The Basics of Online Selling: How to Calculate Your Costs

I’ve been selling on eBay for a long time, just random stuff that I or my siblings don’t use or want. I never understood the basics of selling something, except the concept of getting money. Just recently, though, I have been selling collectibles for which I have no more use. Collectible stuffed animals, mainly; I was really, REALLY big into the whole TY Beanie Baby thing when I was a teenager, and now I find them just sitting around collecting dust.

So, while I am keeping a few that have some sentimental attachment to my heart, the rest are being researched and shipped off to new owners. Here’s what I know now (after a few sales and incurring more loss than gain), and here’s how you can avoid my mistake.

Learning how not to lose:

First off: Grab a pen and pad, and ask yourself these questions:

How much did (insert selling item) cost you? Write that down.

If it was a gift, then it cost you nothing, and you can basically pick your price. But hold up! Picking your price doesn’t mean selling your item for way more than it’s worth. Do some research and see how much items like yours are selling for, and that will give you a good price range from which to pick.

If you bought this item, how much was it? And since buying it, has it become damaged in any way? Look very carefully, and use a detailed eye. Look for scratches, dents, dirt, stains, marks, chips, broken pieces, et cetera. Be aware that these devalue the item in your possession, so anything you can do to clean it up helps you sell it for a better price.

(Major tip: Avoid “cleaning up” if you have a piece of art. Where art is concerned, unless you are a professional in the field of restoration, DO NOT try to clean it up… you see this on shows like Antiques Roadshow, where the owner tries to paint over a mistake or glue something back together, only to find that their work has greatly decreased the value of the item by trying to fix it. Take your piece to a professional first, if you can.)

How old is your item? Time itself devalues any item. Once it is no longer brand-new, its value drops. If it has never been used, it can be sold for about the same price.

Does your item use batteries? Make sure it works fully and completely. If it doesn’t work somehow, make a note.

Write down what you think the current value of your item is, and subtract that from the original price.

Second: Pictures are essential to selling things online. Take pictures with good lighting. If you are selling furniture, leave pillows or decorations out of the picture (unless they come with the furniture you’re selling). Let people make their own deductions. What you think is pretty and fashionable may not be your buyer’s cup of tea. If your item has any important features or damages, be sure to get a close-up shot of it. Do not hide details that you think will not allow it to sell. Be honest.

Third: You want a good, detailed description of your item, its benefits and/or accessories. You can make the description appealing and marketable, but be honest. If there is damage in any item, in any form, put it in the description. This ensures that the buyer knows what they are getting when they buy, and cannot come back to say, “This isn’t what I ordered! I want my money back!” It also helps you sell things later on, because people leave good reviews and know you are a trustworthy seller. Trust goes a long way in the online world of shopping.

Fourth: You need to account for shipping when selling an item. I made the mistake of putting things online for great prices with free shipping. People love free shipping. The problem was that my item’s bid price did not go up as I had hoped it would, and left me to pay more than the selling price. If you want to go the free-shipping route, that’s great; but make sure you know how much shipping is going to be, and add it into the selling cost. If you do not want to pay for shipping, most websites (like eBay, Amazon, or Etsy) will calculate shipping costs for you; just put how big and how heavy the package will be into their calculator, and they tell the customer how much it will take to ship the item.

Fifth: If you use a site to sell, like eBay, you may be charged a selling fee, such as 10% of the selling price. Make sure this is added into your cost, because you’ll be giving 10% of the money to the website.

Just for kicks, let’s run through how you would do this with a simple item.

This is one of the selling items I had a while back.


Let’s say this bear cost me $1.00 at a thrift shop. With some research, I find out that with its original tags still attached and great condition, it could sell for up to $17.00 (USD). I decide to go a few dollars lower to make it more salable.

Price for which I bought it: $1.00

      Value and selling price: $15.00

This means that I could make $14.00 in profit. To ship it, I’m going to be paying for it. The United States Postal Service will cost me about $2.54 to purchase shipping for this beanie bear. I have to count in my website’s selling cost, as well. So, if I do free shipping and subtract the selling cost:

                                    Current profit: $14.00

                                 Minus shipping: $-2.54

Minus selling cost (10% of 15.00): $-1.50      

                                      Profit now  =   $9.96 USD

If I decide that the buyer will pay shipping, I don’t need to worry about it. I just need to know what the item weights, and what kind of packaging I’ll use. My profit will be $13.50, having only subtracted the selling cost of my item.

Nice job!

STUFF TO KNOW:  1. Remember to take any batteries out of your item before shipping it – it’s illegal in the USA to ship anything with batteries inside. So, if your item runs on battery power, they CANNOT be inside your package. Take them out before packing it. Be sure to tell your buyers that the item needs batteries to run, what kind, and that you will not provide batteries.

2. In your description of anything, make sure you put “PLEASE READ DESCRIPTION BEFORE BIDDING OR BUYING”. As you know, we humans can be idiots and we ignore things. Putting this in your description or subtitle tells people that there is need-to-know stuff in there. It also helps you if someone tries to say they had no idea your product had a scratch, a dent, a paint splatter, or whatever. Be on the safe side!

3. Remember, be honest!

Feel free to comment, ask questions, or correct me if I forgot something! Ciao!