How to protect yourself when selling online

I'd like to talk about a few of the things you can do to protect yourself when selling things online. I posted an article the other week about what steps you could take to protect yourself when buying online and there were some questions about the other side of the deal: selling.

Most of us at some point or another have sold something to another hobbyist in order to make room for more stuff. It's a vicious cycle. There are some things you can do to protect yourself if you decide to sell things online.

I must confess that my experience selling online is somewhat limited as I don't sell much overall preferring to keep things. I have sold on eBay (which I'll never do again) and through my blog here. That's pretty much it, but I have learned a few things along the way.

So what do I do when I sell something online?
There are a couple things I make sure I do when I sell something online. I've found them to be helpful in minimizing the potential for problems later on in the process.

1. Represent the item accurately.
Make sure you describe the item or items correctly and don't sugar coat it. A buyer will appreciate knowing exactly what they are getting and will be much happier. Believe me. If it's damaged or missing parts or whatever, let the buyer know. Don't leave something out because you fear a buyer will pass on the item. Better for them to pass now than to buy it and want their money back later after they discover the little bit of info you left out. They may not even care in the first place since they may be buying your item for another reason all together.

2. Pictures and make them good ones.
This can be huge pain in the backside, but it's worth every minute you spend. Take good pictures showing the items. Think about what you'd want to see if you were buying it online. This goes with the first one and not hiding anything. You may not be able to show all the pics depending on what service you use to sell the item, but keep the extras pics handy and let buyers know you have more to show them if they want to see it.

A few extra pictures emailed on request might be all it takes to seal the deal for a buyer who is sitting on the fence and just wants to get a better idea of what the item looks like.

Remember, they need to be in focus, no camera flash that erases all of the detail on the item and no crazy busy backgrounds to distract from the item either. The idea is to show exactly what it is that you're selling.

3. Set your price and make it reasonable
Decide what you'd like for your item and then what you're willing to take for it. They may not be the same amount. You might have someone offer slightly less and you should know what your bottom line is without having to haggle for 3 weeks by email.

Along the same line, make your asking price reasonable. Can someone get the same thing for cheaper elsewhere? The whole concept of pro-painting comes into mind here. Just because you invest six thousand hours into the HQ model for the army you're selling does not mean the HQ alone is worth $800 now. Someone may be buying the army and they don't care about the HQ model at all.

4. Look at the service you are using
It worth a few minutes to see what the guidelines are if you are using someone to sell something for you online (eBay for example). Look over what their costs are and the guidelines they expect you to follow as well.

Inform yourself before you use the service so that you can get the most from it. They are making money off you using them, so make sure you get the most from them.

5. Figure out Shipping and handling ahead of time
In this day and age, things go around the world. Buyers can be anywhere on the planet and you need to know what it's going to cost to ship something. You can pass the cost along to the buyer as long as you are up front with the cost ahead of time.

You can take your item to the post office and ask them to give you some prices for areas around the world. At least you'll have an idea of the cost and you can tell a buyer ahead of time. And don't go looking to make any money off this part of the deal by "up charging" for S&H. It's a cheap stunt and will certainly turn buyers off.

6. Get confirmation when possible
When you ship an item to someone, get confirmation that it has arrived. Most of the time, you can do this at the post office for a small fee. They will have the item signed for and you will have proof that the item was indeed received and signed for.

While this may not be practical if you are shipping out tons of small things, it's certainly worth doing for any high value items that would be difficult to replace.

Selling online doesn't need to be scary
The best thing to do is take a few minutes to inform yourself and be prepared. Whether it be with extra photos or good email communication, taking a few minutes to help your buyer make an informed decision will help you out in the long run.

You need to protect yourself as best you can from problems, but it shouldn't be anything that prevents you from making a few dollars unloading you extra stuff so that you can buy more. Selling stuff online is more than just throwing a quick pic of your item up on eBay with a title and price. Do your homework and you'll come out better in the end. Remember, a little time invested in the beginning should yield a little more money in the end.

Make sure to check out these posts as they might help:
4 ways to protect yourself when buying online

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Make sure to share your hobby tips and thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Up charging on shipping is shooting yourself in the foot nowadays. With ebay getting people to leave feedback on costs off shipping iff you charge too much and you get too many bad ratings I believe they can take sanctions against you. Also I read somewhere the other day ebay has changed their terms to include taking cost of shipping into the final valuation fee they take a percentage on. I may have misinterpreted or misunderstood though. Either way it makes no sense. Generally I just get the cost of the postage, try and fit it into the price I want for Buy It Now and then say it's Free Postage, that always looks good to a customer.

  2. Always have a tracking number....

  3. Good points all around, Ron. I strive to be as up front as possible about my terms, shipping costs, and so forth. Decent pictures are key as well. I pass over many an interesting-sounding auction on eBay because the pictures either are non-existent or are so poor as to be unable to tell the state of the merchandise.

    One thing that is non-negotiable when I ship any package is Priority, Insured mail with Signature Confirmation. Priority to get it to the seller quickly, Insurance in case something goes wrong in transit, and Signature Confirmation to ensure it gets into the right person's hands. It costs a bit more, but I make sure the auction clearly states what the shipping costs are going towards. The signature confirmation has saved me from a couple unscrupulous buyers over the years too:

    "I never got the package, gimme my money back."
    "Really? Because both I and the post office have proof of delivery on such-and-such date with your signature."
    "Oh, er, I must have been mistaken."

    Got burned once by insufficient tracking a long time ago for a non-trivial amount, and have made very sure I'm protected six ways from Sunday ever since!

  4. I recently sold a Deathwing Land Raider on ebay. It was thrilling. Exactly as Ron said. I purchased the extra 2$ for signed package. Will do this with everything I sell. Will put it in the description. Didn't the first time. Will ever other time. A model you painted and spent genuine time with whom you have loved. Please buy the signature required. You don't want your model, yes it is Yours No One Elses, left on a front door in the cold or in a hallway of an apartment. You want the model you Love to be received. Yes it will be stressful because you are tracking the package yourself to ensure it has been received. When you see that "Delivered" with signature required you won't believe how relieved you'll be.

    Listen to Mordian7th. Do not get burned. Love the model after it has left your giving arms.

  5. dwez: eBay has implemented a few things I don't like. I can understand they are in the business of making money, but I feel like I'm being robbed sometimes for the services.

    Anon: A tracking number can save you countless hours of headaches.

    Mordian7th: You hate to hate to do that to someone, but it's comforting to have that info when a buyer like that tries to pull a fast one. Suddenly they find the item and there is no issue.

    a Sent One: In this day and age, there are some folks who steal packages off of front porches and such. Get that signature if you can so you can follow exactly where your model goes.

    Thanks for sharing guys!

  6. You are so right Ron, I have been disappointed a couple times with EBay purchases. Selling is a different matter. A sale to Brazil was not worth the stress. I got to the point after about 4 weeks to just refunding the buyer and be done with it. The day I contacted them they just received the item. I recently notice a Brazilian Customs warning from EBay.

    Being honest it the best policy as a seller. I recently put up a small piece of 40K terrain I made. The listing included a link to my Youtube channel and Cool Mini or Not page. The terrain pice sold for 3 times what I expected.

  7. David: Absolutely. Be up front and honest so you can minimize and misunderstandings and potential problems.

  8. I'm very direct in my sales. Sometimes I know it means I'll get less than what I could, but it's worth it for the peace of mind and I don't need the extra hassle.

    I don't ship internationally anymore. Even to Canada, I've had packages that a friend and I have sent to each other lost with no idea what's become of them - so I'm not taking that chance with a customer.

    My S&H costs may seem a little higher, but I factor in all of the real costs that the buyer doesn't see - the fees that eBay and PayPal collect on my sales, the cost of packagins and shipping materials, etc. I don't pad it to make extra cash, but I'm not throwing in all that for free either. A real cost to a seller should properly be passed along to the buyer in this case.

    When I sold my Warhound Titan on eBay, the buyer was horrible at communication. I didn't even know if he intended to pay and couldn't reach him at the address on his profile. The only communication I got from him was the issuance of payment via PayPal - so when I shipped it, I ate the expense for tracking and insurance, even though he hadn't opted for it and didn't pay extra. The circumstances of the sale made me hesitant to trust the buyer so I wanted to cover myself. It all turned out well, but who knows what might have happened if I hadn't done so.

  9. HeadHunter67: I completely understand with passing along the smaller costs. They add up over time and can take a sizable chunk out of your profit in the end.


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