Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thoughts on Online Selling

Etsy and Ebay. I've sold on both but more so on Etsy. A reader suggested I write a post on what I've learned. I'll give it a go although I'm far from a expert or big time seller. I began selling on Etsy a little over two years ago with handmade paper goods and some vintage items. As I began adding inventory, I split the handmade and vintage into two shops this February. I've sold on Ebay since last fall with items that were too new for Etsy (must be handmade or at least 20 years old) or items that never sold on Etsy.

So what have I learned?

1. Just because it's vintage, doesn't mean it will sell. There are trends that are hard to keep up with or know about. However, reading blogs with vintage finds and browsing Etsy can be helpful if you have the time. Mid-century items are hot which is probably no secret; items older than that seem less desirable. 80s stuff has definitely NOT come into vogue yet-- still considered junky and tacky (if the shoe fits...).

2. Having a sale/offering a coupon code does not help sales. As a matter-of-fact, the few times I offered a code, buyers didn't use it, and being the nice person I am, I refunded the discount which is time consuming, and that brings me to #3...

3. Selling online is more time consuming then one might think. Besides the initial shopping or making of an item, you must photograph it with up to 5 photos (for Etsy), perhaps even "stage" the first photo with an interesting knick knack, doily, prop of some sort. Then, of course, there is uploading and editing (bringing up the light is a good idea) of these photos. Okay, now, don't forget to measure the item, note any flaws, a copyright... to be added to the listing. Listing items on Etsy is relatively easy, but it does take time. Ebay's listing system is a little more time consuming to me.

4. Postage. Eww, postage! How many times have I miscalculated and wound up making 50 cents on a sale? No exaggeration there. Media mail is pretty easy to figure since the distance does not matter. Regular postage, however, is a crap shoot since you have no idea where a buyer will buy from. And it seems a lot of my sales are to California. So you can err on the side of high and keep your mouth shut, err on the side of high and offer a refund for the difference (most sellers offer refunds for a difference more than one or two dollars), or try not to fleece buyers and eat a little postage yourself. I've done the latter two. And speaking of postage, depending on what you sell, be prepared to start a hoard of boxes, envelopes, and bubble wrap and hope that really big item never sells.

5. While we're on the subject of postage-- keep in mind you will probably be going to your post office several times a week if business is good. Mine is nice but understaffed, and I end up waiting almost every time-- usually behind someone wanting to send a large box to Mars.

 A vintage 45 that never sold last Christmas season. I'll relist it this year.

6. Seasonal items rarely sell after the holiday even if they are marked down considerably. Etsy listings last 4 months. I already listed Halloween items in my shops because of that. Of course, that being said, holiday items don't seem to sell much before a holiday either.

7. More than likely you will receive a question about an item such as: will you take a discount on an item, will you ship somewhere that you already stated you will not ship to. Some of these questions did pan out to a sale, but most of the people that submitted the questions fall off the face of the earth after you take the time to answer (i.e. tromp down to your basement in your nightgown to check some specific item late at night).

This old Halloween decoration never sold last year either, but there was a lot of interest there so I relisted it recently.

8. Pricing... that's a hard one. Obviously sellers want to make a tidy profit. Most buyers are looking for a bargain. I usually try to find similar items already for sale online and take it from there. Is mine in better or poorer condition? Is it a rare item? How badly do I want to unload it? You get the picture; lots to consider. Keep in mind, Etsy allows you to change the price. You can always lower it as time goes on.

9. Social media-- I admit it-- I'm an "itard." I don't do facebook, tweet, pinterest... I've read these can help sales so if that's your bag, you're one step ahead.

Vintage children's books don't sell as well as I thought they would.

10. A lot of Etsy folks add "freebies" or at least a business card with purchases. I tuck in a business card and an older note card, bookmark, etc. that I've made. These type of things are rarer on Ebay.

11. As for Ebay-- to be honest I don't have a lot of positives to say about it. Their fees are quite high. Recently, they changed seller ratings to mainly reflect how you ship items. I really go the extra mile to get orders out; have gone to the p.o. with migraines, in snow, etc..., but my seller rating right now is "standard" because I don't purchase Ebay's shipping labels and don't always provide tracking numbers-- I try to use the cheapest postage which doesn't always provide a tracking number. I can't see tacking on $1.05 to send an ATC in a first class envelope. I haven't made much profit on Ebay. Usually an item sits or sells for the low opening bid. I have sold a couple items with the "buy it now" option so you might want to give that a go. I also have had winning bidders not pay-- on Etsy payment is upfront. The only positive I can say about Ebay is people don't expect such fussy photos of your items.

Vintage prints (that were mine as a child) never sold on Etsy. Finally sold them on Ebay for less that I would have liked.

12. Back to Etsy and my handmade shop: since dividing the shops, my handmade items have sat which I was sort of afraid would happen. I mean who writes letters or reads real books so note cards and bookmarks are hard to push. I do offer some other things, but sales have been way off which is typical of the summer. However, I may have to close the doors after this year if things don't pick up, meaning for me, vintage items sell better.

13. So one thing I know for sure-- you can never tell what will sell and what won't. It's hit and miss for some things and depends on what you're selling for other things. I would like to see some statistics on what percentage of listed items doesn't sell which brings me to relisting. If I have a considerable amount of views (which for me is anything over 10), I probably will relist an item once. After that-- garage sale pile or donation bag. I rarely relist the handmade items-- I have too many to goof around with stuff that didn't sell the first time around.

 Note card currently listed.

14. I'm adding this one because I didn't want to stop on #13. Online selling is work if you want to do a good job which I guess is true of most everything. You deal with nice people and rude people which is true of most everything too. And like everything, if you don't enjoy it to some extent-- forget it!
An ACEO currently listed.

So if you stuck with me this far-- thanks!  Any questions or thoughts are most welcome!


  1. Oh this was an excellent post and you covered all the bases. Very timely too since I'm just thinking of opening an ETSY shop. Thank you!

    I have NO idea how my sister does it, but she sells a lot of stuff on Ebay and she never goes to the PO to ship. The mailman has to pick up all her stuff at her house. Sometimes she has a pile of stuff out there for him.

  2. This is a great post! I found it very informative. Especially, the Ebay information. I used to sell on Ebay but haven't in some time; not since policy changes. The only reason for not selling? I can't login, I've forgotten my password and user name! Aaaaccckkk!!! I'm getting old.
    You covered some good points on Etsy too.
    I'm considering opening up a separate shop for hand-made items. You've given me lots to consider.

  3. Great advice! My hubby sells on ebay. I think it is way to complicated for me. I have thought about opening an etsy shop, but just don't seem to find the time.

  4. This was a really interesting post, Diane, especially since I have been selling my vegan soaps on Etsy and just recently sold a couple vintageglassware items on Ebay. My SIL tells me that starting the auction at .99 is the best idea because it will bring so many more people into the auction - and once they've committed to even .99, they then are invested in the auction and will often continue to bid. He is a natural at selling, does his research, and does extremely well.

    I have always had free tracking with USPS First Class or USPS Priority and as soon as I get back from the PO, I send my buyer the USPS Tracking Number.

    One thing that's been really annoying is that so many of the smaller post offices in the country have closed afternoon hours. That means that if I want my item to ship out right away, I have to drive to the PO, rather than put it in my mailbox at the end of the drive. I do think it's worth it, though, because it makes happier customers.

    To me, the photos of an object, whether on Etsy or Ebay are everything. If I can't see an item clearly, I move on. I figure if they don't think enough of their object to take great photos, why should I want it? I keep that in mind when I take photos of my own items. Anything to enhance the photo is good.

    Great post!

  5. I sell on Etsy only and for the most part I have been successful. I have two shops. I print all my postal labels at home and the mailman picks them up. Postage is MUCH cheaper online, plus you save time and gas by having the mailman pickup. You mentioned that you don't do much social media, but I highly recommend Instagram! I signed up about 5 months ago, and it has been the best and easiest social media I have encountered. In fact, you can sell things directly from instagram, many vintage dealers do. no fees. haha. Just post a pic and write some details and "first person to comment with their email and zip code gets it" I have not sold directly off instagram (yet), but it has brought me a ton of sales and traffic to my store. Try it out:-)

    1. Thanks for your input. I have been reading a lot about Instagram lately. I'll look into it. Thanks again!

  6. Good post. I know you are VERY busy taking pictures and getting things perfect. I have Pinned a few of your items and those have been re-pinned, but I don't think you have ever gotten a sale from that.

    Thanks for the post and I think more people need to read it.

  7. This is such good information. I'll send a link to this post to a friend with a new Etsy shop. I had thought I would sell on Etsy....but when I looked at what I wanted to sell (hand made bags)....there were about a zillion of them listed with many of them priced far less that I could do. It's hard! But oh how I love to look at Etsy shops....especially yours! Hugs, Diane

  8. I have a friend that has an eBay account. Way too much trouble for me. The selling is the easy part. After that comes that packing the shipping and mailing and on and on.