Packaging and Packaging Materials

Q: "Can I ship an item in a box that has somebody else's logo or graphics on it?"

A: Yes, you can do this, although it may look awfully cheesy to your buyers. If I'm buying expensive merchandise on eBay, I do expect that the packaging will be worthy of the item (I know that seems irrational, but buyers do think that way). Here's a suggestion from several eBay experts: Take the box, disassemble it, turn it inside out, and then reassemble it before packing your item. That way, the outside of the box (formerly the inside) will be free of markings, while the inside of the box (formerly the outside) will be stuffed with packing material, so people won't see the markings.

Q: "I'm new to selling on eBay, and would like advice on keeping my costs down; specifically, where can I get good, low-priced packing materials such as bubble wrap , plastic packing peanuts, and boxes?"

A: When you sell on eBay, you will become really good at scavenging items like these after a while. Visit local retailers (such as liquor stores) and ask them to give you any unused boxes or leftover packing material—offer to pay them a small weekly amount for doing this. Ask your neighbors to save any packing material on items they buy through the mail (although be careful—some of your neighbors won't want you to know where they buy stuff), and don't ever throw away packing material for things you buy through mail order or online.

You can order free U.S. Postal Service cobranded eBay/USPS boxes at Use these boxes, and the Postal Service will charge a flat rate regardless of what the contents weigh. They will even deliver the boxes to your home! But be careful—if you use these, you must send everything by U.S. Priority Mail (the old first-class mail), and the Postal Service is extremely picky about these. If you overstuff one of these boxes so that the sides bulge even slightly, the Postal Service may assess additional postage and charge your buyer for postage due, which the buyer won't be happy about.

One of the best places to buy shipping materials is eBay itself. Go to the Sell tab on the eBay home page, click on Seller Resources, scroll down to the Selling Supplies section, and click on Packing and Shipping Supplies. You will see a list of eBay sellers who specialize in selling these materials to other eBay sellers.

Q: What are the different types of low-cost packing material, and how can I figure out which one is right for different types of merchandise?

A: In my years of buying on eBay, I have seen the following materials used in sellers' packaging:

• Plastic packing peanuts

• Bubble wrap

• Cut-up Styrofoam

• Scrunched-up newspaper

• Shredded office paper

• Plastic grocery bags

• Styrofoam egg cartons

• Cut-up Styrofoam "pool noodles"

• Balloons

• Airbags

• Paper towel and toilet tissue cardboard cores

• Thin foam strips used in packing furniture

As for which type is right for which kind of merchandise, trial and error will teach you what works. For very fragile items, you might want to post a question on eBay's community Answer Center and see if any other sellers of similar merchandise have specific recommendations.

Learning More About Packing and Shipping

Q: "There's a lot to learn about packing boxes and all the different shipping rates when you're selling on eBay. Are there any good ways to learn about these things before you start selling lots of stuff?"

A: When you're just starting out selling on eBay, this is one of the two big learning curves you will have to climb (the other is learning how to use a digital camera to photograph your items for best effect).

First, check the eBay Workshops page for packing and shipping workshops offered by other eBay members, the Postal Service, UPS, and others. Go to the Community tab on eBay's home page, scroll down to the Education section, then click on Workshops. If there are no packing or shipping workshops scheduled for the current month, check out the Archives section, as this almost certainly offers closed workshops that you can review. You can even contact the host of those closed workshops if you have questions.

Here's another possible approach—although it entails a bit of risk. In early to mid-November, visit your local UPS Store and volunteer your services as an unpaid intern for twenty to thirty hours a week during the holiday rush season. UPS Stores are incredibly busy between November 15 and December 31 each year, and most of them are extremely strapped for help during this crunch time. Many UPS Store owners welcome the offer of free labor during this difficult period.

Why is this a good way to learn about packing and shipping? Because for six weeks of your life this is all you will be doing—packing boxes, weighing boxes, calculating shipping rates for the different carriers (primarily UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, as UPS Stores are not allowed to ship via Federal Express and DHL), figuring out the most cost-effective way to ship something from Point A to Point B, and so forth. You won't get paid for this, but the education you receive will pay incredible dividends once you start selling seriously on eBay.

But be careful: Many UPS Store managers will be wary about letting you work in their stores if they see you as a potential competitor. Since UPS acquired the former Mail Boxes Etc. chain in 2002, they have restricted the number of shipping options available to UPS Store owners. As a result, many UPS Stores make most of their profits on packing, and they will be concerned about teaching you packing secrets that enable you to set up your own UPS accounts and compete directly with them.

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