Selling tchotchkes and collectibles, smartphone edition.
April 4, 2016 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Wallapop, LetGo, OfferUp, Etsy, CraigslistPro - choosing HOW to sell is almost as daunting as the collection itself. Help!

My mother passed away in 2012, leaving behind several related collections of tchotchkes and ephemera largely purchased on eBay. It's postcards, photographs, restaurant menus, matchbooks, yearbooks, and branded ephemera like ashtrays, yardsticks, coin banks, and who knows what else, all related to places that she remembers that aren't there anymore here in Los Angeles.
- Example of things that I'm keeping: Ticket books and ashtrays from Disneyland, a menu from the place my folks went on their first date, photos of the one day it snowed in Altadena.
- Example of things I'd like to sell: postcards depicting the ostrich farm in South Pasadena, a ceramic bank from Galpin Ford, a yardstick from a hardware/drugstore in Sylmar.

She also kept printouts of the auction listings so she could keep track and not buy duplicates. In going through these, Dad and I see she spent tens of thousands of dollars on this shit, and now that my dad knows this, he's unwilling to box it all up and drop it at Goodwill. So here we are. We've agreed to split the workload, with him handling any boxing/mailing/shipping, and me handling the listing process.

What I want is a way to deal with selling this stuff that doesn't take over my life, like continually dealing with timed auctions on eBay would. I want to take a photo, write a description, post it, and forget about it unless it sells/gets taken.

My first thought was an Etsy store, is this still a good option? Are there factors I'm not considering? Do you have a better way?
posted by ApathyGirl to Shopping (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What I want is a way to deal with selling this stuff that doesn't take over my life, like continually dealing with timed auctions on eBay would. I want to take a photo, write a description, post it, and forget about it unless it sells/gets taken.

You can do Buy It Now listings on eBay that are good for 30 days and easy to relist when they expire. (In fact I would recommend this over auctions in most cases, as eBay auctions really aren't what they used to be.) If you aren't exactly sure how much something is worth -- like, if you think your mom underpaid for something that seems more valuable, or if you think she overpaid! -- you can post it with an ambitious BIN price and add Best Offer to it, and if you don't want to deal with offers below a certain price you can set it up to auto-decline.

Since you have the auction listings printed out this could possibly be a very speedy project since you won't have to do much item/pricing research! But keep in mind that just because an item was bought on eBay once doesn't mean someone will want to buy it again. Collectible tchotchkes can be so niche as to have barely any market at all on eBay, especially as site traffic has declined over the years. Give items deadlines to be sold and then seriously consider donating anything still remaining after the cutoff -- you can look at those things as having brought value to your mom's life when she bought them, rather than having a monetary value that should be recouped. Even if it is a staggering amount of money spent, you don't want to have to pay for these things twice: once with your mother's real money, and now with your time and effort.
posted by phatkitten at 2:40 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

For some of the items, wherever you end up selling it, it might be easier to try to group it by lots and sell items together. If you have a lot of antique postcards and ephemera, for example, you could sell them as one item and market it as like craft supplies or antiques. That might make it a little easier for you to sell things since you wouldn't have to be listing every single item.
posted by helloimjennsco at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buy it Now listings on eBay don't have to be limited to 30 days; you can also just whack them up there as "Good 'til cancelled."

But it is still a lot of work. Timed auctions are in some ways *less* work; you can run a bunch on a given week and know that you'll be at the P.O. when they end. With Buy it Now, you can get people suddenly buying loads of stuff in weeks where you have very little time. There is no way to sell things without investing time and effort -- is your Dad retired? It is also kind of easy for a newbie to screw up and end up tanking with negative feedback -- on eBay, keep a strict 'customer is always right' policy (and when they absurdly, absolutely are not, call eBay instead of trying to deal with the lunatics yourself). Buyers expect very thorough descriptions, particularly of any damage. If you do not write thorough descriptions, a big part of your labour will be "Can you tell me if the ashtray has a decal underneath or is it painted?" "How long are the matches?" "In one photo it looks like there is lens flare. Is that lens flare, or is there really a bright white spot that only shows in one of the 12 photographs?"

One other caveat is that in the early days of eBay, you could pull a random magnet off your fridge and somebody would quickly bid it up to $6.50 because it was such an amazing novelty, and, if you wanted an old fridge magnet from another town, there wasn't really another way to get it. I made bank off terrible junk; it was delightful. (And then some things are simply milder versions of Beanie Babies and the values have plummeted.) So if a lot of these purchases are very old, in eBay terms, the value might not still be there. Search completed listings to get an idea of the current selling prices and how many are listed and simply do not sell at all. (Listing detail was also less fussy in the old days. I was one of very few sellers with a digital camera at the very start, and here and there I would find somebody had swiped a photo of mine and written "Like this, only in cream, and size XL...")

Selling by lots is definitely a good idea.

The general consensus is that it is more expensive to sell on eBay and things sell more cheaply, but things sell much more quickly there than they do on Etsy -- often to ridiculous extent. Etsy's search engine is very poor; eBay's is not, and eBay has little features that will notify everybody who has signed up for e-mails about Galpin Ford mementoes an e-mail that you have listed a Galpin Ford thing, etc.

Grouping things into similar lots is definitely a good way to cut the workload. Do look at the sold listings in any given category; you might find that you have something that is routinely feverishly bid upon and that an auction is easier and more profitable than trying to figure out a fair price. There are enough collectors of vintage Sanrio items, for example, that starting a late-70s Hello Kitty item at 99c is far easier than trying to price it; the collectors will be polite enough to bid it through the roof for you.

You could also just sell the entire lot to a dealer and be done with it that way. If the auctions are more present-day one you have a reasonable idea of value, and so will the dealer, and a fair % should not involve too much haggling (though I cannot stress how much work selling a large collection of collectibles is; do not expect generous offers -- the value for these things is primarily in taking good photos, uploading good photos, writing good descriptions, responding to inquiries, and hustling things out the door ASAP once purchased -- as is where they are now, they are not valuables like gold, but more "garage sale needed" items).

Unsurprisingly, eBay is one of the better places to buy the shipping supplies you'll need to sell things on eBay.
posted by kmennie at 5:02 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ebay is a lot of work to get items to sell. You'll have to take and post more than one photo, maybe twelve, and write exacting descriptions to have chance to sell.

Consider hiring an estate sale company. They'll do all the marketing and selling for a cut. You don't have to do anything except take the check they give you when the sale is over.

As a buyer, the best estate sale companies will tag and price everything and run the sale for several days. Second day is 25% off marked price, third day is 50% off, fourth day is 75% off. If it hasn't sold at 75% off, there just wasn't a market for the item
posted by qsysopr at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

One issue: estate sale companies simply sell stuff for whatever they can get. I'm an auction hound, and I often see beautiful and valuable things sell for one or two dollars, mostly because only one person wants it. The buyers are all dealers, and are usually delighted -- the sellers, not so much. Your mom's 10K of stuff is liable to sell for less than 100 bucks all told.

I'd say it's best to do Ebay or Etsy, to find a specialist seller and get them to give you their best bid, or look into local antiques or collectibles sales, and rent a table. You won't get what she spent, but you should recoup some of it, over time.
posted by jrochest at 8:31 PM on April 4, 2016

Look into the fees for each service, not just listing but sale fees. I have sold things here and there on eBay over the last few years, and recently sold a bunch of stuff without looking at the changes to their fee structure. There were few or no fees to do the listing, but eBay charged me 10% of the sale price AND 10% of the shipping, the latter I had not built into my pricing at all.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:14 AM on April 5, 2016

With eBay, I have concerns about fees, PayPal, and buyer complaints and fraud. I was really hoping to avoid using them.
No one has any experience or thoughts about any of the new apps?
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:54 AM on April 5, 2016

The apps you listed are all local buy/sell things; the stuff you are going to try to sell really needs much greater exposure. EBay gets away with charging the fees it does because it has the audience it does. If you were trying to sell a pair of skis or a kid's toy, sure, use a local app, loads of people want those things -- but the idea of somebody local to you using one of these small buy/sell apps and wanting specialized collectibles is just so astronomical it is not at all worth your time.

Clear photos and good descriptions eliminate most hassles; fraud and other problems are more a problem for people selling popular electronics &c. I've been selling on eBay since it started up and have a feedback rating of 100%; I don't deal in anything that tends to get targeted by scammers. (Your stuff isn't going to appeal to scammers either. You can mail me a working iPhone and I can "return" a broken one to you claiming you scammed me, but I can't do that with a Brown Derby menu.)
posted by kmennie at 10:32 PM on April 5, 2016

One of the nice things about selling on ebay is that you can do it all from an app on your phone. I use a hybrid form of listing, where I compose my listings on my computer, just because I find the typing easier, then I take pictures and launch from my phone. The app has improved a lot in recent months though and as advice to someone just starting out, I'd say just use it.

They just published the spring seller update and one of the main points they are pushing is to keep your descriptions short and sweet. Don't add any boilerplate rules for your buyers - that stuff is all covered in other places by ebay.

Make sure to add measurements/dimensions to each item. It gets faster as you go along. With this sort of small stuff, you could even keep a batch with you at all times and use downtime to do a few listings. I think of all the time I spent waiting around for kid events to be finished when I could have been listing in my car!
posted by jvilter at 12:37 PM on April 6, 2016

buyer complaints and fraud

I think most people have these sorts of reservations about eBay. I first sold there in 2006 and then took a very long break, and when I got back into selling things it took me the better part of a year to muster up the courage to get back into it because of "bad buyers" -- and since then I've sold a couple hundred things with hardly any drama at all. Most people on eBay are actually pretty decent. Now, if you were selling a collection of iPhones, you would need to exercise some caution for sure, but when it comes to collectibles I think you'll be dealing with a better subset of the eBay customer base.

You can always give it a shot to see how it goes and then give yourself the option to quit entirely if it turns into something you don't want to deal with. Also, since the alternate fate for these items is to donate them to Goodwill, you could consider just refunding a troublesome buyer if something goes wrong.
posted by phatkitten at 3:50 PM on April 6, 2016

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