You've certainly heard about online auctions by now, with EBay as the leader of the pack. If you've clicked on this article, then you probably have a box full of stamps, or a collection. You want to know if you can sell them yourself online and get a good price for them?
There are actually a lot of different ways to group stamps together for sale. Selling your entire collection in one lot is the fastest way to get the least money for your stamps. The more you learn about your stamps, the better you can organize and sell them effectively. But I should point out that it can take 5 or 10 years of real experience before you can do a serious and effective appraisal of a collection. There are so many varieties of stamps, and so much history behind some of them, that some stamps dealers spend their whole lives specializing in certain countries or areas. This article can only provide a basic plan of attack.
First, you need to find the approximate value of your stamps. If they're fairly common, and you don't want to spend too much time, you can just start with a bid of about 5 cents each. If you provide a good picture of the stamps, more experienced collectors can see if there are any better stamps in your batch.
If you think your stamps may be more valuable, then you should see my article on finding out what your stamps are worth: What Are Stamps Worth?
An auction lot can be a box full of stamps, an envelope full, all the album pages for a single country, a stockbook full of stamps, a single album page full of stamps, a single stamp, a closet full of First Day Covers -- just about anything. I've found that making auction lots takes a good deal of experience. Here are some of the things I think about when making auction lots.
You should probably start off by deciding how big each lot should be. Not by size, but by price. If you have an average-sized collection, you can make a thousand $1 lots out of it, or sixteen $50 lots. If you make a ton of small lots, it will take more work to sell them, since each lot needs to be values, scanned, posted and shipped.
One quick way to sell a collection is to take each country, count the stamps, scan a few pages and sell it as a separate lot. You'll probably end up with some countries like Bulgaria that nobody wants, but other countries like Japan, China, and Germany almost always sell.
When your lots are made up and you've taken photos or scans of them, you are ready to start posting them to the online auction. First you need to sign up as a seller. And this is a good place to let you know the costs involved:
Every auction I know charges the seller a small percent of each lot that sells. EBay and other auctions also charge a listing fee. Right now, for lots under $10, EBay charges a $0.25 listing fee plus 5% of the sale if the lot sells. The listing fee increases for more expensive lots. Auctions also have a lot of fees for enhancing your listings, from $0.25 to add an image to the "gallery" to $2 for a bold title to $99 for "featured" or "private" auctions. You should start off simple. Just list the lots -- don't click any other options with price tags next to them.
There are some good online payment services now. I use Paypal. It's quick and easy and you can sign up here. They will accept credit card or electronic check payments for you, and you can have money credited to your credit card or deposited directly into your bank account. They make their money by charging a tiny fee -- under 5% -- for handling these transactions. I think these fees are very reasonable.
Choosing the right start bid is one of the most difficult decisions you will make. Some sellers start every lot at just $1, but this can be very risky -- if there's only one bid, you must sell your stamps for $1, regardless of what you think they're worth. Once you deduct the $0.35 listing fee and a 5% fee, and maybe a 3% online payment fee, selling a lot for a buck isn't really worth the effort. In fact, selling all your lots for under $5 each is barely worth the effort; not if it takes 5 minutes to make a lot, 5 minutes to scan & post it, 5 minutes to invoice the customer & ship the lot. Keep an eye on your time and expenses.
If you do find the catalog value for your stamps, then you should start bidding at 1/4 or 1/3 of the catalog price. You shouldn't start at 1/2 catalog price or higher, since that will scare off buyers who are looking for a bargain. But if you start the bidding too low, you may not get the money you want for your stamps.
Do not set a reserve price. Let's say you have a start bid of $10 and a reserve price of $20. This means that people can start bidding at $10, but the item won't sell until the bids reach $20. This really wastes the bidders' time, because the reserve bids are not shown anywhere. Why bother bidding on an item if you don't know what the reserve price is? To me, if a lot has a reserve price, it tells me that the seller is confused and doesn't know what they want. No thanks.
Now, if you want to actually get bids on your stamps, you need to provide a detailed description and a picture. An honest description should include the type and condition of the stamps, how many stamps there are (approximately), and the catalog value if you know it.
You also need to explain your shipping charges and what kind of payments you will accept. Don't charge too much for shipping. The real costs of shipping are the postage, the envelope, and maybe 50 cents for stuffing the envelope. Weigh your lot, add an ounce (for the envelope and letter), and find out how much the postage will cost. You should add a thick piece of cardboard behind the stamps when you ship them, to prevent the stamps from getting bent in the mail; this is also included in the extra ounce.
Pictures are not as easy to manage, but without a picture, collectors won't be able to see your stamps to see if there are any stamps they want in your lot. You can use a scanner or a digital camera to get pictures of your stamps onto your computer. If you don't know how to do this, ask someone who does. Once you have the pictures on your computer, there are a variety of services which may host copies of the picture for you. The EBay pages can point you in the right direction.
If any of your lots get a bid, you will receive an email from EBay. This email will include the email address of the winning bidder. You need to email this bidder, and provide a complete price (with shipping) and an address for them to send their payment to. Be patient. You will hear from most bidders within a week, and receive payment within 2 weeks. You can wait to receive payment before mailing the stamps, or you can ship them right away and cross your fingers. Many sellers will ship immediately to buyers if their EBay rating is high enough. You can't refuse to sell to a buyer just because their EBay rating is low. I've seen ratings as low as -5 and as high as 8000. Once the payment arrives, you should post feedback for your customers. Most of them will leave feedback for you as well.
It's not common, but some buyers will never send payment. Others will always be unhappy with your stamps. That's business for you. EBay is a service that connects you with prospective buyers, and it has pages to help you deal with problem transactions. But in the end, there is a bit of risk involved in every business deal.
If your lots get no bids, you can go back and relist them. Just go back to the page for your lot and look for the Relist link. Maybe you need to drop the price a little, or maybe you want to relist it in a different category. You can edit the description or post a better picture.
In the end, if you offer good stamps at a reasonable price and are honest with customers, you can probably make money by selling your stamps online. If you reinvest part of your money into buying new stamps, you can get a good business going. But you can imagine the planning involved in buying smartly, selling smartly, and trying to stay ahead of the game. It's not for everyone, but I've been enjoying it for a few years now.