The Coronavirus crisis affects us all. Statewide shutdowns and social distancing have led to an unprecedented mass closure of physical retail locations. To maintain business, many stores have moved toward remote retailing solutions. E-commerce platforms like eBay allow retailers to generate revenue even while their physical location remains closed.
Bret Parks, owner of Ssalefish Comics in North Carolina and CBLDF retail member, is the writer of an introductory guide to online comic sales. You can check out Ssalefish Comics’ eBay store here. CBLDF has provided this article as a free resource for retailers looking to get started selling online. Below is the original article as printed in CBLDF Presents Selling Comics: A Guide to Retailing.
Online Sales/Ebay Stores By Bret Parks
An excerpt from CBLDF Presents: Selling Comics
I sold my first item on eBay in 1997, and a lot has changed since then. Actually, a lot will probably change during the lifespan of this book. In 1997, we didn’t use photos, online payments, or fixed-price listings on eBay. For more than a decade, the majority of my online sales have been on eBay, Amazon, and our store website. Most of our items are listed at a fixed price. If we are selling a truly rare item that has an uncertain value or sales record, we will list that item in an auction.
In 1997, selling on eBay was truly an act of trust, but in modern times, sellers, especially new ones, should maintain a few safeguards. If you are new to selling comic books and toys online, here are 10 suggestions that should make the process a little less stressful and, most importantly, more profitable.
1. If you don’t have an item in stock, make sure that it is arriving from a reliable source. Not being able to fill preorders may result in a negative experience for the buyer. As a comic shop owner, we can see expected ship dates for product. These dates are subject to change, and it is important to keep up with these changes to ensure that your listings are updated.
2. Always be aware of the fees associated with online sales. Don’t forget a key factor: the price that you paid for the item. For example, if you sell a comic book on the Amazon marketplace, Amazon will keep 20%. On eBay, you need be mindful of the selling / listing fees, as well as any percentage that may be charged by the payment service that you use. Basically, we have to pay to play. It is easy to get excited about a big sale and overlook the fees that are racked up.
3. Learn about shipping rates before making your listing. Don’t let your profits be eaten away by charging too little for shipping. It also never looks appealing to buyers if you are charging too much. If you want to offer “free shipping” (even though there is really no such thing), make sure that the cost is absorbed into your asking price. Learn how to ship items before making your listing. It is important to use the correct amount of packing material. A decent rule to follow is that after you have packaged the item, it should not move within the box.
4. Flat cardboard mailers work best for single comic books. Bubble wrap and packing paper are a must for boxing and shipping toys and statues. Recycling is not only good for the environment, but good for business. Once you realize your essential shipping needs, have plenty of supplies on hand so your packages get out quickly. To maintain the best rankings as a seller, tracking information should be sent to the buyer within one business day.
5. Communicate with your buyer. Answer every question, no matter how trying.
6. Amazon usually has stock images, and eBay does not. Whatever selling platform you use, always try to show pictures of the actual item or be able to provide them. Modern tablet and mobile phone cameras are perfectly fine for taking item photos. Some things to avoid are glare and cluttered backgrounds. Comic book covers and sleeves can be glossy, which reflects easily with flash photography. Your potential customer may see these glares as flaws, so it is best to avoid them. Also, I like to use a clean, single-color piece of poster board as a background so the image is nice and tidy and focused on the item itself.
7. Don’t fall for scams. Don’t share your banking info or payment site passwords, or reply to strange emails. When you get emails that appear to be from selling sites that you use, always look at the return email address to make sure it is authentic. Remember, most sites will not email you to ask for your password.
9. From time to time, you may buy things online for customers, so make sure you only deal with other sellers that seem honest and reputable.
10. Even though selling online can happen at any time of the day, I believe the best service is a result of treating the online customer with the same care and respect as the customer standing in front of you in your store.
When I first opened my store, I had a small display case that showed some things we had on eBay. This was an effective way to let customers know that they had a few options regarding how to shop with us. Also, use your brand name in small ways for each online transaction. Examples of this include placing a business card into each package, using your logo on the return address label, and offering discount coupons (electronically or printed), as well as asking for feedback. Creating an email list for customers and potential customers is a great way to build awareness. It is never too early to start collecting email addresses.
If you have opened a new comic book store, then chances are you have already sold online or you are about to begin. Either way, I hope these suggestions help you succeed. I have always believed that most successful comic book stores are those that have great business online as well as in their “real” store. It will not take long for you to discover how you can best use the different selling platforms. It is my hope that this introductory guide will help you reach your goals faster and help you find success as you navigate online selling.
For the complete guide for comic book retailers, check out CBLDF Presents Selling Comics: A Guide to Retailing available for purchase at the CBLDF Rewards Zone.
Selling Comics is a practical guide to the nuts and bolts of modern comics retailing, with essays and “best practices” guidelines from some of the sharpest minds in the industry. Featuring articles on almost every aspect of comic retailing, including staging successful in-store events, training staff, and diversifying product lines, Selling Comics is a ground level guide to building, developing, and growing your shop.
CBLDF is providing resources for retailers throughout this crisis at http://cbldf.org/coronavirus