Be Ready to Go
Veteran online auction sellers know that buyers often give better feedback when their merchandise arrives well packed in a clean, sturdy shipping container. Want proof? Read some of the feedback that buyers post on eBay and other auction sites. “Items arrived nicely packed…. Prompt shipping with good packing…. Packaged well, shipped quickly…. Excellently packed!”
Shipping is not rocket science. But it definitely should weigh on your mind — literally. As a new auction seller, you must learn how to ship items efficiently and with the least expense in a wide array of weights and sizes, using several different delivery sources. These may include the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service (UPS), Federal Express, DHL, freight trucks, independent couriers, and even intercity buses.
Do not list your first auction item on eBay or elsewhere until you have determined the quickest and most affordable ways to ship it from your location, and you have set up the appropriate accounts necessary to get the best service and rates. Learn how to ship before you sell, not afterward.
Shipping options will vary from city to city and hamlet to hamlet. If you plan to run an online auction business from an isolated farmhouse at the end of a gravel road that fades into a pig trail, you may have mosey down to your mailbox each day and wait for the rural mail carrier to pick up your shipments. Otherwise, you will have to hop into your truck or onto your tractor and haul your items to the nearest town for shipping. The good news is you can really do this. All corners of the planet are firmly linked by the Internet and a vast, crisscrossing web of shipping routes that include highways, air paths, railroad tracks, and well-traveled sea lanes. You can farm a little Iowa corn, then go into your home office, get online, and sell a collectible baseball card to an eager software programmer who works for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. Or, you can sell an antique, vacuum-tube radio to an aircraft mechanic who works at a small hangar somewhere in Florida.
The millions of bidders who now hang out and buy at online auctions often will not bid unless they are offered several shipping choices. Experience has taught that they are more likely to bid when they at least have the option to select a quick or standard delivery method. They may choose quick shipping and willingly pay more, simply because they need or want the item
As an online auction seller, your main shipping concerns will include:
√ Package weight
√ Package dimensions
√ Shipping methods
√ Shipping price
√ Protective packing
√ Proof of delivery
Scaling Your Profits
Much of your profit from auction listings will depend on how well you can monitor and control shipping costs each time you send an item to a winning bidder. Potential bidders are very sensitive to shipping costs. If the price of shipping seems too high, they won't bid. Meanwhile, many new sellers lose money on some of their first auction sales, because they fail to pay attention to shipping costs and forget to specify that the buyer will pay to have the item delivered. A seller may have to spend a hundred dollars on shipping an item that sold for only five dollars.
One of the first purchases for your online auction business should be a well-calibrated and accurate scale. The bathroom scale you have been eyeing will never do! Look for postal scales, shipping scales, freight scales, or even food-weighing scales. You can work with almost any scales that are accurate and can handle the lightest or heaviest package you expect to send.
Scales suitable for online auctions generally come in two flavors: mechanical and digital. You can find them at office supply stores, in office supply catalogs, and at online sales sites such as OfficeDepot. com and Staples.com. Scales are also hot items on eBay, Yahoo! and other auction sites.
Typical prices for new weighing devices can range from under $20 for a mechanical scale with a two-pound capacity to around $150 and more for freight scales capable of weighing shipping containers up to 400 pounds. Mechanical scales are often specified by maximum weight and measurement accuracy, such as “100 lb. + 1 lb.,” meaning accurate to one pound. Several brands of digital scales are also on the market. Some digital scales can weigh packages with an accuracy of less than a half-ounce, and some can connect to the Internet and download the latest postage rates and shipping rates from several leading carriers.
Measure for Measure
Your second purchase should be a tape measure. This can be the metal kind used by carpenters and construction workers or a cloth tape measure used by tailors and seamstresses. Ideally, you may need both types. The tape measure will be used to measure the length, width, and height of shipping boxes.
To ship online using UPS, for example, you will need to know the girth and length of a package. The girth is determined by measuring completely around your package “at its widest point, perpendicular to the height.” For this, you will definitely need a very flexible tape measure. To measure the package's length, place your tape measure against the longest side and note the distance from edge to edge. Add the girth and length together, and you will have the total package size.
Never guess at shipping costs. Take the time to figure out how you will package the merchandise and how much the buyer, or you, will spend to get it to its destination. Experienced auction sellers often pack their items into boxes, ready to seal, before they post their listings.
Once you have the weight and dimensions of your package, you can use convenient online calculators to figure out how to price the postage or delivery charges. These calculators are found on mailing and shipping sites such as the United States Postal Service,
The calculators will require such information as destination Zip Code, package weight, type of package, package dimensions, and declared value. Some of the sites, such as FedEx, will have convenient links to pictures and dimensions of their standard shipping containers.
You may need at least two scales: one to weigh letters and packages up to five pounds and one to weigh heavier boxes. Pick accuracy over price when shopping for a scale. Missing a weight boundary by as little as an ounce can cost you extra shipping dollars each time.
Is it Really Worth It?
Even if you plan to haul all of your packages to the post office or UPS Store and let others take the measurements and do the weighing, experience has taught many that owning a scale and a tape measure can save significant money and time. Knowing the shipping weight and package dimensions is vital when creating a new auction listing. Knowing exactly how much you should pay for shipping can save you from shelling out extra when a clerk makes a mistake.
Will I need a postage meter?
A postage meter can save time and money in almost any active small business. Pitney Bowes estimates its meters save users an average of 20 percent a year in costs, because exact amounts of postage can be applied to mailings.
Shipping as a Profit Center?
To some online auction sellers, shipping costs are a built-in way to squeeze a few more dollars out of buyers. They charge shipping fees that are more — sometimes a lot more — than the actual cost to send the merchandise. Many other auction sellers, however, strongly oppose and reject this practice. Buyers hate it, too, once they catch on to it.
To survive and thrive, an auction business requires repeat customers as well as a steady flow of new ones who might become “regulars.” You can consign your auction business to a slow death if you keep scaring off potential repeat bidders by overcharging for shipping. Any short-term profits from the jacked-up prices will be lost once the negative feedback begins popping up and buyers start shunning you.
The better procedure, from our experience, is to give buyers a straight deal on the shipping costs and try to get a little more profit from the auction item itself to cover some of the shipping expenses. When you are pricing it and setting a reserve, factor in a little extra to cover the cost of the box, packing materials, tape, and labels. The expenses associated with shipping can be tax deductions in an auction business.
Pack your first auction item and shipping material into a box but don't seal it to weigh it. If the weight is very close to a boundary where the cost will go up, try reducing the packing materials slightly to allow a little more weight margin for the final tape. If a few ounces are still available, more packing can be added for extra safety.