Selling online or “Poof! It’s gone!”

So you are thinking of selling some things online? Great. Should be no problem right? I mean the TV commercials make it look like all you have to do is point your phone at an item and POOF! It’s gone from your closet and replaced with a pile of cash.

Well, I am here to tell you that this is a bit of a stretch of the truth. Let me explain.

I will use eBay as an example because it’s the selling platform I am most familiar with as I have been buying and selling there for 18 years now.

The first thing you need to do is go to the site and open an account. This will require a few different steps depending on whether you will be selling as a business or just want a personal account. Remember, since the law changed, any personal sales over $600 a year will require you to pay federal income tax on these earnings. It used to be 20K!

Next you may have to give the site access to a bank account. eBay demands it, since they no longer accept Paypal for selling fees. This will either be your existing accounts, or you will need to set up a new account just for this purpose. Depending on your bank, this could take up to three hours now, thanks in part to the Patriot Act after 9/11. They need to check all your credentials and history. Some folks I have talked to have a real issue with a company like eBay having access to their checking account. I am no different which is why I don’t keep much in the account I use for my sales.

Once you have your accounts set up, you need to look at your buying/selling fees. eBay for instance has a sliding scale of fees for selling. What you ultimately pay them depends largely on how many of their hoops you jump through.

These will include such things as how fast you ship (same or next day handling), if you ship free, if you accept returns, if you ship internationally or not and if you buy an eBay store for a monthly fee. Commissions paid to eBay could range from 12% up to 15% depending on your choices here.

Once you have this all set up – then you need to put together your seller’s policies. How you ship, whether you want to do fixed price listings or auctions, do you want to have payments required immediately on certain items, what are your terms for returns, and more. I actually have a word document that contains all my policies and I just cut and paste it into each of my auctions.

Next you need to have a way to image your items. If you sell paper ephemera, will you photograph it or scan it? How and where do you photograph your items? I have seen everything from having items photographed outside to seeing them photographed sitting on someone’s washing machine. Will you use a DLSR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Camera or a basic digital camera, or will you just use your phone?

The better your photos are, the better chance you have of selling your item. That being said, price is also a major driving factor on how and what people buy.

A huge issue with both buyers and sellers online is the cost associated with shipping. Everything has gone up since Covid, and gas is a huge factor in the cost of shipping. Most services have raised their rates considerably over the last few years. I recently had to mail out a large box of action figures. The USPS wanted $90 to send it. FedEx was $26. Same box, same address. Shop around – Some services are good for small items, others are better for large boxes.

The buyer generally pays for the shipping, so in some instances it’s advantageous for the seller to offer free shipping as an incentive to buy. However, if you have costs involved in your items as I do, you may not be able to offer this unless you raise the price of the item to cover it. Since I am selling off left over inventory, I have to take my wholesale costs into account. For people who have owned items for years and are just downsizing, free shipping may work for them.

Once you sell the item, you have to package up the item, and then buy postage. For boxes you have some options. I try to save as many boxes as I can when I buy things, so I can recycle and re-use them. My wife thinks I use this as an excuse to buy things. I don’t think it would be wise to deny this at this point in my marriage – LOL. The post office will give you free boxes, as long as you pay the price of the flat rate shipping for each box. Trouble is, that a flat rate box is many times more expensive for priority mail than a recycled box. Again, the buyer may not like the cost of this service and sometimes a flat rate box is either too large or too small. Buying boxes online from a retail supply house could be a third option.

Okay, hang on here, this can be a bit confusing. When you list an item, you specify how much you want for the item. You set a starting bid, or a buy it now price. You also set in the auction the cost of the shipping the buyer will pay. So when someone buys your item, they get charged for the item, the sales tax and the amount you specified for shipping. Next eBay will tell you when the buyer has paid you, and then give you the option to buy a shipping label through their site. (This is usually the best option as eBay has negotiated with USPS to offer sellers discounts.)

This means you have to know up front what it is going to cost to ship something. I can usually guestimate pretty close how much it will cost to ship something but even I get surprised once in a while. Sometimes I over estimate the costs and I refund the difference back to the buyer, and sometimes I undercharge and end up eating the difference, but it seems to average out for me.

To buy shipping online you have to learn to navigate the site’s shipping pages and procedures. This will also require putting in a weight and the dimensions of the packages. DON’T GUESS – get a small scale, and a tape measure.

If you are wrong on the size when you drop it at the shipper, they will charge you the difference. Once you do this, print the label. You can buy a fancy label printer to do this that uses sticky labels, or do what I do and just print them on copy paper, cut them out and tape them on the box.

Shippers recently started going to what they call DIM Weight shipping. What’s that? Well it’s simple really, DIM weight is the amount of space a package occupies in relation to its actual weight. For each shipment, you are charged first on the actual weight and then the  dimensional weight of the package is added which can add to the overall price.

Carriers realized a while ago that not all 5 pound boxes take up the same amount of space in the truck. Since fewer large five pound boxes take up more room than smaller five pound boxes, they decided to charge us for it. And guess what, they all do it differently. Confused yet?

Once you pick out a box, and what to protect your item with, ie..bubble wrap (which is expensive by the way) or packing peanuts (which are expensive by the way), or some other material, newspaper, tissue paper etc. You have to make sure the item isn’t damaged. Remember the old America Tourister luggage ads where they had the gorilla toss the luggage around. Yeah that. Plan for that. Shippers don’t care, they will happily put a 60 pound box on top of your 10 pound box and not think twice if your box gets crushed.

If your packing job is substandard and your item is damaged, the buyer will want a refund. Even if you don’t take returns, sometimes (read nearly all the time) eBay will side with the buyer and remove the funds from your account and issue a refund. If the item needs insured, do it!. When you take the item to the post office/shipper and send it, GET A RECEIPT! This logs in the system you have done so and the buyer can see you mailed their item.

Once the buyer gets the item and is happy, they should post some type of feedback that all went well and they are happy , but don’t count on it. Many buyers just don’t bother. I always leave seller feedback because it’s good karma. Do it right because the old saying “A boo is louder than a cheer” applies. Buyers won’t think twice about slamming you if they feel the deal wasn’t right since it’s all anonymous. A few negative feedbacks can cause people to buy elsewhere and give your listing a pass.

Then on to your next item – Sounds a lot more complicated than pointing your phone at an item in your closet and poof! It’s gone doesn’t it. That’s because it is.

But given all this, you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse and your kids will be happier for your efforts and it will put some coin in your pocket and everyone likes that. You never know, you might even end up starting a business selling online.

Have fun & start selling!