Lessons learned selling old cameras

Over the last few years I’ve sold many cameras from my collection. It’s been a surprising adventure. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

I can list a camera so much faster on my blog’s For Sale page than I can on eBay. Really, listing on eBay is kind of a hassle.

Kodak Six-20

I’ve had several bad buyers on eBay, but I’ve had zero problems with people who’ve bought gear through my blog. I’m sure that day will come, but so far everyone has been personable and cheerful about buying from me via my For Sale page.

Sometimes buyers send me very nice emails sharing about their own collections and why they are so excited to receive the camera they bought from me. I enjoy getting those emails and responding to them. It makes the whole experience much more personal, I think for both me and buyers, than is possible on eBay.

Shipping supplies cost money, but I’ve found ways to manage the cost. Amazon A3 boxes are just right for nearly every camera-shipping situation at 10″ x 7″ x 5.25″. More than half of the stuff we buy from Amazon comes in A3 boxes.

I do run out of A3 boxes from time to time. The CVS around the corner keeps 8″ x 8″ x 8″ boxes stocked at about a buck and half each and they’re almost as good as those A3s. I’ve even resorted to buying boxes on Amazon. You can buy any size you can imagine, in bulk. They usually put them into a box to ship them — a shipping box shipping shipping boxes.

Bubble wrap is expensive, but I’ve found no alternative for wrapping cameras. It’s cheapest at Walmart. To fill in the rest of the box I use packing peanuts or sealed-air packs. I get plenty of that stuff in the shipments my family gets all the time.

Always buy the 3M packaging tape. Everything else is junk — the dispensers don’t work well, the tape is thin and hard to work with, or both.

I always want to pay for shipping via PayPal, since that’s where I keep my funds from these sales (and from blog ad revenue and book sales). You can pay for shipping and print USPS labels directly from PayPal here. And now the USPS offers PayPal payment online, too, at Click-N-Ship here.

My wife owns a good kitchen scale that goes up to six pounds. It’s been a godsend. Before marrying her I used to weigh packages by stepping on my bathroom scale with and without the box in my hands, and subtracting. A couple times a buyer contacted me to say my bathroom-scale method resulted in postage due. D’oh! I cheerfully sent them the postage cost with my apology.


21 responses to “Lessons learned selling old cameras”

  1. Dan James Avatar

    Good advice Jim, I agree eBay can be a major time suck, and I admit I stole your idea of selling cameras directly from my blog which was far easier. But of course people need a certain size of readership for this to work.

    On packaging, I used to buy mine in bulk on… yep, eBay! For example for lenses, little 4x4x4 inch boxes are great for most, and these can be bought in bulk lots of 10 or 20 or more very cheaply. Same with bubble wrap – a roll 5 or 10m long and half a metre wide is way cheaper than buying the tiny rolls available over here in Poundland or a stationers, and lasts ages. Tape I also bought on eBay, just brown parcel tape not the 3M stuff, and it was fine for my needs.

    I think for anyone looking to buy and sell in any volumes I’d say be aware of “hidden” costs like the cost of packaging (whilst cheap, it becomes expensive if you’re only selling cheap cameras) and the sheer amount of time it takes to set up a selling listing – even if you have a template or use the “sell similar” option.

    Unless you’re just selling once or twice a month perhaps to keep your collection evolving, and for items maybe £25 or more, my experience personally is that it takes more time and hassle than it’s worth. Loads of stuff worth under £25 (sometimes more!) I’ve just given away in small lots to charity shops.

    1. Dan Cluley Avatar
      Dan Cluley

      My technique with cheap cameras has been to sell them in lots of 3 or 4. You still don’t make a lot, but it seems to make them more desirable, and the shipping costs don’t go up dramatically.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        That’s a good suggestion Dan.

        With me it depended on my mood at the time quire often I was so fed up with having too many cameras I just wanted to give them away, and the thought of packaging up three or four cameras just to get a few pounds back I didn’t think was worth the effort!

        I have bought a number of lots this way though, and often found some gems, worth more than the purchase price on their own.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s true: I couldn’t successfully sell squat here if I didn’t have a large enough readership and a good enough name.

      I never thought about buying packing materials on eBay! I’ll check that out in the future.

      It’s true that the shipping cost per camera is relatively fixed, and shipping claims a larger portion of the total cost/price of a cheap camera than an expensive one. It does mess with the economics of selling cheap cameras.

  2. Michael Avatar

    I typically ship stuff Priority Mail (using PayPal) and those boxes are free. Like Amazon, USPS will ship them to you (also free).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve done that with more expensive items, but I find people balk at paying Priority Mail shipping prices for a camera I’m selling for under $30.

      1. Michael Avatar

        The flat rate ones may be high for that, but the generic PM boxes are usually < $1 more than normal parcel post. Sometimes they have been the same price. I wouldn’t think you’d have many that meet the First Class weight limit.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I did not know there were generic PM boxes! And you’re right, PM is about the same cost as parcel post anymore.

        2. Michael Avatar

          Surprised you’ve never received something in a non-flat-rate PM box!

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          They’re so similar to the flat rate boxes — I might not have noticed.

  3. bettyinparis Avatar

    There is a company called Paper Mart (https://www.papermart.com) that I use to buy cardboard inserts (I sell vintage advertising on the side on Etsy) and they also sell pretty much any kind of shipping supplies. For instance, 8x8x8″ boxes are sold in bundles of 25 for $12.25, $.49 each. I used to sell a LOT on eBay and bought bubble wrap in huge rolls from them. Of course you have shipping cost but their quality is good and I continue to buy from them, in fact I think I’m going to order some bubble wrap right now! I have a few cameras I am thinking of selling off as well, to pay for some upkeep on some others. Walmart definitely the best pricing for “run out and buy some” days though!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s a good price for those 8x8x8 boxes. I’m not sure I’ll end up in the camera sales business for the long haul but while I have more to axe from my collection it’s good to know about the least expensive ways to get shipping supplies.

  4. Mike Avatar

    I sell via a store on Etsy. Costs $0.20 to list, but I find the customers to be a lot more interested in what they are buying. I buy bulk packages of 6x6x6 boxes from the local walmart along with bubble wrap. Click and ship through PayPal also gives you discount shipping. I too use my wife’s food scale to weigh packages. It’s worked this well so far.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve considered Etsy. So far selling direct through my blog is working ok, but that’s at the small scale I’m currently experiencing. Etsy would give me a wider audience to be sure.

  5. susanJOY Hosken Avatar
    susanJOY Hosken

    Jim, I don’t buy or sell cameras like you do but so enjoyed reading about it all in this post …. susanJOY

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Susan!

  6. Cameragocamera - Peggy Avatar

    That’s what I am going to do. Sell on my blog. That way I also get to keep them a bit longer. I am also thinking of going to a fair soon. I will write about the results if I do. EBay became too much of a hassle.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      eBay is just a hassle. It’s too bad.

  7. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    I would suggest getting boxes from usps.com. Order them online and they are delivered free of charge. I use the 7x7x6 boxes for most cameras I’ve shipped. The best part is usps doesn’t care if you ship them priority or first class, they work for either. Personally i shipped priority no matter what, you get $50 worth of insurance with priority and it’s worth the extra 1-2$ for piece of mind. I’ve had to file several claims and it’s quick and easy to get reimbursed for damage.

    Additionally don’t be scared of bubble envelopes for small items and cameras. You can get a two pack (9×12) at the dollar store or one 16×12.Much cheaper than boxes when you don’t need the extra space.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, my friend Michael above made the same recommendation. I didn’t know there were “regular” Priority Mail boxes! No need ever to buy a box again, then.

      1. Joshua Fast Avatar
        Joshua Fast

        The best part is they are free w/ free delivery with your normal mail. However don’t be surprised if they take a month or so to arrive. I order the 25 packs and just keep them in the garage.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.