Shipping Your eBay Inventory

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

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

Shipping Basics
Start by creating a dedicated staging and supplies area. Everyseller needs a large, comfortable area with supplies like tapeguns, rolls of mounted bubble wrap, a mail scale, boxes, and alaser or thermal printer for labels.

Work flow for label printing and inventory needs to mesh withthis shipping area. "Every label I print is encoded with theproduct ID and the mail class," says eBay seller RyanKortendick of RJK WebTronics (eBay User ID: mobile_inc)."These show my assistant what she has to pack and how itships." Kortendick, 30, runs a two-person operation inWaterford, Wisconsin, that sells small electronics such as two-wayradios and radar detectors and had over $500,000 in sales for2005.

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

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

  • Shake the box. Rattling is not good.
  • Tightly packed items fare better than those surrounded byfiller.
  • Always quality-check packing. One poorly packed item cantarnish your feedback.
  • USPS claims take four to six weeks, so if a customer'spackage doesn't arrive, either reship or refund theirmoney.

Choosing a Postage System
eBay recommends new sellers use eBay's integrated shippingfeatures. "You can print and purchase USPS shipping labels oneBay, which saves a lot of time," says Leigh Goldstein, seniormanager of eBay Shipping Product Marketing. The system isintegrated with PayPal, and the labels include customs forms forinternational shipping. Addresses are automatically inserted in thelabel purchase flow, so there's no cutting and pasting.There's also no registration process, software downloads oraccount prefunding. Most important, the service is free-just payfor postage.

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

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

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

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

Shipping and Handling Fees
Some sellers charge for exact shipping fees, while others addhandling charges depending on the item being packed and the laborand supplies involved. This depends on what costs customers arewilling to bear.

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

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

Did You Know?

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

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