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Catholic Guide to Surviving the Economic Chastisement

Making Money Online

eBaY (and ) Revisited



eBay Revisited

An Under-Utilized Tool for Parish Fund Raising


Marketplace Changes

Selling Prices Fall - But Not All of Them


Unique Fundraiser for Parishes

Opportunity for Entrepreneurs


Cost of Selling

A Close Look at Fees


Another Look at Amazon




Make Money on eBay and Amazon Without Actually Selling Anything

March 2009  - As late as a year ago, I recommended eBay as an invaluable tool to make money, particularly for parishes.  In fact, I personally raised thousands of dollars for several parishes and religious communities and with my own eBay presence made a decent living at it myself.

To some extent the eBay option is still viable, but the market -- and the marketplace -- have changed drastically.  Let's start by backing up to how eBay sales were over a year ago and how things stand now.

Five to ten years ago, eBay was a terrific place to buy and sell the hard-to-find.  It was a great place to unload accumulated treasures from the attic or wonderful estate sale finds and fetch a good final selling price with a little bit of luck and a modicum of smarts. Fees were relatively low and people had expendable income to spend.

The market was especially good for the modern Catholic parishes and religious communities that were forward thinking enough to jump in early.  The surplus and unused goods that filled their attics from bygone years -- and the stream of religious goods given to the Church as the result of the death of older Catholics was substantial.  Supply and demand met fortuitously.  There was a huge market for vintage vestments, extraordinary use Missals for use on the altar and by the faithful, statuary and artwork, theological and devotional volumes. In short, the items that were collecting dust in the attics of modern (aka Novus Ordo) rectories, convents and Catholic homes, were the long lost treasures eagerly snatched up by members of the traditional Catholic community.

eBay was also a terrific fund raising venue for parishes receiving donations of non-religious items, too. Most parishes accept donated goods that are distributed in their outreach facilities. They might be household goods, clothing, and often interesting decorative items and knick knacks. In some parishes, they were just put out for whoever wanted them. In others, these items found their way into a thrift shop. In still others, there were seasonal collections for white elephant sales. Lucky congregations had a parishioner or two who were eBay savvy and who had a good eye for collectibles among the general swath of stuff.  Maybe a Hummel or two were discovered, or some odd items that only an eBay aficionado would recognize as having value: Mrs. Tea Machines, accordion music, antiquarian books, and anything Norwegian, to name a few. These were quickly turned around for cash to help the good work of the Church.  This can still work, but you need to do your homework. 

Entrepreneur Opportunity: Make the rounds of parishes and offer this service while charging a small commission. It's still a win-win proposition for everyone.

A Creative Fundraising Option  Most parishes hold "silent auctions" - Books of chances are sold and the buyer has the option of placing one into a cup or box placed in front of a particular item or gift basket. At the end of the event, one ticket for is selected as the winner for that item or group of items. A more "exciting" idea involves eBay. In a nutshell, this involves a cocktail party held in an area where several computers with internet access are available, perhaps in the local library or computer lab at a school.

Collectibles and desirable items (fur coats, jewelry, airline tickets, video games, designer bags, golf clubs, tickets to sporting events, etc.) are assembled and ads for auction are prepared and scheduled to close towards the end of the party. Those attending the party are encouraged to register as eBay users, and if you have them sign up on your website or have volunteers to sign them up at the start of the event, using an eBay affiliate link, your parish will make a small commission. (Discussed below). As the party progresses, guests are encouraged to place bids on the items up for auction. The advantage is that others - throughout the world - are bidding, too. One note of caution: since cocktails are being served, I recommend that you have eBay savvy volunteers to place the bids for your guests so drinks aren't spilled. At least one computer is hooked up to a large screen or projection television set so guests can see the closing prices which are announced by an MC. The impetus for donations is high - at the end of the auction, the donor receives a letter of gift - a tax deduction - for the closing amount. Your parish gets the receipts from the sales and the receipts from tickets to the event and the sale of cocktails -- or just wine or beer and cheese.

Entrepreneur Opportunity:  Offer to organize this event for a parish - starting with invitations, volunteer recruitment, and ending with promptly shipping everything off to the winners.

Then things started to change. 

As parishes and Catholic schools closed their doors to pay for the scandals, their contents were snatched up by large liquidation companies and the market was glutted with Catholic religious artifacts sending prices in a downward spiral.

The smaller sellers of Catholic items who survived did so by having built up a following, but that often needed to be bolstered by having an eBay storefront, too, and that wasn't cheap and it was time consuming. Soon that wasn't enough and to maintain visibility, sellers had to write reviews, offer free shipping and discounts to stay competitive.

Now, with massive layoffs, many are turning to eBay for the first time to liquidate their belongings. There is a lot more competition, but at the same time those who still have cash on hand are increasingly turning to eBay to find bargains.

Soon prices for selling sky rocketed.  Large corporations started using eBay to sell their goods and they wielded leverage for exposure, pushing the little guy to the sidelines.  The final nail in the coffin was hammered into place when eBay decided that only Paypal (which they own) or another credit card processing firm could be used for payment. Another layer to the cost of selling that forced many to call it a day.

Let's look at an example.  Say your modern day parish has a wonderful old Altar Missal that it isn't going to use because the extraordinary form of the Mass isn't offered.  It's in excellent condition and has a lot of desirable features. You've done your research and know that depending on who's looking to buy when you're ready to sell, it could bring between $150-$450.

Let's look at your options.  You'll probably want to sell it auction style rather than fixed price and hope for the best. Looking at the table below, you'll see that it is cheaper to list it under "Books" rather than other categories, but the truth is that it will sell better if you list it under the Religious - Other category. Oh, one more thing. Your Missal weighs 10 lbs.  eBay also decided that no matter how heavy a book is, you can't charge more than $3.00 to ship it. Another reason not to sell under "Books". 

If you start your auction too high, you might lose buyers. If you start it too low, you might potentially lose significant profit.  So, you hedge your bets and decide to start the auction at $25.00. Not so bad. It only cost you $1.00. So far.

Insertion Fees: Auction Style
Starting or Reserve Price Insertion Fee: Books, Music, DVDs & Movies, Video Games* Insertion Fee (other categories)

$0.01 - $0.99**



$1.00 - $9.99



$10.00 - $24.99



$25.00 - $49.99



$50.00 - $199.99



$200.00 - $499.99



$500.00 or more



You want to protect yourself from the possibility of losing out by selling a Missal worth between $150-$450 for only $25, so you decide to add the Reserve Option.  That means your item won't sell unless your Reserve Price is met. But you can't use that option until you have a feedback rating of at least 10. Maybe you do. You decide to set the reserve at $150. More fees. You just spent another $2.00. Now you're up to $3.00 before you've even gotten underway.

Reserve Price Fee

$0.01 - $199.99


$200.00 and up

1% of Reserve Price (up to $50)

In the best case scenario, let's say your Missal sells for $400.  You're not done paying eBay yet. There's still the Final Value Fee. Looking at the chart below, your final value fee will be $15.32. Add that to the $3.00 you've already spent to list it and you've now spent $18.32.

Final Value Fees: Auction Style
Closing Price Final Value Fee

Item not sold

No Fee

$0.01 - $25.00**

8.75% of the closing value

$25.01- $1,000.00

8.75% of the initial $25.00 ($2.19), plus 3.50% of the remaining closing value balance($25.01 - $1,000.00)

Equal to or Over $1000.01

8.75% of the initial $25.00 ($2.19), plus 3.50% of the initial $25.01 - $1,000.00 ($34.12), plus 1.50% of the remaining closing value balance($1000.01 - closing value)

You're not done paying.  Remember, you can't receive checks or money orders. Assuming you don't have a credit card processing service, you'll have to use Paypal.  It's free to open a Paypal account. Let's assume you're not going to open a premiere or business account, just a personal account. If someone sends you payment via their PayPal Balance, PayPal Instant Transfer or PayPal eCheck, you're OK.  If they decide to send Paypal payment using a credit card, debit card or buyer credit, there goes some more money: 4.9% plus 30 cents.  So, your Missal sold for $400 and you decide to ship it by Priority Mail, insured for the full value.  A large Flat Rate Box will cost you $13.95. You'll want to add delivery confirmation for another 75 cents. Insurance will cost $5.55. The cost of shipping is now $20.25 plus whatever you decide to charge for packing - like bubble wrap. That's OK. The buyer pays for shipping, right? Right. Except you're paying 4.9% plus 30 cents to get that money, so you've just lost $1.29 to get paid for shipping. The cost of getting paid via Paypal -- and remember, eBay owns Paypal -- for your $400 missal and $20.25 in shipping is $20.89.

Add your listing fees and your final value fees to the cost of getting paid and you've just made eBay/Paypal $39.21 richer.

We haven't even touched on the cost of hosting images or scheduling the auction at the best time. You can add about another $5 for those features. So you're at $44.21

"So what?" you say. I've just made a profit of $355.79.

Yes, you have.  And you'll get that money in 21 days.


Huh?  That's right.  Paypal holds onto your money for 21 days or until after the buyer leaves positive feedback. You still have to lay out the money to ship it -- and you'd better ship it right away or the buyer can file a non-receipt claim and you won't get your money at all and you might not get your missal back without a fight.

Did the buyer ask you to ship it to someone else? And then did he claim he never received it? Too bad for you.  If you don't ship to the address that is registered at Paypal, you're out of luck. And you might get negative feedback to round things out. Get enough and you're out of the game. As much as we'd like to think otherwise, there are a lot of unscrupulous and dishonest buyers out there.

In theory, you sold a missal that you didn't pay for.  What if you purchased an item to resell? You're stakes are higher. Not to mention all the time and effort you put into photographing and listing it.

Let's not forget about taxes.  Make more than $600 and they'll both report you. Yes, it's taxable income.

Not sounding so tempting any more, is it? 

We didn't think so either and that's the major reason (among others) why I no longer sell on eBay. I started selling on eBay ten years ago. At that time buyers who returned to a favorite seller for many purchases could only leave one positive feedback. I was never one to pester my buyers for feedback. If they left it, they left it. If they didn't, they didn't. At one point I looked at the number of successful transactions and compared it to the feedback left and discovered that only 25% bothered to leave feedback. When I left eBay, my feedback rating was a little over 8,000. It was good when it was good. Then it wasn't.

However ... the last few things I sold on eBay generated some excellent pure profit. There was a car part that someone donated to a church community center. The janitor didn't know what it was and put it out in the trash. I looked at it and thought, hmmmm. I don't know what the heck that is, but it looks new and shiny and maybe its worth something.  It was. It brought $1500.  The last thing I sold was a very old and beat up naturalist book on parrots. I found this one in the trash too. It sold for just under $300.  Discounting the time it took me to research them and the fees involved, those two curbside finds brought in a gross amount of $1800. Not bad.

In summary  ... if you don't have a lot of other options at the moment and you do have the time ... if you have a lot of "stuff" that you'll either donate to a thrift shop or throw away -- or if you're willing to work smart so you don't lose money, say a prayer and give it a whirl.  Just be certain that you research closing prices so you have an idea of what to reasonably expect in today's market.  Try one or two items and see how you do.

If you don't have an account, sign up. It's free.  http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?type=1&campid=5336009058&toolid=10001&customid=

Here is a free eBay and Paypal fee calculator tool to help you out. This guy sells "how to make a zillion dollars on eBay" books. Don't bother. They won't make anyone money but him.

Think Again About  

Just a few years ago, when you thought of Amazon, you thought of books. Only books.  Maybe CDs and DVDs.  But not maternity dresses, pressure cookers or guitars. Not so any more.  In the 2008 Christmas and holiday shopping season, Amazon surpassed eBay in sales and traffic.  This makes things interesting especially for those who sell new items, but increasingly to   those who sell used and vintage items. Restrictions on "vintage" have largely been lifted.

Is it worthwhile to sell on Amazon?  I haven't done it myself, but after speaking with many former eBay colleagues who have made the jump, I plan to start soon. I don't know what took so long, frankly, except that its hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

Comparison of eBay and Amazon

Fees. The cost of selling on Amazon or eBay is pretty much the same. You have to pay a listing fee for every single item you place on eBay whether or not it sells, and if it doesn't sell, you have to take the time to relist it.  And then there's the time spent chasing down buyers who don't pay right away.  On Amazon, you list it and leave it. There are no listing fees, but the final value fee, or commission, is a little higher on Amazon. So, just about the same, but maybe a little less aggravation with Amazon.

Format.  If you're lucky (or, in truth, if God so decides) you will make more money in an auction format, especially if you're selling a collectible and a bidding war gets started.  Amazon doesn't offer auctions, only a fixed price sale.  However, eBay is increasingly pushing fixed price items and most people want to just buy something and be done with it. So, research your price on eBay's closed listings and set your price on Amazon.

Customer Interaction  When you sell on eBay, you get involved with your customers. Communication is expected when you sell on eBay and one of your rating areas is based on interaction. If you have the time, this is actually very nice. A number of people I now consider to be my friends were originally customers. On the flip side of the coin, there are some very unpleasant and (I hate to say it) crazy people out there and from time to time something in your listing, or maybe even your eBay ID, gets under their skin and eventually gets under your skin like a sharp barb or splinter that you just can't get out.  Those two aspects aside, if your goal is just to make money and not friends (or foes) go with Amazon. You almost never deal with your customers. You list. They pay. You ship. End of story.

Changes Changes Changes   Just when you think you've learned eBay and are listing away, quite confident that you're not losing money on shipping and fees, they go and change the rules. eBay claims to be based on community values, but they don't seem to listen to their long time sellers. Ever.  And if you're not a power seller, forget about getting listened to at all. On the flip side, Amazon offers great stability.  Very few changes are rolled out and it is rare that any of the features experience an outage. Once you learn it, I'm told, you're done.

Feedback  Both Amazon and eBay use buyer feedback, but in the case of eBay it is more visible, more arbitrary, and if you get some crazy or unreasonable buyers it can be a severe problem to your sales -- unless you decide to pay Square Trade (another eBay owned company) to get rid of unfair feedback at $35 a pop.  Amazon has an A-Z guarantee for buyers and that makes them a lot more comfortable. For sellers Amazon has the edge in this regard.

Off Site Sales  Amazon does not allow you to brand yourself to drive sales off site to your own storefront, if you have one.  eBay used to allow links in your About Me page but that evaporated quickly. You can't even allude to your site name in your listing or it will be pulled.  If you're a casual seller, that doesn't much matter.

Photos  One of the most time consuming aspects of selling on eBay is photography. Not to mention where to host your photos, which can cost money.  Buyers also expect a lot of photos and if you don't provide them, I guarantee you'll get emails asking for more. On Amazon, you get one photo and that's it.  If it's something that other people sell, too, they'll probably end up using your photo.

Selling Price  Amazon buyers seem to be a little more affluent than eBay buyers. Who knows how long anyone will remain affluent, but for all intents and purposes, they're willing to pay more and that's the bottom line.

Getting Paid  We already discussed getting paid on eBay, which means hand over 4.9% of your payment to Paypal (owned by eBay).  You will also have to chase down buyers who decide not to pay and you'll have to send them invoices.  If they don't pay, you have to file a claim in order to get your inventory released to sell to someone else, and if you don't you're stuck with the final value fee. A lot of work.  Amazon, however, collects the money for you and puts it into your bank account as often as once a week with no fees taken out. There's no invoicing, no chasing down customers, no filing when they don't pay because if they don't pay, there's no transaction. And they don't sit on your money for 21 days.

Return Policy  Recently eBay required sellers to specify a return policy. Some large volume sellers had a guarantee with no questions asked.  Most specified returns accepted only if item was significantly different than described.  Even more said FINAL SALE.  It didn't matter. If you got someone who was in a cranky mood or who gave a second thought to the money they spent, there were some who would try to send things back anyway. You'd then have two choices:  get embroiled in a time consuming (and peace robbing) dispute process, or just give up and send a refund and take a loss.  If you stick to your guns and the buyer didn't bend, you'd probably earn a negative for your efforts.  You'd then Amazon, however, has an A-Z Guarantee that means the buyer can receive a full refund if the item is "materially different" than described and they had 90 days to do it. Well that is a little scary, but by and large, returns are usually a very, very rare part of business overall. Doing away with the process of negotiating a dispute, I'm happy to just deal with the occasional return.

Shipping Amazon gives sellers a "shipping credit" based on category and unfortunately this doesn't always cover the cost of shipping entirely.  While you have a little more control at eBay, there are always more and more restrictions -- like the crazy book shipping rule of $3 even if you're selling a set of encyclopedias.

The choice is yours, of course. Both have advantages, but have pitfalls, but in my opinion, Amazon seems to be broadening its horizons and you might find that if you missed out on the earlier eBay bandwagon, jumping in to the expanded Amazon now -- and making a name for yourself in a previously unexploited area of Amazon might give you a huge advantage.

Making Money on eBay and Amazon without Actually Selling Anything

Do you have a blog, a website, use Facebook or Twitter? Have you visited an interesting site and noticed an ad like the one below - usually something that relates to the content you've been reading?


Maybe you've even clicked on it to take a closer look. Maybe you even purchased it. If you did, someone just made a small commission.  Aside from selling your own products on Amazon or eBay, you can make money by referring your readers to interesting products at these platforms.  Both Amazon and eBay have what are referred to as affiliate programs.

Amazon will pay you a commission of between 4%-8.5% and up to 15% for a referral that ends in a sale. 

eBay also has a program that pays referral commissions based on a complicated quality assessment program. I can't figure it out, but looking at my report, last month I earned about $137 for a couple of links to some product searches on eBay. Not a huge amount of money, but it is literally money I made while I was asleep. You can make more money by promoting eBay in Australia and other countries.  Unfortunately, I don't make a dime by referring you, but here are the sign up links.

Sign up at Amazon Associates here

Sign up to be an eBay Partner here

How does help your parish?  We'll find out in the next chapter

NEXT:  How - and How Not - to set up a website that will make money

             Plus other affiliates that generate better payouts

             Coming Later This Week!