If you are like most people who live outside of a cave, you have likely seen the Buzzfeed video on the eBay phenomenon known as the “Mystery Box”, and all the videos that soon followed. They basically show someone who ordered a Mystery Box on eBay opening it in front of the camera to reveal its contents. I watched several of these videos and immediately thought, “Hey…I can do THAT!”
What would make a person want to pay for items they know nothing about from a person that they know less than nothing about? I don’t know, but if you like surprises, then I guess a surprise is a surprise, even if it’s a bad one. And some of the boxes I saw online were really, really bad. So my next thought was, “Hey…I can do BETTER than that!”
I think the only thing I find more fun than receiving a surprise is giving one. Right away, I started piling up stuff that I though would be fun and/or useful. I made 4 different boxes and listed them. “Mystery Box, All NEW Items, NO TRASH, Fun!” Or something like that. This was around 8pm. The following morning, I go to check my listings, and where is my Mystery Box??? DELETED. By eBay. With an automated message about how mystery boxes are not allowed. Whaaaaat?!? So I do a quick search on eBay for “mystery box”…over 9,000 results. Clearly, there has been some mistake, as there are thousands of people “allowed” to list mystery boxes. I try again. Deleted. I rephrase the title and description. Deleted. I call it a Grab Bag instead of a Mystery Box, but I’m not happy with that because I know that no one is doing a search for “grab bag”, so I change it back. Deleted. I give up.
Then I decide I will order a box from a seller whose listing states that they have sold over 100 mystery boxes. How??? I choose an $8 box with free shipping. I’m not expecting much for that price, but I have to know how these people are doing this without having their listings removed. While I am on that seller’s page, I decide to try one more thing. I click “Sell one like this”, tweak the title and description, put 4 quantity, and list it.
SUCCESS! Not only has this listing been up for a record 2 days and counting, I sold one of the boxes today! I don’t think I have ever been more excited about selling something in my life. I have no idea what was so different about this listing that it was not deleted.
In the meantime, I still have to get the box that I ordered. I check on my order and under the listing title I see a message from eBay stating that the item has been…DELETED. It had already been marked shipped, so no matter, and I can move on knowing that it’s them and not me.
So I guess the secret to keeping a Mystery Box listing up on eBay is…RELIST INDEFINITELY. Eventually they might leave you alone.
I haven’t received my box yet, but I’ll post about it when I do. If you decide to live dangerously for a minute and order a Mystery Box from me, I would love to hear what you think of your box in the comments!
When I first started selling on eBay 8 years ago, I really thought I was just going to sell books as a hobby and to make a little spending money. Aside from the fact that I love books, I found them to be the easiest thing to list – just type in the name and a description comes up for you (this was before I had a smartphone to scan barcodes, lol). They were easy to ship, had the cheapest shipping rate (media mail) and were easy to store until they sold. Or didn’t sell, I wasn’t that concerned, frankly.
I still sell books for all those reasons, but after this became a part time business endeavor and I went from Calliope Books to Calliope’s Closet, I had to learn a few things along the way to cut costs. At first, I was buying fancy padded envelopes for everything. That lasted about a minute, since those envelopes were sometimes as much as the item I was putting in them. Then I was getting cases of paper envelopes and adding my own bubble wrap. This was a smidge cheaper, but the paper envelopes would tear sometimes, and although I still use bubble wrap on some items, it can be expensive. I was lucky to find a company on craigslist that regularly gave away used bubble wrap and packing peanuts. This was a big savings, but also time consuming since the wrap would have tears and tape still attached that would have to be removed before I could use it.
When our kids got older, so did their bills and I had to put my hobby on hold and make an actual living. I started working a job full time where one of my tasks was to list on eBay. I learned a ton about packing, shipping and pricing items to sell. I have since left that job, but took a lot away from the experience and now use the things I learned for my own eBay store. I raised my prices slightly to keep up with the market, started charging the correct amounts for shipping and I now spend as little as possible on packing and shipping materials.
If you are just starting out, here are a few simple ways to cut back on expenses…
1. Limit the use of bubble wrap. I only use bubble wrap on these items: books, shoes, oddly shaped items like this, and fragile or liquid items which also get packing peanuts and a box. Why books? Because I had a man order a book from me that requested it, stating that when you drop a book inside an envelope with no padding, the corners get dented in. Since my greatest fear as an eBay seller is negative feedback, now I wrap all books in bubble wrap.
2. Put the bubbles facing out. Bubble wrap will go further if you face the bubbles away from the item rather than inward. Try it now! Get a book or other object, cut or tear off a sheet of bubble wrap large enough for the item. Wrap it with the bubbles facing inward first and note where the edges meet. Now turn the bubble wrap facing the other way and wrap it again in the same place and see where the edges meet now. It goes a little bit further this way, which means buying less and saving more.
3. Use tissue paper for everything else. I buy 35-sheet packs of plain white tissue at the dollar store to wrap clothing, accessories and smaller items. I want all my items wrapped in something before I put them in an envelope, and tissue paper helps keep the item neatly folded during shipping.
4. Use poly envelopes. When I have to pay for poly envelopes, I buy from these guys. They are lightweight, strong, waterproof and the cheapest envelope that I’ve seen. The 9×12 size will fit most of the things I sell, but I also keep a few XL 19×24 on hand for items like jackets that are over one pound and will have to ship priority but won’t fit in a flat rate and I don’t want to add weight by using a box.
5. You can get more in a flat rate envelope than you think. I know, flat rate envelopes look like they hold sheets of paper and nothing else. But by flattening down the corners a little, it will make a pretty nice sized pouch for jeans and sweaters that have to ship priority rate. (Here is the link to see how it works.) Flat rate envelopes are about 60 cents cheaper to send than padded flat rate, and that adds up pretty fast in a month.
6. Get FREE shipping supplies on eBay. By maintaining a Top Seller status, you receive $25 in credit towards the purchase of eBay branded shipping supplies every quarter, but you have to read your messages and use the link in the message to get the credit. Since I bought a ton of poly envelopes when I relaunched my store and before I had reached Top Seller status, I haven’t needed the envelopes to try them out, but I have gotten 2 cases of different sized boxes for free.
7. Cut the excess weight off of boxes. Sometimes you have to ship an item in a box and it weighs in at juuuust over a pound, which means priority rate instead of first class. Here’s a trick for that: each end of the box has four flaps to close it. You really only need two, so you can take the two that would have been on the inside where you don’t see them and cut them down to about an inch or so from the edge, leaving just enough to keep there from being a gap on the edge. Then tape the other two flaps down as usual. Repeat on the other side of the box, and voila! You can cut the weight down enough to get in under 16oz.
8. Tear your packaging tape in half. Since I don’t do enough volume to justify a label printer just yet, I still print my labels on paper and tape them to the package. To save on packaging tape, I try to use half as much to tape on my labels. If you are using the tape with the dispenser, the blade will make nice little notches across the edge of the tape, making it easy to tear in half lengthwise. This way, I use two pieces of tape instead of four for each label.
9. Activate all your offers. Every month, eBay will post promotional offers on your dashboard for free listings in specific categories. Some of them have to be activated by you before they will apply to your listings, so make sure to check the available offers before you sell an item and activate them.
That’s a pretty good list to start with. I’m sure more experienced sellers can tell you more, and I would love to get any tips I don’t know about, so feel free to post in the comments!
If you’ve ever sold on eBay before, then you already know…feedback is everything! I’ve sacrificed profits for feedback several times to please a customer, because once the feedback is posted, it’s there forever. Well, it only affects your rating for 12 months, but that’s an eternity in eBay time. There are millions of sellers and 5-star feedback is one of the things that differentiates your store from the rest. Here’s a few tips for getting a sold item to the customer in 5-star condition:
1. Double check the item before you pack it. I have had a few sales I had to cancel because I saw a problem with the item as I was packing it, even though I checked it before listing. It happens.
2. Make sure you have the right size and type of packaging. If you are packing a fragile item and it’s not properly packed per the USPS guidelines, you might not be able to file a claim for damage if it arrives broken. This includes using a sturdy box or padded envelope, bubble wrap and/or packing peanuts and good shipping tape. I recommend this tape for ease of use and just the right amount of stickiness.
3. Presentation is everything. I don’t understand people who wad up an item in an envelope with nothing then send it to me, but it happens surprisingly often. I’m not big on bragging, but one of the things I repeatedly see in my feedback is the comment “well packaged”, which makes me so happy because I really try to pack items as nicely as possible. I want customers to feel like they are opening a present. 🙂 Here is an example of how I package an item to ship:
For clothing items, I use the $1 store packs of white tissue paper. Since I pack in a tear- and water-resistant poly envelope, clothing doesn’t really need any other inner packaging. I don’t want to just sling the item in the envelope and send it like that, so I first lay out the tissue on a flat surface.
Then I fold the item into a neat rectangle so it will be similar in size and shape to the envelope.
Then I fold the tissue in from corner to corner and fold it down the middle, securing with tape. I do the same thing with the opposite corners.
Now I have a neat little rectangle. I opt to put in a “Thank You” business card with the link to my eBay and Poshmark stores on it, rather than a packing slip printed from eBay which has no added value. If people ask for a packing slip, I print one of those also. I’ve had exactly 3 people ask for a packing slip in 8 years. I tuck the card into the tissue paper.
I slide it in the envelope and seal it. I only buy white self-sealing poly envelopes from these guys; they don’t cost much more and are so convenient.
This last step is probably a little OCD, but I really feel like it helps keep the item from shifting around in the envelope. After sealing, I shift the item to one side, then fold over the excess side of the envelope and tape it in place with packaging tape. I know, it’s a bit much. That feedback, though!
And here is a stack of finished packages, all ready for the post office!
4. Ship the item ON TIME. I admit to not being perfect here, but I keep the number of items that ship out after 1 business day at less than 3% so I don’t lose my seller status. A late shipment usually happens because I don’t have the right size box and have to go…***cringe***…buy one. This can be avoided by immediately looking for free boxes after you purchase the item, not wait until after you sell it.
This is basically it. Just post accurate listings with all information and photos that are clear and not misleading, then pack carefully and ship quickly, and your feedback will reflect the care that you have taken to get the item to your customer asap!