Monday, January 27, 2014

A casual sellers guide to selling Trading Cards on eBay

I've been trying for some time to put this post together, literally the first draft of this post was starting way back in late 2012..  And this is more for the guy or gal who just has a few cards they'd like to get rid of and make a little money.   First off I want to preface this by saying that I am no way endorsing eBay.  There are lots of places and ways to sell off your cards.  You could always take them down to the local card shop, but then you're probably only going to get half of what they're worth if your lucky.  You could set up a COMC or Sportlots account and sell there. You could sell your cards off message boards and forums.  All certainly viable alternatives to selling on eBay.  But there is no arguing that the best place to try and sell what you've got and get the most exposure is on eBay.  You can argue that fact, but it's just simply the truth.

Second, I see a lot of people bashing eBay on message boards and forums for their fees.  But to be honest ebay's fees aren't that bad and if you sell on COMC and Sportslots or anywhere else except maybe the message boards you're going to pay fees of some kind.  And when you think about the exposure your collectibles gets on eBay, not just countrywide, but worldwide and what you would pay to a brick and mortar auction house it's really not bad at all. Also I'm sure I'll miss something or gloss over something that you might find important.  I consider myself a very casual seller on eBay, but there are a few of you out there that sell big time.  Any helpful suggestions and comments on things I missed or just got wrong are welcome. Finally, eBay changes it's policies from time to time, so I'm going to say that I'll do my best to present this information as for the most part correct when I wrote this. Especially if you're reading this 10 years after this is published.

I would also like to ask if anyone reading this sells on COMC or Sportslot to do a post about selling through those sites. If you've already done a post about it I'd love to read it so comment on here with a link.

So with that said....So you've decided to sell some stuff on eBay?

I really wish I'd have started selling on eBay sooner to tell you the truth.  I think the thing that kept me back was the unknown of the shipping.  How much do I charge?  Am I going to screw myself if I charge this amount? How should I ship it? What should I ship it in?  Because to actually post and list on eBay is incredibly easy. Shipping that's the hard part.  I'm going to cover all of this in this primer don't you worry.

Here's a table of contents of what I plan on covering so if you want to skip over something and just scroll on down feel free.

1. What to sell and when.
2. Listing on eBay
3. Shipping
4. Fees
5. Feedback

1. What to sell and when. 
I guess the short answer is anything and now!!!

So lets assume you have a few cards lying around that you don't want  and you'd like to supplement your collecting budget by selling on eBay. First do some homework.  Do a quick search on eBay and see how many of the same card are up for auction or sale right now.  You can check on what they've been selling for my clicking on the completed listings link.  It's nice to have a feel for what something is going for.  Right now eBay has been offering 50 free listings a month and since they've continued that I'm going to assume that that will be the norm for the near future.  So before the 50 free listings a month, which for a casual seller like myself is more than enough to keep the table clear and a few extra bucks in my pocket, you really needed if the card or collectible you have is worth listing.  The standard eBay charge for a listing starting at .99 cents or under was 10 cents.  Now that seems really reasonable and it is, but if your card doesn't sell than you just wasted 10 cents and if you listed a bunch or cards and then didn't sell well you still have to pay the piper.  But with these 50 free listings a month and sometimes more you can pretty much list whatever you want and if it doesn't sell well you're not out anything.  But you should still do some basic homework on higher end cards. Especially ones you want to have a starting bid higher than 99 cents.

Ebay runs promotions that will let you list more free and add other listing options that they would normally charge for, for free as well.  So you also have to decided how you want to list it, but more on that in the listing section.

As a basic rule in selling trading cards, the newer and hotter the product  the higher the selling price will be. Of course subject matter matters as well.  So basically if you've just bought a box of the latest baseball product released, the time to sell off what you don't want or want keep as trade bait, is now! This also goes for players. The time to sell that Puig autograph is now, not next year.  Puig might be even hotter next year, but this is his rookie year and he's one of the hottest players, if not the hottest, right now and his rookie cards are commanding a premium.  (I know that statement will be dated) There are always exceptions to this of course, but for the most part it's true.  Now that's not to say that if you miss this hotness wave, your out of luck of course not. I'm just pointing out that selling a product or player when it's hot will net you a little higher return. And of course that's not to say that cards you have from years gone past won't sell. The best part about eBay is that you are selling to people all over the country and if you want the world! You're not limited to regional popularity.

I'll give you a personal example of a failure and a success.  I was lucky enough to get a Gordon Beckham Red Hot Rookie Auto variation.  When these were finally in hand these cards were going for over $150 bucks easy. The last one I saw sell on eBay was for under $10 bucks.  But likewise sometimes holding on to a card works out. I was also lucky enough to pull a 2002 Topps T206 Joe Mauer rookie autographed card, way back in 2002.  This is well before I began selling on ebay, which was in 2009.  I don't have a price history for the card, but I ended up selling the card after he won the 2009 AL MVP award and got a really great price for the card.  So there is risk and reward to choosing when and what to sell.

Of course you have to sell what you have and whether or not you missed the boat on a products or players popularity can be irrelevant.  I also tend to sell cards in season. Meaning I sell baseball cards during the baseball season, football during the football season, ect. This isn't mandatory of course, but when the sport is in season it's on peoples minds more. If you plan on selling things in lots you might want to consider the theme of the lot. Is it a player lot, team lot, set lot, insert lot?  Trust me I've bought plenty of lots only really wanting one card out of the bunch when there was a lot of other fluff thrown in the lot.

Also if you can't get at least $0.99, most starting bids, it's not worth selling on ebay.  Sure some sellers start cards at a penny. But if your card sells for under a dollar and you charge reasonable shipping for the card you are going to loss money and losing money is not what we are here to do. Became even if you dollar card sells you probably will only be making about half that after fees. I'll talk more about those later and rehash why selling cheaper cards on ebay might not be you're best bet.

But to illustrate how to sell a card on ebay I think the best way is to walk you through a sale.

Speaking of selling when the time is right. I decided that it was time to let this card go.
This card is a 2010 Topps Platinum Jamaal Charles/Dexter McCluster Dual auto/patch card numbered to 25! When I pulled this card from a retail pack back in 2010 I was awestruck on the awesomeness of this card. Unfortunately in 2010 the Chiefs sucked and no one really cared about Charles or McCluster. As a matter of fact I think I saw a few copies of this card go for about ten bucks and so I decided to hold on to the card. The worst that was going to happen was I'd end up trading it or using it as a prize for a contest.  Fast forward to 2013, the Chief had a great year, made the playoffs, and Jamaal Charles had a career breakout season.  Time to sell!!
2. Listing on Ebay
Sorry these screen captures post so small. You can click on any of them to get a better view.

So now we've got a card to sell. First you have to have a seller account set up. If you already have a buyers account this is pretty straight forward, Ebay just wants to make sure they have some way of getting their fees from you.

After that you just click on sell and off you go.

Ebay has two forms you can use. An easy form and a much more involved form. If you plan on selling internationally or doing dutch auctions the more involved form is probably the one you'll want to use, but for us the easy form will be just right. You also have the option of listing the card as a buy it now. Meaning you set the price and you can also offer a Best Offer feature so potential buyers can try and talk you down from your initial selling price.  I tend to only do auctions so that's what I'm going to cover.

First you need to put in a good title.  This is what a lot of buyers search on so you want to be as descriptive as possible in the 60 or so characters ebay allows in the title. I always put a year and set name and the player full name and then anything else I can fit. If I have enough room I'll even try to fit the team name in the title.
Over time ebay has reduced user fees and even given sellers options it use to charge for. Now ebay gives sellers 12 photos per auction. The easy form will only allow you to add 4 so if you want to add more you'll need to use the long form. With a card like this I added a good front and back scan plus close ups of the autos and patches. I always try to set my auctions up like one's I'd like to see.

Next up it's time to put in a description. If you plan on selling a ton of stuff there are other options to make this part quicker. I've even seen debates on whether it's worth filling out this section at all, but for me I like to not only put a good description in, but I also fill out all the header information as well.  I tend to search using a few key word and then narrow my search using the auction categories so taking the time to fill out the player, team, year, and attributes of the card can help greatly with people finding your auctions.

Up top here is the filled out description and categories. I always try to add as much information as possible. Unfortunately ebay only allows you to put one player in the auction, so I chose the more popular of the two, but this card also is technically a rookie card for Dexter McCluster and I've noted that in my description below, as well as, in the categories. I also add a large paragraph after my shipping charges with information on combine shipping and my policies. I'll talk about that later.
Next you need to decided how long you want your auction to run and what your starting price will be. I usually start my auctions at  $0.99. This is normally the highest you can start your auction to qualify for ebay's free listing. I think this might not be the case anymore, and you can start at whatever price point you want. Two things though. Starting at a lower price will spur people to bid earlier and hopefully will attract a lot of watchers, who might become potential bidders. However if you card is only bid on by one person it will sell for $0.99. Sure you can add a reserve, but honestly most cards I've seen with reserves never meet them and when I put stuff up on ebay I want it to sell. I like to let the market dictate the price. This isn't Beckett and cards seldom go for book value, but there are times they can go for way more.
Most auctions are for 7 days. You can let them go for shorter periods of time, this is used a lot when a product in brand new, or even longer, though longer auction tend to have an extra fee.  

Something else to consider is what time are you listing the card. Living in Alaska I'm 4 hours ahead of East Coast time. That's something I have to consider when I list.  Your auction starts the second you hit list and ends exactly however many days later you chose to list your auction. So if you are up late listing auctions and your auction ends at 2 in the morning you probably will miss a good portion of bidders who slept through the end of your auction. Ebay does offer an option to schedule auctions, although I'm pretty sure they charge a fee for that as well.

Next you need to decide where you will ship and how much to charge.  I'll get into that later in the shipping section. But if you can't keep your shipping under $3 then you are probably going to scare away a lot of bidders.  I also only ship to the US now. I use to ship to Canada, especially if I was selling hockey cards, but since the USPS went crazy with their international shipping prices I stopped. I can't see anyone buying a 2 or 3 dollar card and then having to pay over $5 to have it shipped to them. 

I also offer 1 day handling. Meaning if you pay me by a decent time on Tuesday, I'll have your card in the mail Wednesday morning. I'll talk a little more on that in the shipping section too.

OK so you've uploaded your photos, wrote a nice description, added all card attributes for better searching, decided you shipping cost and methods. It's time to go live. Ebay gives you a preview of what your auction will look like. Take a moment and look it over to make sure you got everything right.

When you're ready click list and there you go.

Here's what my listing looks like live if you were to click on it

As a seller I like to sell a few things at a time. I seldom list just one thing and rarely list more than 20 things at a time. It's just hard for me to keep track and deal with more auctions than that, I've tried. . I also offer combined shipping discounts.  
Here's a look at my seller page. You can see what your stuff is bid up to, how many views it's gotten, how many bidders have bid, and how many bids the item has gotten.  Now all you have to do is sit back and wait for the auctions to end and answer any questions asked by bidders.

3. Shipping
The Golden Rule that I live by in shipping my items I've sold is: Ship and package it like you want it to be shipped and packaged.  I've been buying off of eBay since 2002 and in that time it amazes me the range of packing that I've seen from sellers.  From simple PWE's (Plain White Envelopes) to seriously wrapped and taped.  So first off be up front with how you ship.  In all my auctions I've worked up a paragraph that looks like this:

Shipping will be $2.50 and cards will ship well protected in a  bubble mailer and have delivery confirmation.  

I combine shipping and handling on multiple auctions won with in a 5 day period of each other. Shipping will be .25 on individual cards  and $1.00 more for lots added to the highest shipping cost. All auctions must be paid for at the same time to receive discount.  I do not assume responsibility for lost or damage mail. If you would like to add INS to your card let me know.   Payment is expected 5 days after auction is complete or sooner. Paypal Only. US only.  I ship fast if you pay fast.  Please be aware that I live Alaska and it may take up to 4 extra days for your items to reach you, please be patient.  If you have any questions please ask before bidding.  Good Luck.  If you have any problems with your card please contact me first and I will try and resolve the issue. Please leave feedback when you get your item and it’s satisfactory.
If you have less than 10 feedback please email me first before bidding or your bid may be cancelled, sorry but due to some nonpayment issues we had to start doing this.  

I have this saved in a Word file and I just copy and paste and edit as needed.  I state very clearly what I charge for shipping and how the item will come shipped.  I only use the Postal Service because sending anything FedEx or UPS is insanely expensive from Alaska.  I also have my combine shipping charges and other info that I've added over the years as problems arise from it not being said in the auction.  This also covers my ass a little bit.

Nothing pisses me off more than when I pay $2.50 or more for shipping and the seller sends the card to me in a PWE. Now if I'm getting free shipping that's another story, but you definitely don't want your items to show up damaged for lack of sufficient packaging.  If you're going to charge that much for shipping you better use that shipping money on shipping and handling.  Some sellers will try to make a little extra money with shipping and that's fine, I just won't buy from you.

I started using the eBay shipping feature a few years back and I kick myself for not using it sooner. Not only do you receive a discount on shipping, but free delivery conformation and they upload the information onto the auction so the seller gets an email with the conformation information and you can verify if the package has been delivered.

What to Charge for Shipping?

Probably the largest hurdle I had to overcome in starting to sell on eBay was figuring out what to charge for shipping.  And eventually it took me sitting down with my wife's food scale, a stack of cards and shipping supplies and figuring out weights and then punching those numbers into the a shipping calculator.  But after I did that and figuring out my shipping supply costs and looking at what other sellers charge I settled on a starting rate of $2.50.  And here's why.

First I only ship Large Envelope non machinable first class parcel. This way there's no chance of the card(s) getting damaged being run through machinery.  Second I ship in a bubble mailer and cards in top loaders or lots sandwiched between toploaders.

Postage is $1.69 (update 2015: it's now $1.92 )(with ebay shipping discount) for up to 3 ounces for a First Class Parcel (I'm sure this is going up soon) and you can ship First Class up to 13 ounces. (disclaimer shipping went up since I started writing this, I'm not sure what it is right now.) After 3 ounces the Post Office charges more per ounce.  A good mail or food scale is a must if you are going to do lots and they are for the most post affordable and a good investment if your going to do a bunch of selling.  Then figure in cost of the bubble mailer, top loaders, penny sleeves and anything else used in shipping.

After I had sold a few things and got a feel for selling on eBay and had a few nice big sales I was hooked. Bubble mailers can be expensive if just buying one or two at a time, so if you plan on selling more than say 10 items or you plan on selling down the road I recommend investing in a bulk lot of bubble mailers.  You can buy cases of 100 bubble mailers on Amazon for under 30 bucks!  I would also recommend investing in some basic collecting supplies to ship cards in as well. You can find great bulk deals on top loaders, penny sleeves and team bags on eBay, 2015 they're out of business) and Amazon to name a few.

That bring us to...

How to package your cards for shipping?

Now back to the Golden Rule of shipping. Ship and package like you want it to be shipped to you.  I figure if you're paying $2.50 or more to ship a card you should get your moneys worth.  Now I'm going to show you how I ship. Feel free to add or subtract from it, but I ship like I want to have things shipped to me so here we go.

I ship single cards in a top loader and penny sleeve and put that in a team bag and seal it. I don't tape the top loader shut because the card can slide up and stick to the tape, trust me it happens.
I also include a copy of the seller invoice. I invested in a couple rubber stamps a few years ago. One that has my address and a Do Not Bend stamper for the bubble mailer.
I stamp the invoice with my return address. I made my stamper look a little more professional. I don't own a card shop, but the buyer doesn't have to know that.  I also personalize the invoice. A lot of buyers probably won't even notice this, but I notice it when I've bought cards and always thought it a nice touch.
If the card is really valuable I will add a nice cardboard protector around the card(s). I don't always do this especially for cheaper cards, but again we're going back to mailing how you'd like your cards mailed to you. Most of the time I'll wrap the invoice around the card.  You also have to be careful. This seems stupid but I've had packages returned for being too skinny. So adding the extra cardboard helps and usually doesn't add too much weight.  If I'm sending a lot of cards, like a team set or pick'em set builders lots I will put those cards in a team bag and them use some old top loaders, usually ones I've gotten in packages, and put them on the outsides and tape it all together.
Then I attach the label. You can buy stickers for this, but I just cut the postage out and tape it to the package. These mailer are self sealing, but I always add and extra piece of tape to the flap.

4. Fees
Over the years the fees Ebay has charged have changed and I'm sure they will change again so take this section with a grain of salt and realize that these might not be up to date a couple years down the road.

The first fee you use to get was the insertion fee.  Ebay waves this fee now giving you at least 50 free listings a month.  A lot of time they will run specials were you get anywhere from 100 free listings to unlimited free listings. I seldom sell more than 50 things a month as a casual seller, so that's no big deal. Usually I do one or two big listings a month with around 20 listings in each batch.  I've found that that is the best grouping for me. The insertion fee use to be $0.10, but I just checked and they are now $0.30.  But unless you tend to sell a ton of stuff I doubt you'll ever get charged it.

Ebay makes a lot of it's money with it's final value fees. Ebay takes 10%. Which really isn't all that bad. Most brick and mortar auction houses will take 20% or more.  Ebay does however now also take a percentage of the shipping you charge.  I sure this is in response to the Einsteins who would sell an expensive card for a couple bucks and charge hundreds or thousands for shipping.   Ebay claims that they started taking a percentage to help keep shipping prices down.

Ebay also now makes you use Paypal, almost all the time.  And while this is actually my preferred method of payment, I don't like not being able to offer other forms of payment anymore. Of course Ebay bought Paypal a few years back.  Paypal takes 2.9% and $0.30 per transaction for sellers.  While that doesn't seem like a lot. That can really add up with big ticket items and that thirty cents can be huge if your are selling dollar items.

Paypal collects it's fee right away, but Ebay sends out monthly invoices.

5. Feedback
All Ebay users get a feedback score. You may have noticed above my feedback score is over 1400 now. I'm pretty proud of that and 100% positive feedback rating, although a lot of my feedback came from being a buyer. Using a Feedback score to rate a user isn't unique to Ebay. Sites like Sportlots and even message boards use feedback scores to rank users and it's helpful. One having that feedback score allows you as a buyer to tell the seller that you take this transaction seriously and that score and comments tell the potential buyers that you take your sellers duties seriously. And trust me users take their feedback score very seriously.

As a buyer I have never failed to leave feedback for my purchases. One reason is I want the seller to know I was pleased with the transaction and that everything is OK. I've only left one neutral feedback in over 12 years of Ebaying and I've never had to leave negative feedback for a seller, althought there were a couple times it was close.

As a seller I've stopped giving "free" feedback.  That is usually when you leave feedback as soon as the seller has paid.  I stopped doing this mainly because I was tired of my buyers not not giving me feedback. It's against Ebay regulations to hold feedback hostage, I can't blatantly say to the buyer, you will get feedback when feedback is given, but implied and I don't have to give feedback.. I always leave positive feedback as soon as the seller leaves me feedback. I've run into a lot of other sellers that do the same thing, but ultimately it's your decision.

Well there you go. Be prepared for a few bad experiences. There are always a few bad apples in the bunch, but to be honest most of my experiences selling on ebay have been pretty positive and it's a great way to get a little extra cash to help support your habit.  Plus using Paypal you get your money right away and all the other major card outlets, COMC, Sportlots, and Just Commons, to name a few also use Paypal. I hope this helped if you've been on the fence about selling some of your unwanted cards and if you have questions or comments feel free.

cb out


  1. Cool Guide. I hope potential sellers actually read it and take some of the advice. Like the NO TAPE on the toploaders. UGH.

    If you do get someone who has sold stuff on sportlots let me know, I've bought plenty there but haven't sold there. My biggest problem (other than making the time to make listings on Ebay et al) is the only time I can get to my post office is Saturdays so I can't guarantee the fast shipping that many buyers demand. On Ebay I state in my listings and in my store that I only ship on Saturdays (I really have to get off my butt and add more stuff to my store, right now I just have 4 listings and two are buttons/pinbacks non-trading card related)

    1. Thanks Kirk
      I found that using the Ebay shipping is pretty awesome. I can print postage and package as soon as I'm paid then I just drop it off at the outgoing mail at work. But that's just me.

  2. I use blue painters tape on my top loaders because it leaves no sticky residue and you can reuse the top loader again and I've been doing business on Ebay since 1999 and my primary focus has been selling cards and I've never had any complaints about the tape.

    I think "cynbud" has made some very excellent points on here and I wish more people would read these points. I just prefer to use bubble mailers for all cards.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. great stuff. for serious sellers that want to a lot on ebay and amaon check out