The question of postage… managing expectations!

I hope your year has gotten off to a good start – and you haven’t been unduly affected by the snow! It goes without saying, of course, that if you do have problems, or you’re uncertain about any aspect of trading on eBay, then you only have to contact me and I’ll do my best to help.

Talking of problems, I’m sure many of you will have experienced some delivery issues over the Christmas and New Year period and so, I thought it a good idea to talk about those postage problems that could be reducing your earnings and what you can do to avoid them. Postage is one of the most controversial areas of selling on eBay and the cause of more disputes than anything else.

The other major sources of buyer discontent are packing and packaging – where ‘packing’ refers to the art of wrapping the product, and ‘packaging’ to materials used to prepare an item for delivery. The following easy tips will help minimize conflict and prevent quick-tempered buyers hitting the negative feedback button rather than trying to work out a solution with their sellers:

* Let’s say you sent the product but the customer claims it never arrived and reports you to eBay. It happens, all the time, for UK deliveries and worldwide, predominantly in two European countries I just hate mailing to. I can’t tell you which they are, I might be called racist, but I recommend you always get proof of posting for everything you send abroad. It’s easy, free, and it’s all eBay and PayPal need to refute a ‘non receipt of product’ claim.

Ask your postmaster for a supply of Proof of Posting Slips, they allow several addresses per page, and you can enter buyers’ names and addresses at home before going to your post office. The postmaster checks packages going into the system against your POP (Proof of Posting) and stamps it to acknowledge those items have been received into the system. Keep POPs filed in date order to make them easier to find. Then when someone queries non-delivery, email them, give the date on the post office stamp, and that should be the end of it.

Mention in all your listings that you always get Proof of Posting and that you are not responsible for items going missing in the post.

Proof of posting does not provide compensation if an item goes astray but mentioning it inside your eBay listings is usually enough to deter the hardened eBay scoundrel who bids, pays, then reports you to eBay or PayPal and gets his money back if you can’t prove an item was posted. Valuable items should always be sent by Insured postage at the buyers’ expense. For very high value items – over £100 – I pay Insurance as a gesture of goodwill.

* Dishonest buyers might also harass you for weeks about non receipt until you give up and refund out of sheer desperation, even if you have proof of posting. It happened to my daughter a few years ago and concerned a Belgian buyer who had 14 negative feedback points for similar scams. That was when sellers could leave negative feedback for dishonest buyers.

However, although my daughter had proof of posting, although eBay and PayPal found in her favour, the man continued emailing abuse for several weeks. She eventually refunded him. I don’t recommend you refund if eBay and PayPal have found in your favour; I’m just saying that sometimes refunding helps you get rid of most of eBay’s worst buyers.

* Mail to the United States is the source of many non-delivery complaints. The UK postal service say post to America takes just a few days by air mail; I know it takes longer, up to a month in some cases.

The best way to avoid problems is to inform American buyers that their package has been posted, give the date, give proof of posting number or send by signed-for mail and add the tracking number to your eBay listings. Ask your buyer to be patient while mail is processed, tell them their package should arrive within two weeks but not to be worried if it takes a little while longer. Other slow delivery destinations include Australia, New Zealand and sometimes Asia.

* Weighing all your products separately is a major chore, especially where you sell lots of different products of very different weights and you have items weighed at your post office in order for you to estimate cost of delivery before actually uploading those goods to eBay.

This whole process is worsened by the fact you’re always holding up the queue at the post office and you’re worn out from trundling all this stuff back home later. A bit extreme perhaps although many people do work this way in their early days on eBay.

In time you’ll realise why having a pair of postal scales at home is such a good idea. Most postal scales have weights and current postal charges printed on the base and all you do is weigh goods, plus packaging, and add the appropriate postage before delivering them to the post office. Such scales are easily available, are relatively inexpensive, and will save you lots of time and trips to the post office.

Another way to cut time and hassle is to copy an arrangement I have with my local post office, where I deliver all packages to them by 3pm, following which they weigh my packages and telephone later to tell me how much I owe. Because they know me well, one of the ladies working in the shop alongside pays my bill and I refund her the following day. I don’t ever have to stand in the queue waiting to be served. Smaller packages I weigh and stamp myself.

* The label comparing weight with postal charge on scales can outdate as quickly as postal rates themselves… the solution is to keep the updated Post Office rates leaflet beside your scales and cross check weights against new prices. Extend the life of your scales by purchasing just as new rates are announced and not immediately before an impending rate increase.

* You’ll find some great offers for scales on eBay. We keyed ‘postal scales’ into eBay’s search box, top of any eBay page, and found almost two hundred listings ranging from £4.99 at auction to £14.99 for Buy It Now digital scales.

* You can weigh one-off items at the end of the auction rather than weigh all individually and waste time on items that don’t subsequently sell. Inside your listing say delivery costs will be calculated after the auction and will be based on winning bidders’ location and delivery preference. Tell bidders you charge delivery at cost of postage only to avoid some wondering if you also charge for petrol and motoring costs for items taken to the post office. Something like this in your listing should work well:

‘Postage costs will be calculated after the auction based on winning bidders’ location and delivery method. Postage and wrapping is always at cost, we do not charge extra. If you need more information or a prior estimate for delivery please email me before bidding.’

This way, most people will bid without checking actual costs, but the option to check costs before bidding helps the tiny few who do still fear a high charge after the auction. It also means you will inevitably have to weigh some items that do not ultimately sell but the number will be very few compared to weighing and estimating cost of delivery for all items before even listing them on eBay.

* Pack goods carefully so they don’t move around in transit. Paper and flat items should be packed in hard backed envelopes which are relatively cheap and can be charged to customers.

* Delicate items like ornaments, glass and mirrors should be well-covered in bubble wrap, again relatively inexpensive and chargeable to buyers.

* Packing materials are available on eBay at prices way below most local stationers. This is because a majority of eBayers work from home or small offices with overheads far lower than their high street counterparts.

Many are below the threshold for paying Value Added Tax which is another money-saving point in your favour. Find and compare seller prices at under ‘Business, Office & Industrial’, sub-category ‘Packing and Posting Supplies’.

* Add your own name as sender on outgoing post in case delivery addresses are obliterated or the item is otherwise undeliverable in which case it will be returned to you.

The same goes if the intended recipient isn’t home or fails to collect the item at their post office where, after a few days, the item will be returned to you.

* Goods sent overseas should bear a Customs Declaration sticker available from main post offices, basically stating what the item is and how much it is worth. This allows import duties to be charged at the recipient’s end. Recipients are often unaware that taxes may be added and you are not obliged to tell them but it is useful to let them know inside your eBay listings and thereby avoid people leaving negative feedback later. Even when it isn’t your fault!

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here