How do I charge for shipping on eBay?
November 11, 2007 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I want to sell my stuff on eBay but don't quite understand how shipping charges work.

I've never used eBay before but would like to start. Despite reading quite a bit I still don't get how shipping works. Most sellers seem to require the buyer to pay for shipping.

So I put a pair of jeans on eBay. After the bidding someone buys the jeans for 10 bucks. They send the money via paypal and I send them the jeans. How am I suppose to know what shipping is? When do I tell them how much shipping is? Do I get an email from them that they won and tell them the shipping charge before they send me to 10 bucks?

I have a feeling I'm making this more complicated than it is, but I can't figure it out. Thanks for any help.
posted by gtr to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
At close of auction you invoice the winning bidder, and you include postage in that. The total you send them will be for both the jeans, and the shipping, which they will then pay.

Before listing your jeans you will have weighed them and listed the postal price in your listing. You can use any online postal calculator (Royal Mail, DHL, Fedex, whatever is relevant where you are) to work out how much the jeans will cost to send. The buyer pays this in full. For them it's really no different than buying something from amazon - add to cart, total plus shipping, pay, finish.
posted by fire&wings at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2007

Generally, sellers post in the listing how much they will charge for shipping (they set an amount, or they say they will charge the actual amount), and then the buyer includes it when they send the money via Paypal. If someone did not say in the listing they were charging shipping, I might assume it was included in the cost of the item.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're over thinking this, really.

Your best bet would be to use's calculate postage utility to estimate about how much shipping will be.

For example, say I'm shipping a 5lb package from Amherst, NY (14228) to Amherst, NH (03031). I'd select "package", enter 5 in the lbs box, 0 in the oz box, and the respective zip codes. Boom, I get the shipping charges I can pick.

As for posting shipping charges on eBay while the auction's going, a friend of mine just posts a flat rate and notes that actual shipping will probably be lower (unless it's international). Media mail shipping is usually $3.50 for a 5lb package, so he'd just post a flat $5. I guess this works out pretty well since he's sold a good deal of stuff.
posted by Verdandi at 2:36 PM on November 11, 2007

If you plan on selling a lot of items, buy a postal scale so you can calculate shipping accurately.
posted by phatkitten at 2:40 PM on November 11, 2007

I was confused about this when I first started with ebay. Keep in mind that while Ebay frowns on really high "shipping and handling" charges you are allowed to make the shipping cost pretty much whatever you want as long as your clear how you'll be shipping the item and what it costs you. So if you say that your item will cost $2 shipping and it winds up costing $1.81, the seller isn't going to think you owe them 19 cents. So, your choices are

- weigh the item and use the calculator (you can use food in your kitchen to get a rough idea, it's really pretty simple to ballpark this stuff)
- make up something that you think is accurate, but be prepared to eat it if you're wrong
- go to the post office, get the thing prepared to mail and then let the buyer know then mail once the buyer has paid. This is generally annoying for all concerned and should be thought of as a last ditch option.

You either say in you auction that the buyer pays actual shipping (and it's helpful if you know how much the item weighs, I won't usually bid on items with unknown shipping) or you give a flat amount and it's okay if that is shipping + handling.
posted by jessamyn at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2007

If you're honest, you should not forget to charge for the cost of the envelope/box, packing material and tape, which can amount to a buck or two per item. Otherwise you're just deducting that from your final bid price. That's what "handling" is, by the way.

I had a pretty good idea of what my things would sell for and I noticed that the final bid price on identical items was frequently very similar even if one had $3 shipping and one had $20 shipping. So I would usually take a guess at what it would cost me to ship it and add about 10% of the predicted final value of the item to the S+H fee, in order to get more profit.

A lot of people do this because ebay charges a percentage of the final value but not of the S+H fee and so it's a way to ensure that just a little more money ends up in your pocket, but unless you're selling thousands of items this doesn't amount to anything worth thinking about.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:49 PM on November 11, 2007

List flat rate shipping, and ship only within the USA (assuming you're in the US). Variable or unlisted shipping charges will kill your auction dead. Best to ship USPS priority (not much more expensive than parcel but much more convenient) or media mail (cheap).

Calculate the amount by finding the farthest area code from your home (ex. 10112 if you're on the west coast or 94063 if you're on the east coast) and calculate shipping based on that. If you feel it's justified, tack on a buck or two for boxes and packaging material. If the actual cost turns up much lower, you can consider refunding the difference, but I wouldn't worry about that too much. The buyer has already agreed to pay shipping at that point.

Paypal has a service that allows you to purchase and print shipping labels directly from the auction console. It's very convenient.
posted by Capostrophe at 2:59 PM on November 11, 2007

Really, buy a few things from sellers with a lot of transactions, even if they are five dollar items, before selling anything. Buyers are far more critical of sellers than the reverse and you want to maintain a high rating to be effective on eBay. Other people have already told you how to add in the shipping. Most small sellers box it up and find the shipping charge first and then email the buyer for a final price, but there are lots of other ways as already stated.
posted by caddis at 3:56 PM on November 11, 2007

I know from past experience that shipping a small item domestically will cost me $5 or less. (I insure anything worth $10 or more, really for my own protection, but charge it as part of shipping.)

I just typically state in my auction that shipping will be a flat $8 to domestic US. (I restrict my auctions to the US only.) I usually walk out with about $2 profit on shipping. As long as you disclose shipping up front, I don't see anything wrong with it. I've seen the occasional seller with ludicrous shipping fees (e.g., $50 for a small item that can't cost more than a couple dollars to ship).
posted by fogster at 4:08 PM on November 11, 2007

I'm a relatively avid eBayer (98 feedback, mostly sales) and I switch between doing a flat-rate fee (which I usually just estimate based on my knowledge of postal rates) or using a $30 postal scale to get an accurate rate, and putting the shipping calculator on the auction.

The flat-rate system is preferable to buyers, I believe--typing in your zip code is an extra step, and most people like to just be able to see it. The good part is that it makes them feel more like they're paying an *actual* shipping charge rather than an inflated fee because you want to trick them into spending more money. Or at least that's how I, when I buy, view it.

I'd use flat-rate for small items that you're selling inside the continent, and the shipping calculator method if you're shipping a larger item and/or shipping it overseas.

Good luck! eBay is really fun, and once you get into it you'll be amazed at how fun and easy it is to use.
posted by DMan at 4:12 PM on November 11, 2007

The easiest way in the US if you are shipping tons of similar stuff is to use the USPS Priority Mail flat rate envelopes and boxes. As long as the item fits in the envelope or box and it closes properly, you're good. You can probably stuff a pair of jeans in the envelope, depending on how big they are - I've received dress pants in one of them before. If you use the online Click n Ship to print your postage you can package, apply postage with packing tape, and drop them off. I usually drop my packages off wherever there's a Automated Postal Kiosk thing because they have the big drawer where you can stick the packages and they are open 24 hours usually, if they are in the lobby of the post office. You can also use the kiosks to print the postage if you don't have a printer.
posted by cabingirl at 4:12 PM on November 11, 2007

Also, take a good look at the fee's involved when you are selling. They can add up very quickly.
There are fee's to start an auction, additional fee's when the item sells, and Paypal also charges a fee when you receive money.

And I second USPS Priority mail. They'll even send you different sized boxes you can't get in your local Post Office, for free! They have a flat rate box that is sized 11x8.5x5.5 inches. Definitely large enough for any pair of jeans.
posted by whoda at 4:51 PM on November 11, 2007

I'm an ebay powerseller and periodically do very high volume sales. I use a $30 USPS scale to weigh my items. Then I add the weight of the item (plus it's box) to the ebay listing form and the shipping cost is automatically calculated depending on the buyer's zip code. Shipping for something like a pair of jeans can range anywhere from $4.80 to $9.10 depending on how bulky the jeans are and what part of the US the customer lives in. If you quote flat rate shipping, say $8, you are going to end up screwing yourself or your customer on each shipment. Customers tend to get cranky when they see they paid $4-5 more than it actually cost to ship the item.

USPS does offer free priority supplies. If you are selling more than just the occasional item, you can get on the website and order boxes, tyvek mailers, etc. in bulk...for free. Also, have your items all ready to go (boxed up, addressed, etc) before you get to the post office. Not doing this tends to irritate the crap out of postal employees. If you end up selling a lot on ebay, you will want to be on good terms with your local postal office folks.

Once you have a USPS scale and a paypal account, it is really easy to print your postage at home. One benefit to printing your postage from paypal is that you get free delivery confirmation.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:21 PM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wow, thanks for all the help and info (too many good answers to pick one). I feel much more ready to sell. Again, thanks.
posted by gtr at 6:35 PM on November 11, 2007

one thing i hadn't noticed mentioned so far is that eBay now actually has a shipping calculator built in and can give buyers actual shipping costs (via USPS or UPS) for your item to their location plus whatever you designate for handling. you can do the shipping straight through paypal (the winner gets an invoice w/ totals), so you just add on whatever it cost for a box at the beginning of the auction and print out the label from paypal after you get paid. (this thing looks neat but has always been a pain for me, as I prefer to ship fedex. it's pretty slick if you use USPS/UPS though.)
posted by mrg at 8:04 PM on November 11, 2007

This won't apply to selling jeans, but the post office recently changed the way they calculate their rates and I'm not sure it's been programmed into eBay's shipping calculator. The post office now takes into account the total volume of the package when calculating shipping, and anything over one cubic foot gets a hefty surcharge tacked on to the weight of a package.

I used to be a really big fan of the post office's service, but postage for large items virtually doubled with the last rate increase. Recently, I tried to ship something on which eBay calculated the postage to be ~$10, but actual shipping via the post office for this large item would have been over $20. I took it to UPS and paid around $10 (and got insurance and tracking without paying $2 extra like at the post office).

And don't get me started on how postal clerks have clamped down and begun demanding that every mark or logo on the box be covered over or else you risk having it returned to sender. I like to recycle boxes, and their policies about markings on the box have become completely unreasonable.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:46 PM on November 11, 2007

Actually the ebay listing page asks for the weight of an item, plus the dimensional measurements of the item, and yes, the ebay pages have been updated to reflect the postal rate changes made earlier this year. If they didn't, I am sure the rage from angry ebay sellers could be heard 'round the internets. You just have to be accurate when measuring and weighing your item.

If you are shipping big stuff though, sometimes it is cheaper to use UPS.

I have never had a problem with recycling boxes, I just scribble out other logos and bar codes with a magic marker. Having once been the recipient of someone's corrected book proof, that got sent to me because the address label came off the recycled box and my address hadn't gotten scribbled off...I have to say I completely understand why the post office enforces this policy!
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:02 AM on November 12, 2007

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