April 4, 2020

Adventures in Amazon Sales.

We have a not-so-secret addiction here at Astroguyz HQ; books and CDs. For decades now, we’ve brought several of these paper and plastic trinkets home almost daily, some to be glanced at or listened to maybe once, never to be heard from again. Heck, we love music, and a good book is just a precious discovered gem, even in today’s electronic age. But as a consequence, we nearly need a second house  just for our library! Late in 2008, I resolved to downsize our collection; with a cold eye, I resolved to only keep books that were valid research and reference resources. And as for music, I decided that all CDs would be digitized… at nearly 1,000 CDs, a monumental task! In my life-time, I’d gone from records to cassettes to CDs… I vow that digital is the last format change that I’ll endure. Time to be old and set in my ways; you’ll get my MP3’s from my cold dead hands…

What follows in this weeks’ off-topic post is a “how to sell things” look at Amazon.com. We were a bit skeptical about the entire process; after all, who actually buys CDs anymore? We feared that after six months, we could say we only sold two CDs. We are happy to report that once we started loading up CDs at a rate of a dozen a day, we had sales almost immediately! On a good day, we’ve sold 11 items; Amazon is linked to your bank account and deposits payment once every two weeks. On a good two week period, we’ve made over $300 US; we average about 50-100$ per pay cycle. Amazon fronts you postage to defray costs; they take about a 20-25% cut of the payment. School books are our best sellers; we’ve sold some within hours!

Learning the ropes of Amazon was a trial and error process for us, and not without its pitfalls. The first snag we ran into was accurately indentifying items, not as straightforward as it might sound. Is that Foo Fighters CD the original, re-master, or foreign “extra-track” edition? We found that loading items strictly by ISBN-bar code was the best (but not infallible) method. A USB bar code scanner would come in handy for this. Some foreign and local CDs couldn’t be found via this method; we simply copied these and released them to the wild, or our local thrift store.

Our second major dilemma occurred was postage. Did we want to be journeying to the post office every day? After experimenting with USPS online a bit, we settled on Stamps.com. For a minimum monthly subscription fee, we can now print 1st class, media mail, and international postage, from home. Stamps.com may not be worth it if you mail one letter a week, but it is definitely invaluable if you’re mailing items every day. Between the two, I spend less than an hour a day tending to my Amazon store.

Amazon differs from EBay in that sellers, not buyers, set, compete, and drive the price. Key to moving inventory is having the lowest price out there; I usually do a full look-through of my inventory once a week to see if someone is “under-cutting” me. This can get a bit ridiculous, as some inventory gets pushed down to $0.01, hardly worth the fuss for the seller. Of course, that’s a great price for the buyer…

As far as shipping materials go, I found that the local Sam’s Club strikes the best deal between sturdy materials and affordable price. I started off selling CDs at about $5.99 apiece; I find that 0.99 is the lowest I can go and make any sort of profit. A typical sale might break down as follows;

Set price: $8.48

Shipping Credit: + 2.98

Total: $11.48

Amazon Commission: -$3.06

Postage: -$1.39

Packaging Materials: -$0.40

I take home: $6.63

As you can see, it hardly pays to spring for the high end, dollar-a-piece heavy duty mailers. Perhaps you’ll be able to find a bulk deal for these online, but honestly, I’ve only had less than a handful of reports of damage or loss in the hundreds of orders I’ve processed worldwide, hardly enough to justify the expense for the sometimes meager profit margin…

And speaking of which, the Amazon ratings system drives your success or failure as a seller. My advice is to ship quick; my goal is to have each and every order in the mail within 24 hours, (48 on the weekend) expedited or no. With Yahoo Messenger I’m alerted within minutes of an order. My stats attest to this; I’ve got a 98% lifetime rating, and only got maybe a half dozen negative comments in the past two years, mostly damage/non-delivery issues that we have no control over. We tend to refund without question, as we would expect the same service, and again, I’ve probably only had to issue refunds for less than 10 customers over the years. You can upgrade to “pro-seller” status for a monthly fee, but we’ve been happy with the free individual seller profile. And yes, you can easily shut your store down and restart it using the vacation mode settings.

From experience, we’ve found that hot-items, from best to worst, are as follows;

-          School text books

-          New CDs/Books

-          Imports/rare items

-          Older CDs/Books

-          Cassettes

-          DVDs

Their seems to be a glut of books and DVDs out there, probably as a result of the numerous Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos that have closed their doors and sold off their inventory. We’ve even sold small electronic knick-knacks, such as cell phones and the like with some success.

Finally, if you’ve read this far, I’m going to tell you a secret; how to get free (and legal!) CDs. This takes a little bit of fore-thought, but if a newer CD is popular and still fairly valuable, you can buy it, burn it, and resell it for a net difference of a dollar or two. Much cheaper than a 1.25$ per song at ITunes, and the MP3 version is yours ad infinitum… we’ve even made a small profit on a few.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking; how about selling stuff on Amazon full-time? Is there a profit approaching an actual salary to be made?   If one was smart about it, I believe so. The trick would be to budget those other two key resources of time and energy, as well as money, wisely. Do you live in an area with lots of thrift stores and yard sales? To be profitable, CDs shouldn’t be more than a buck a piece… even then, it pays to know what sells, so you don’t end up with a garage full of worthless inventory. Smartphone apps are out there where you can bar code scan items; ideally, these should give you the current competing Amazon prices right in the field. I sometimes hit yard sales while on my daily jog; I tend to just keep a good mental database of artists that seem to sell.

So there you have it; one primates’ adventures in the wacky world of Amazon. Now that my life’s music collection has gone cyber, it’s just a matter of keeping it organized; in addition to a 500G portable drive, I back it up daily on Jungle Disk, again, another fine Amazon product. It thrills me to no end that online sources like Amazon give me an alternative to what is sometimes meager local fare.  I once heard a lady say she prefers Dollar Tree to Wal-Mart ‘cause she doesn’t have to get “all dressed up,” But when I shop at Amazon, I don’t even have to wear pants!  Stop by our Demon Dave Books/Records site, proudly selling the finest in Metal-o-belia etc. since 2008. Tell em’ Astroguyz sent you!


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