Lessons Learned the hard way from Selling Online

I've been selling my work online for a long time now, about 10 years. I've sold art, books and even books. I've been the most successful with books. In the early days of eBay I learned a lot; about customer service, how to package for shipping, and creating a listing.

I'm going to write about a failure I had very early in my eBay sales. I had been making books for about 6 months. Religiously. I was single, living alone and was occupying my time with binding books on a daily basis. I was selling the books I was making just to get rid of them so I could make room for new books. I had a problem. Anyway. I had just started working with leather. I had recycled a grey pigskin coat into a cover. I had laminated a really neat Italian printed paper the the inside. I used eyelets on the spine. And thick 100% cotton paper inside. It was one of my first eyelet, long stitch flap closure books (a design that was later stolen from me by an unscrupulous buyer.) I stitched it up, scanned it (the digital camera came later), and listed it on eBay. What I failed to notice was that the leather shrank after binding. I assume it had something to do with the heat activated glue I used to adhere the paper and the humid conditions in my apartment, we'll never know. A week later, the bidding ended and a buyer form Hong Kong wins. I think that he won for a paltry $20. (If I made this book now I'd sell it for close to $50)

As I packaged the journal, I noticed the shrink checked the pics online, it was visible there. So, I mailed it. It wasn't that much- about a millimeter or 2 off the head, or so I told myself.

A week later it arrives to its destination.

I received the most scathing, horrifying and embarrassing email ever. I read the email as the pics downloaded (I was on dial up) and immediately felt awful. The email was completely over the top, included 9 hi res pics, and details about why I sucked both as a binder and as a person as well as some very outlandish requests, the least of which was that I go f*ck myself. I got really really angry. First at him , then at me. I noticed the issue, checked it online, but didn't notify the buyer. Which should have been my first course of action. Secondly I didn't have a return policy. I allowed the guy  to return the item and sold it to the next person down the list, with the declaration of the issue. They got a steal and I learned a lesson.

First valuable lesson: Always have a return policy. It must be clear, easily understood and specific. Mine is simple: Don't like it return it in the same condition it arrived. Shipping is not refunded, the cost of item will be refunded after I receive the item and inspect it. I will not refund it someone's kids, pets or elderly parents damage it. (That last bit is not a joke, I am so glad I'm not selling on eBay anymore.)

Second Valuable Lesson: Be honest in the listing. Before listing, inspect the item for imperfections. If there are any, list them. Include a photo that shows the imperfection. Better yet, don't list it. If possible put only top quality merch up. Otherwise you can get a reputation of listing second rate crap. I have a section of my shop called "seconds." If I need to get rid of my seconds I list them there at a discount price. Most of the time though, I use them as promo for my shop.

These lessons are from custom orders, Etsy and Artfire in more recent years:

Third Valuable Lesson: Get a feel for buyers and know your limitations. Just because I CAN make a journal doesn't mean I have time, the energy or the ability to comply with every request that comes into my inbox. I have a list of binders that I know and trust will do great work for people. I send the requests for things I don't do or can't handle at a given moment. (I don't do pink, sparkly, bedazzled stuff, don't even ask.) I am no longer shy about saying no.

Fourth Valuable Lesson: No money yet, no ship. End of story. I have $40 in books essentially stolen from me becuase I believed someone to be honest when she said that she would pay me after a paypal mistake was fixed. My mistake. It'll never happen again. Paypal fouled up? Sorry. I'll hold the books until it clears up. I had a check bounce and I was charged $25, each time the bank tried to cash it. They try 3 times. My $10 sale cost me $75. Personal checks not accepted. I have to remember that to many people I'm a faceless seller on etsy and artfire. I'm not a person. I'm not someone they know. I try and personalize my studio and listings but it can go only so far. In short some people don't care about screwing over someone they don't know.

Fifth Valuable Lesson: Be clear about shipping costs. People love to bitch about shipping costs. Journals are made of paper and paper is heavy, so shipping is going to be high. I charge as close to exact shipping as possible. I add a small amount on to cover packing materials and I try to collect recycled packing materials at work. I gather up large amounts of bubble wrap there and I buy large envelopes by the 500 count case to keep costs down. I try to ship priority more often than not because it's a flat rate. I often return the extra money.

I'm sure I can come up with more lessons learned the hard way, but for now I'm done. Feel free to leave your lessons in the comments.