Friday, July 29, 2016

Selling stuff on eBay with minimal overhead

So, my experimentation with selling stuff on eBay is going remarkably well. I've had an eBay account since 1998, which I previously used mostly for buying things and periodically for selling things I was done with that were worth quite a bit of money, like sporting or music equipment. I maybe listed one item a month, if even that.

Today's pile of stuff ready to ship
A couple months ago I decided to start actually selling. As I mentioned before, I first listed a bunch of free items I had snagged from Amazon. That went well, so I started by listing a bunch of stuff I had lying around that I normally would have donated or given to friends -- kids' and adults' clothes, books, household gadgets, baby stuff sitting in a box in a closet, extra hardware and office supplies I'd bought too much of for projects, and so forth. It's going remarkably well, and I'm making quite a lot of cash off of stuff I would normally have been happy to give away. I'm now looking into buying at garage sales and thrift stores and doing some flipping.

From perusing forums about selling on eBay, I'm seeing that most people are reluctant to get started because the necessary supplies are expensive, shipping is confusing, and the fees are unclear. So I'm putting together a basic tutorial on how to do sell things easily and cheaply.

How eBay fees work:

When you list something on eBay, the first 50 listings per calendar month are free. Relisting an item that doesn't sell counts as a listing each time. Before you hit "list" on an item, it will tell you what the fees will be. Certain features on the listings, like large, bold titles and so forth cost money. Don't use these; there's no need. Once you get over 50 items, it charges you 30 cents per listing. This is refunded if the item sells.

Once an item sells, eBay charges you 10% of the final price AND 10% of the shipping price. It doesn't take this out of the money the customer sends you; it adds it to your monthly bill. What I typically do is: Every time I sell something, the money for the item plus shipping goes into my PayPal account. I buy the shipping through eBay, which deducts it from my PayPal account. Before I withdraw the money, I look at my eBay fee tally (this is in "account settings," located at the top left of the site) and see the two fee charges for the auction. I then withdraw the total profit less the fees, and leave enough for the fees in my PayPal account so I know I have it when the bill comes due. I really wish they'd just deduct it, but they don't, so this seems to work best.

Here's an auction I just shipped off today:

Item: $5.00
Shipping: $2.83

Customer sent me $7.83 via PayPal
I spent $2.60 on shipping via eBay (there's a discount for shipping through them)

So far, the profit is $5.23. Then I go look in my Account Summary tab, where the fees are listed. I see that eBay charged me 28 cents for the shipping and 50 cents for the item. So I subtract that, and withdraw $4.45 to my bank account. I've pocketed a total of $4.45 for this item. I leave the 78 cents in my PayPal account so it's there at the end of the month for the fees.

How to ship eBay items:

If you have any cash at all to put up front, I recommend getting a scale. I have this one, which was $20. It weighs up to 55 pounds in 10ths of an ounce. For a bit more, you can get one that attaches to your computer via USB to use with the eBay shipping portal, but this seems to me like it's just more stuff to break and malfunction, and it takes me like two seconds to read the number on the scale and type it in.

If you can't afford the scale yet, you can still ship without it, which I did at first. If it's a heavyish item, like a box of books, you can weigh it by holding it while standing on your bathroom scale and subtracting your own weight. Round up to the next pound. For items that are lighter, you can estimate it by comparing it to a can of soup or other item of known weight, or you can look up the item on Amazon (or wherever it's sold) and see what they give as the shipping weight. Estimate high, and charge the buyer for the shipping.

When you list your items, it's usually best to use calculated shipping, unless it's a fairly heavy but small item that you can stick in a Priority Mail flat-rate box. Choose the cheapest shipping, because people will be more likely to buy your item.

For under 16 ounces (single items of clothing, etc.), use first-class mail. Otherwise, use Parcel Select or Priority Mail, whichever is cheapest. Enter the weight and size of the item in the eBay listing and it will tell you what the services cost, and you can choose which ones to offer. If you're selling something like a textbook that you think someone might want right away, you can also offer overnight shipping and whatnot.

The fastest and cheapest way to ship is through the eBay website. You get a discount over what the post office charges, and it immediately sends the tracking number to the customer. You will need a printer, which you can find on craigslist for free. For your first few items, print the label on plain paper and tape it to your package. Make sure not to tape over bar codes. After you've sold a few things, buy some cheap labels. I got 200 of these labels for $7.47.

You'll also need something to ship your items in. If you don't already have Amazon Prime, subscribe to it! There's a deal through Swagbucks right now. It's totally worth the yearly fee, because you can get just about anything shipped to your house for free. And stuff that gets shipped to you comes with packaging materials. Save all the boxes, bubble envelopes, bubble wrap, and so forth, and store them where you store your eBay stash. Now you have free packaging material. If you need something large or specialized, there are tons of people on craigslist giving away boxes, tubes, and packing peanuts. For clothing, shoes, or other items that are bulky but don't need the protection of a box, buy a package of poly mailers. I got 100 of these for $12.16. I bought huge ones so I can sell big lots of things, but you can also fold them over for smaller things (as seen in top photo), and they barely cost more than the small ones. I'll go back to worrying about the environment once I can pay my bills.

Questions? Post a comment and I'll do my best to answer.