EBayers worried about shipping costs

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Seventy-seven percent of eBay and online sellers are concerned about higher shipping costs when new U.S. Postal Service rates go into effect in May, and 26 percent are concerned that postal tools they use may not be ready when the changes go live, according to a recent AuctionBytes.com survey.

Postal rates are scheduled to increase an average of 7.6 percent on May 14.

"Postal rates are going up, and they will have a significant effect on online sellers," said Ina Steiner, editor of AuctionBytes.com, Natick, MA. "There is a lot of tension between buyers and sellers on eBay, and anything that adds to that tension is really difficult. They are going to have to figure out a way to explain to their buyers that they are not making any extra money [on the shipping rates]."

Most of 558 people surveyed reported they sell on eBay (98 percent); 21 percent sell on Amazon; 17 percent sell on eBay's Half.com; and 23 percent sell on their own e-commerce site or storefront. Other sites included Yahoo, myriad online auction sites, bookselling sites, classified sites and online antiques malls.

Ms. Steiner also said survey respondents were brought to the AuctionBytes blog after completing the survey, and many left a comment about shipping issues.

Ms. Steiner said most of these smaller merchants use USPS to deliver their goods. She said most respondents knew about the rate increase, but didn't know how it would affect their businesses.

Most eBay sellers require their buyers to pay for postage. High postage costs could deter buyers.

"[For] lower-priced items, if the shipping goes up a lot, it seems out of whack," Ms. Steiner said. "If you're going to spend $10 for an item that costs $4 to ship, that is going to be a problem."

Another concern was timing. Twenty-nine percent of respondents were concerned that current listings scheduled to end after May 14 would have old shipping rates, and they would lose money on those orders since they would have to ship at the new rates.

"When rates change in mid-stream, it can cause a problem," Ms. Steiner said. "Some of the sellers may have to eat the costs during the transitional period. They know there is just no way around it."

The Media Mail category, which is used to ship CDs, DVDs and books, is scheduled to increase 17.9 percent on May 14.

In a question specifically targeted at media sellers, 30 percent said they don't use USPS Media Mail and 26 percent said they didn't know the rates for new Media Mail.

Twenty-one percent said they would need to raise prices on their inventory or eliminate low-margin items; 4 percent said they would stop selling inexpensive items that they had been sending out via USPS Media Mail; and another 4 percent said they would consider changing carriers as a result of the new USPS Media Mail rates. Also, 15 percent of Media sellers did not know how the new media rates would affect their business.

In addition, beginning May 14, the USPS will no longer transport goods internationally via cargo ships for individual customers. These surface deliveries have been the crucial method by which booksellers have sold books to foreign markets because the cost is about one-third that of airmail.

"Buyers are concerned that the increase in rates may eliminate international buyers, but it will also affect their bidding, so they could have a lower selling price," Ms. Steiner said. "On eBay, the bidding can come down to two people who really want something and if one of those people isn't in the picture anymore, that bidder is going to do very well."

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