Sunday, February 20, 2011

The $5 Challenge Addendum: Seller Perspective


This 1990 Fleer Darryl Strawberry card, which I actually needed, was used as packing material for a large lot of cards I got on eBay for less than it cost to ship. Are these people mad? Read on...

As I was trudging around in eBay's listings this month, I found my fair share of card sellers who were listing items (both singles and lots) with no minimum bid and free shipping. Sometimes, this can be a no-brainer (obviously, that 1960 Mickey Mantle is going to pay for its own listing fees, PayPal fees and shipping) but in plenty of other cases, we're talking about single cards that are going for less than the cost of a postage stamp and even some lots doing the same. Me being me, I was puzzled by this, and spent some time trying to figure out the benefit to selling things that you're pretty much guaranteed to take a loss on, before deciding to do something risky: contacting a few of the sellers I was winning items from and flat-out asking them. I realized going into asking some questions that there was a chance I'd be killing the golden goose for myself or others, but from what I've seen since, that's not going to be the case, as both sellers I talked to (great people) had very solid (and in one case, pretty poignant) reasons for doing business the way they are, and besides, there's really not much fun involved in hoarding cards for the sake of it, now, is there? If a few people beat me to auctions or drive up on the prices on 'em, it's worth it to me just to put some good reading out there. With that, let's talk to our first dealer.


This insane metal card of Troy Glaus (yes, it's on an actual sheet of metal, similar to what card companies use for printing plates) came from a lot I got from Chris of totalpackagenapa, who sells a bunch of card lots, some singles, and a ton of basketball product for those interested in getting cards of that Blake Griffin fella everyone's excited about right now. Many of the items Chris lists are put out there at prices ranging from a penny to a dollar minimum with no shipping, but the penny stuff was what intrigued me most (especially on the lots, which get pretty big at times), so I asked them what they were getting out of auctions with that low a minimum.


(Here's the back of that awesome Glaus.)

"The main reason that I start auctions with the starting bid at $.01 is to create interest and excitement. Any time a buyer bids on an auction, they are then attached to that item until it closes. A potential buyer will view an item and move on. Even those buyers that place it on their "watch list", seldom go back to view it again. I have come to this realization as both a buyer and seller."

Alright, pretty reasonable, but what about the free shipping, then?

"The main reason that I switched to free shipping was to eliminate confusion from the buyer's standpoint. As a buyer, I always find it frustrating to not know or completely understand each seller's policy regarding combined shipping. When shipping is free, then the buyer can pay for the item without needing an invoice or total. From a seller's standpoint, you have to offer combined shipping regardless and in most cases it comes out to about the same. The reasoning behind this is that buyers are willing to spend more because they are saving so much on shipping. I have seen on numerous occassions that my items sell for more because of the free shipping. A lot of buyers will only purchase items that are offered with free shipping."


(I got this beautiful '01 Studio Pudge, along with some other '01 Studio cards, in the lots I won from Chris, and now I'm hooked on '01 Studio. I'll probably skip the high numbers unless I get a sweet deal on them, but this is a base set I'd really like to finish.)

Something else I'd considered, as I was asking myself why these deals were happening, was that positive feedback had become something worth paying for in this day and age. I've only ever sold on an extremely part-time basis on eBay and it's been ages since I've had a long talk with a power seller, so I asked, "Is a ton of good feedback worth shelling out a little money for?"

"I can see how it appears that I am buying positive feedback. I have found that if you try to make money on every transaction then you will lose in the long run. It is important to evaluate sales based on overall averages while focusing on excellent customer service."

If only every business had this great attitude about things. Thanks to Chris for the cards and the answers!

Next up: remember this guy? I got him and a '75 O-Pee-Chee Buckner along with a weird card magazine Tony Gwynn from Dan, a great guy who I've started corresponding with because of his auctions and my questions about them. I asked Dan about the same things I asked Chris about, and his answers were, well, pretty intense, and told me a lot more about what a good guy he is than I could've possibly expected. This was Dan's response to the questions about one cent minimums and free shipping:

"I have bladder cancer and kidney cancer which has spread to my back. Therefore, 1 cent sales with free shipping seemed like a good way to pass my card collection on to other collectors. A "kid affordable" place to shop."

 Whoa. After reading this, I asked Dan if he was sure that he was OK about sharing that information with my readers, because, after all, while everyone deals with something like that differently, it can be a really heavy, really personal thing to deal with.

"I don't mind if you tell your readers about my health. Just because I'm dying doesn't mean I'm dead - yet. I might last a few more months or a few more years. But, I'm certainly not giving up the enjoyment of life just because I have cancer.

THE FACT IS - I could put out my "better" cards at a penny with free shipping and do just fine. There are a number of sites that put out high-end cards at a penny and get good overall prices, but they are certainly not "kid affordable". My site has always been affordable.

 There are a couple of things I believe in: first, if God gives you something, you should always give something back. He has given me life, money and cards. I'm giving back the cards! The second thing is this: you will never be remembered for the money you leave behind, but for all the good things that you've done in someone else's mind. There are a lot of kids, parents, grandparents, collectors and dealers that have gotten many good deals from this site, and many will remember those deals long after I am gone. For those people, I have done something good! Life doesn't get any better than that!"

See what I mean about Dan being a great guy? I'm really kind of awed, and those cards I mentioned getting from him above became a lot more special to me after reading this. 

We were talking business before life intervened, though, so here were some of his other answers on things.

"I broke even on about 25 percent of my penny auctions, but lost money overall." (I'd asked Chris for rough figures too, but they didn't volunteer them and that was totally within their rights.) 

Dan's experimenting with a new auction format now, where he includes mystery bonus cards with the card he's auctioning at low prices, which will vary in coolness depending on the ending price of an auction. It also seems that, with his most recent listings, he's varying his opening price structure a bit and including "Buy It Now" options for some auctions, so he's still trying new things, even as an established seller. He'd told me he was planning on discontinuing the $.01 starting price auctions even before I'd contacted him, but there are still some items being listed by him at a penny, so again, I think there's some feeling out going on there. He talked  at some length about this as well:

"The reason I am changing to 99 cents/free shipping auctions (with every winning bidder getting a bonus card) is only because of minimum invoice cost and "cherry picking". Here is what a 99 cent invoice looks like on eBay. A card sells for 99 cents (free shipping). It costs me 10 cents to list a card, 44 cents to ship it and PayPal (the ONLY payment you can recieve) charges you a minimum of 31 cents for each invoice Plus a 3 or 4 cent final value fee. So, a card that sells for 99 cents on eBay will cost a minimum of 89 cents. If a card sells for less than that, you will lose money unless you can get your bidders to combine their invoices and pay for them at the same time. I tried that (and failed). The second problem, and the more serious one, is cherry pickers. That's when dealers and collectors come to your site and, because of their knowledge of cards, pick "the cream of the crop",  leaving the cheaper cards to those that do not know card values. A 99 cent bid insures I "break even". 

Because I give a bonus card now to EVERY bidder it insures my bidders that they get a good deal even if they "overbid" on a card. Because I control the cards, if someone overbids, I just add better bonus cards so they are guaranteed to get a good deal. Finally, I have a 7 day money back guarantee (I pay the return shipping) on all of my cards. There is always a certain "Gee! I wonder what my BONUS CARD will be?" that is exciting for anyone (kids included). And, with my 7-day money back guarantee they are assured of a good deal. I have to give them a good deal because if they don't like them they can return them with me paying the return shipping. I already have enough money (and 350,000 sports cards). I'm 59 and my wife is 65 so I really don't need these cards anymore. I can certainly afford to lose a few thousand dollars worth of cards to try an idea but it would be nice not to take money out of my pocket to do it, LOL."

Finally, on the subject of feedback, Dan said "Feedback is worth paying for as a beginning buyer (or seller) IF you have a feedback under 10 because people need to know something about you. The only advantage that feedback has at my level is that bidders know that they can depend on whatever I say (or do). It would not do a seller any good to "spike" feedback."

 I'd like to thank Chris and Dan once again for their friendly responses and candid answers to my questions, ones that were probably being asked by more than a few of you reading this (for instance, I'm pretty sure Ben Henry has touched on this subject before). Not every seller on eBay puts cheap auctions up for the reasons that Chris and Dan have, obviously, but on a site where things have been occasionally less than civil in my experience (and I've had an eBay account for 14 years), it's really refreshing to run into such good people.

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