Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ebay versus Amazon


When I mentioned that I was selling some of my no longer required books on Amazon Johnny Norms asked
Is Amazon a better way to sell books than Ebay?
This posting is for him and anyone else in the UK wondering about selling their old books over the internet.

If you'd prefer to swap books, Ian Russell, recommended a swap site - which may be this one: Read It, Swap It - from my point of view the disadvantage of this is that I want to reduce my total holding not just swap some...

You can also choose to liberate some books via - this is fun.

Back to selling books.

The main problem with selling books is the cost of postage. And now that the Royal Mail has complicated the postal system by distinguishing not purely by weight but also by thickness, width and length its actually much harder to be sure that you are charging the right postage and packing. With some books that are very close, when wrapped, to the 25 mm limit it depends on the person on the other side of the counter whether you get charged say £1.09 or £1.77. I was told by one such person that the package is meant to pass through the 25 mm gap easily but one person's easy is another's forced. On that occasion I wangled the cheaper postage by saying I'd go away and repack it if he charged me the higher rate - I've no idea why he didn't just say "Okay - go and do that" - maybe he thought I might try a different post office...

Advantages of Ebay

  • On Ebay you can list an item as either or both an auction or buy it now.
  • You can research similar items and what they have sold for in the past few weeks using advanced search.
  • You set what you want as the fixed postage and packing charge.
  • You can attach a photo of your actual item. (If you want it to show in the listings you pay 15p more.)
  • You get to describe the item yourself.
  • If you list as an auction you may end up getting more than you would have dared ask - I once did - I got more than the Amazon new price for a book that I'd previously listed and not sold at all. (Don't get too excited it was only a matter of pence.)
  • You can list anything, even those things whose ISBN cannot be found on Amazon.
  • You can time when your auctions end - so if you are selling several things there is a good chance you will be able to take more than one thing to the post office at once.

Advantages of Amazon

  • Amazon handle the payments.
  • Amazon make no charge at all for listing.
  • You can list at whatever price you like and you can change that price at any time whilst its listed.
  • Amazon already have descriptions of lots of books and your listing goes into the used category (unless it is new or collectable... none of mine are).
  • You benefit from the reviews that Amazon customers have left.
  • For books in particular it is MUCH faster to list on Amazon.
  • You can set a high price and drop it later if it hasn't sold - at no cost.
  • The listing lasts for 60 days and you can re-list for free at the end. If you are going to be away you can use holiday settings to ensure that your books are not sold when you are not there to post them, but the listings are preserved ready for your return.

Disadvantages of Ebay

  • On Ebay the only real protection you have is the feedback system. In general everyone attempts to give and receive good feedback and the best way to get that is by paying up fast as a customer and delivering what you've promised as a seller.
  • If you are planning on selling much stuff you'll end up signing up for a business account with paypal which means they take a chunk of what you get paid too.
  • You have to pay up front and straight away for your listing. You have to decide what to make your minimum bid and be ready to sell for that if only one person bids. You have to pay extra for your picture to show on the listings.
  • To get money out of paypal you need to have either £50+ to transfer out or to pay for it to be transferred - or be ready to spend it directly via paypal of course...
  • Ebay will make money out of you whether you sell or not.
  • If you do sell then both Ebay and paypal will.

Disadvantages of Amazon

  • The minimum you can put a book on for is 1p with £2.75 p&p - of which you will get £1.41 out of which you will need to find postage and packing, on Ebay (listing for 1p and £2.75 p&p) I think you'd get more like £2.30 - so if you have real cheapies to sell I'd try Ebay first.
  • Amazon's conditions mean you cannot reuse old packing materials - this annoys me from an environmental as well as an economical point of view.
  • If the listing on Amazon has no picture you cannot add one.
  • Ditto if the description is inadequate. (You can of course submit a review to increase the information available.)
  • Some ISBNs are not available via Amazon and therefore not sellable through them.
  • Amazon have a system where they tend to let the money accumulate in their account for a fortnight and then on making the transfer tell you it will take another six to ten working days to reach your account!
  • If you sell then Amazon will take a big chunk of the final price paid, including some of the inadequate postage and packing fee!

Summary of how I've done so far

Amazon have a ratings and feedback system but it is much harder to use than Ebay's. The easy way is to wait for an email from Amazon asking you to rate the seller but this comes so long after the item has arrived that it is very hard to recall how good the packaging was etc. The seller is entirely at the mercy of the customer here as there is no reciprocal feedback.

Looking at the books I've recently sold on Amazon and comparing Amazon fees and Ebay fees, if I had been able to guess that of the 70+ books I listed with Amazon that the 8 I've sold so far would have sold on Ebay, and if they had achieved exactly the same prices I got via Amazon I'd have been much better off (£12) selling just those 8 via Ebay. However when I have sold books on Ebay they have rarely got as much as the cheapest Amazon seller (the one exception mentioned above was that, an exception). However if I'd listed all of them and sold at the sort of prices I've usually got I'm actually much better off with Amazon (estimate around £40-£50).

Buying on Ebay

As a buyer on Ebay there are various unsavoury practices to watch out for. If you are overbid by one person and at the end of the auction quickly offered a "second chance" at your maximum bid - turn it down. Its quite likely that the seller used another account to bid you up and top you then having stretched you to your maximum are now giving you this "second chance" to buy. Also resist getting into a bidding war - that's how someone overpaid on one of my books, much to my surprise.

Buying on Amazon

As a buyer of used books on Amazon the biggest risks seem to be buying either a rough copy that is not really acceptable... and waiting an absolute age for books to come from elsewhere. Many of the sellers are selling from somewhere other than the UK and it can take weeks for your book to arrive. Look carefully especially if you want the book for something in particular. Quite a few of the sellers have deceptive names with UK boldly in them but are actually based in the US or some other place which will make delivery to the UK slow.

Buying second hand from charity shops

This is where most of my books come from - but if you think you should be able to make a profit buying like this and then selling on-line you'll have to very careful how much you pay. Even the books I've sold that I bought second hand are not making money for me; just recouping some of my original outlay.


andrea said...

Canada Post has made similar changes. I took a package to the post office Monday to mail to Ontario. It was a large and unusual size (about 42" x 15" x 2") and only about 3 kg so I was really curious to see what I'd be charged THIS time (about $30). My experience in sending small, flat parcels to Europe, the USA and Canada has been wildly variable according to who's working that day, too, and I have sent identical parcels within Canada and been charged as little as $1.50 and as much as $13 (which I refused to pay and brought it back later). The more complex the specs the greater the margin for human error.

Caroline said...

And the harder for the prosepctive sender to charge the right amount - from $1.50 to $13 is a big margin!

Ian russell said...

sorry, I completely forgot to get back on this, caroline. yes, it is that one - read it swap it.

i know what you mean about getting rid - we did this some years ago rather than having boxes of useless books under the bed, we took them down to the local market secondhand trader. i don't think we got the best price but we just wanted rid.

Caroline said...

Ian thanks for confirming that I'd found the right one.

I've done that too (sold some to a second hand dealer that is) believe it or not - just too many books in my life!

Johnnynorms said...

Thanks for the advice Caroline, very comprehensive. It will be difficult for my inner hoarder to feign confusion now!

Maybe there are just too many books in the world, and not enough trees - but I love both.