The Experiment

A few years ago, I had a twinge of entrepreneurial spirit after a productive round of spring cleaning and purging… Well, actually, the TV show “Hoarders” scared me into spring cleaning. Not that my house ever remotely looked like the ones on the show but 5 minutes of that show is like a kick in the OCD!

I decided that rather than donating the items I was ready to part with, I would try my hand at selling some items on-line and try to make some money at it. For my first attempt, I wanted to start small and call it a one-month “pilot project” to give it a fair shot. I decided to start with books and CDs.

I did a little research before starting and found that when it came to books and CDs, you just never know who is looking for what, at any given time. There seemed to be a market for practically everything. Whether the items are current, recent or a throwback to the past, on a global scale, some Canadian CDs or books from a few years ago might be a collector’s dream elsewhere in the world. The possibilities seemed endless, it was just a matter of the stars lining up with the right buyer at the right time (he said, with dollar signs in his eyes).

The next step in the journey was to go through the tutorials to learn how to sell and to take all of the free advice offered in order to get the best exposure for my items and get the best price for them. I have to say, the sites make it attractive and incredibly easy to get started. The only tutorial that seemed to be missing was something along the lines of “Psychology 101 for on-line sellers”.

My experience as a buyer was a pretty straightforward drill: I find the items that are of interest to me, I bid, I pay, I receive and if all went well (and in my case, it always did) I send positive feedback. Simple! However, even my own experience working in retail in my high school and university years did not fully prepare me for some of these unique experiences:

1) I offered my buyers two shipping options out of Canada, standard and expedited. I rounded up shipping costs to the nearest dollar to cover for the bubble envelope. One party who was interested in my CDs was adamant that I was charging too much and asked if I could lower my standard shipping price. I explained my policy to which she replied that she shipped from the U.S. to Canada ALL THE TIME and it cost less than that. (Picture me staring blankly at the screen. Did I really need to explain…?) Anyway, I just diplomatically referred her to CANADA Post’s web site.

She never placed a bid. I never heard from her again.

2) One lady was interested in a book I was offering. Her inquiry emails began with “I am very picky about my books”. RED FLAG! I am picky about things I buy too, but her correspondence comprised multiple questions, which I answered diligently and promptly. She then went on to critique my shipping costs (again, that is not my fault!). She never placed a bid. After the auction closed, she asked me if I would re-list the item or else she would buy from another source.

People are funny when they think they are in the driver’s seat.

3) Another lady went to the trouble of making an offer for an item, won the auction, paid for the item and within minutes of winning, asked me a question about the item then changed her mind. I could have been a jerk and upheld the purchase agreement, saying she should have done her homework first, but being the kind hearted guy I am, I agreed to let her off the hook. Easier said than done; there are formalities involved. I understand the reason for it and that the site doesn’t want transactions cancelled at the drop of a hat, but the effort required did cost me some time I’ll never see again.
Oh well, the price of being a nice guy!

4) One buyer, who lived in a major American city, bought a CD from me that took ages to deliver. He was very patient and good natured about it, joking that it was probably getting held up at the border and being scrutinized to ensure it was not a threat to national security. He kindly asked me for the tracking number, but no tracking number was assigned under his economical standard shipping arrangement, so there was no way of knowing where the package was. After the length of time Canada Post said it should have taken to be delivered, I did not want to risk a negative seller rating, so I offered to refund the client his money, to cancel the transaction and I extended my sincere apologies that the item had gotten lost. He agreed. Fortunately, the CD arrived later that day, and I received his email advising of its arrival, thankfully, just before I was starting on the cancellation.

This gentleman’s patience and good sense of humour restored my faith in humanity, but to this day, I still wonder where that parcel went when it ended up taking weeks to deliver.

It was definitely a worthwhile experiment for a month that I did not have a lot going on outside of work. The majority of my paying clients were absolutely great and we left positive feedback for each other. Nonetheless the ups and downs of keeping up with a couple of demanding clients who didn’t actually bid nor buy anything led me to believe that the few dollars I made that month were the result of extremely hard work, especially given my client service orientation versus the constant threat of negative feedback (…My OCD not only applies to cleaning, but also to keeping a spotless record as a buyer and a seller). The moment that the last listed items expired, I breathed a deep sigh of relief, had a glass of wine and celebrated.

Had my spurt of entrepreneurial spirit been stronger or lasted longer, plus had I had more time, I probably would have found a point when my learning curve would have leveled off and I could have handled such unique situations without stressing. Also, after a challenging day at work, coming home and answering time-sensitive emails from prospective clients almost made it seem like I never left the office. But I will admit that the rush I felt when an item sold (…and remained sold) was a fun feeling I will never forget.

I would not discourage people from trying to sell on-line as millions of people use these resources daily to buy and sell successfully. Moreover I found the advice and the information provided to help me set up shop was quite user-friendly and indeed helpful.

If you are ever thinking of selling goods on-line, my advice is to start small, be prepared for all kinds of clients, be prepared to invest time, do your homework and tutorials, be fair, play by the rules, don’t lose your cool, and have fun.

Whether selling on-line or donating your goods to the charity of your choice, in the end, your purging and spring cleaning should conclude on a happy note and with great satisfaction at the sight of your newly reclaimed space.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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