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Better Shipping

Why not go above and beyond customer expectations?

You're almost done. You found a product (or product line) to sell, listed it on eBay, sold it and received payment. Now it's time to pack and ship it to the buyer (this is also called fulfillment). While your focus may have initially been on selling the item and getting paid, quality packaging and accurate shipping will have just as much impact on your business as the previous four steps.

That's because eBay buyers take into account far more than product availability when buying--they also look at shipping costs and terms, the shipping company used and buyer satisfaction scores when choosing which seller to buy from, explains Kristina Klausen, senior director of eBay's global shipping team. Sellers who provide clear, accurate information about their shipping policies and practices have a much better chance of winning repeat business from their customers.

Communicating With Buyers
Setting buyer expectations upfront can help solidify a customer relationship. "We encourage sellers to [identify] the specific service they'll be shipping with in the shipping details section of the listing," says Klausen. That way, the buyer will see the shipping time for that service and can evaluate whether it meets their needs. Sellers should also specify their handling time--and meet or beat it. "Buyers love to know that their package is on its way, and for important items, they like to be able to track its progress," Klausen adds.

With more expensive shipping options, you can typically offer tracking--end-to-end status updates on a package's progress. Less expensive delivery confirmation services notify the seller when a buyer has received a shipment. When sellers use PayPal's label printing solution, the tracking or delivery confirmation number automatically gets sent to the buyer.

A great starting point for shipping information is eBay's Shipping Center (ebay.com/shipping), where you'll learn about shipping partners, tools, discounts, supplies and best practices.

Creating a Shipping Process
If you only have a handful of listings each week, or even each day, the process for getting an item ready to ship is fairly straightforward. First, pull out the item and pack it appropriately in a box or bubble mailer, depending on the object's size and fragility. Second, prepare a shipping label, pay for shipping and hand off the shipment to a carrier for delivery.

A tool that can save you time and money is PayPal's label printing solution, which you can access through My eBay. There is a "Print Shipping Label" button next to sold items that allows you to print UPS or U.S. Postal Service shipping labels on regular paper from anywhere and pay for them through your PayPal account. There are no fees to use this service.

In addition, since the labels automatically import the eBay buyer's address from the sales transaction information, with nine-digit ZIP codes in place, packages get sorted and delivered more quickly. This may improve the ratings buyers give you.

Sellers can also qualify for sizable discounts on their shipping when they use label printing, enabling them to pass the lower shipping costs on to their buyers. And when labels are printed, an automatically generated e-mail is sent to the buyer to let them know their package is ready for shipment. This includes a delivery confirmation or tracking number.

However, as your business grows and the number of eBay shipments rises, you'll want to automate the process as much as possible to keep up with demand. When you get to the point where you're shipping 10 or more items at the same time, you'll want to take advantage of the PayPal MultiOrder Shipping tool, or MOS, which allows sellers to print up to 50 domestic USPS shipping labels at a time from their PayPal accounts.

Since shipping fees can be the deciding factor between who does and doesn't get the eBay sale, you'll want to be sure you're doing everything you can to keep costs down, both for you and your customers.

When customers buy multiple items from the same seller, they're probably hoping to get a combined shipping discount. And there's no reason why you can't oblige. With eBay's Combined Shipping Discounts tool, you can automatically set up different discount rules by class of product, and since the discounts are automatically calculated at checkout, the buyer doesn't need to wait for information from you in order to pay promptly.

Another way to increase sales is to offer international shipping--though this does require some additional work. Best practices include being clear about the regions or countries you ship to and the associated international shipping costs as well as using calculated shipping to ensure that your quoted cost is accurate based on the buyer's country, says Klausen.

You should also tell international buyers that they may be responsible for customs fees, duties and taxes, and that it may take longer for their items to arrive. Some international buyers stick with USPS to avoid additional broker handling charges that private carriers can tack on unexpectedly. For more information about shipping internationally, go to ebay.com/sellercentral/internationalselling.html.

Managing Shipping Expenses
One tool you'll need to accurately determine domestic shipping costs is the eBay Shipping Calculator, which includes rates for UPS and USPS, says Klausen. Rates for some services consider the size of the package to determine dimensional weight. For example, says Klausen, for a 2-pound item in a big box you might actually be charged as if it is a 4-pound item.

"Dimensional weight kicks in over 1 cubic foot for USPS Priority Mail--that's 12 by 12 by 12 inches, which isn't so large," Klausen points out. So it's important to know what kind of packaging you'll be using before you even list an item, or you may lose money if the shipping is more expensive than you expected.

But using USPS Flat Rate Priority Mail boxes is even simpler than calculating dimensional weight. The boxes are available in two sizes: regular for $9.80 and large for $12.95. You can order the Priority Mail boxes for free at http://ebaysupplies.usps.com, saving you money on the cost of the box.

While many buyers are on the hunt for the seller with the lowest shipping rate, some buyers are willing to pay a premium to receive their item by a certain date, which is especially important around the holidays. That's when you'll want to offer Get It Fast service using expedited shipping, which is found in the shipping section of the Sell Your Item process.

eBay's Get It Fast program highlights items using a special icon on the items listing page so buyers can find items that can arrive quickly. "To qualify for Get It Fast, items need to offer at least one domestic overnight service, and the seller needs to indicate they ship within one business day of receiving cleared payment," says Klausen.

eBay Sellers who communicate well with buyers, work to reduce shipping fees for them and are quick to get an item into their hands will earn positive seller ratings and plenty of repeat business.

Marcia Layton Turner's work has appeared in Woman's day, Health and Black Enterprise. She is based in Pittsford, N.Y.

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