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How Selling Online Could Cost You

Selling a copy of whodunit The Book of the Dead for a penny on Amazon.com last week left Spring Hill, Fla., resident Kevin Van Dyk with his own mystery: why was his account showing he owed $1.37 for the transaction?

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Upon listing the book, Van Dyk alleges, Amazon promised $1.66 if it sold, factoring in commission fees and $3.99 the buyer pays for shipping. But the site didn’t clearly detail that the $1.66 didn’t include the $3.03 Van Dyk paid to ship the book. Hence the balance owed.

“I would never have listed it if they had made that clear,” says Van Dyk, who promptly canceled his remaining listings. “There are literally hundreds of copies of that book listed for a penny, and the only one making money there is Amazon.” The site charges sellers a $0.99 closing fee and a few others that vary by the type of item; for books, an extra $1.35 variable closing fee and a 15% commission. Sellers who opt for a $40-per-month “professional” account don’t pay the $0.99 fee per sale. Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

Spring cleaning is supposed to clear your home of old clothes, books and gadgets — not your wallet of cash — but such fees can easily trip up those who aren’t pros at selling online.

When eBay announced earlier this month that it would cut commissions and waive the listing fees of up to $2 for a seller’s first 50 auctions each month, starting April 19, a few sellers were quick to point out that the changes could cost them more money. That’s because while it cut commissions, eBay now also considers shipping fees part of the total sale value on which those fees are based. An eBay spokeswoman says the restructure encourages sellers to offer free shipping, which can improve sales because buyers gravitate to those listings. “What’s good for buyers is good for sellers,” she says.

eBay coach Marsha Collier, author of the “eBay for Dummies” series, suggests consumers selling online figure in a loss of roughly 15% of the sale price to fees and commissions, and price their item accordingly. Prefer a more accurate assessment? Try an online calculator to figure out your net gain from listing on Amazon, Buy.com, eBay, Half.com and other sites.

Another way to save: skip listing services that offer to do the work of selling items for you. Their take can top 35%.

Nickels and Dimes will keep tabs on new and rising fees and surcharges eating into your bottom line. Have one to share? Email kelli.grant@dowjones.com.


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    • Well….maintaining a platform for people/business to sell merchandise does cost $$. There is a lot of back end architecture, security and data to contend with…of course there is a small fee. That’s why @marshacollier books about ebay stress selling the *right* products. Light weight, easily mailable and higher priced items work best.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.