Building an eBay Back Office

In This Chapter

Organising your stock
Keeping inventory
Exploring shipping materials
Becoming your own post office
The more items you sell, the more confusing things can get. As you build your business, the little side table you use for storing eBay merchandise isn’t going to work. You must think industrial. Even part-time sellers can benefit by adding a few professional touches to their business areas.
In this chapter, we emphasise the importance of setting up and organising your back office. We cover everything from stacking your stock to keeping inventory to choosing packing materials and online postage services. Organisation is your byword. Dive right in. The sooner you read this chapter, the sooner you can build your eBay back office and get down to business.

The Warehouse: Organising Your Space

Whether you plan to sell large or small items, you need space for storing them. As you make savvy purchases, maintaining an item’s mint condition is one of your greatest challenges. Organised storage in itself is an art, so in this section we cover the details of what you need to safeguard your precious stock.

Shelving your profits

Before you stock the shelves, it helps to have some! You also need a place to put the shelves: Your garage, a spare room, or somewhere else. You have a choice between three basic kinds of shelves:
Plastic: If you’re just starting out, you can always go to the local DIY shop to buy inexpensive plastic shelves. They’re light and cheap – and they’ll buckle in time.
Wooden: When you think about cheap wooden furniture, one shop springs to mind: Ikea. It’s got loads of different styles with a starting price of less than £1 – you can’t argue with that when your starting up on a budget!
Steel: If you want to get your storage right first time, buy steel shelving. The most versatile steel shelving is the wire kind (versus solid-steel shelves), which is lighter and allows air to circulate around your items. Steel wire shelving assembles easily. The shelving comes with levelling feet and 4-inch casters, so should you need to move a shelf unit, you can. Installing casters is up to you. You can combine steel wire shelving units to create a full wall of shelves. Each shelf safely holds as much as 250kgs of merchandise.
Search for shelving to find sellers offering this kind of industrial shelving. The main problem with ordering this product online is that the shipping usually costs more than the shelving.

Box ‘em or bag ‘em?

Packing your items for storage can be a challenge. Pick up some plastic bags in different sizes. Sandwich bags are perfect for storing smaller items, for example. When items are stored in plastic, they can’t pick up any smells or become musty before you sell them. The plastic also protects the items from rubbing against each other and causing possible damage. If you package your merchandise one item to a bag, you can then just lift one off the shelf and put it directly into a shipping box when the auction is over.
Your bags of items have to go into boxes for storage on the shelves. Clear plastic storage boxes are great for bulky items. These big plastic containers are usually 26 inches deep, so before you buy them make sure they’ll fit on your shelving comfortably and that you’ll have easy access to your items. Using cardboard office-type file storage boxes from an office supply shop is another option. These cardboard boxes are 10 x 12 x 16 inches, which is a
nice size for storing medium-size products; they’re also the most economical choice. The downside is that you can’t see through cardboard boxes, so if your label falls off, you have to take the box off the shelf and open it to check its contents. Smaller see-through plastic boxes with various compartments, such as the kind sold in DIY shops as toolboxes, work great for storing very small items.
When using large plastic bins, tape a pad of Post-it notes on the end of the box so you can quickly identify the contents. You can use regular sticky labels, but changing them leaves large amounts of paper residue over time, and your storage ends up looking sloppy and unprofessional.

Inventory: Keeping Track of What You Have and Where You Keep It

Savvy sellers have different methods of handling inventory. They use everything from spiral-bound notebooks to sophisticated software programs. Although computerised inventory tracking can simplify this task, starting with a plain ol’ handwritten ledger is fine, too. Choose whichever method works best for you, but keep in mind that as your eBay business grows, a software program that tracks inventory for you may become necessary.
Most of these inventory systems wouldn’t work for a company with a warehouse full of stock but will work nicely in an eBay sales environment. Many sellers tape sheets of paper to their boxes to identify them by number, and use that as a reference to a simple Excel spreadsheet for selling purposes. Excel spreadsheets are perfect for keeping track of your auctions as well, but if you’re using a management service or software, you don’t need both for physical inventory. After you’re running a full-time business, however, you have to keep the tax inspectors happy with pounds and pence accounting of your inventory, so keep your inventory records in a standardised program such as QuickBooks (discussed in Chapter 16). In Chapter 8, we detail a variety of auction management software and Web sites, many of which include physical inventory tracking features.
You may also want to use Excel spreadsheets for your downloaded PayPal statements, to hold information waiting to transfer to your bookkeeping program.
Plan in advance where you want to put everything. Organise your items by theme, type, or size. If you organise before planning, you may end up with organised chaos.

The Shipping Department: Packin’ It Up

In this section, we look at some of the essentials for a complete, smooth-running shipping department, such as cleaning supplies and packing materials. The handling fee portion of your shipping charges pays for these kinds of items. Don’t run low on these items and pay attention to how you store them – they must be kept in a clean environment.

Packaging clean up

Be sure the items you send out are in tip-top shape. A few everyday chemicals can gild the lily, for example:
WD-40: The decades-old lubricant works very well at getting price stickers off plastic and glass without damaging the product. The plastic on a toy box may begin to look nasty, even when stored in a clean environment. A quick wipe with a paper towel with a dash of WD-40 will make the plastic shine like new. WD-40 also works incredibly well for untangling jewellery chains and shining up metallic objects.
Goo Gone (available from US eBay sellers): Goo Gone works miracles in cleaning up gooey sticker residue from non-porous items.
un-du (available from US eBay sellers): This amazing liquid easily removes stickers from cardboard, plastic, fabrics, and more without causing damage. un-du comes packaged with a patented mini-scraper top that can be used in any of your sticker cleaning projects. If you can’t find un-du, check out for places to purchase it. You can also use lighter fluid (which is, of course, considerably more dangerous and may damage your item).

Removing musty odours from apparel items

Clothing can often pick up odours that you just don’t notice. We recently bought some designer dresses on from a seller who had the typical disclaimer in her description: ‘No stains, holes, repairs, or odours. Comes from a smoke-free, pet-free home.’ Unfortunately, the minute we opened the box we could smell the musty odour of an item that had been stored for a long time.
To prevent that unpleasant storage odour, keep a packet of Dryel Fabric Care System around.
Dryel is a safe, do-it-yourself dry cleaning product. Just place your better eBay clothing items in the patented Dryel bag with the special sheet and toss it in the dryer as per the instructions on the box. Your garment will come out smelling clean and wrinkle free. For more information, visit Dryel’s Web site at If you find Dryel hard to get hold of, Febreeze works well as a quick fix, and this product is available everywhere!

Packing materials

To ensure that your items arrive at their destinations in one piece, keep the following on hand at all times:

Bubble wrap: A clean, puffy product that comes in rolls, bubble wrap is available in several sizes. Depending on your product, you may have to carry two sizes of bubble wrap to properly protect the goods. Bubble wrap can be expensive, but check out vendors at; you’ll find quite a lot of them (and possibly a deal). See Figure 17-1.
Bubble wrap in its pure form.
Figure 17-1:
Bubble wrap in its pure form.
Styrofoam packing beads: Polystyrene beads (or peanuts) protect just about everything you ship. Storing them is the tricky part. One of the most ingenious storage solutions we’ve seen is putting the beads into big plastic rubbish bags, and then hanging these bags on cup hooks (available at the hardware shop) around the walls in a garage. When packing with peanuts, be sure that you place the item carefully and use enough peanuts to fill the box completely; leaving any airspace defeats the point of using the peanuts in the first place.
Plastic bags: Buy plastic bags in bulk to save money. Buy various sizes and use them for both shipping and storing. Even large kitchen rubbish bags are good for wrapping up posters and large items; the plastic protects the item from inclement weather by waterproofing it.
Two or three-inch shipping tape: You need clear tape to place over address labels to protect them from scrapes and rain. Don’t risk a lost package for want of a few inches of tape. See the following section on boxes for more information.
Padded envelopes: If you send items that fit nicely into these bubble wrap-lined envelopes, use them (see Figure 17-2). This type of envelope -with paper on the outside and bubble wrap on the inside – is perfect for mailing small items or clothing using first class mail. Jiffy bags are available in quantity (an economical choice) and don’t take up much storage space. Table 17-1 shows you the industry-standard sizes of jiffy bags and their suggested uses.
Jiffy bags for sale on
Figure 17-2:
Jiffy bags for sale on

Table 17-1 Standard Bag Sizes
Measurements Suggested Items
4″ x 8″ Collector trading cards, jewellery, computer disks
5″ x 10″ Postcards, paper ephemera
6″ x 10″ Dolls’ clothes, CDs, DVDs, Xbox or PS2 games
7/4″ x 12″ Cardboard sleeve VHS tapes, jewel-cased CDs, and DVDs
8/2″ x 12″ Clamshell VHS tapes, topics
Measurements Suggested Items
8/2″ x 1414″ Toys, clothing, stuffed animals
9/2″ x 14/2″ Small topics, trade paperbacks
10-2″ x 16″ Hardcover topics, dolls
12/2″ x 19″ Clothing, soft boxed items
14/4″ x 20″ Much larger packaged items, framed items and plaques

Packaging – the heart of the matter

Depending on the size of the item you sell, you can purchase boxes in bulk at reliable sources. Try to purchase from a manufacturer that specialises in B2B (business to business) sales. Some box companies specialise in selling to the occasional box user – knowing the size that you need enables you to bulk buy.

The Post Room: Sendin’ It Out

In this section, we give you the low-down on the main Internet postage vendor: Royal Mail.
Printing labels on your printer is convenient until you start sending out a dozen packages at a time, then cutting the paper and taping the label gets a bit too time consuming. Do yourself a favour and get a label printer. Yes, these printers can be expensive, but you can find some great deals on A label printer can save you countless hours.
Royal Mail has an online postage service called SmartStamp that enables you to print postage directly from your computer while online. To register online and download their software, go to the Royal Mail Web site at
and click the SmartStamp link.
Here are some features of the SmartStamp service:
You can print postage directly onto envelopes or labels. You can personalise your mail with a company logo.
No minimum mailing amount is required, so a small time eBayer can benefit as much as a multi-national company.
You can even add your own company strapline or promotional message.
With SmartStamp you pay a monthly or annual subscription plus whatever you shell out in postage costs. At time of writing, Royal Mail offers the service for £4.99 a month or £49.99 a year.

Next post:

Previous post: