The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee


eBay and Selling Tips

Getting by on eBay and is frequently a question of a few cents here and there, and volume.  Here are some tips.  Subscribe to this post's comments as I come up with more, or post your own (non-commercial, please, although paid advertisements are accepted.)

1.  If you can find a mailer that weighs less than 3⁄4 oz., normal CDs in jewel cases can ship for the 4-oz. First Class Parcel rate ($1.64 at the time of this writing) rather than the 5- or 6-oz. rate ($1.81 or $1.99).  Uline Bubble Mailers, model S-5897, are 9 lbs. per 200 units.  Dividing that gives you a weight of 0.72 oz. each, and that 9 lbs. is probably rounded up, and includes the weight of the box.  Envelopes are self-sealing, so you save on tape weight.  One case of 200 is $51 ($0.255 apiece) plus shipping.  This can make a huge difference on $0.75 CDs with small shipping allowances.

2.  Large shipping labels are expensive; at their cheapest, one- or two-per-page labels are about $0.28 a sheet.  Try printing on normal printer paper, and spraying the back with Elmer's Craft Bond (~$7 per 11 oz. can, lighter and cheaper than tape, and lasts seemingly forever.)  Apply paper to mailer within 15 seconds of spraying for permanent adhesion.

3.  Addressing small envelopes?  Use cheap labels, and don't worry about your printer gobbling up your expensive envelopes.  Buy Avery 5160-compatible labels in quantity, then use's templates (software and templates free) to print a couple at a time (templates here.)  Buy them 3,000 at a time from Uline and pay 6⁄10ths of a penny apiece (don't worry, it's exactly the same price as 300 will cost you at Office Depot.  Hard to believe…)  Keep running the same sheet through your printer as you need new labels, just change the positioning on the page.  Want POSTNET barcodes on the labels to speed them through the mailstream?  Give me a couple weeks.  I'm writing software to do that, and I'll make it available for free on this site (haven't decided whether it should be a web app or a downloadable executable).

4.  For items 13 oz. or lighter, use PayPal to print out a First Class Parcel label at the 1 oz. rate, regardless of what the item weighs, and pay the $0.18 for Delivery Confirmation (always splurge on this, it's the best investment out there.)  Use the printer-paper-and-spray-glue trick above.  Make up the remaining weight ($0.17 per ounce, as of this writing) with discount postage (valid, legal U.S. postage from stamp dealers in non-current denominations, available from Henry Gitner for 93% face postpaid, or at your local free-admission stamp show for 88% - 90% face.)  On an 11-oz item, you save $0.17, which just about pays for the Delivery Confirmation!  Print up little decorative labels (less than a penny apiece, remember) that say something like "Collect Stamps: It's Fun!" or "Philately: The Quiet Excitement!" and people will actually thank you for saving yourself money.  Everyone likes pretty stamps on their mail.  If you have time, to speed it through the mailstream, ask the clerk to count the postage and put a $0.00 label on the package for you.  They will happily do this if you're humble.  Try something like "I'm not sure my postal scale is accurate at home, would you mind weighing this for me and seeing if I have enough postage?"  And while you're there, ask nicely for hand-cancellations on the stamps to make the recipient even happier.

5.  Buy a laser printer.  They cost pennies on the dollar to operate, compared to an inkjet.  Even if you have to put it on a high-interest credit card, do it.  It will pay for itself so quickly it takes your breath away.

6.  Go to "Printer Settings" — whatever it's called on your Operating System —  and set everything to print as "Grayscale".  Save your expensive color toner for times when you're printing for yourself, not printing packing slips.

7.  Use Auctiva to list on eBay.  It's easier to use than eBay itself, offers any number of free pictures, free super-sizing of images, a "store window" applet to increase additional add-on sales, easy re-listing, free scheduling, automatic feedback settings, convenient "Profiles" for commonly-sold items, free professional templates, and tons more.  Don't waste your money on Blackthorne or pricey eBay "listing upgrades"!  And remember, very soon, eBay Gallery for your item ($0.35 per auction, and essentially required for successful sales) is going to be free.

8.  For stamps, avoid eBay entirely and go to StampWants.  StampWants is so cheap it's almost free, it's designed specifically for stamps, and is so inexpensive you can sell items for a dime and make a profit (just try that on eBay.)  Have more than 50 items to sell?  Get a store at StampWants!  It pays for itself with lightning speed.

9.  First illegal one: selling miniature liquor bottles?  Try it, it's a high-margin item.  You aren't supposed to send them through the mail, but the clerk can sometimes feel the liquid sloshing and will ask.  Mark them "Fragile: Snow Globes".  I've never met a clerk so mean as to keep little ol' snow globes from collectors' hands.  On eBay, to sell the bottles, cut-and-paste exactly the "collectible container" text that you can find under "Prohibited Items", and (they don't tell you this) add a line that says "Sorry, I can only ship to the U.S.  eBay's rules".  Don't offer any international shipping rates.  In my experience, overseas bidders will ask you anyway.  Use your discretion on what you want to do, but one possibility is to tell them to inform eBay, if they ask, that they're using a U.S. address (I've never had them ask a bidder.)  Then go ahead and charge them $7.99 (most happily pay this rate) and ship the bottle overseas.  Everyone loves Snow Globes!  ;-)

10. Set a reminder for yourself — an alarm in Outlook, a cronjob, a Yahoo! alert, or something — to fire some time during the first week of each month.  Then download the previous month's PayPal history.  Save a copy, print a copy, and upload a copy to Google Documents.  Come year-end, when the tax man comes knocking, you will be startled that PayPal only offers 90 days' worth of account activity to download.

11. Keep a mileage log, to and from your post office and PMB.  Don't have a PMB?  Again, it's a great investment.  Don't, under any circumstance, use your home address on eBay or on whois pages.  If you're doing this daily, you'll have hundreds of miles to deduct as a business expense at the end of the year.

OK, there's eleven to start with.  Please contribute.

(Note added 26 February 2008: Instead of selling on eBay or to make money, of course, you could do what "Max" did, and repost my selling tips and ask for donations!  Oh, right, we're paying for his research!  Silly me.)

9 Responses to eBay and Selling Tips

  1. 12.  Get divorced, so that you are allowed to keep boxes you receive in the mail (e.g., from Amazon).  Obtain a garage to keep them in (check your local newspaper for garage sales in your area; the frequency with which they're on sale will surprise you.)  Then, buy cans of quick-dry spray paint designed specifically to mask old markings and barcodes on boxes and cartons for reuse.  You will save hundreds of dollars on boxes and petrol, and help the environment at the same time.

  2. 13.  Get a PayPal Debit MasterCard; you get 1.5% cash back every time you use it, with no fees.  Set up the backup funding source on your card to be your checking account.  Then, tell eBay to bill your seller fees to the card.  Despite the fact that eBay owns PayPal, you'll still get your 1.5% back on eBay seller fees.  Take advantage of this before they close the loophole.

  3. 14.  [Exhibit A, Spain]  [Exhibit B, France]  [Exhibit C, Finland]:  For now, at least, while the dollar sucks, offer super-cheap shipping to the Eurozone, even to the point of taking a loss, and you will reap the rewards.

  4. I am researching cheap ways to make a "home studio" for photography, which would presumably increase revenue enough to pay for itself.  Some very kind people are helping me at a Yahoo! group.  Stay tuned…

  5. Further notes on #1: ULINE CD Mailers weigh 14.6 grams apiece.  Your average CD, with jewel case, weighs between 99.2 and 101.2 grams.  That's 113.8 - 115.8 gm together.  Including a "shipping label" (printer paper plus spray adhesive) and one sheet of thin paper, I need to have the whole thing weigh 113.4 grams or less to save $0.17 per purchase in shipping.  I'm currently coming in at 116.2 grams per mailing, on average.  So close!

    What to do?  How do I get rid of 2.8 grams?  I'm going to experiment with trimming off a bit of the CD mailer (19%!) and see if I can keep it structurally sound.

    Hold on, let me try it now…

    Nope!  I can get the 2.8 grams off, but the tape to hold it together once the self-stick portion is gone pushes the weight back over the top.

    Damn.  For a tenth of an ounce, I'm going to be losing about $20 a month.

  6. Jane C. says:

    Rather than Auctiva which seems too invasive on privacy, try She has super easy & free of course, HTML background table codes and a color chart to enhance your listings and use Photobucket to add your photos totally free as well.

  7. BobWhite says:


    I left stampwants for some months... am now Delcampe and very happy, both for buying and selling.

  8. Michael Nunn says:

    Nice post. Some great points about trimming your expenses when operating an online auction business. I think many people underestimate the usefulness of their paypal account for printing delivery labels. These are all just as relevant in 2010 as when the post was written. Good work.

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