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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 8 - Selling on the Internet

Practically every stamp collector I know has tried selling stamps.

The other day, someone sent me a self-addressed stamped envelope requesting a pricelist for the first day covers I produce.

He probably got my name and address from the annual Current Cachetmakers Directory produced by the American First Day Cover Society ($3 postpaid from AFDCS Sales, PO Box 1335, Maplewood, NJ 07040, or included in members' September 1 issues of First Days each year).

I stared at the note and envelope for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do. You see, I haven't produced a full pricelist in several years, nor a partial one for months. Yet I'm selling more of my FDCs than ever before.

How? Through the Internet. And I'm not the only producer who's packed up the mimeograph stencils and photocopy toner, either: A quick survey of the AFDCS cachetmakers directory shows more e-mail and Web site addresses than ever before.

Each pricelist I send out costs me at least 37 cents postage. A listing on eBay 37 cents.

In addition to eBay and the other Internet auction sites, other fertile fields on the Internet include discussion forums (such as the message board here on the Virtual Stamp Club), Usenet newsgroups (such as rec.collecting.stamps.marketplace), e-mail lists such as Philatelic.com's, and the American Philatelic Society's Internet Stamp Store.

I have to be honest: I placed some items on the latter mostly out of loyalty to the APS. Most of my material isn't very expensive and I didn't think modern first day covers would appeal to the site's clientele.

I was wrong.

Within the first week, four of the 11 items I'd submitted had sold, at an average price of $10.

Best, it's a "turn-key" operation: Once I've submitted the items, APS takes care of the rest, including shipping, and all I have to do is await the APS check.

Unlike the online auctions, there's no time limit either: The items I submitted that haven't sold yet can sit there until they find buyers, or the APS decides it's run out of storage space, or I want them back.

I'm not sure it's practical to sell low-priced first day covers at the APS Stamp Store: The shipping and handling charge to purchasers is too steep. It's a charge per shipment, however, so the best bet for customers is to buy several things at once, and amortize the S&H charge.

In fact, the APS believes that low- and moderate-priced FDCs will be sold to bring an order up to a high enough total that the customer feels the shipping charge is justified.

The same charge is made if I want an item returned, so I chose FDCs of which I had a reasonable number but which had higher prices.

When selling in the Internet discussion forums and e-mail lists, it's important to check the rules and customs before posting your messages. While the Usenet newsgroups claim not to have rules, if you post a buy, sell or trade notice in rec.collecting.stamps.discuss instead of rec.collecting.stamps.marketplace, you'll find yourself roundly and severely criticized. Forums like the VSC's also have specific places in which to place ads, and specific places where they are not permitted.

One effective strategy is to use a combination of Internet media together. When I have lots running on eBay, they get more bids when I post messages elsewhere pointing potential customers to those lots. My post-sale e-mail messages to successful bidders have a link to my Web site. My Web site has links to the Forums I patronize.

Another strategy is to sell additional items to successful auction bidders.

After paying the auction fees, packing materials, cost of goods sold, my time, and everything else, I lose money on almost every single-item sale. However, if someone wins one of my covers, I try to sell them a few more that I can ship at the same time. When I first make contact with the successful bidder, I try to include something like "I also have other widget-related FDCs" in the message.

If I can't sell them something in the same shipment, perhaps I can sell them something later, so I keep their addresses on file. I send past online customers a message when I'm going to be selling at a show in their area, and in several cases, I've made in-person sales as a result.

Finally, I signed up for PayPal which, in effect, gives me a credit card merchant account for much, much less than I'd pay a bank or bankcard servicing company. It also provides a very nice "shopping cart" system, free, for my Web site. (Someone can fill the shopping cart, copy the final list, delete all the items, and mail me a check with a hard-copy of the list of items, so it works even without using PayPal itself.)

Even better, since it's designed for use with mail-order transactions, there's no hassle about taking too many mail- and telephone- (and Internet-) orders, which you get from most of the banks and bankcard services.

I predict PayPal will force banks and bankcard services to change the way they do business, to relent and not penalize mail-order merchants and to charge lower fees.

The Internet is changing the way we sell, and it's not just stamp dealers.

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