Doing the Heavy Lifting on eBay
By Greg Holden
We all love that excited feeling of satisfaction after completing our first few sales on eBay. But at the same time, we also remember the "uh-oh" moment that comes when you discover a hidden challenge you hadn't fully anticipated: shipping. You soon learn that before you even begin to put an item up for sale you had better figure out exactly how you're going to ship it and how much that's going to cost. In many cases the difficulties you would face at the final stage of selling a particular item make you think twice about getting the process started at all.
Here's an example: a friend of mine has an old Roper gas range languishing in her basement. It dates to the 1930s and is in remarkably good shape. She has approached me about selling it on eBay on a consignment basis. It's bound to be desirable to someone, so I'm not worried about writing a description that would attract bidders. Instead, what is giving me pause is this: how do I get that bulky, heavy item out of my friend's basement and into the door of its new owner? When it comes to shipping big household items (not motor vehicles, which have their own shipping services), there are three options:
- Pickup only. You list the item on eBay and tell buyers you're not going to ship at all. Rather, they have to come to you. They can pay you either electronically or in person. But the important thing is that they assume responsibility for moving.
- Shipping services. You open your item to a far wider range of buyers if you are able to set up the shipping yourself. There are some services available that will handle pickup for you and streamline the process; I discuss them later in this column.
- Online classifieds. The fabulously successful classified ad service Craigslist (http://www.craigslist.com) has local sites around the country. As I write this, I see plenty of ads for couches, chairs, stoves, clothes dryers, and the like listed in my own Chicago version of Craigslist. You can post photos; you set a fixed price; you specify local pickup. I already know that, for many eBay drop-off stores, Craigslist is the alternative of choice when someone comes in with a bulky item that the drop-off store doesn't want to arrange to ship. Other classifieds sites include LiveDeal and the Oodle search engine as well as local and newspaper classifieds sites.
However, since this is a column about online auction sales and not classified ads, I will assume you want to sell on eBay. You're likely to get more money when bidders from around the country compete for what you have to offer, as we all know. What, then, are the steps you need to follow when shipping a heavy, bulky household item? If you don't want to be restrict your buyers by specifying local pickup, you can ship with services like Freightquote.com (http://www.freightquote.com), Craters & Freighters (http://www.cratersandfreighters.com), and uShip (http://www.uship.com).
I got acquainted with Freightquote.com when I noticed that their shipping calculator was included in an auction description for another antique stove advertised on eBay. I called their toll-free number to find out what I needed to do to add the calculator to one of my sales. The customer service person told me I was responsible for four things:
Providing the height, width, and depth. This is easy enough because most of us who sell on eBay already have a tape measure handy.
Weighing. This is not so easy. You need a floor scale that will hold potentially hundreds of pounds. Getting the object on the scale might require you to find a piece of plywood that is slightly larger than the object. Put the plywood on the scale, then put the object on the plywood to distribute the weight evenly. You'll probably need several people to do the heavy lifting. You might be able to avoid this spectacle if you find a user manual that lists the weight or do some research on the manufacturer's Web site. If all else fails, guess - but make it an educated guess by asking a shipper for an estimate; chances are they have handled your type of item before and have a rough idea how much it weighs.
Boxing or shrink-wrapping. Freightquote.com requires that the item be boxed or shrink-wrapped before the shipper picks it up.
Palleting. Freightquote.com requires you to put the object on a plywood frame called a pallet. You can purchase one at a home supply store or at Wal-Mart.
Loading. Freightquote.com wants the item to be put in a convenient location where it can easily be loaded onto a truck. Many shippers don't do "full service" treatment such as going into the basement. uShip, however, includes a full service option that includes carrying and loading. uShip's other option, "self service," requires you to box or wrap the item and have it in a place where a truck driver can easily access it.
To add a calculator to your auctions with Freightquote.com, you need to sign up for a free account. I was told that my friend's stove fell into a "class 85" designation, one of 18 different categories of items. The good news is that my friend's stove is considered relatively light at a rough estimate of 300 pounds. But that doesn't make shipping cheap. Shopping it from Chicago to Atlanta would cost $387; to the Bay Area, the cost jumps to $437.
It's always a good idea, if you're estimating weight, to guess too high rather than too low. Shippers have certified scales that they use to weigh the items they carry. If your item turns out to weigh more than you estimated, you'll be billed for the difference, and buyers usually don't take kindly to being asked to pay more than the original estimate. If you guess too high, you should get a refund that you could pass onto your buyer.
uShip also requires you to sign up for an account. Once you have an account, you can estimate shipping costs online or list the item in the service's own marketplace. Craters & Freighters will pick up your item and pack it for you. The service states that trucks generally come with only one person and a lift gate, so you'll probably need to find some friends or relatives to carry the object out of your basement and to the truck.
If your buyer is more anxious about money than time, uShip's online directory of shippers includes companies that will pick your item up only when they already have a nearly full load on their truck. You'll incur a lower shipping cost if the run to your buyer is included with their other deliveries.
No matter what service you use, shipping bulky items takes some extra preparation. But if you're willing to do the necessary research up front, you'll find a shipper who will be happy to help you with the real "heavy lifting."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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