5 Ways Shipping Shortcuts Can Ruin an eBay Business

eBay shipping tips

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Selling on eBay has its challenges. Shipping is probably the most intimidating part of starting an eBay business. How much should you charge for shipping? What carrier should you use? What class of mail is appropriate for different types of items at different weights? It can all be very confusing. But, there are a few basics that all eBay sellers should know about the shipping to prevent lost packages, returned packages, and most of all, unhappy customers.

Don't Wrap Boxes in Brown Paper

This is an outdated practice that is no longer necessary. "Brown paper packages tied up with string" is a thing of the past. Back in the day, people used to cover boxes with brown paper grocery bags or brown Kraft paper. Both the USPS and UPS may refuse your package if it is covered in paper. The shipping industry is automated now. Conveyer belts, sorting machines, and other machinery can rip the paper off the package. When this happens, the box is thrown to the side and of course, has no information on it because the shipping address and return address were on the paper that is no longer on the box. As a consequence, the item won't make it to the buyer, or even back to you as the seller.

Sure, eBay provides tracking and you can file a claim for your item for up to $100 under the eBay shipping workflow, but who wants that hassle? Your customer just wants his item. He doesn't want to hear about how it was lost or damaged. The post office loses enough items on a regular day. Avoid lost packages, angry customers, and the hassle of items not received by affixing the shipping label directly to the box. Don't cover boxes with any kind of paper.

Don't Use Alcohol, Beer, or Liquor Boxes

The liquor store has great boxes: they are sturdy, compact, and free! Unfortunately, the USPS or UPS does not allow liquor, wine, or beer boxes to be re-used for shipping. According to Section 227 of Publication 52 of USPS Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail,  

"Examples of commonly reused boxes include cleaning supply boxes and liquor/wine/beer boxes. Some cleaning products are hazardous materials; although most alcoholic beverages are not hazardous materials, they are prohibited from mailing. Packages containing alcoholic beverages or with alcoholic beverage markings are prohibited in the mail."

Don't Overstuff Flat Rate Envelopes

Flat rate envelopes are a great way to economically ship small, compact, and non-fragile items to customers. Unfortunately, cheap eBay sellers take this luxury to an extreme and abuse the service. YouTube is fraught with videos of eBay sellers who take pride in how much they can cram into a cardboard or padded flat rate mailer. For example, you'll see sellers rolling and stuffing large men's jeans or coats into these envelopes. Not smart. Flat rate mailers can burst open when stuffed too full. When the happens, either your customer is going to receive a damaged package and file a claim, or the item won't even make it to the customer at all. Is this really worth saving a few dollars? The USPS slogan, "If it fits it ships" should not be taken literally. Flat rate mailers must close on their own without extra tape. Think about what your customer will receive. Is it worth the bad feedback for sloppy packaging?

Don't Alter Flat Rate Boxes

Flat rate boxes were designed to make shipping easy and economical and one flat price for a particular size box. If the item does not fit into the flat rate box, you cannot use that box. Flat rate boxes cannot be cut down, taped together, telescoped, Frankensteined, or altered in any way. If the flat rate box doesn't work for what you need, it cannot be used. Plain and simple. Keep a variety of different boxes on hand so when it is time to ship an item, you have choices and can choose the correct box for the item. USPS Priority Mail supplies can be ordered for free on USPS.com and delivered to your door at no cost. There is no reason not to stock up and keep a variety of sizes on hand at all times.

Don't Abuse Media Mail

Media mail is for media. Items that can be shipped Media Mail include:

  • Books, at least 8 pages
  • Sound and video recordings, CDs, and DVDs
  • Play scripts
  • Printed music
  • Computer readable media
  • 16mm or narrower films
  • Printed test materials and accessories
  • Printed educational charts
  • Loose leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information for distribution to doctors, medical schools, or medical students

Magazines are not media mail. Craft kits are not media mail. If it isn't on this list, it isn't Media Mail. Visit USPS.com for all details about what can be shipped Media Mail. 

Follow these shipping rules and the package will reach your customer in good shape. After all the customer has the last word on DSRs and feedback. Don't give them a reason to give you a low rating.