How to Tell If a Seller Is Overcharging for Shipping

Postal Delivery Man With Parcels Knocking on Door

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How can one tell if an eBay seller is overcharging for the cost of shipping? Often, eBay buyers complain about the shipping fees imposed by eBay sellers. How can it cost $15 to ship a $5 item, many buyers wonder? Are such buyers right? Do eBay sellers have a habit of overcharging for shipping?

Shipping Costs Vary

In many cases, yes, sellers overcharge. In many more examples, no. It can cost quite a lot of money to ship an item, much more than many buyers realize. Sometimes this is simply a matter of not having shipped anything recently, or of not shipping items often enough to have a good sense for how much it can cost.

As a kind of thought experiment, let's imagine that buyer Jack has just purchased a small 12-inch goldfish bowl from seller Jill. Jack won the item for $4 and is shocked when the shipping costs much more than that even though Jill is in California and Jack is in Washington, only a couple of states away. Why is this so?

On Jill's end, the reality of shipping looks something like this:

First, there are the costs of shipping materials:

  • 14x14x14 box to ship it in—$3 at local shipping retail store. (In a smaller, 12x12x12 box, the bowl would be touching the cardboard and would shatter if there were a bump in the road during transit or another box sitting on top of it.)
  • Packaging material (bubble wrap, packing foam, and tape)—$2.50.

After packing materials, Jill also needs to figure in the cost of actual shipment, which will depend not only on size (14x14x14) but also weight:

  • Goldfish bowl made of thick glass—5.5 lb.
  • 14x14x14 box—1 lb.
  • Packaging material (foam, paper to fill the bowl and prevent crushing, etc.)—0.5 lbs.

So the total weight of the package that Jill assembles is 7 lbs. Its size is 14x14x14”. The cheapest method among all domestic carriers in the United States is the Post Office's Parcel Post service, with a basic cost of $10.42. With the delivery confirmation (tracking number) service, which Jill needs to protect both herself and Jack as shipping partners, the price rises to $11.17.

Don't forget, though, that Jill already spent $3 on a box and $2.50 on the packaging material, meaning the total cost of packaging and shipping the item is $16.67, to get it two states away via the slowest, cheapest shipping method among all carriers.

As you can see, $16.67 is the actual cost to ship—and for a $4 item.

Pay Attention to Shipping Costs

Though sometimes buyers are justifiably upset about shipping costs, there is always an easy solution for such situations. Don't bid on or buy an item if the shipping fee is higher than you're willing to pay. Indeed, don't expect a seller to change his or her shipping price just because you tell them (after winning their auction) that they're charging too much.

Always check and understand shipping fees carefully before you bid, and remember, the basic cost of shipping nearly any substantial item that you buy (i.e., anything that won't fit safely in a padded envelope) is going to be $15–$20 and will only go up from there as the size, weight, and fragility of the item increase.

True Shipping Overcharges

True shipping overcharges are relatively easy to spot. You'll know because not only do they dwarf the selling price of the item, they make up for it. That is to say that the item itself is priced (usually via Buy It Now) well under market value, while shipping is unduly high for the item's size and weight.

You should indeed be careful when bidding on such items, not only because it indicates a questionable seller, but also because if something goes wrong and you demand a refund, you're likely to be offered just the sale price in return, minus shipping. That means that if you bought a $50 item structured at a $1 auction price with $49 shipping, you'd only be up for a $1 refund with most such sellers if something goes wrong, and that's not a good position to be in.