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For the first several months that we sold on eBay, we would pack up all of our orders, write what item was inside on the top of the box, and trek to the post office to ship them.
I have way too many pictures of my wife at the post office at 1:00 in the morning, standing at the shipping kiosk, and looking like a very angry little eBay elf. One day (while we were sitting in the hospital waiting room for the birth of our nephew) I was killing time on my phone and saw an offhand comment about a thermal printer.
I did some research and found that I could print from home anytime and it was actually cheaper than going to the post office! I could even schedule pickups! I might never have to leave my house again! I decided that, since we were already making more money on eBay than I did at my “real job” it was probably time to invest in our business and streamline our shipping process.
Learning how to ship eBay items more efficiently from home has been one of the most lucrative changes we have made in our business. So it’s easy for me to say that if you’re serious about eBay (or any other home business) it’s time you start to figure out how to ship your eBay orders faster and cheaper…from home…
While some of this article will apply to anyone who owns a home-based business, it is targeted specifically at eBay sellers. So let’s start at the very beginning. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Pre-sale. How to list items so that you charge the correct amount for shipping and don’t have any problems.
- How to properly pack and ship any item you have.
- Choosing a carrier and getting the best deal.
- Crafting the perfect time-saving shipping station for your eBay orders.
Pre-sale: When Listing the Item
As with everything in life, preparation begins far before an event. If you’re going to mess up your shipping experience as an eBay seller, the listing process is usually where it happens.
The main concern when listing an item is that you get the proper weight and size listed. For most basic items this isn’t a huge issue. For example, if you list the shipping weight and size of a t-shirt as 12″x12″x4″ and 10 ounces and it ends up being 12″x10″x2″ and weighing 12 ounces it’s not big deal. You might have to spend an extra couple cents on shipping it but it won’t be noticable.
The real problem is if you have items that are either heavy or oversized. Oversized items have a measurement greater than 17″ (it can be any measurement). If your package is oversized the dimensions become very important for calculating the shipping cost. Get it wrong and you might lose a good chunk of your profits.
What shipping service should I use?
As an eBay seller, you automatically get deep discounts on shipping. For example, shipping on the eBay platform instead of going into a post office can save you 30% or more on your shipping cost. Since the buyer still pays the “in-store price” this can really add up. In the past year, shipping on eBay has meant that we had an “extra” $4,000 in profit.
The best way to maximize your savings and reduce your shipping costs is to use the right shipping service and provider. Each shipping provider (the common ones being USPS, FedEx, and UPS) have package types that they prefer and it can save you as much as 50% by choosing properly. While the best method for deciding is simply to look at the shipping cost of each (eBay now shows all your options automatically) here is our general guide:
Non-Oversized Items Under 16oz: First Class Mail (USPS)
For the majority of eBay sellers, First Class Mail is a godsend. It is the cheapest option that still provides a decent shipping time which makes for happy customers. We ship many clothing items (shirts, hats, accessories, etc.) via First Class as well as many small gadgets.
Non-Oversized Items Under 4lbs: Priority Mail (USPS)
First Class and Priority Mail make up over 80% of the packages we ship out. If it’s not one, it’s the other. We typically ship jeans, shoes, jackets, small electronics, and everything else in this weight and size bracket via Priority Mail.
Heavy or Oversized Items: FedEx or UPS
USPS is not a fan of large items. Just think about how small their mail trucks are. If something has a measurement over 17″ or weighs more than 4 pounds, it often becomes cheaper to look into shipping via FedEx or UPS. You can ship via either of those right on eBay the same way you ship via the post office. The only difference is that you’ll need to drop them off at the corresponding carrier’s store.
Items Over 75lbs or Too Big for Standard Shipping: UPS Freight
We very very rarely ship anything freight. While some people base their eBay business model off of flipping large items, it’s not for us. On the rare occasion that we do have a large item (furniture, for example) we package the item up and then call UPS directly to get a quote. This is the only time we don’t ship directly on eBay’s platform (they don’t support freight). After shipping we simply mark the item as shipped and upload the tracking number.
Books or Printed Media: USPS Media Mail
Media Mail is an incredibly cheap (albeit slow) way to ship on eBay. If your item qualifys to use it, it can be a great money saver. However, due to its speed (or lack therof), we still ship books and media items under 16oz via First Class Mail.
When shipping via Media Mail just be aware that the post office can and often does open packages to make sure they are following the Media Mail rules which are quite expansive. If you are found violating the rules, you are liable for the extra shipping costs.
As long as you don’t try to game the system, Media Mail is safe and reliable. Common items that can be shipping in this way include:
- Books that are at least 8 pages long and don’t contain advertising. Comic books cannot be shipped with Media Mail.
- Music or Sound Recordings (CDs or DVDs for example)
- Sheet music, scripts for plays, etc.
- Educational reference charts, loose leaf books, and testing materials
- Computer media with pre-recorded information
A good rule of thumb is that you can ship thing via media mail if it is media in its final form. You cannot, for example, ship blank paper, blank computer storage devices, blank CDs, etc. Mainly USPS employees are not well versed in what can/can’t be shipped via media mail so when in doubt, check the official USPS page.
How to Pack Items for eBay
When it comes to packing items for eBay, effeciency is the name of the game. If you’ve received many orders from Amazon you’re probably aware that they ship items in very strange sized boxes. I’ve received single CDs in boxes large enough for a pair of boots before. The reason the do this is to optimize speed. On a lesser scale, you should follow suit when shipping eBay orders.
While it would be nice if every type of item we sold had it’s own well-fitted box, it’s not the case. We ship everything we possibly can in similar packaging so that we only have to stock 3 sizes of boxes and 2 sizes of poly mailers.
We get free boxes from USPS in three different sizes: small, shoe-box, and large mailing box. For squishy or clothing items we put them in either a 12″x15.5″ or 15″x19″ polymailer. If we have an item that doesn’t fit in either of those, we have a pile of oddball boxes or we go buy a box at Walmart.
Bubble wrap is nice but expensive so we reserve it for things like expensive electronics or fragile items. For most things, we use crumpled up newspaper or blank news sheets as filler. The most common reason that things get broken/damaged in shipping is because they move around inside a box so do the “shake test” and make sure your item is solid inside.
If you have an eBay Store you get a quaterly coupon (the amount depends on your store level) to spend on official eBay shipping supplies. In our case we get $50 per quater and spend it on polymailers or bubble mailers. If you have a store, you can find your coupon code here.
If you don’t have a store or need more shipping supplies that your code can get you, these are the supplies that we use off of Amazon. We’ve experimented with several different versions of each of these and found these ones to be the best mix between quality and value:
The Best Way to Print eBay Shipping Labels
If you’re thinking, “I know how to pack a box, how do I ship the dang labels?” then you’re in luck. We’ll hit that next.
Printing eBay shipping labels is easy as visiting your My eBay page and clicking on Print Labels and Ship. After putting in the packed weight and dimension, you’re given carriers to choose from. After picking, put in your payment method and voila! You’ve shipped your eBay package. Now you just have to get them labeled.
If you’re trying to ship all your items on eBay to get the shipping discount, there are a few different ways to print the shipping labels: on paper, on label sheets, or via a label printer.
If you own a traditional printer, go ahead and print your label off and tape it onto your polymailer or box. This is the least good solution among the three as it is the most time consuming, produces the weakest label, and looks the least professional. If you want to use proper labels but still utilize your printer, pick up a package of Avery 4×6 labels (or similar) and print your labels out on them. This makes for a much higher quality label but can be quite expensive long-term.
The best all around solution is to get an actual label printer. I would classify getting a label printer as one of the top investment in our eBay reselling business. Unlike a traditional ink printer, a thermal label printer uses heat to transfer an image onto a label. They can print a label in under 2 seconds, cost pennies per label, and make you look much more professional than taping a giant piece of paper to your box.
Many people are reluctant to take the dive into buying a thermal printer but here’s a secret, you have to spend money to grow your business. If you are dragging your feet, your business growth will slog along as well. While this isn’t a necessary purchase for most beginning eBay sellers who just want to ship their items, those who are serious about reselling should check out the roundup we did testing and reviewing the 5 Best Thermal Label Printers.
Our Basic eBay Home Shipping Set-Up
When it comes to our eBay business we believe in keeping things as simple as possible. The fewer things we have in our business the fewer things can go wrong. In addition to the usual boxes, tape, etc. this is our basic shipping station set-up:
1. Postal Scale: Smart Weigh Digital Shipping Scale (Find it on Amazon)
Why we chose that one: It was literally the one one we could find with everything we wanted!
- Detached monitor. If the readout is on the scale it is impossible to see when you stick a huge box on there.
- Both AC and battery power options. If we have a box that’s too big for the desk, we can unplug it and weigh in on the kitchen floor using battery power.
- Its 110 lb Capacity is sufficient for 99.9% of orders we send out
2. Printer: The ROLLO Thermal Label Printer (Find it on Amazon)
Why we chose that one: We have torture tested our Rollo Printer over the last 2 years and have put several thousand labels through it with no cleaning maintenance, etc. It has performed absolutely flawlessly. In our Rollo Printer Review, we concluded that it is the best overall printer for eBay sellers for a dozen different reasons.
One of the main reasons that we chose the ship our eBay orders on the Rollo printer is that it supports the use of generic labels. This saves us a ton of money over the use of proprietary labels like many printer require. You can find the thermal labels we use here on Amazon.
And that’s it! We obviously have a computer as well but that’s the extent of our shipping station. If you decided to pony up for a wireless label printer you could probably get away without a computer as well!
Common Questions About Shipping on eBay
Shipping eBay orders really isn’t hard once you get the hang of it. In fact, shipping is the favorite part of the business for many resellers (it’s definitely not mine).
However, there are some situations that will undoubtedly crop up when you’ll have some specific questions about how to ship items. Since we’ve probably encountered all of them, let’s hit a few here. If you have others, feel free to comment at the end of the article and I’ll either reply or add it to this list!
Do I need to weigh items as I list them?
I admit it, I no longer weigh items as I list them. The reason we stopped weighing items is that we are familiar enough with the weight of the items we sell that we can guess their weight closely enough. If you ship flat rate, there is never a need for weight guessing. If however, you choose to ship by weight, as we do, USPS prices change by the pound (for priority mail anyway). For example, a 3lb 4oz box is the same price as a 3lb 15oz box. So we figure we can get within that 1lb range. If you are a new seller you should probably weight items as you list until you are comfortable guessing.
Do I Need To Refund Shipping Overages on eBay?
You do not have to refund extra shipping on eBay. Nor can you ask for more money to cover additional shipping costs. While you should do your best to accurately estimate shipping costs you will sometimes be low or high and that’s okay.
How Long Do I Have To Ship on eBay?
The number of days you have to ship an eBay item is decided by the “Handling Time” you choose when listing the item. Most sellers choose a handling time between 1 and 3 days.
How Do I Void an eBay Shipping Label?
If you need to void an eBay shipping label for any reason you can do so on the Manage Shipping Labels page. You have up to 5 days to void a USPS label and, if the label has not been scanned in, USPS will automatically initiate a refund process which can take up to 21 days to complete.
Can I Change the Shipping Address on eBay After a Purchase?
On the seller can change the shipping address after an item is purchased. If a buyer requests that you change the shipping address you can edit the existing address while shipping. Just be aware that you may be foregoing eBay’s Seller Protection by doing so.
Remember that changing the address does not charge the buyer additional shipping. SO if they are trying to make you ship it to a different state that their original address you may have to come up with money out of pocket. The best method for dealing with an address change it to have the buyer cancel the order and repurchase the item with the proper address.
What if an eBay item is damaged in transit?
If an item is damaged in transit it is the responsibility of the seller to refund the buyer and pursue a claim with the shipping company.
Shipping eBay orders may seem scary but, in reality, it’s just one more part of the fun that is making money online. Take it step by step and you’ll have it mastered in no time at all. Happy shipping!