicated scissors, box cutter, and sharpie. Set up a folding table to serve as Sales Central. Dedicate a closet shelf to storing listed items awaiting sale/shipping. This is how you make eBay fun rather than hassle. Respect the hustle!

Always thoroughly scrape off or cover up or black-sharpie over old shipping labels. I've heard horror stories of a sticker code meaning "hazardous item", so your shipment gets pulled aside and you need to drive hundreds of miles to go pick it up because they won't restore it to shipping channels.

If the fussy scraping and taping and weighing and all the rest start to feel oppressive and/or "beneath you", here's a framing trick. You're sending personal items which have served you well off to nice people who eagerly await them. Pack and process like you're dispatching holiday presents - or even pets/babies for adoption. Call it corny if you want, but that's actually what eBay is at its heart (though plenty of buyers and sellers might not get it). I sometimes throw in minor treats, too, as a disciple of Walter the Bus Driver. The world insidiously improves, despite the evident shmuckery.

If you're on deadline, every couple weeks, reduce prices on anything unsold by 20%. But bear in mind that more obscure items can take a while to connect at any price.

For pricing, don't just search eBay. Check the "Completed Items" box in the left margin as you search to discover what stuff's actually selling for. Remember that good feedback, coherent and thorough description (talk like a real person; don’t feign brusque impersonality), and quality photos all help earn a premium. 

It's way better to lose money than to anger a buyer, even if it's someone awful/stupid/crazy (they mostly are very nice!). I have 100% feedback, and it serves me way better than 99.8% feedback. So maybe let them keep the item even though you've refunded. Etc etc. Your goal is to serve people as quickly and effortlessly as possible, even if sometimes it costs you extra. Delight them if possible, but marginal satisfaction works fine, too. Don't get drawn into spats or negotiations. Who's got time? If you're the contentious and/or penny-pinching type, eBay will drive you slowly mad. Everyone else: enjoy the release and surrender of low-stakes caving-in to imperious consumers. Retail satori!

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