How to Decide Whether to Use Fulfilled By Amazon or Store and Ship Inventory Myself

Buying FBA

As a shopper, I love buying used items. For starters, this saves me money. It also feels good to know I’m helping out another “little guy” seller like myself.

Then one day I got something that was very different than described. The listing said it was in very good condition, but it was closer to acceptable. And there’s a huge difference. For example, very good means there’s no writing or highlighting, the cover looks great, and so on. Acceptable, however, means it’s usable but it’s about to fall apart or is a total mess.

Turns out FBA items, meaning those a small seller sends to Amazon to store and ship, relies on all sellers correctly identifying the condition.

Fulfilled by Amazon for used items also means that Amazon puts all of them in a single warehouse location and picks any of them off the shelf when one is sold.

In other words, you might not get the used item from the seller you think you’re buying from.

As a buyer, it’s great to get used items as part of my Prime shipping. After all, buying a used book in great condition for $8 when a new one is $14 is a pretty good deal.

If the seller ships it themselves, I don’t get to take advantage of the combined shipping. Now the $8 also requires $4 shipping, making the total $12. Suddenly spending an extra $2 to know I’m really getting a new book seems like a good idea.

Selling FBA

As a seller, however, my reputation is on the line every time Amazon sends out someone else’s inventory.

It’s also a lot of work to sell using FBA. In addition to assessing the quality, now I have to bag it in a way that Amazon finds acceptable, and add a label so the picking equipment sends the right thing to the buyer. It also means I have to box it all up to send to Amazon, including a packing slip of exactly what’s in each box. And finally, I have to pay Amazon a monthly fee to store each unsold item.

Which basically gives me two options. One, I can control what the customer actually gets, and the costs of storing and shipping. Or two, I can ship a bunch of stuff to Amazon, pay them to store and ship it, and l hope the customer gets something similar to what is listed.

On the other hand, though, it’s more likely to sell if the buyer can take advantage of Prime shipping. And even if it doesn’t sell for a while, it’s out of my house right away.

Then again, if I hold onto it, it can also be listed on eBay or sold during a garage sale.

So how do I decide?

  1. Can it be listed on Amazon? For example, this platform does better with items that have an ISBN or UPC.
  2. Have I already read / heard / watched it? If no, I hold onto it to buy myself some time to enjoy the item before it sells.
  3. Will I make money selling it FBA? For example, is the average listing price $0.01 (which happens!)? Keep in mind, I have to pay for a bag and a label, and take the time to put it in the bag, print the label, and put the label on the item, and so on. How much am I really going to make? If it’s under $10, I hold onto it.
  4. Does it take up a lot of space? After all, FBA for used items isn’t just for books. One time I sold an amplifier. In this case, getting the floor space back made a lot of sense. If it’s small, I probably hold onto it.
  5. Can and will I list or sell it some other way, such as eBay, Etsy, or a garage sale? If so, I’ll hold onto it.
  6. Can I build a reputation and gain repeat customers? Quite frankly, using FBA for used items doesn’t work that way. The only folks who can get an Amazon storefront are “real” sellers with a physically shoppable location. Meaning I can’t have one. So the real question is, will this item help me build a reputation and gain repeat customers? The truth is that most items with an ISBN or UPC are so commonly available that a lot of buyers don’t really care who’s selling it. But if it will help my online brand, so to speak, then yes, l’ll hold onto it.
  7. Is it likely to sell without the draw of “free” shipping? This one’s a bit trickier because it has to be viewed from the customer’s side of the equation. Will the buyer still save enough getting it through me personally, even with the added shipping costs? If so, I hold onto it.

As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why I might hold on to the inventory instead of sending it in.

But there are two big reasons that override a lot of these answers. First, this is the best time of year to sell stuff, and customers might not even look at items listed on the site that don’t use Prime shipping. Second, I’ll be recovering from spinal surgery until January or February of 2019, making it harder for me to process items that sell.

In essence, then, the only question that matters is the first. If I’ve already enjoyed it and/or no longer have a use for it, off it goes.

Assuming I have time to get things out before the surgery, that is. Which I very well might not because that’s in eight days.

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