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Shipping Your eBay Inventory

The right shipping tools and processes can make all the difference to your business' success.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Shipping is one of the key disciplines of the eBay world. Customer service and productivity hinge on successful shipping: The right packaging creates a positive initial experience for the customer, and the less time you spend shipping, the more time you have for sourcing and listing.

Shipping Basics

Start by creating a dedicated staging and supplies area. Every seller needs a large, comfortable area with supplies like tape guns, rolls of mounted bubble wrap, a mail scale, boxes, and a laser or thermal printer for labels.

Work flow for label printing and inventory needs to mesh with this shipping area. "Every label I print is encoded with the product ID and the mail class," says eBay seller Ryan Kortendick of RJK WebTronics (eBay User ID: mobile_inc). "These show my assistant what she has to pack and how it ships." Kortendick, 30, runs a two-person operation in Waterford, Wisconsin, that sells small electronics such as two-way radios and radar detectors and had over $500,000 in sales for 2005.

Deciding what supplies to use is another issue. Many sellers use free eBay/U.S. Postal Service co-branded Priority Mail boxes. The USPS delivers a wide variety of box sizes for free if sellers ship via Priority Mail. Use Priority Mail flat-rate boxes to ship anything for $8.10. High-volume sellers should consider buying their own boxes and using a parcel service like DHL, FedEx Ground or UPS, in addition to the USPS.

Bubble wrap, packing peanuts and marketing inserts should be part of a well-stocked shipping area, but know when and how to use them. "Most people assume that if you surround an object in packing peanuts, you're safe," says Ken Mills, 46, of Black Knight Trading Co. (eBay User ID: blackknighttrader) in Dunbar, West Virginia, which projects 2006 revenue to reach between $1.25 million and $1.5 million. "They work for general crush resistance, but a heavier object suspended midway will make its way to the bottom." Package items properly by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Shake the box. Rattling is not good.
  • Tightly packed items fare better than those surrounded by filler.
  • Always quality-check packing. One poorly packed item can tarnish your feedback.
  • USPS claims take four to six weeks, so if a customer's package doesn't arrive, either reship or refund their money.

Choosing a Postage System

eBay recommends new sellers use eBay's integrated shipping features. "You can print and purchase USPS shipping labels on eBay, which saves a lot of time," says Leigh Goldstein, senior manager of eBay Shipping Product Marketing. The system is integrated with PayPal, and the labels include customs forms for international shipping. Addresses are automatically inserted in the label purchase flow, so there's no cutting and pasting. There's also no registration process, software downloads or account prefunding. Most important, the service is free-just pay for postage.

Small operations with low volume can get by using the USPS website. But if you have a steady shipping volume, many sellers recommend Endicia. "I read about Endicia on the PowerSeller discussion forum," says Kortendick. "A lot of people rave about it." The basic service costs $9.95 a month, but it's paid off for Kortendick: Shipping used to take him a full day, but with Endicia, all his orders are done in less than an hour. While you can't print stamps with Endicia, the company plans to roll out a stamp-printing feature soon.

A huge benefit of using any internet postage system: The USPS will pick up packages from your home or office for free, as long as the order includes Priority Mail or Express Mail packages, the packages each weigh less than 20 pounds, and they're picked up on USPS' regular route. You can schedule a different pickup time for $12.50.

DHL, FedEx and UPS have similar software systems for sellers who ship often and need local pickup. They also offer shipping discounts on their normal rates for frequent shippers. Says Mills, "DHL has better rates than UPS. If you ship more than [a certain amount of packages] a day, they'll set you up with a scale, a label printer and a dedicated, centralized shipping computer that integrates with your shipping database."

If you'll be shipping globally, check out UPS's international shipping tools designed just for eBay sellers. These tools integrate with and let sellers calculate costs, request a UPS pickup, track transit times and print shipping labels for international shipments, all at the point of transaction.

Shipping and Handling Fees

Some sellers charge for exact shipping fees, while others add handling charges depending on the item being packed and the labor and supplies involved. This depends on what costs customers are willing to bear.

Raising an item's price and eliminating handling fees isn't always a good idea: Higher prices mean higher fees paid to eBay. But eBay's statistics show that the lower the shipping cost on an item, the more likely it is to sell. "I usually keep my shipping costs just over actual costs," says Michael Walker, 47, founder of The Longwoods Trader (eBay User ID: scout2002) in Easton, Maryland, which sells collectibles and small mechanical parts. He estimates 2005 sales hit $100,000. The eBay Shipping Calculator, which you can add to your listings, calculates exact shipping rates, including any handling charges.

With all of these shipping suggestions, the key is to analyze business processes and make the appropriate choices. For more tools and tips, visit

Did You Know?

  • The U.S. Postal Service is the most economical choice for items weighing less than 2 pounds.
  • DHL is still building out its U.S. routes, and it ships a lot of packages via air even though it's called "ground." The result? Many sellers get overnight service, and customers love it.
  • Most carriers don't consider reused boxes structurally viable and will deny claims for items shipped in reused boxes.
  • Reused packaging materials diminish the perceived value of merchandise.
  • eBay is a great source for shipping supplies.
  • Local post office employees can make life easier by giving you loading access and special treatment. Introduce yourself, and send holiday presents.
Phil Dunn is a marketing consultant and co-author of The 7 Essential Steps to Successful eBay Marketing.