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Books Go In, Money Comes Out

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01.05.2004 Diamond review

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Easy to run

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Postal charges aren't enough  -  Amazon' s overheads

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Previous instances of my use of on-line auctions and second-hand market places can been counted on the fingers of one hand (of a sloth!). I’ve bought a bike from e-Bay and three years ago I made a successful bid for a Sony TV at FSAuctions.

When it comes to getting rid of stuff, I’m afraid I’m a bit of a squirrel, or sometimes, I actually manage to sell things via word of mouth.

I had been slightly put off of selling on e-Bay from my daughter’s experience as a small-time retailer of refurbished cell-phones – this being a side line to her actual cell-phone shop. She somehow managed to get herself into a slanging match with someone who persistently made claims that the goods never arrived (when in fact they were sent Recorded Delivery – it was hardly her fault that a postal strike was declared after she posted them).

However, owing to the fact that my wife is an avid reader, and given that she always seems to opt for the hardback version of her current read, the old shelves are straining a bit. Most of these books will either have come from Amazon or BOL.com in the first place. In the past, we’ve pushed them on to her mother to either read, or put into a car-boot sale, but when we found that she was giving them away at the end of the day, rather than take them home again, we decided that enough was enough.

Most of these books are in pristine condition, at most having been read by both of us, and so are eminently saleable.

It doesn’t stop at books. I recently ordered a larger 256mbyte Compact Flash module for our Canon IXUS 400 digital camera, leaving me with a 128mbyte chip that I’d probably have no use for. Then I remembered that I’d bought it from Amazon in the first place, and yes, they still sold it. Being a small item, it seemed ideal to give the Amazon Marketplace a go, since even recorded delivery postage was not going to be a major expense.

FIRST TIME ROUND

Signing-up as a seller is relatively painless on Amazon, provided that you are already a buyer with an account and are logged on, with one of those pages headed ‘Hallo, Charlie, if you are not Charlie Farnsbarn, click here’.

This tells Mr Farnsbarn that he is already logged on, at which point he clicks on the link to ‘My Account’. From here, a link takes you through the process of becoming a ‘seller’, including taking your credit card details, and your bank account details (sort code, account number). You may wonder why they need your credit card number, since the cash flow is supposed to be in your direction, but if you are forced to make a refund, which is greater than the credit in your Amazon account, they need to be able to charge something. For example, they pay your income balance every two weeks into your designated account. At this point, your credit will be zero. If a refund becomes necessary after this point, they will charge your credit card.

MECHANICS OF SELLING

Access the Amazon.co.uk website. Check that it is you who is currently logged-on.

Click on ‘My Account’

Find The ‘Your Seller Account ‘ link and use it.

Click on the ‘Sell!’ link

Click on the ‘Marketplace’ link – there are others like ‘Auctions’ or ‘zShops’.

At this point you can identify the product for sale by two separate methods. In the case of my camera chip, I put in the Viking brand name, having switched the category box to ‘Electronics/Photo’. Then all I had to do was scroll down the list of suggestions to my particular chip.

Alternatively, you can input a series of internationally recognised serial numbers, like the ISBN number for a book, of the UPC number for a DVD. This ensures that you and Amazon are talking about the same edition.

Amazon will then suggest a price for your item, which you are free to ignore (at your peril). I’ve only strayed by a little gentle rounding up (e.g. £7.34 > £7.50)

Once the item is added to the Marketplace, you get an e-mail to confirm this.

It takes a day, or so it seems for items to get listed for sale, but this can work in your favour, including being told ‘Oi, I haven’t read that yet!’ so you can remove it. Curiously, Amazon wants a reason why before you can do this, but typing something in the relevant text box seems to work

AMAZON GIVETH AND AMAZON TAKETH AWAY

To affray the cost of postage, Amazon add on an allowance for ‘packing/postage’, but then inform you that their commission is £0.86p plus around 1/6th of the value of your item. In the case of my sale of Bill Bryson’s ‘Short History Of Nearly Everything’, the two more or less cancelled each other out, leaving me with an income of just over £8, from which I was supposed to fund postage of a 1 kilo book – even without recorded delivery, this was £3.45. If the book had been any cheaper, I might as well have given it away – maybe that’s what mothers-in-law and their garage sales are for!

In Amazon’s advice on pricing, they quite naturally advise against setting the price so high that it’s almost cheaper to buy from them. Offset against this is further advice to make sure that your price is adjusted to allow for real postage costs. To be honest, I can’t see how you can do both without practically giving away heavy books. Of course, the £5 leftover may well be £5 more than I’d have got from my previous method of ‘disposal’ so I’m relatively happy.

NIBBLES FIRST LAW OF 2nd HAND SALES

Don’t sell anything cheap AND heavy! I just put my wife’s copy of Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel, ‘The Enemy’ up for sale, or rather I didn’t when I realised that she’d get about £5.38 for it out of which she’d have to pay a similar amount (£3.45) to send it on – Amazon only recompense you £2.26 against the cost of posting a book. All of this is assumed to include your packing materials too! Ironically, the digital camera chip, which paid me £18, only cost me £0.90p to send Recorded Delivery (Amazon allow £4.42 for electronics!), so it’s ‘swings and roundabouts’ as long as you’ve got more than books to sell. I’d imagine that DVDs would be good, since they are practically wrapped already and quite light, needing only brown paper to complete the job. Of course, ever ready to spot an economy, Amazon only allows £1.08 for sending a DVD but that MIGHT just about do it.

Now that I've had a bit of practice, having sold 6 items, I weigh my books (it's usually books) in advance, so that once I've seen Amazon's suggested price, I can check against Royal Mail postal rates to see if I want to procede. Since a 1 kilo book costs £3.45 to post, I know that I'd want at least £7.50>£8 from Amazon to make it worth getting out of bed for.

NIBBLES SECOND LAW OF 2nd HAND SALES

NEVER (that’s NEVER) throw bubble-wrap away – or the cardboard from Amazon’s own parcels, or Jiffy Bags – if you are to minimise your own shipping costs, you can’t afford to lavish new materials on the job! If you’ve a document shredder, you could make your own ‘fodder’ for your packaging (but make sure it’s not from your banking details, eh?).

NIBBLES THIRD LAW OF 2nd HAND SALES

You need time on your hands to meet these delivery dates. Amazon allows you two working days to get this stuff in the post. In the mean time, you need to send a confirming e-mail to the buyer. You also need to be the kind of person that checks their e-mail more than once a day. If you don’t even do it daily, forget it!

My early experience of selling the camera chip shows that these so-called 2 working days can be only one day, since by the time I got my e-mail from Amazon, it was after the shops had closed on the first of the two days.

PROS & CONS

PRO - Quite apart from the catharsis of having a good old ‘clear out’, this also has the added benefit of recouping at least some of the money spent whilst the goods are still saleable, rather than waiting until the shelves won’t take any more before giving in. You could regard any books that you only intend reading once as merely ‘rentals’ if you like. Then again, you could always go to the bloody library before they close them all! My wife started to do this, reserving new publications before they arrived – I’m not sure why she stopped really.

CONS – You really need to go to the expense of paying for Recorded Delivery or at the very least, keep the Proof Of Posting receipt – this insures you for up to £28 lost. After all, you don’t know who you’re dealing with, and they may even be making a habit of claiming that they never got their agreed purchase just to build up a free book collection! In Amazon’s case, they’re rich enough and ugly enough to pay for another item to be sent, but in your case, where you only have one item for sale, claims that they were never received are ruinous, causing you to go to the expense of issuing a refund, whilst at the same time having lost the goods. Of course, you would have recourse through Royal Mail’s insurance but it’s all hassle you could do without.

You can’t just stick a book in any old envelope and hope either. If you declared it was in ‘As New’ condition, bet your last dollar that the slightest dent, or mark caused in the post, will be picked up upon by the buyer, resulting in poor feedback against your good name. Good sturdy packaging is essential.

You must remember to keep your ‘holiday dates’ up to date on the site. After all, you have contracted to post the item within two business days of the buyer’s order. By inserting a holiday date, this takes the item back off the market whilst you are away.

You only get 60 days to sell your item - after that it disappears from public view, to gather dust and strain your bookshelves, but perhaps this is the God of Books way of telling you something!

WHAT TO SELL

You can only sell what Amazon do in Marketplace, although there are other ways to sell less mainstream items, even at Amazon. This also makes it very unlikely that old books will find a place here. As I said before, DVDs seem like a good idea. However the recent appearance on TV of the movie itself can cause the price to plummet behind your back, leaving you with an unrealistically priced used movie for sale.

You do need to keep your pricing up to date – you may have noticed on Amazon that they list alternative new and used sources for their own stock items, the prices of which are frequently higher than their own price. As you can imagine, the only time that something like that would sell, would be to someone desperate when Amazon are out of stock.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I suppose any money recouped after books have been read by all that want to, is a bonus, but if my local 2nd hand book shop was the slightest bit interested, I’d rather give them the business. It’s just that they have a permanent sign out side saying ‘No more books purchased at the moment’. Ending up with only £5 after postage and Amazon’s commission leaves you wondering, though.

However, it’s a scheme that has so far served me well, is easy to administer and pays money into your designated bank account when they say it will


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Comments about this review »

ciao_nancy 25.01.2005 19:21

a great guide, and great tips

silver_hotpants 02.08.2004 13:42

I don't think I could be bothered with the trips to the post office all the time even though it's only down the road, and no I'm not lazy. Great review though :o) Jess x

DebScriven 28.07.2004 21:37

Thanks for a great op. I always wondered about selling to Amazon but it sounds like too much hassle for my liking. Deb:o)

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Domain Extension .co.uk

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This review of Amazon.co.uk Marketplace has been rated:

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