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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Selling Stamps Online: It's NOT Rocket Science!

Recently, I "celebrated" my 15th year of using eBay as a marketplace-- both to find new items for my stamp collections, as well as a venue to sell duplicate stamps.

I think it's pretty safe to say that online marketplaces like eBay, Delcampe, BidStart, Stamps2Go and others have changed the face of how stamp collectors trade and build collections.

Even after all this time, it amazes me how little common sense many sellers use, when it comes to presenting their "wares" to the world. And then they become all surprised and affronted when they end up with mediocre-- or no-- results.

A clear scan showing details of stamp. Click for larger size.
Selling on line is really not "rocket science!"

Fundamentally, the first thing you need to do is think of selling your stamps (and attracting buyers, and a fair price) a bit like you would think of a job interview. Would you go to a job interview wearing your dirty sweats you just mowed the lawn in, with your hair looking like you just rolled out of bed and hadn't shaved in three days? No? That's just a case of "presenting yourself well" in order to make a "sale" (i.e. "get the job")-- so why wouldn't you take the same care when it comes to selling your stamps?

Let's start with the image. That's probably THE single most important part of an online stamp listing... many collectors buy stamps purely "by appearance." Since I can't go to your house (or your stamp store, if you have one) and look at and "touch" the stamp, I expect you to give me the "next best thing."

Have a large clear scan/photo for people to look at, preferably on a black background, which offers maximum contrast to show the condition of the stamp's perfs. Crop the image to have small borders. There's nothing more annoying than a small out-of-focus image on a non-contrasting background, with lots of "blank space" around the stamp.

And don't even get me started on listing stamps for sale with NO image! Fortunately, most sites don't permit listings without images anymore. I don't want to hear the "it's too time consuming, and you can send it back if you don't like it" excuse... my reply to that is "it's too time consuming for ME to get a stamp I don't like, contact you because I want to send it back, find supplies to mail it and wait for a credit to my account AND I'm out the cost of mailing."

Lastly, a word about listing stamps for sale with the message "email me if you want a scan."

That word is "no."

How NOT to do images: The sort of images I often see in sales
listings online. And this is not even the worst of it! 
I am not going to take the time to email you for 47 scans of stamps I might be interested in-- it's a hassle. If you're willing to scan "after the fact," just save us BOTH some time and effort and scan "before the fact" and create a proper listing, to begin with. Similar story with the phrase "email me if you want a bigger scan," when your original listing has a little tiny scan. If you already know how to make a bigger scan, just use it!

And yes, I know some of you are "secretly" thinking "yes, but that's how I harvest names for my mailing list."

I'll say "Caveat Venditor" (seller beware), because I personally believe that strategy is more effective as a way to irritate potential buyers.

Creating a good image is NOT rocket science!

The next part of "decent presentation" involves examining the back of the stamp-- this applies particularly to used stamps. If the stamp has 47 layers of old hinges, a bit of the original envelope and some old album page adhesions still on the back, clean it up! It takes only a couple of minutes in lukewarm water to get rid of that stuff, and removing all that old garbage takes the guesswork out of whether the stamp has thins, tears or other problems, as well as enabling you to correctly identify potential watermarks. And who knows... you might discover you have a more valuable stamp than you thought!

Now, let's get to the actual description. You don't have to write anything "fancy" but at least make an effort to come up with a semblance of the correct identity of the stamp. That would involve (at a minimum) doing the following:

Perforation gauge. You need one. This one was
actually FREE, printed in my AFA catalogue.
Don't assume that the first picture you see in the catalogue (Scott, or otherwise) is "your stamp." Especially true when you're selling older stamps, where multiple variations (perfs and watermarks and shades) of the same design typically exist. Especially learn to pay attention to the little "notes" at the end of a listing of a set of stamps that might read something like "Also see no. 234-241, 301-311." That's a not-so-subtle hint that maybe you should see those numbers and make sure you have the right listing. Assume nothing, especially if you are trying to sell stamps from a country you are not that familiar with.

Speaking of perfs and watermarks-- If you don't have a perf gauge, GET one! And whether you do, or need to buy one-- learn how to use it, and then use it! As a buyer, it will do nothing but irritate me when I get the "perf 13" stamp (worth $0.80) when your listing identified it as the "perf 14" version (worth $50.00)... and usually because you didn't even check what perfs the stamp had.

The same goes for watermarks... if you don't have a watermark tray and fluid, GET them! And whether you do, or need to buy them-- learn how to use them, and then use them! There are often huge differences in values between different watermarks on stamps that look very similar. Just earlier today, I identified a stamp by its watermark... the "cheap" version listing for $0.25 in the Scott catalogue, the "expensive" version listing for $200.00. Needless to say, I was very happy to find a VF $200 stamp!

Now, I recognize that there are some people who are simply going to say "too much work" and "I can't be bothered." I will try to be open-minded and understanding of that approach... but I will issue the caveat that if YOU "can't be bothered" with your sales listings-- and it does show, in very obvious ways-- don't count on potential buyers to "be bothered" with your listings. Choices have consequences!

Last-- but certainly not least-- let's talk about "truthfulness of condition."

This can be a slippery slope, because most stamp transactions are essentially a "dance" between a seller who wants a stamp to be "better than it is" and a buyer who sees it as "worse than it is." A sale happens when these two perceptions have enough overlap that the buyer takes action.

Watermark fluid and tray. A small investment that might
help you get a LOT more for your stamps!
Personally, I have always believed in the "full disclosure" approach. On the balance, I have gotten happier buyers AND better sales as a result of saying "Looks super nice, but unfortunately has a tiny thin" as opposed to saying "XF stamp, no faults" and then hoping it will "skate by" someone who doesn't bother to take a closer look. By trying the latter approach, not only do you set yourself up for a lot of returns, you soon enough build a reputation for having "dodgy" material, and buyers will actively avoid you. And that can even apply on a "large" scale, with major "name" dealers. There are a couple of "famous" stamp auction houses I actively avoid because of the way they "gloss over" faulty material. Maybe the $3000.00 a year I might spend with them is "no big deal" but multiply that by a few hundred collectors... and you're turning away a LOT of money!

Now, some may read this and think "yes, but I'm not that serious about selling stamps online." Be that as it may, you're "serious" enough that you're trying to sell stamps online. Which means you're a "serious" enough collector that you care about getting money for your stamps, rather than just "giving them away to kids" or putting them in your next garage sale. That being the case, shouldn't you be "serious" enough to give your stamps the best possible shot at selling for a decent price?

Buying and selling stamps online can be a lot of fun... and also quite rewarding, if you take the time to do things "properly," which really doesn't take a lot more time or effort than doing a slipshod job!

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