Postage - Don't be ripped off

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I've written this guide because of the many and continuing topics of complaint regarding postage at the community discussion boards.

There are many fair and honest sellers on eBay who are just as bothered as the buyers with those sellers who inflate their postage quotes. If a buyer has a bad experience it can reflect badly on all sellers.

I'm a firm believer in the power of knowledge, so keep reading and let me empower you!

Perhaps this has already happened to you.

Your parcel arrives and you find that there's a huge gap between what you paid for postage and what you can see it has cost the seller to send. I'm not talking about 1 or 2 dollars more, but $10, $20, even as high as $50 extra. So how can you avoid this happening to you?

The only way to get a greater understanding of what is a good deal is to ask some specific questions and learn a few simple things.

What is the postage or stamp cost?

There are flat rates for parcels under 500gms in weight throughout Australia. It doesn't matter whether the parcel is posted in WA and is being sent to Tasmania, or is being sent from NSW to Victoria - the cost is the same. You can find out what the regular parcel charges are within Australia by going to the Australia Post website or calling into your local post office and asking for a Post Charges Easy Guide. For non-breakable items such as books, magazines, clothing - a seller may elect to use a 'satchel'. These are particularly useful when combining items. Several items can be fitted into satchels and this can knock quite a few dollars off the postage cost. Be aware though that satchels have a limited preset weight and dimensions and if the items won't fit then the seller will have no option but to use a different method. Costs for satchels can also be found on the AP website or by inquiring at your local post office.

Packaging. You have a right to know what a seller intends to use to package your item. This can become particularly important if the item is breakable. It may seem sensible to you that a fragile item would be boxed, surrounded by packing peanuts and bubblewrap - but never assume it will be.It is also important to know what the packaging is when calculating a postage quote. Sellers are entitled to recoup the cost of packaging and add this to the postage quote. At this stage eBay doesn't have a breakdown of costs that the buyer can see (for example when you go into the postage section you'll only see one overall price for 'postage and handling', whereas a seller when preparing their listing will be able to input postage cost (stamp cost) and a handling charge (personally I put the exact packaging charge in this line) - but as a buyer you won't see that.

If the item weighs over 1kg the dimensions of the parcel becomes very important. Australia Post will give the package a deemed weight depending on the measurements. What this means is that although the actual weight of the parcel may be 2kgs, Australia Post could charge for 4, 5 or more kgs based on the physical size of the package. This is called cubing. Don't worry about this just yet though, I will give you an easy solution to working it all out further on in this guide.

Asking a seller questions is possibly the most important part of trading successfully on eBay. Online shopping is different to shopping in your local store. You can't handle the item, examine it, see how big, or feel how heavy it is. A photograph cannot accurately convey this information to you.

If the item description doesn't already show it ask the seller for measurements. Apart from allowing you to 'visualize' the item, it is your first indicator to calculating the postal rate. You will have a rough idea of how big your parcel could be. Which brings us to the next point.

The next thing you need to know is what does the item weigh when packed. Always ask for the overall weight as packaging can add on a surprising amount.

Now that you know the weight, the packaging used and the dimensions of the parcel you can calculate easily what the postage will be by using the Australia Post website 'parcels within Australia' calculator.

To use, first insert the seller's postcode. It's possible you won't know what it is and I don't recommend asking the seller as some may find the question to be a little intrusive. Instead, if you look at the item description the seller should have written where the item is located i.e. Queensland - just type in the postcode for the state's capitol city (in this case 4000), then put in your own postcode where it says destination. Use the drop down arrow to select a weight range. Then type in the length, height and width - in cms - in the boxes below. It doesn't matter if you mix these up and put the height measurement where the width should go. Then click calculate.

You may not know for sure the size of the packaging as not everyone uses Australia Post products, or the item may be large and of an unusual shape. In which case add approximately 5 cms all round to allow for packaging. For example the seller has told you that the item is 20cms x 30cms x 15cms and they are going to wrap it well and put it in a box. You know the box is going to be bigger than the item so when you use the calculator insert 25cms x 35cms x 20cms, just to be sure.

You now know the actual postal rate, but is that all you'll be charged?
Many sellers will want to recoup their packaging costs whether it's a padded bag, a CD mailer, or bubble-wrap. So look at the products page of Australia Post and add on the appropriate amount.
Some sellers may also add a handling charge. This can vary from seller to seller and covers such things as their time, their use of personal transport, and any number of other things the seller believes is relevant. What it shouldn't cover is eBay fees, these must be recovered by the seller through the item cost. Excessive Postage and Handling Policy

Registered parcels and Express Post will also cost more than regular mail, so if the seller uses either of these methods be aware of that.

Another point to consider is the seller may not use Australia Post services. Private couriers are another option and many can cost more than Australia Post.

Do ask your questions before buying. If it's an auction don't wait until the last few hours or minutes to contact the seller, there may not be time for them to get back to you.

If after getting your answers and doing your calculations you find the seller is charging more for postage than you believe is fair, DON'T send the seller accusatory or angry emails. There are other sellers, so just move on.

On the other hand when you add the item cost to the postage price and you find that it still works out to be a cheap deal, it may not matter to you if you've been overcharged on postage. You have at least made an informed choice.

Never be afraid to ask a seller a question. If you're polite about it most sellers are only too happy to answer almost any question.

For your convenience I've written an example question below:

"Dear seller,
I am interested in purchasing your item but I would like to know a couple of things first. Can you tell me the height, width, length and weight when packaged. Also what kind of packaging will you be using to send the item.
Thank you for your time."

It's simple, succinct and friendly, and I believe most sellers would respond favourably.

Thank you for reading my guide. If you have found it to be helpful in any way please click the yes box to vote.

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