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9 Tips for Selling Stuff: An Amazon Primer

9 Tips for Selling Stuff: An Amazon Primer

In the post that launched ABDPBT’s Personal Finance, I told you about how I sold off extra stuff in order to help myself get out of credit card debt. In addition to eBay, Craigslist, and the ever-popular yard sale, I used Amazon Marketplace as a means of selling off the many extra books I had, as a recovering graduate student in need of some extra cash. Along the way, I picked up some pointers on the best, easiest, most cost-effective, and quickest ways to sell stuff on Amazon, and today I plan to share my vast wealth of knowledge with you to enable you to pick up some extra cash just in time for the holidays.

If you’ve never sold anything on Amazon before, then you will want to set up an Amazon Seller Account. This can just be linked to your regular account, or you can keep it separate. They will ask you for some bank information, but this is just so that they can credit your account once you get some sales.

You can list your stuff by looking it up in the Amazon database. The easiest way to do this, by far, is to use ISBN numbers for books. Look for the ISBN on the back cover, or inside the book in the first few pages by the publisher’s information. DVDs and CDs also have standardized numbers to use. It is preferrable to use these numbers because, believe it or not, there are about eighty million different versions of the books/CDs/DVDs you have, and many of them look the same. To avoid problems down the road, you will want to make sure you’re listing the exact item, since people can get pissy about that type of thing.

Here are some generalized tips that I’ve gathered over the course of my experience of selling (and buying) on Amazon’s user interface. Take what you like and leave the rest, since your mileage may vary:

  1. Try not to be too attached to the price of the item. The easiest and fastest way to sell on amazon is to look up what the cheapest price is for your item, and mark yours for one cent less than that lowest price. Many people will balk at this, especially when their book is being sold for $0.29. Listen, that book is worth nothing to you sitting on the shelf, or else you wouldn’t have decided to sell it. This is an exercise in decluttering as much as it is in trying to generate revenue–if you’re too attached to sell the book for less than you paid for it, then don’t list it. But you need to get honest with yourself about whether or not you need the book in the first place.
  2. Remember that you will get some more money, in addition to the price of the book, from Amazon’s “shipping credit.” Amazon credits sellers in good standing for the price of shipping, and usually it costs slightly less to ship a book than they credit you for. So, if you play your cards right, you will get a little more on the back end than it initially appears. Bear in mind, though, that Amazon takes a cut of all your sales, and they also will pull your shipping credits if you fuck with them, so try to stay clean.
  3. Be honest about the condition of the book. The easiest way to get yourself in trouble with buyers is to try to sell items that are in “average” shape as if they are “like new” or “good.” Try to be as descriptive as possible in your relation of the condition of the item.
  4. The best selling items are relatively new paperbacks. This is because they are easier to ship, and because people see them on TV (Oprah or whatever), and so there is a big market for them. You do want to unload these books as quickly as possible, because once they’ve been around for awhile and their sales have gone down, they will be tough to unload, since the market will be saturated. So strike while the iron is hot.
  5. Academic books might not sell, or they might take a long time to sell. But when they do sell, you get a good price. I had a bunch of my dissertation books on Amazon for months and months without selling, but every once in a while a library or someone will be looking for that book and take it off your hands for a premium. For that reason, I think it’s worth the wait.
  6. Don’t blow your profits on shipping acoutrements! Remember that any money you put out on these things is coming out of your profit. For that reason, I like to ship things wrapped in paper towels, and then in brown paper bags, or better yet–get the free Priority Mail Tyvek envelopes from the post office, cut them open, and use them to wrap the books. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to get there in one piece.
  7. Maximize your use of the mail classes for ideal profit. If you are shipping a book, it is almost always going to go “media mail” for the cheapest price. The only exception to this would be a very small paperback book, like a kids book or something, that might actually go regular first class for the same price or less. With DVDs and CDs, ask the postal worker the prices for first class v. media mail. Sometimes they are almost the same price, and media mail takes waaaaay longer, so to keep your buyers happy, it’s a good idea to choose regular mail. Media mail takes 10-14 *business* days, so a lot of times you’re going to get some buyers bugging you about the whereabouts of their merchandise–in these cases, just nicely explain to them how long it takes and thank them for their purchases.
  8. Figure out one or two days you are going to go to the post office per week and stick to that schedule. Amazon expects you to mail out orders within two business days of receipt. If you’re not careful, you will end up going to the post office too often. The best way to handle this is to decide to go on Mondays and Thursdays (or whatever works for you), and only those days–that way, you aren’t making extra trips, but you have enough trips to make all the deadlines.
  9. Remember that every little cent counts. It’s easy to get discouraged because a lot of the amounts you sell books for seem so small. But remember that they all add up and get your closer to your goal–whether that is to be debt free, or just to pay for Christmas this year.

Happy selling!

Comments (4)

  1. Dec 5, 2008

    thanks – this is the post I was waiting for. I have a couple of HUGE stacks of books that I love but not so much I can’t keep them.

  2. Snakey
    Feb 24, 2009

    Anna, have you tried buying your postage online, placing the parcel in your mailbox? Does the post office still allow that? I have a bunch of CDs I want to get rid of and there’s no freaking way I’ll go to the post office 50 times to mail this stuff… Now, if I had a “mailing corner” set up in my house, I could wrap quickly, print postage, mail the next day. Thoughts?

  3. Feb 24, 2009

    Snakey, I could do it that way but have not done so far. My mailbox is kind of messed up, only has room for letters, and the mail dude is really surly. But there’s no reason you couldn’t do it that way provided your mail carrier is amenable to this. Another thing I used to do when I was in an office job was just bring it in with me and send it out in the mail that way (I’d put the postage on at home, obviously).

  4. Scott
    May 25, 2009

    I have tried this recently and I believe I am actually losing money by keeping books at the lowest cost. I have a theory that (1) People won’t necessarily buy the cheapest thing, if the item appears to be worthless ($0.01) then they will think twice about the real condition of the item. (2) People will buy from someone with a higher feedback then those who have a slightly less feedback. I have a 100% right now and believe me, many books I am selling people can buy cheaper but I am selling it for $1.00 or more and actually making a bit. A standard book weighing in at 15 oz or more will cost you nearly $3.00 to ship. After Amazon took my credit I received $1.38 for the item (selling at $0.01) which means I lost money. I am not in business to lose money by any means. I advise you to look at the summary when you’re listing things and see if you can actually afford to sell the item at that price. It will tell you how much you will receive and you have to bet on it being at least $3.00 to ship an item. First class mail has weight and dimension restrictions. If your item is small enough and weights 13 oz or less you can ship First Class Mail. It will be cheaper. Media Mail takes longer yes, but it’s a lot better then shipping Priority. If the cost difference is a matter of a few pennies or even $1 or less ship Priority mail and make your customers happy. They will keep coming back. Make sure to include your website address on a receipt in your package and drive them to your website. You can sell the same item for $1 on your website and charge $4 for shipping and eliminate commission all together. Use Amazon as a marketing tool not your main source of income because Amazon does take a lot of money out of each sale, usually around $2.50 or more. Make sure you are following up with customers after they have received their item and asking them to give you 100% feedback so you can up your score.

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