Let me start by saying that I am no authority on this subject. I am just a concerned citizen who has shipped and received many cards over the last few years. I have seen a troubling trend over the last few months on eBay that we have to talk about. I don’t like being the preachy kind when it comes to collecting and the hobby in general. But trading, buying and selling are a major part of the hobby and shipping is crucial to those aspects. Sure, I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years but I have found a general balance when it comes to shipping; whether a sale, a giveaway or just a surprise mail day. I hope that you will take a constructive view of my thoughts and share yours if you think they are more efficient.
Some of you may be asking, “Is it really necessary to have this conversation in this day and age?” To those that think shipping just comes naturally and isn’t as hard as it sounds, I am going to share four shipping disasters that have been discussed just in the last 7 days on Twitter. I see shipping nightmares all the time but I received my own last week and couldn’t believe my eyes. After making mine available for thoughts, I had others come forward with horror stories as well. So it does seem as if this conversation is necessary at this point. Is it a fun conversation to have? Probably not if you are one of the offenders of the shipping code. Some of you guys are old pros at shipping so this is more for your concurrence or further advice than instruction. But, I legitimately receive messages on a routine basis asking for advice on shipping certain things so for some of you, this may be educational. In any event, I will try to make it entertaining.
I purchased a card on eBay last week. The card wasn’t overly expensive but it was an autographed card #’d to 29 and one I was very happy to make a part of my PC. Shipping on this purchase was free so I didn’t expect an elaborate bubble mailer with insurance and tracking. But I did expect at least an envelope. What I got instead was the packing slip wrapped around the card (in a case) and taped around the edges. My envelope was a piece of printer paper and was shipped from California to Georgia. The card made it safely but I was floored by the effort, or lack thereof.
One of my Twitter buds, @hoot_cards, shared an experience in which he received an eBay purchase with the shipping label taped around a piece of cardboard; very poorly, I might add. The shipping cost less than the amount of tape that was used in this instance and I still can’t figure out what the seller had in mind as he “packaged” this up. Just look at the picture and try to figure it out for yourself.
Twitter bud @bobbyblanco1 has a similar story to mine. The difference is that he bought an Andrew Benintendi Contenders Autograph #’d to 15. This was a bit more expensive than the one I just bought. His was also shipped in a “paper” envelope but he didn’t get fancy printer paper like I did. He got the old high school ruled paper with blue lines. Yes, an Andrew Benintendi #’d to 15 autograph was shipped in a piece of notebook paper! You can’t make this stuff up!
Another Twitter bud, @YabeSportsCards shared a photo of a shipment that his friend @cardfanatic620 received. The envelope wasn’t the issue this time but the way the cards were prepared for shipment is something I see more and more these days. The card he purchased was in a toploader but that was sandwiched between two unprotected cards (Matt Ryan and Greg Olsen) which were taped over the toploader. Granted, the seller at least used painters tape but he taped 2 star players to the toploader to protect the main card.
I have given you four real world examples of shipping practices that are being used in our hobby today. All of these cases are recent and from credible sources. I wish they weren’t true but I have seen enough issues in the last few years to know that they are all too real. My goal with this post is to break down the different ways you can ship a card. There are cheap and expensive ways to ship, depending on the type of transaction you are completing but they are all safe for the card and your shipment receiver should be pleased. This does not take into account any issues with the shipment itself; like being lost or tampered with en route. I have had a few of those instances as well and there is nothing that could have been done to avoid them. They were the result of dishonesty and shenanigans.
First, let’s talk about the shipping methods I find appropriate for each transaction. This can differ from person to person but this is what works for me. Value involved is always a factor too. I generally don’t send a card over $50 in anything short of a bubble mailer. Likewise, I usually don’t ever ship a 1-3 base PC cards above PWE (Plain White Envelope) unless requested or I charge for the shipping.
Giveaways – If I am giving away cards that are less than 6-7 in quantity, I am using the PWE method. I expect no more than that if I am receiving something similar.
Trades – Depending on the transaction, I usually try to square away with the trade partner the shipping method we will use. If it is a preemptive trade and I received a bubble mailer, I am sending back in a bubble. If I get a PWE, I am sending back in a PWE. Usually trades don’t include shipping costs but you don’t want to be the one that skimps. I have had it happen on my end when we didn’t discuss it and I was embarrassed.
Surprise Mail Days – These will depend on the items being sent. Again, a couple of cards will go in a PWE but if I am shipping multiple autographs or relics, I am going with a bubble mailer.
Sales – If I am charging shipping, my buyer is getting the standard First Class Paypal shipping with tracking and a bubble mailer. If you charge for shipping, make sure you are actually paying to ship something. Be upfront about what something costs and let the shipping in fact cover shipping.
Now that we have covered some of the basic reasons you are shipping to begin with, let’s cover the “Tools of the Trade”. These are generally all you will ever need to ship cards and 8×10’s. If you are shipping helmets or a jersey, you need to find the appropriate tools for those trades.
Stamps – For PWE, you are generally going to need a .49 cent stamp and a .21 cent stamp because the envelopes are not “machinable” with a toploader inside. Two regular stamps are fine but you can save a little by purchasing a book of the “additional ounce” stamps.
Bubble Mailer (4 x 7) – These are perfect for a stack of toploaded cards or a graded card. You can pick these up for $4 for a pack of 10 at Wally World.
Bubble Mailer (6 x 9) – I use these when I send out multiple packs or a larger quantity of cards. These are about the same price as the 4 x 7.
Bubble Mailer (8 ½ x 11) – These are perfect for 8×10’s or magazines that are being sent. These run about $1.50 for 2.
Toploaders – The size will depend on what type of card you are using but always use a toploader when you are shipping cards. Even if you only use one with multiple cards, make sure you have something sturdy with the cards. These are about $2.95 for 25 at my LCS.
Team Bags – The team bag totally eliminates the need for scotch tape. Using scotch tape on a toploader is akin to taking up 2 parking spaces or putting ketchup on a fancy steak (I’m talking to you @TheSportsJim). You just don’t do any of these things! Ever! You can get 100 of these for about $3.25.
Card Sleeves – As crucial as the toploader, a card sleeve is an added layer of protection for the surface of the card. These are practically free at my LCS as I can get 100 for .95 cents.
Dummy Cards – These are actually free if you collect Panini cards because they come in every other pack. I use these for protection on the outside of a toploader instead of Matt Ryan and Greg Olsen.
Cardboard – Any type of cardboard will do. I use shipping flaps, box sides, etc. Cardboard is very useful when shipping 8 x 10’s and magazines. They can also help some cards from sliding during shipment if necessary.
Scotch Shipping Tape – This is ONLY for the use of taping shipping labels to the bubble mailer or sealing them. This is NEVER used inside the envelope or on the toploader.
Painters Tape – This is the only tape that should be used on toploaders or to hold two dummy cards together. For the love of the hobby, please!
Printer Paper – Not only do I use printer paper for my shipping labels. I also use printer paper to wrap my cards that go in a PWE as I will outline later.
Scissors – You can’t really accomplish the task of shipping without scissors at some point. I know that may seem like a no brainer item but I am trying to list everything practical that you will need.
I think that covers the “Tools of the Trade” but if I missed something, feel free to comment below. Next up, we’ll get down to the brass tacks of shipping. I’ll cover each method I use in card shipping and have attached a short video for each, showing each step. Again, this is probably too far in the weeds for you savvy veterans but I am trying to help the new guys or the guys that just don’t know they’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. Key word here is “help”. I am not here to berate or make fun of anyone for how they ship. I don’t do it right all the time but I don’t have very many shipping complaints either.
PWE – This is a pretty simple process. I load my cards in card sleeves, put at least one card in a toploader and then load them all in a team bag. The team bag gets taped to a piece of printer paper (with painters tape) and then the paper gets tri-folded around the card. It gets loaded in the PWE and it’s ready to be shipped. I tape it to the printer paper to keep it from sliding during shipping. I also write “Please Do Not Bend” in the bottom left corner of the envelope. Watch me load a PWE shipment here!
Bubble Mailer (4 x 7) – When shipping an autographed card or more expensive cards, I use this method. This is even simpler than the PWE method but I see it messed up quite often. Again, always put the card in a sleeve and toploader unless you have the card in a One Touch. If you use a team bag, there is really no need for tape. If a One Touch, you can load those into two team bags coming from both ends of the magnetic case and use painters tape to secure. The card doesn’t have much room to slide in a 4 x 7 and if it’s packaged right, I don’t worry about that part of it. I always seal the bubble mailer with the shipping tape for an added seal. You can also slide a dummy card in the team bag if you want an added layer of protection in keeping the card from flexing. Graded cards usually get shipped inside the bags they come in from Beckett or PSA. Watch me load a bubble mailer shipment here!
Bubble Mailer (8 ½ x 11) – When shipping a magazine or 8×10, I try my best to find a toploader for them. You have to ship an autographed item in a toploader and those can be found online or at your LCS. I use the added protection of cardboard on either side of the toploader to keep these items from flexing. They generally fit right into this bubble mailer with no room for movement once the cardboard is added. I tape each side of the cardboard with the painters tape to keep the item inside the cardboard protection throughout the shipping process. Again, I tape my bubble mailer closed with the shipping tape for good measure. Watch me load an 8×10 here!
- I use insurance for any cards over $100. This amount may differ from person to person. If a buyer requests it, I will use it for any value.
- When shipping packs, I use an appropriate sized bubble mailer and try to secure the packs with additional cardboard to avoid using any sort of tape for those that like to keep the packs once they have been ripped.
- Communication is the key to any transaction. Make sure you are up front about how you are shipping and make sure you accommodate buyers whenever possible.
- The 300, 400, 500, etc count boxes found at your LCS are best for shipping larger quantities of cards. You can use packing peanuts, bubble wrap or shredded paper for filler. Tape the boxes at all openings and you can put a shipping label right on the box.
- I’m begging you, DO NOT TAPE A TOPLOADER WITH SCOTCH TAPE!
- Lastly, if you mess up, own it and make it right. You can refund the buyer a small amount for the shipping malfunction or you can offer a full refund with the return of the item. Again, communication is the key!
Hopefully, this has been of some assistance to those of you that are new to the hobby or who have struggled with shipping. The key to trading and selling is to provide the recipient with the item in the same condition as when it left your hands whenever possible. As mentioned above, you can’t control incidents that happen during the shipping process but if you package your items correctly, they will be able to survive the normal glitches that can be expected from time to time. I have found that I am much more willing to continue trading and buying from those that ship correctly. It doesn’t matter how cheap the shipping is or how nice the item is, if I don’t have faith in the shipping, I am not going for the item. Please feel free to comment below on some methods you have found that works for you or let me know if I hit on something you hadn’t thought about.