Dealing with Questions
You can never write a perfect ad. That’s why people are allowed to ask you questions through eBay. This is great for the buyer, but can also be a pain in the butt for volume sellers.
Most questions will ask you for information that you already included in the description. I always take the perspective of answering these as if I never wrote it in the original ad. Clearly, they didn’t see it, so avoid answering the question with something like “Please refer to the item’s description.” This will only make them avoid your item.
You’ll also get a lot of questions about shipping to foreign countries. I always suggest doing this, as it will attract another buyer, but beware of custom laws and countries in turmoil. Most of the time, they will arrive just fine, but there are a large number of people out there who are interested only in ripping you off. Check their feedback before agreeing to ship to them. If you decide that they look legitimate, you can calculate exact postage using the USPS website (http://ircalc.usps.gov/).
Other times you’ll be asked if a person can purchase your item outside of eBay. Never, ever allow this to happen. There are only four reasons that this person asked you for this: your item is worth far more than your starting price, they are a member of eBay staff and are testing you for compliance with their policies, they are the seller of a competing product, and are going to report you for breaking with eBay policy, or they are ripping you off. In any case, this is a very bad idea. Don’t report them for it, but never accept these offers.
Answer questions promptly and politely, but don’t give them more than what they asked for. A simple answer is always best. And ensure that you have the last hour or two before your auctions end so that you can answer last minute questions from buyers. This way, you get more bids.
Shipping supplies can cost you a fortune if you don’t know where to look. The first thing you need to do when attempting to organize your business’s shipping needs is to ask your friends and family members if they can get you some boxes and bubble wrap from their jobs. Almost everyone will provide you with something the next day, and after that it’s just a question of who provides you with the nicest looking and most useful stuff.
You’re looking for nice, clean boxes that are appropriately sized for the items that you’re selling. Most often, smaller boxes will be most useful, but for the occasional large item or bulk buyer, you should keep a few larger boxes waiting around just in case. Also keep in mind that you may need scrap cardboard for any mishaps that occur along the way in packing, so keep a small supply of that around as well.
Also consider that some items don’t need especially nice packaging. If you sell books, try fitting them inside envelopes, as the shipping costs will be greatly reduced, and the item is very unlikely to be damaged anyways. Those padded envelopes are great for made-at-home CDs, but a folded piece of cardboard inside a five-cent manilla envelope is not only cheaper for supplies, but also weighs less, and protects just as well.
Now, most of the supplies are paid for right there! You still need packing tape, which you can buy in bulk at Sam’s Club or Walmart for really cheap. Always get name brand tape, because there is a large gap in quality between the good and the bad. If you need manilla envelopes, you can purchase a pack of 100 for about $10 there as well. For those making products in their home, make sure to pick up a package of CD/DVD Labels here as well. You can purchase a 40-pack of Memorex labels for $15, which is very cheap compared to what you’ll pay at Staples or Office Depot for Adobe labels.
Recognizing that the shipping fee you’re charging includes a handling fee is one of the most important aspects of selling on eBay. Handling costs include, but are not limited to, the cost of the box, packing supplies, and most importantly, your time and labor in packing and sending the item. Don’t be excessive, but make sure that you include at least a little profit for yourself. I typically made between $1 and $4 in handling charges per item, mostly because I got my boxes and supplies for free, and pretended that I charged for them.
Also look towards lessening your shipping costs by actually going, in person, to the post office, and asking about options on each package you send out. Often Parcel Post and Priority Mail will arrive in the same amount of time, and you can save as much as $4 in costs that way. For small items that you can fit in an envelope, ask if you can send 1st Class, cutting down your cost from $4.05 for priority to around $0.87. Media, which includes everything from books to video game cartridges to VHS tapes, can be sent via Media Mail for less than half the price of Parcel Post. Make sure if using Media Mail that the only thing in the package is shipping supplies and the media itself, or else you run the risk of having your items refused by the post office.
Typically, one out of every 100 items I sent out was “lost in the mail.” Preventing this from happening means insuring your items or using Delivery confirmation. In general, I do not suggest either, unless of course your buyer pays for insurance. If you are considering doing Delivery Confirmation for your items, think first about what would be more expensive: refunding the money for one percent of your sales, or spending sixty cents more on each item you send out. For me, a bulk seller of cheap items, the choice was clear; skip delivery confirmation because refunding one $5 item was much cheaper than spending $60 on delivery confirmation for 100 items. For higher priced items, however, delivery confirmation can make sense.
Once you do it a few times, you’ll figure out how to price out your shipping costs appropriately. Ask a cashier for a rate scale to give you a better idea of how much to charge for shipping if you are unsure, but always include a flat-rate charge into your items. Nobody wants to bother to ask you how much you charge for shipping, and by using those deterministic shipping cost plans, you’re losing out on bonus handling charges that come from buyers being in the same state.
If you know the exact weight of your item, you can print shipping labels through Paypal and save a lot of time, but that requires a postage scale, and extra printing costs, which can add up. I prefer to actually go to the Post Office once or twice a week to make sure I’m doing it right. If you go around 10 or 11am, there are shorter lines.
Regardless of whether you like their policies and fees or not, you need to sign up with Paypal. About 75% of your buyers will use this to pay you. The rest prefer money orders or personal checks, and some will even send you cash.
I accepted payment any way they wanted to do it. My feeling is that money is money, and there shouldn’t be any worries about how it comes to you.
Paypal’s charges are excessive for the work they do, but you need to accept them. This is the best way for buyers to get back their money quickly and easily if you turn out to be a fraud. Most of the time, these buyers want to pay using their credit card anyways, so let them. The fees will set you back, but this is part of the reason that you’re making money through the shipping charges. There are two types of payments you’ll receive from Paypal, an instant payment (they used a credit card or had existing funds in their account), and an echeck (they used a debit card or linked their paypal account only to a bank account). Instant payments mean that you can send out the item right away, which is suggested, though when receiving an echeck, you need to wait for clearance, which is usually a seven day waiting period.
Money orders are the best. They have a fee too, except that the buyer pays it, not you. As soon as you cash it, the money is in your account, so put the money in your account and send the package that day. The same goes for cash, though you should be wary of letting buyers send payment this way. As it stands, most mail from the post office is still processed by hand, and cash is easily visible through most envelopes. It’s very easy for someone to steal this letter, and then you’re responsible for paying for the product.
Checks have some serious drawbacks as well. Whenever you receive a personal check, there is the chance that it will bounce, and most buyers will tend to blame you for the fact that they don’t have the funds to cover the purchase. If this happens, they need to resend another check to you, which creates tension. Additionally, checks take anywhere from three to six business days to clear, and you should definitely wait until a check clears before you send your package. Make sure that you notify the buyer in multiple areas of your ad that if they send a personal check that their shipping will be delayed until the check clears.