Don't lose your shirt on Ebay!

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by StumpyNubs posted 12-11-2010 05:14 PM 2378 reads 0 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I built a beautiful Bombay desk from rich mahogany and rosewood. I spent months hunched over it with my carving chisels creating perfectly crisp details. When I was done I knew it was the most beautiful thin I’d ever make. I put it on ebay, sold it for twenty five bucks to a guy who complained it was going to cost so much to crate and ship across the country, and when it arrived it was dented and splintered, so I had to give a full refund, pay the return shipping and burn it in the shop stove.

I know, the story above is a bit sad. It’s also not true. I would never put something like that on there! I’ve learned the hard way what to sell a what not sell on ebay, and this edition of my blog is dedicated to passing a few of those tips along to you so you can keep your shirt and maybe even make a few bucks to buy a nice new one by selling woodworking products on ebay.

1. It starts with design. If you sell it on ebay, you are probably going to have to ship it. So keep this in mind when you design it.

2. Build it to fit the box. Don’t make an item and then try to get a box to fit. That’ll only lead to a lot of frustration and bad packaging. Find a supply of boxes (Home Depot sells three sizes for cheap) and design your product to fit inside, saving room for padding.

3. Overweight is bad. If you make it entirely out of rosewood it’s going to weigh a ton which may make it too costly to ship. Nobody wants to spend $100 to ship a cutting board. The more expensive the item, the more people may be willing to pay for shipping. But there comes a point when it becomes impractical.

4. Bigger isn’t always better. I once designed a Morris Chair that I could build relatively cheaply and that could be broken down for shipping. The chair cost me about $150 to build (materials) and sold for $300. But it cost over a hundred dollars to ship and I spent two days making a crate and securely packaging it. Even though I had already made parts for four more of the chairs I never posted another one. It wasn’t worth it. Unless the buyer is going to pick up, large furniture is not a good idea on ebay.

5. Package well or lose a lot of cash! I used to go to shops and buy their clearance items to resell in ebay. Once I bought a couple of large wine cabinets. I sold one on ebay and spent a day packaging the thing, very well I thought. UPS dropped it several times, it arrived fatally damaged and it turned into a month long nightmare that cost me a bundle. The moral is, sell small and package well because it WILL be dropped!

6. Buy the insurance. That wine cabinet was insured, and even though it took a month to get it all settled, I would have lost a lot more without it. In fact, insurance has saved my butt a number of times from damaged, lost and stolen packages. The customer never wants to pay for it, so just add it to the cost of the item and get it anyway.

7. Make what sells. You may love to make wooden whirligigs, and your whirligigs may be absolutely stunning. But will they sell on ebay? This is a search based marketplace and nobody ever searches for whirligigs. If your item causes people to say “Wow, I never saw one of those before” it won’t work on ebay. You need to make what people already want, not what they might buy on impulse.

8. Do your research. Use that “completed listings” option in the search page and see what actually sells, not just what people are trying to sell. If a wine rack is selling well, examine it, find out why and make one better. There’s nothing wrong with competing, that’s what business is all about. If someone is successful, try to emulate what he’s doing. Just don’t steal his designs.

I could go on all day, but you’d get tired of reading. So why not add some of your own comments below…

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

28 comments so far

View CampD's profile


1694 posts in 3539 days

#1 posted 12-11-2010 05:45 PM


-- Doug...

View northwoodsman's profile


242 posts in 3799 days

#2 posted 12-11-2010 06:03 PM

Or….. don’t count on ebay to sell your items. I have had all sorts of extra’s (hand tools, power tools, parts, printers, computer hardware, office supplies, a copier, etc.) laying around that I often think of selling. I may be unique, but to me it’s not worth the hassle of ebay or CL to sell them. I would rather give them away to someone that I know would use them and appreciate them and not turn around and sell them to make a profit.

I sold a Performax drum sander once on ebay. To tell you the truth I had a friend sell it for me that had an “ebay store” online and I never even looked at it until the bidding was over and closed. It was 3-4 years old, used once, included a bunch of extra rolls of sanding paper and the stand, and it sold for the same price as a new one. After spending an entire afternoon disassembling it, packing it for shipping, etc., UPS came to pick it up. It was gone and it was over! Or so I thought. A week later one of the woodworking stores had it on sale for a $250 discount. The guy that bought it emails me and demands the difference back. I told him no, so he goes and starts posting bogus complaints on my friends account. It took a couple of weeks but he was blocked and the posts were removed but my friends business was very slow for those two weeks. He depended on these sales to support his entire family and it was a rough time.

Traditional auction sales are great. Normally no warranties are implied and you get what you pay for. The seller takes a risk (by possibly not even getting close to the items value) and the buyer takes a risk (it may not work). Ebay is an auction sale on steroids. Each parties risk and exposure is greatly increased and magnified. I have purchased several old hand tools on ebay. The one thing that I learned is that 100% of the time if there is not a photo from a particular angle, or of a particular piece or side, it is either damaged or that piece is missing or broken off. It was my fault becuase in the excitement of purchasing something that I was really wanted I failed to stop, think, and ask questions.

I have sold a couple of extra items here on LJ in the Woodworking Trade & Swap forum. Each time I have insisted that the potential buyer take it home and use it before I will accept payment. Of course they have always insisted on paying me up front. I sold a router once and it was damaged in transit. I don’t recall for sure but I think I sent the buyer the partial refund that he thought was fair. At least I hope he thought it was fair, that was my goal. I have also sent several people items for free if I read a post and someone was wishing that they had something or asking questions about something that they are considering purchasing.

Note: I have no give-aways at this time.

-- NorthWoodsMan

View wiswood2's profile


1138 posts in 3749 days

#3 posted 12-11-2010 06:31 PM

Dont ship with UPS. I shipped 2 trucks to texas, Both packed the same.! got there OK, The other broke, The woman sent me pictures and I said I could fix the 3 breaks . I would of had to make 1 new part. She took It to UPS. They said I didnt Packige it right and didnt use the propert cardboard box. the said it had to be a certian kind .When I got it back the stamp for the kind of cardboard was right a side of the address . some body must be blind, When I got it back it was broke in 5 more places, I took pictures for proff. Got on the phone agian, then they said I shipped a broken toy. Are they NUTS. Got the big run a round. after 5 phones calls a woman said I could cut it apart and re place the broken parts. The 2 trucks where made out of the same mat. soi they looked a like. She said I would have to fill out a form and I would get payed. A week later I got the form. and filled it out.sent it in ,never heard a thing 10 calls later,and after talking to 10 different people , I got my check .The next day UPS coimes and whants the truck.I told him to drive to texas. As I had rebuilt it,he worte it down and said ok I will get this to the boss. As he left he said oh well we break a lot of stuff. now 6 weeks later they called and whant the truck back , I said OK I took all the broken parts and put them in a box. they can have them.

-- Chuck, wiswood2

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3927 days

#4 posted 12-11-2010 06:56 PM

I second the advice of “don’t ship with UPS” – the USPS is cheaper and breaks fewer things. And I second the advice of “build to a known box size” – USPS has reasonable flat-rate priority shipping prices that come with free boxes.

-- -- --

View StumpyNubs's profile


7609 posts in 2853 days

#5 posted 12-11-2010 07:28 PM

I totally agree with the UPS thing. That wine cabinet story I told above was the last time I ever used them. They gave me one heck of a runaround! There’s a UPS drop off place down th eorad from me and a Fed Ex place an hour away. I drive to FedEx!

Most of my shipping is done through USPS, which is cheaper for small items. But they are the worst around if you don’t package well. The overpaid, spoiled public union workers there throw the stuff around, lose it for a couple of weeks and then finally deliver it. I saw my mail lady throw a box onto my porch rather than climb the five steps.

For heavy or medium to large items I use FedEx, which is cheaper than UPS and USPS and is much more reliable. But the fact remains, every package WILL BE DROPPED from at least waist high onto concrete so package it well!

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View StumpyNubs's profile


7609 posts in 2853 days

#6 posted 12-11-2010 07:37 PM

Northwoodsman- What a story! But it’s not all that strange on ebay. A few days ago I wrote about the bad parts of ebay, and one of them was that as a general rule, ebay buyers are too dumb to read, too lazy to think and too unreasonable to talk to. But that’s part of having a customer base of millions- you will get a lot of nuts! The trade off is you can make a lot of money if you learn the secrets to it!

What I do is just assume I am dealing with idiots and make my listings so clear you can’t help but glean the important details. And if I am selling a used item or an antique, I point out EVERY flaw so they can’t later complain about some tiny scratch. Of course I still get complaints, but they are much fewer and far between.

I’d say the most important part of the listing is the photo. People look at all the photos and never read the listings. They will see whatever they want to see in that photo unless you make it very clear. For example I used to sell a computer software collection of some tool manuals. in the photo I had a scanned image of one of the pages that had a radial arm saw on it. The title of the listing was something like “100 old craftsman tool manuals on a computer disc.” Most people were happy with their item. But I got some idiots who got their disc and were mad that they didn’t get a radial arm saw for $5 since there was one on the old scanned page in the listing. Others were mad they didn’t get a huge box full of 100 original manuals. I learned to just put a photo of a computer disc on the listing and the problem was solved.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View spunwood's profile


1202 posts in 2888 days

#7 posted 12-11-2010 07:45 PM

So sorry to hear that. Thank you for the warning.

-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

View StumpyNubs's profile


7609 posts in 2853 days

#8 posted 12-11-2010 07:46 PM

CampD- Ikea? What do you mean?

I have a friend who buys everything from Ikea, and while it looks nice, it’s only one step above Sauder in my opinion. I will admit that they do apply a business model that works well. They find out what people are already buying, design a version to be easy to ship, and price it according to their market. That’s the same strategy that will work for woodworking on ebay.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View a1Jim's profile


117160 posts in 3630 days

#9 posted 12-11-2010 08:15 PM

I’ve sold a number of pieces On E bay and had it spelled out in my terms, that the buyer was responsible for shipping and collecting on damages if there were any . I also stated I do not accept returns. When I ship a piece of furniture Ive spent weeks or months making I crate it my self and I build the crate knowing it could and most probable will be dropped. It’s time consuming to pack and crate things like that but I’ve never had a return or complaint of damage. E bay can be a tricky place to do business so you have to protect yourself the best you can.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View StumpyNubs's profile


7609 posts in 2853 days

#10 posted 12-11-2010 10:55 PM

a1Jim- As a veteran ebayer with thousands of sales I can tell you, there’s no such thing as “not my responsibility” as a seller. You can write it in blood and have the customer sign it in person. Won’t matter. If the buyer gets a broken item he will never say “oh well, guess I’m out of luck”. He’ll come after you every time, no matter what he agreed to before the sale. And he’ll win the dispute 99 times out of 100 because ebay and Paypal hold the seller totally responsible for the item until the buyer actually unpacks it. If it’s damaged in transit, the seller will always be forced to pay.

That’s why packaging is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO important!

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View a1Jim's profile


117160 posts in 3630 days

#11 posted 12-11-2010 11:06 PM

I guess I’ve been lucky Jim , I don’t have thousands of sales so I’ll definitely take your word for it. My experience as a buyer is that E bay could care less about solving my buyer problems, but there again I have not bought much in the last couple years an and I have only had a couple problems in the years I’ve dealt with them. If you have sold that much you have to be the expert in regards to e bay sales for sure.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View juniorjock's profile


1930 posts in 3818 days

#12 posted 12-11-2010 11:56 PM


View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3826 days

#13 posted 12-12-2010 01:22 AM

Jim is right. Ebay’s philosophy is that the customer is always right, even when they aren’t. They consider it the cost of doing business. Describe it accurately and the buyer objects, you refund their money. Claim they didn’t get their item and NOT use ebay’s expensive shipping service, and you refund their money. Tell them no refunds and sell “as-is” – you guessed it. The buyer complains and eBay expects you to make a refund. We have over 8,000 feedback so we’ve sold enough to know. But, as a buyer, you probably never see that part of it. I guess we could have NOT refunded money to buyers, but there’s a price to pay for that. Bad feedback scares other buyers off. It also impacts how much you pay in fees to eBay. We are top rated sellers, which means we have to maintain almost a perfect record. If we don’t, our costs go up 20%. And that does not necessarily mean someone has to leave you bad feedback. All they have to do is anonymously give you low “star” ratings. You won’t know who it was or what their problem was, eBay just takes it as gospel and you find yourself trying to fix something you didn’t know was broken.

But, having said all that, I’ve run into some pretty unscrupulous sellers on eBay so I see why they have the measures they do in place. Some folks just don’t have any integrity. So, as abuyer, checking the feedback and star rating is a good thing to do.

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View StumpyNubs's profile


7609 posts in 2853 days

#14 posted 12-12-2010 01:24 AM

a1jim- I didn’t mean to say you didn’t know what you were talking about, hope it didn’t come across that way! Ebay had change DRAMATICALLY in the last two years! They have totally revamped their policies and it is a whole different challange to be a seller. They have tried to make it more favorable to the buyers, that’s for sure.

Juniorjock- Yes, I’ve sold several thousand items on ebay. I do it for a living. I would have to go through records to get an exact figure, but I’d guess about 5,000-8,000 sales. I wasn’t trying to brag, someone with 100 sales can know the ebay marketplace better than me.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View juniorjock's profile


1930 posts in 3818 days

#15 posted 12-12-2010 01:32 AM

No need for records Jim. I was just poking a little fun. There are a lot of folks around my neck of the woods that sell a lot on ebay. Of course, a lot of them put the items up for other people and then take a cut off the total sale. Good luck on all of your future sales!
- JJ

showing 1 through 15 of 28 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics