Sharon Greenwald thought she had packed the piece of Lladro porcelain securely, so it was an unhappy surprise when she got an e-mail from the buyer saying that the piece had arrived with the head broken off. It was then that the 41-year-old owner of Luxurywares (eBay User ID: luxurywares) in Briarcliff Manor, New York, which sells mostly clothing and collectibles, made some changes to her shipping practices.
Understanding proper shipping procedures can make or break an eBay seller's success, explains Paul Purdue, president of iFulfill.com, a shipping and fulfillment center in Maumee, Ohio. Without proper knowledge of shipping and packaging options, he says, eBay sellers risk wasting money and damaging their customer relations. Among the most important shipping tips to remember:
- Make it drop-proof. "A package should be able to be dropped from five feet," explains Purdue. "'Fragile' stickers don't mean anything. Writing 'This side up' doesn't mean anything. No attention is paid to them."
Instead, says Purdue, pick a sturdy box, and pack the item securely so there's no void between the box and the item, even if the item is not fragile. Double-boxing-placing a box inside of a box-can also provide additional protection against crushing, but it's important to be sure the interior box is packed securely inside the exterior box, leaving no gaps, Purdue says.
- Ask the buyer. When Greenwald is unsure of how to pack delicate items, she asks the buyer, especially if that person is a collector. "Collectors are the nicest people, and they usually know more than I do about how to pack certain items," says Greenwald, who brings in approximately $3,000 per month on eBay.
- Use packing materials properly. Gary Neubert, 52-year-old owner of Gatorpack (eBay User ID: gatorpack), a Tampa, Florida, purveyor of shipping supplies to eBay sellers and small businesses, says packing materials lose their effectiveness when not used properly. For instance, bubble wrap should be used with the bubbles facing toward the item, and packing peanuts should fill the entire space between the item and the carton, leaving no gaps. "When you don't pack the item properly, it's much more susceptible to being damaged," says Neubert, a Gold PowerSeller whose company takes 100 to 200 orders per day.
- Choose the right courier. For packages weighing less than 4 pounds, Purdue recommends the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as a good choice for shipping. Check into FedEx, UPS and the like for heavier packages. Each has different rates and benefits, such as tracking capabilities, so choose the one that suits your needs and provides the best value.
- Insure. Insurance, which is offered by FedEx, UPS, the USPS and other courier services, is a good idea for expensive items, but make sure you know the requirements for cashing in-and abide by them. Says Purdue, "Even if you have insurance, if someone didn't sign for the package, the insurance may not pay for the item."
Returns and Refunds
While some ebay sellers are careful to state "As is, no returns" on each of their listings, other sellers find that offering refunds and taking returns are better courses of action for their businesses. Which is right? "Like many things pertaining to eBay transactions, it's up to the seller's discretion," says Greg Holden, author of How to Do Everything With Your eBay Business. Holden says sellers who are primarily concerned with maintaining a high level of customer service-and a high feedback rating-may wish to implement a refund or return policy. Those who sell only occasionally, or who sell items with unusually high profit margins, may want to be more stringent about refunds and returns.
Daryl O'Connell, 39-year-old founder of Anita's Joy Gift Shoppe (eBay user ID: anitasjoy) in Manasquan, New Jersey, sells her small antiques with an "As is, no exceptions" disclaimer. But that's not to say that she wouldn't make an exception.
"If someone was terribly unhappy, I'd consider making other arrangements," says O'Connell, who has yearly sales of approximately $100,000 for her gift shop and about $1,000 in monthly eBay sales. "But that's never happened yet. I use the [picture] pack, where you can put up to six photos for a dollar, and I make sure that if there's a nick or a scratch, I show it. I also give the dimensions of the piece. That's worked well for me."
Other sellers find that an open return policy works best. Matt Solar, founder of Yoozed.com (eBay user ID: urbanaddiction), which manages its own as well as consignment auctions, believes that his easy return policy instills confidence in his customers. The policy states that if Yoozed.com makes a mistake, they'll pay for the return, including shipping. Solar, 27, will work with customers who are unhappy with an item to resolve the situation, either by replacing the item with shipping charged to the buyer or by refunding money, less a restocking fee of 10 to 15 percent.
"Restocking fees make sure that people aren't just returning the item on a whim," says Solar, whose Boston business makes more than $1 million per year selling primarily home goods, consumer electronics and clothing on eBay.
Holden says that another key to good return policies is consistency. "Come up with boilerplate wording that is the same from [listing] to [listing]," he suggests. "It builds buyer trust."
How do you set a policy that's right for you? Holden suggests following these tips:
- Ask yourself whether it's more important to encourage repeat business or make individual sales. "A no-return policy will not encourage repeat business; a more liberal policy will," he explains.
- Set an appropriate time frame for returns. Usually a week or so after you receive delivery confirmation is appropriate.
- If you must charge handling fees, be fair. "Deduct a few dollars-but don't gouge someone by taking out $10 or more," Holden says. He adds that it's fine to deduct any processing fees you may have incurred from your refunds.
Overall, says Holden, keep customer service at the front of your mind. "A few dollars isn't going to make a big difference in a year's worth of sales," he says. "If you are hoping to operate a part-time or full-time business on eBay, customer satisfaction, good feedback and return business will make a huge difference. Keeping the big picture in perspective and giving refunds when the customer won't be satisfied any other way can pay off in the long run."