Tips for running a successful and simple ebay business?
June 19, 2012 8:30 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are starting an ebay business selling baseball cards. I have no experience with this. Any tips or suggestions?

Basically, he has a lot of baseball cards he wants to sell so he suggested that if I were to help him with this business, we could split the profits and both of us could end the year with some extra money in our savings accounts. He will provide all the merchandise for the ebay store, as well as a short description of each item. I will be responsible for everything else---photographing the items, listing them, mailing out the stuff and so on. Sounds good, right? But what is the best way to keep myself organized for this?

1) What supplies should I purchase for easy mailing? I am guessing padded envelopes, but is there anything else I need?

2) Should I list everything all at once, or is it better to limit the number of auctions running at once?

3) How much time per week do you think I should allocate for this? Could I actually make enough money that this could be a summer job?

4) What is the best way to get the money off of ebay once it's done if people are using paypal? Can this be converted to cash, or will I get huge service fees? If so, how can I reduce this fees and keep as much of the money as I can?

5) What is the best way to keep records for tax purposes? And for ourselves? Obviously, if I am buying supplies, I would like to be reimbursed for that before the profit is considered.

5) Any tips or suggestions from ebay experts for making this as profitable and straightforward a business as we can?
posted by JoannaC to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have reason to believe that his baseball cards actually have enough value to make this venture worth it? The baseball card market collapsed after overproduction in the nineties (here's one person's account) and has never really recovered.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:36 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

1) Don't get padded envelopes. Get photo mailers. Also card sleeves and make sure you sandwich the card between two pieces of thin cardboard.

2) I'd say a steady stream, just to ensure that you're able to actually do fulfillment in a reasonable timeframe, which leads to #3.

3) Once you get going, it depends on how many auctions. Set up a template and reuse it and you'll soon find that doing a listing takes about three or four minutes once you have photos. And as far as your income goes: probably not a summer job, but a nice supplement.

4) Paypal can be withdrawn to your checking account with no additional fees. Paypal grabs their cut when you receive the money into your account.

5) Paypal provides you guys with a tax statement you can download. Supplies, I'd keep in a spreadsheet and then use that in the year-end roundup.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 8:37 AM on June 19, 2012

(And like ocherdraco said, make sure you spend time looking at complete auctions on eBay to see if it's worth your time.)
posted by beaucoupkevin at 8:38 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I casually sold some children's books I inherited and collectors wanted a very specific description of the condition of the books. I assume baseball cards wold be the same. For books, there was a standard way to describe the condition, and you will also want to be very precise about any wear or damages. I would look at a lot of current baseball card auctions and get familiar with the lingo and the type of information given in those auctions.
posted by aviatrix at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2012

You are probably going to want to have your cards professionally graded, so that a buyer has a unbiased description of the cards' condition. I have no idea if the price of that service will make the whole enterprise less profitable, I just know it is a thing that is done for these sorts of collectibles.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:03 AM on June 19, 2012

Go to eBay and look at other Baseball card descriptions. Emulate them.

Paypal is super easy to use, and you can transfer funds directly into your bank account.

The USPS has free mailing supplies, just go there and see what they have. Send everything delivery confirmation, and offer insurance, get the forms and stuff at home so you're all set for when you go into the post office.

Encourage your buyers to leave feedback.

I sold a butt load of stuff on eBay, it was fun, easy and I made a sizable chunk of change.

Be willing to do deals for multiples.

Rather than separate auctions, think about doing an eBay store. Here's an article about it in Inc, (I can't link to eBay from work.)

This way people can just buy stuff outright and they don't have to wait for an auction and you don't have to deal with Buy It Now.

When we sell Husbunny's comic books, that's how I'm going to do it.

Good luck, it should be FUN!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on June 19, 2012

I don't know much about baseball cards but I do know about eBay.

1. There is probably a community of baseball card sellers on the internet - they may be on eBay or they may be somewhere else. With kids clothes, for example, the serious resellers have left eBay because it has grown more scammy in the past ~5 years or so.

2. Once you find this community, STUDY IT. Learn how people list things, how people interact, the type of phrasing and abbreviations they use. (Rock Steady's professional grading is an example - this may be the norm.)

3. You need to build up a reputation first. eBay or elsewhere, you need to do some buying first to understand how the process works as well as build up some credibility ratings.

In my experience, eBay has turned into too much of a fraud for me to really enjoy selling. Moreover, other people feel the same way and aren't willing to buy.
posted by k8t at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2012

1. If they make some kind of rigid sleeve for the cards I would consider buying that and adding the price to the shipping cost. Padded mailers are probably a waste of money for something like this as what you really want is something rigid and larger than the card so that doesn't get bent and the corners are not knocked. Also whatever you do DO NOT use corrugated cardboard as it will "snap" across in a line and not flex in the mail. Buyers will hold you responsible for delivering the cards in good condition.

2. Consider an Ebay store in conjunction with auctions. The fees for auctions are pretty high and if you have a lot of stuff going unsold it will eat into any profit you make quickly. A store will allow you to have more stuff available at less cost. If the cards you are selling cost under around 20 dollars each you're going to have to watch your bottom line really really carefully. Its a good practice to get into to search completed auctions and read them to see what sold for how much and why.

3. This would depend on how valuable/how desirable your merchandise is. You'll probably need extra time at the beginning to develop a template and a routine.


Photos: Don't photograph your cards scan them it will take more time but you're buyers will get a much better idea of what they're getting and you won't have to worry about lighting.

Descriptions: Be scrupulously honest about condition ebay buyers are frequently picky and its good to have things spelled out clearly to go back to. Be sure to also spell out where you'll ship to/how fast/deals for buying more than one thing.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:07 AM on June 19, 2012

Oh, and as far as the prep.

Learn how to take REALLY good pictures of everything. When I do this, I set up a little assembly line for photographing. You'll want a way to organize the information about each item - give the photograph names in a system that matches text files of the descriptions. (You may list things over and over again.)

You'll want to edit the photographs so that they are the most attractive in terms of lighting and size.

I find the photographing process to usually take half a day if I am listing more than a dozen items.

Then the listing - being organized is best. Have a text file ready to go and list, list, list. Having a bunch of auctions ending at once is a good idea. I find that ending at 6pm Pacific works because the most people across America are home.

As far as shipping, you want to give people options, but make sure that it is the least amount of work for you.

First, buy a scale.

Second, figure out what your shipping options are. For me (I mostly sell kids clothes), USPS first class mail is cheapest and easiest for me - I can just drop it in the mail. I bought shipping bags in bulk. I also do all my shipping labels through eBay, even though it isn't the most cost effective. I'm just lazy.
I do no international shipping because it isn't worth my time to have to go to the post office to fill out the customs forms.

(But again, you need to find out what the standard is for baseball cards - maybe people want thins insured, for example.)

But the tl;dr for shipping, make things as easy for you as possible.
posted by k8t at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2012

Before you jump into this, I hope you have done some bit of research to gauge the market value of his cards, and in the context of their condition and whether they have been professionally graded (or are worth this service). This is your first step. Start with perhaps a selection of what might be his most valuable cards. As noted above, the baseball card "market" sort of collapsed 20 years ago and never really recovered. If the numbers seem worth while, make a larger inventory.

Without having at least a rough idea of how much the cards are really worth, there's no point in wasting what I suspect might become large amounts of time and energy in this. Some cards will have a break even point that simply makes them not even worth your time and effort regardless of whether they hold some value. Ask yourselves how much is your free time worth? Can you make more money doing something else with your time? The opportunity cost of this kind of thing might be quite high depending on your alternative skill sets.

If you're still committed, listen to the advice about shipping, ebay, scanning, etc. above. Not to burst your bubble, but unless his collection is highly valued, this is probably going to be a bad idea.
posted by drpynchon at 9:25 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I sold a bunch of Magic: The Gathering cards on eBay a few years ago. Lessons learned:

1. Rigid card sleeves

2. Keep it domestic. This may not be as much of an issue with the baseball card market, but you can't confirm delivery of a USPS package after it crosses the border and that opens you up to fraud. No matter how clearly you indicate this on the item description, foreigners will occasionally win your auctions. They are either idiots or scammers; don't take your chances.

3. It's really not worth the effort for cards worth less than $25 or so, unless you get your operation really automated.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:45 AM on June 19, 2012

Write up a formal contract with your boyfriend. Look at some sample contracts online. Make sure your duties and his duties are clearly delineated, in writing. Clarify all financial arrangements. For example, who is going to pay the initial costs of getting started? Figure out what will happen if either of you leave the project, and put it in the contract.

You aren't likely to bring this to court; the point is that you both agree now and get everything formal to head off disputes later. Memory can be very unreliable, so having everything in writing can help.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2012

As someone with a large baseball card collection from the 80s and 90s, I tried to sell them a few years back. The results were disheartening to say the least. No one even wanted to go through them and check to see if there was anything good. It literally wasn't worth their time. If that's the case, then I suspect they aren't worth paying for shipping either. So get really good at figuring out which cards are worth it. And don't dream big if they are 80s or 90s box sets or anything like that. The odds are vastly stacked against.
posted by jwells at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2012

Unless you have duplicates or thousands, I'd list everything at once. It streamlines your mailing process into an insane day or two instead of a constant trickle. Be aware that if you're promising to mail within, say, two business days of receiving payment, some people will pay instantly and some will take days, so planning a few big mailing trips might mop up the stragglers.

I find eBay least maddening when I'm thinking of it as restoring order to things – sending things I don't want to people who do want them – than as making money. Their mechanisms of dealing with shitty buyers and sellers are very poor, and every non-paying bidder or scammy refund (or even legitimate postal error) adds to the time it takes, grinding your hourly rate down to nothing.

But, as mentioned above, the first thing is to spend a little while searching completed listings, as specifically as you can for what you have to sell. If some cards are bucking the trend, see if it's because of rarity or a better listing technique. Then, decide whether this is a good use of your time.
posted by carbide at 10:09 AM on June 19, 2012

Jwells makes a good point. If your cards aren't worth anything, it might be better to cull through them, pick out the valuable ones and sell the rest in one lot.

A gaming friend of Husbunny's left boxes and boxes of gaming books on our doorstep one day, on his way out of town. We never heard from him again and after about 3 years we listed the whole thing on Craigslist. A guy came, hauled it up into his car and gave us $200 for the whole mess.

That was worth it to us.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:30 AM on June 19, 2012

It's really not worth the effort for cards worth less than $25 or so, unless you get your operation really automated --> this

Their mechanisms of dealing with shitty buyers and sellers are very poor --> also this

I eBay a bit; if somebody approached me with "[I] will provide all the merchandise for the ebay store, as well as a short description of each item. [You] will be responsible for everything else" I would tell them to run along unless "each item" was worth -- oh, a minimum of $50 with half going to me. It is a great deal of work, and it can be very tedious and frustrating at times. You will get NO customer support from eBay (though you will be paying them a lot of money -- even if you are not selling anything, if you go the "store"/"buy it now" route).

Unless his cards are worth lots this is a bad deal for you. You are constantly on call, going to the PO and answering dumb questions. I really want to stress that this can easily be way, way more involved than it looks to the casual observer, and I think your boyfriend is probably a 'casual observer' who does not grok that you are getting the short end of the stick. I don't know how true this is but a cursory Google fetches up that "Ebay consignment stores don't accept items that are worth less than $75 and they charge 50% consignment fees!" and that seems quite reasonable to me, and I would operate along the same lines as a consignment dealer. Listing low-value stuff = way less than minimum wage for you.

DO make a template (text only is fine; I have no idea who, on the buying end, is enjoying amateur graphic design in eBay layouts -- keep it simple) that you use for each auction, spelling out terms, details about how you have assessed condition, how long it takes you to mail, etc etc

In re. (4), the money goes straight to your PayPal account, and you can transfer it to your bank account whenever you like; it takes a few days. PayPal charges fees; there's no way around that.
posted by kmennie at 11:44 AM on June 19, 2012

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