Calculating shipping charges for baseball card sets and singles is tricky

Part 8 in a series chronicling the One Sorry Blog Baseball Card Sell-Off
By Paul Rivas

Editor’s note: One Sorry Blog founder Paul Rivas is selling off his baseball cards on ebay with seller name onesorryblog, keeping only a precious and worthless few. He intends to sell every last card that will bring money at auction and donate the remaining 30,000 for no tax break. Realizing that his last hurrah in the hobby is upon him, Rivas is recording and reflecting on the experience at One Sorry Blog, the thinking collector’s blog.

With the pace of the Sell-Off slackening a bit, I’ve been forced to find new ways of bringing in a few dollars. One has been to sell a few sets, which I’m finding to be as much trouble as I had feared it would. I currently have 93 Bowman, 93 SP and 94 SP for sale, each of which is missing the one big card, and entire versions of 96 SPX and 92 Upper Deck Minor League, which of course has 1992 cards of all the best 1993 rookies. I sold a complete 90 Leaf set to the winner of my 90 Leaf Frank Thomas. I’d offered the complete set on top of the Thomas for an additional $20, including shipping, and he accepted.

Now listen closely: if that same bidder hadn’t won five other items and paid $5.50 in shipping, this would have been quite a bad deal for me. As it turned out, mailing everything together, wrapped in bubble plastic and wedged in another cardboard box, cost $5.58. But the box I stupidly bought cost $2.50, and a roll of bubble paper cost another $2.50, not to mention packing tape for $2.50 more. I’ll use the bubble plastic and tape for future set shipments, but next time I’ll just wrap the wrapped set in brown paper and call it a day, rather than spending foolishly on a second ill-fitting box. There was also the problem of my having forgot that I’d offered the set up at this price and also listing it on ebay. This meant the leading bidder and one of this Sell-Off’s biggest supporters was devastated when I explained to him why I was ending the auction early. I’ve made a mental note to only list things in one place at a time.

Shipping continues to confound me. After seeing what mailing the 90 Leaf would have cost had I not lucked out with the winning bidder being a multiple winner, I’ve upped shipping charges for complete sets to $11. The couple that already had bids remain at $9. This allows for $6 in shipping alone (more for larger sets), plus $2 in packing materials if I can get four sets mailed with the bubble wrap and tape I bought. That leaves $3 to cover gas for the special trip to the post office that mailing a set requires, not to mention time spent packing it up.

Mailing single cards no longer requires a trip to the post office. After a week of sales, I’ve figured out that a single card in a top-loader wrapped in a regular piece of paper and sent in a regular business envelope can fly under the radar and be mailed as a letter with a single 41-cent stamp. Technically, such items should be charged the parcel rate of $1.13 and not the letter rate, but only one postal worker out of ten has charged me correctly. Sending two or three cards this way brings the postage for the improper method up to 73 cents, and up to $1.35 or so for the proper one. One astonishing discovery has been that while bubble mailers cost between $0.80 and $0.99 apiece, they weigh nothing more than a regular envelope! How can this be? Who knows, but yea, verily, it is so. The only problem is that a bubble mailer is indisputably a parcel and not a letter. In summary, a single card in a regular envelope can usually be mailed for a cost of 51 cents (41 for postage plus 10 for a peel-and-stick envelope), whereas a single card in a bubble mailer costs $2.12. By this count, it looks as though I’m making almost $1 in shipping on every item, but then I’ve not counted things such as regular letter paper, staples, time and the occasional need to pay the parcel rate.

Much of what I’ve listed recently in the way of single cards has been as lots of several related cards of the same player. I thought I’d try something new and charge $9 for shipping for these lots, which was cheaper than what, say, eight cards shipped individually would cost the buyer, and 50 cents cheaper than if one buyer bought all eight individually. Selling the lot for cheaper and charging more in shipping would save me close to 50 cents on ebay listing and final value fees, and I was sure buyers would be quick to figure this out. I struggled with the ethics of this, given that I’ve professed to make no money on shipping, but I figured that $3 or so in excess shipping here would go toward gas money, or something. The only comment I’ve received on this new practice came after the lots had been listed for a couple days, by the buyer of both my Moses Malone and Shaq rookie cards, two of my favorites in the entire sale. He suggested that although he didn’t really care, this bit of chicanery might be against ebay policy. I said I’d think it over, and I’ve since decided to heed his concern and drop the shipping down to $6. Thanks to him for reminding me of what I’d stated at the beginning of this sale of my entire collection piece by piece: that my interest was in seeing the cards go to good homes at final prices that reflected their value to buyers.

Another buyer impressed me with his good taste when he picked up my Darryl Dawkins and George Gervin rookies. I was also glad to see a local buyer and friend of mine land my entire collection of 14 Magic Johnson comeback years cards for $1.98 in two separate auctions. This guy was also the recipient of the first One Sorry Blog Baseball Card Sell-Off Readership Appreciation Prize. When I remembered that he collected Marlins cards, on account of his having decided in 1992 that he was going to back the Marlins when they came into the league, I ended the auction for a 94 Bowman’s Best and 96 Finest refractor Edgar Rentería on which he was bidding and gave them to him.

There are more OSBBCSORAPs to come, folks, so keep reading, leave comments and check out the auctions for a chance to grab some great stuff for $0.99. Ninety-five percent of what’s for sale now has one $0.99 bid or no bids at all.

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2 responses to “Calculating shipping charges for baseball card sets and singles is tricky

  1. And the Magic/Renteria cards were hand delivered to me this morning…Thanks! Good memory on my Marlins Fandom…it’s been a hard time being a Marlins fan. Hard to complain since we’ve had two Championships in our short history, but it’s painful to watch your star players given away…Cabrera really hurt. But how sweet was it to watch Beckett shut down the Yanks in game 6! Of course, Beckett is not been a Marlin for awhile now ;-)

    I hear you on the shipping thing, probably keeps me from being more active on Ebay as a seller. Happy to help by winning some stuff locally that you can get your dad to hand deliver to me ;-)

    Off to a lunch time meeting…looking forward to poker tomorrow night. Maybe some card reminiscing (though others might become bored quickly with that topic…haha).

    POT IT!

  2. I was thinking back to my selling days on ebay. I never sold any card sets (seemed to hard to make worth it), I sold a lot of singles. I usually offered free first class shipping in a protecto and and envelope with no extra protection (for lower valued cards, maybe a hard plastic case if I sold any more expensive cards). I was lucky, never had any damaged/lost in the mail. I don’t think I did a ton of card selling on ebay, but doing it for at least a short stint. I also started every auction (for anything) on ebay at 1 cent. Seemed to do better than the ones that started at higher amounts. More interest and variety of bidders. Of course, we’re talking well over a decade ago…I’m sure the climate has changed significantly.

    A bit of trivia. When I FIRST got on ebay, it was still so small that you could look through all of the sports cards in an hour or two. Now you’d have trouble getting through a single player in that time.

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