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How to Ship eBay Items Efficiently

March 3rd, 2011 No comments

In my experience, one of the absolute worst parts of reselling is having to pack and ship everything you sell. In many ways it’s unskilled labor that separates you from being able to do more of what you love doing: hunting for new stuff, finding it, and most importantly, making money. You face the trials of finding an appropriate shipping box, packing materials to protect the item, getting postage, then actually getting the package to the carrier so it can be mailed.

Thankfully, you have someone who’s sufficiently lazy and cheap to have already come up with some low-cost solutions to these problems.

Boxes and Packing Materials

Buy Online or Wholesale

Packing materials are a significant expense – don’t underestimate them. If you go out and buy packing materials in retail stores (e.g., Target) on an incidental basis, you’ll find that it’s quite a significant cut of your profits, especially on “bubble-mailer” items: video games, small electronics, etc.

Whether you find a good local wholesaler or not, always check eBay for bulk deals on “light” shipping essentials (e.g. Scotch Bubble Wrap, for $3/50ft roll which runs $5-$10/roll retail).

Also, don’t skimp on the tape: I recommend using Uline Clear Industrial Shipping Tape with a Uline Tape Gun. Crappy tape is harder to apply quickly and makes your life more miserable than it already is.

Scavenge Materials

My current apartment building has a cardboard-only dumpster. To me, this = free boxes, and even better, free packing materials (cardboard can be used as spacing/padding material in lieu of popcorn, shredded paper, etc.). Give dumpster diving a shot, especially for really big boxes that can often cost $7-15 to purchase. Checking behind retail stores is also a good idea. I went behind Guitar Center in search of a box to ship a guitar in and, unsurprisingly, found one. If you feel that property issues may be at play (in some places dumpster diving is illegal), simply ask an employee. Usually, the minimum-wage guy will give you clearance and you’re good to go.

Free USPS Flat Rate Boxes

Being that you will primarily use USPS to ship your items anyway, you’ll be relieved to know that USPS will ship you free boxes to be used for USPS shipping services.

One such convenient service is the “flat rate” Priority Mail service which delivers to anywhere in the U.S. for a fixed price, irrespective of weight (though it has a maximum of 70 pounds.) The cost of this service for a small box is around $5, medium $10, and large $16.

UPS and FedEx also have some free packaging options, but they are considerably less useful on a regular basis.

Bubble mailers and other convenience packaging

Packaging stores also offer specialized shipping materials that can often simplify the packing process. My favorite time-saver is the classic bubble mailer: a large envelope lined with bubble wrap on the inside. They’re perfect for mailing books, DVDs, video games, cables, and even small gadgets safely. Even better, they can be easily purchased in bulk. My favorite bubble mailer is 8.5×11”, and it costs me about .35/mailer – well worth the packaging time and suffering it saves me.

Time and Money-Savers

PayPal Multi-Order Shipping

This service is truly the super-convenience to end all inconveniences in the shipping process on eBay. When your PayPal account is linked to your eBay account, PayPal automatically gathers all information from your sold items that have received a payment, and conveniently aggregates it into a shipping tool that allows you to print shipping labels straight from your computer. Postage costs are directly deducted from your PayPal account.

The tool allows you to choose your shipping service, select the item weight, add insurance and signature confirmation, and even alter the shipping address. However, PayPal automatically draws this customization from the listing if it is provided eBay-side, so if you take care of these things when you list the item, you’ve saved yourself some additional time.

Know your Carriers and Services

Unfortunately for the government, USPS isn’t the only game in town. It typically has the best rates for small items, certainly, and will provide the bulk of your shipping services. But a great many things which are valuable are not quite small or so convenient. It’s important to see how much shipping your items will cost with different carriers, taking into account value-added services included in the price (confirmation, insurance, etc.) and delivery time. In some cases, depending on the weight, dimension, and location of a package, USPS may offer inferior rates or delivery time.

Consider the example of the infamous Nacho Cheese Machine. The customer wanted it within 4 days guaranteed. I had to pack this puppy in a 30x20x20” box with a final weight of 27lb. USPS was going to charge me in excess of $50 for Parcel Post because of the ridiculous dimension of the box (other services, like Priority weren’t even available, and I don’t think I would have wanted to see the price anyway). UPS ground was in the ballpark of $40-50, and didn’t guarantee delivery within four days. But FedEx, on the other hand – a service which I thought I’d never use – charged me a mere $32 for 2 day delivery time (and $100 of free insurance).

The moral: know the comparative advantages of each service. How do you do this? Pull open the shipping calculator for each service and try different things out. You might be surprised, as I was with FedEx.

Carrier Pickup

Now, not only do you not have to buy your postage at the old grumbling Post Office, but you don’t even have to drop off your packages there. You can order a carrier pickup directly off the USPS website, and your regular mailperson will come by and pick up your packages. UPS and FedEx offer similar services.


No, not overseas, but locally. By outsource, what I really mean is hire someone else to do your packaging for you. That’s what I do, anyway. To start, consider friends or family members who need some money and offer them hourly compensation or on a per-package basis. When you’re feeling more bold, post a job listing on craigslist, or search for someone offering personal assistant services. Naturally, trust is an important issue, especially if you’re dealing with expensive items that can be stolen; carefully measure the character of those who you hire and follow all of the common sense guidelines when using a service like Craigslist. Of course, all of this should be done in full compliance with applicable labor laws.

You should spend some time learning how to properly package items so that you can teach whomever you hire. After that, it’s really a matter of the time you save by not having to package yourself being worth more than what you pay. Consider paying higher amounts to someone you can trust and count on, as this is invaluable. Someone available and hard-working will ensure your packaging goals each week are met, giving you much greater capacity, as boxed items are much less cluttering and use space more efficiently. Then, come shipping time, you simply pull the box on the shelf from looking at its SKU, read off its weight, and print a label.

Considering that the value of your time that could be spent hunting and listing is, with proper experience, at least double $10-$15 per hour, this can really open up your business if your inventory is constrained by capacity. More importantly, you no longer need to spend 15 minutes hunting for a box that will fit the god-damn Dora the Explorer TV.

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