It’s been a year since Linnice Collectibles started up on eBay and we have been reflecting on our experience. This first year has been all about learning. We’ve had to learn what to sell, how to price, how to package and ship our merchandise without breakage, and how to market our brand. It has been an exciting time. We have not seen a profit yet, as all our earnings seem to go back into the business as we try to increase our stock. However, as we go into year two, we may be able to turn that corner.
Selling antique and collectible glass and porcelain on eBay is not a straightforward process. Sometimes we list things at reasonable prices and expect it to sell quickly. At other times, we think it will take a while to sell something and it sells immediately. What we have learned is that you never know who is out there and what they are looking for when they are going for a product. So patience has become an important part of the process. Additionally, there is so much competition from others selling the similar items that we have to wait our turn as the listings churn through the massive eBay system.
Another challenging aspect to our online selling has been shipping. It took a while to figure out shipping costs. Now that has been complicated yet again with the introduction of dimensional shipping charges by Fed Ex, UPS, and to a lesser extent, the US Post Office. Under dimensional shipping larger packages can be given a minimum weight and that is how it is charged. For example, a package may weight 14 pounds, but if the dimensions are large, you could wind up paying for a 28-pound package. Learned this the hard way when we shipped a large candelabrum to California for almost $80 which because of dimensional shipping. So if customers were complaining about high shipping costs, it will only get worse. Additionally, sellers have to re-evaluate everything they once thought they knew about shipping.
In addition to shipping costs, packaging of one of a kind glass and porcelain items presented other challenges. We have learned to package things as if they were going to be delivered by a gorilla. Of course, all that packaging adds weight to the time, which again, increases shipping costs. Shoppers are always asking for us to package the items well and lower shipping costs. Unfortunately, fulfilling one request could cancel out the other.
We have found that the United States Post Office offers the best deals for shipping our products at a reasonable cost to our customers. However, there have been times when unforeseen problems come up that are out of our control. For example, last summer we mailed two packages on the same day by Priority Mail. Somehow neither of the packages arrived at their destination (going to two different states). On another occasion a gorilla did indeed deliver a package, shipped Priority. The package arrived to the customer in pieces.
We again had to learn through experience. Because Priority Mail comes with insurance, the Post Office paid on the packages, and buyers were reimbursed, we thought all was well. Oh no, eBay holds the seller responsible for the Post Office. The sellers had opened cases saying they never received the package and the item arrived not as described. I think they believed that is how you initiate a return. However, every time a case is opened, the seller gets a defect on their account. Too many defects (more than 2% of total sales) could mean loosing the coveted Top Rated Seller status. When asking eBay why sellers were being held accountable for the Post Office, they said something to the effect that sellers are responsible for the customer’s bad experience on eBay so the seller gets the defect. EBay’s answer made no sense. When it was suggested that EBay assume the responsibility for the shippers because they are endorsed on the eBay site, they clearly did not like that suggestion. Of course, eBay does not want to be responsible for the sellers that they host, the buyers who use their site, or the shippers who they work with. But they do like to collect their fees from us.
The bottom line is this, sellers have very few rights on eBay and wind up at the customers mercy. Even when bending over backwards to make the customer happy, if a case is open, there is little recourse for the seller. This is because of the structure set up by eBay. So we have learned that even when we try as hard as we can to keep the customer satisfied and live by the motto the customer is always right, eBay has a one size fits all policy that does not take into consideration individual circumstances or buyer error.
This year we also wanted to figure out the Linnice product line. When first starting out, we were going to sell glass and porcelain. However, much of what is sold is determined by what is available on the second hand market. As a result, we are always on the hunt. When finding something interesting at a good price, in good condition, that you think you can sell; you take advantage of an opportunity that may never surface again. Hopefully, this strategy will pay off in the long run as we will always have a great selection of items. We want our store to be an interesting place where shoppers stop by to browse once in a while. If the offerings are stale, there is little reason to come back.
Marketing is an important part of the success any business and another area we had to figure out. We are really a garage start up with very little capital, so deciding that best way to market Linnice beyond eBay for no money became necessary. We decided to do it on the cheap by using social media to push our products into other arenas. Thank God for Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Although we cannot determine how much of our sales came from these sites, it was good to see the interest it generated on social media.
So in reflecting over the last year, we certainly have learned a lot. We are not the novices we were when we just started out. However, we are not seasoned professionals so we are still increasing our knowledge about the things we sell, how we sell it, and hope that the customers will enjoy their buying experience. It may take several more years for us to get it right but all good things take time to develop.