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!