Monday, 27 June 2016

The Great eBay Experiment

While selling off my N scale empire in 2015, I decided to keep a log book of every sale I made on eBay. In clearing out my former coffee table layout, N scale locomotives and rollingstock, I had soon collected a tidy sum that I could put towards acquiring the Australian HO scale items that I either have running on my bookshelf layout today, or have already pre-paid ahead of their release later this year. But I didn't stop there. Having just transferred my entire music collection to digital files for my new music player, I also had quite a large CD collection with suddenly no CD player to play them on. Being small in nature, I thought that whatever I could get for them on eBay could also go towards the Philden Model Railway Account. But when it comes to eBay fees, PayPal fees and the cost of postage, was the experiment worth it in the end?

Buying second hand model trains on eBay tends to be a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. As a buyer, models often range from being listed at overpriced prices in the hope of the seller getting more than what they paid for them, because they are sold-out or no longer available. Or they go cheaply because.... well, quite frankly nobody really wants them anymore. As a seller, that in itself makes for a risky proposition to list models at low opening bid prices in an auction style format. At the end of the day, a model is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. If listing your once treasured locomotives in an auction seems like a gamble, then finding the right figure to list it for a buy-it-now price becomes the key. In selling my rare Alaska Railroad N scale equipment, I asked myself, if I were starting out in N scale again, what would I be prepared to pay for these? Knowing that not everyone is interested in Alaskan N scale, I listed them at buy-it-now prices with free postage and a 30 day listing to gain more exposure. Most of them sold first time round, and I only had to relist the unsold boxcars one more time before they too were gone.

So far so good. It's what happens next when an ATLAS GP40-2 Alaskan locomotive sells for $75.00 that becomes the real concern. Knowing that you'll even pay 10% fees on the cost of the postage, I chose to list all my items with free postage. With the buyer paying with PayPal, I received only $72.60 into my PayPal account, and posting the loco cost me $8.25 at the time, (I believe the 500 gr prepaid satchel bags have since gone up). As for the eBay fees, a standard 10% final value fee after using their free listing feature socked me with another $7.50 in fees, leaving me with a final figure of $56.85 to show for a locomotive that 8 years earlier would have cost me $160.00 or thereabouts. Someone once told me that when you go out with your mates and pay for a beer, you don't get to keep the glass. So in terms of our hobby, getting something back for what you paid for is by far better than having nothing to show for your hard earned hobby dollars.

The pattern continued like this over the course of 2015. My locomotives, buildings, Alaskan railroad DVD's and N scale freight cars that were all sold in groups soon began to tally up. Even allowing for the 4.08% PayPal fees that get automatically deducted, I had over $3,000.00 paid into my PayPal account by early 2016. From this however, I also paid $391.90 in eBay fees, and a further $553.34 to cover the cost of the postage, proving there's no such thing as free postage. Ultimately someone has to pay. Although the $2,403.88 so-called profit was in no way close to what I had once paid for what I sold, the most disappointing part was how much the postage and combined fees added up to, $1,081.88 to be precise. Almost one third of my combined sales. Fortunately I sold my N scale Alaskan coffee table layout direct to a fellow modeler for an agreed upon cash-in-hand price, in the process avoiding the hassle and silly questions that ultimately follow whenever you list a model railway layout on eBay.

It amuses me just how many people still think they can make a living selling stuff on eBay, especially when you have to factor in fees like this. For someone like myself however, eBay was still my best option when it came to offloading my former N scale collection, even if I couldn't sell all of my CD's. But I still can't understand those who buy up new release models at pre-order prices in the hope of making a quick buck on eBay should the model sell out. In that respect, eBay is no different to gambling. If it doesn't sell, you're simply stuck with it until you drop the price and sell it for less than what you paid for it. When you look at it that way, I think placing a bet on the football sounds a far more exciting proposition. But then again, maybe that's just me.

Review Card: eBay, for buying and selling Model Railroads

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: Compared to a model train club buy-and-sell table, the 10% selling fee is much of a muchness, its the rest of the associated selling costs that are a problem. For shopping from home for model trains however, eBay is still the best self-selling medium out there.

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil