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The weekend that I tried to sell three plasma TVs: FOBO, vs. Craigslist, vs. "Fulfilled by Amazon"

10 Feb 2014  |  Tags: , , , , , ,

How best to resell three TVs, whilst also trying to figure out the best way to sell stuff in the future? Watch these services duke it out: it's the ultimate electronics resale showdown!

TL;DR Don't ship TVs! eBay wasn't considered for this reason, but Amazon was due to their heavily discounted rates for inbound warehouse shipments. — FOBO = item sold in under two hours, made $20 less than Craigslist but with least effort, coolest people, best experience for the buyer, Craigslist = took 2 weeks, made an extra $20 over FOBO (lucky), no fees, Fulfilled by Amazon = after 3 weeks it sold for almost 150% more, but the “oversize item” fees actually made it around ~20% less. Read on for more details!

I'd been wanting to try out this new service in San Francisco called FOBO. It's a “quick” auction service for used electronics. They come and pickup your electronics from you if nobody buys them, but otherwise allow nearly anyone to “bid” up the price in a short auction. It's like eBay, but only 97-minutes in duration for each item. You're guaranteed a certain minimum price (which you're presented with upfront), and that's the price that FOBO pays you if nobody bids. They come pick it up from you, so it's definitely gone within 48 hours and you'll get cash directly in your bank account for it.

The three TVs!
For some, there's a long road ahead. But for the lucky ones, a new home is just days away!

Sound good? It is, but it also depends on what you're selling and how quickly you want to sell it. Once, I tried to use FOBO for a Retina MacBook Pro, and they offered me $1350 as their minimum starting price. I felt like I could maybe make a bit more by sending it to Amazon's warehouse. I've written about this before. — I ended up selling it on Amazon for $1579 (= around $1460 net after shipping costs and Amazon's ~9% fees), but it required some extra effort on my part. — It's possible that FOBO users could have bid the laptop's selling price from $1350 to something higher, but within only a 97-minute auction it can be a bit chancy. On top of that, you're also paying a 15% fee, so you have to kind of do the math beforehand. Either way, it's gone the same day, but FOBO settles the transaction much faster vs. waiting for a buyer on Amazon.

FOBO even buys stuff from you for the minimum starting price if nobody else bids, so it's definitely out the door and gone within 48 hours. Nice. — I literally sold the TV on FOBO and bought a Fitbit Force from someone else on there before I even received the box that I purchased from Amazon to ship one of the other two TVs to Amazon's own warehouse. I see why the service is catching on, because there are a lot of sweet deals on it and it's ridiculously convenient by comparison to what other options are available.

FOBO (logo)

As a classic alternative to FOBO and Amazon, there is also “good ol' fashioned” Craigslist. Craigslist offers free, local classifieds that are completely user-regulated and offer no sort of structured negotiation or payment/delivery. This freedom can be both great and terrible at the same time, due to the potential of being scammed or hassled by “no shows” or trolls. The potential to be scammed in all three of these services is the same ranking in which they were mentioned… with FOBO being the lowest potential for a scam, Amazon offering insurance and “customer service” for sellers as well as buyers (including returns), and Craigslist offering virtually no insurance or guarantees what-so-ever.

All three services are very different but ultimately all aim to accomplish the same task: get rid of excess or outdated stuff as quickly, conveniently, and profitably as possible. — Watch me try to sell three near-identical plasma TVs… three different ways! Bring on the TVs!

Overall winner, most convenient: FOBO

FOBO was, by far, the easiest and fastest to setup and use of the three. I pretty much just took a few pictures of the TV (in this case: a “working, good-condition, 32-inch LG TV from 2006 with remote and power cord”), typed in the brief description, and waited for pricing information to come back. This was done through their free App on my iPhone, and took about 10 minutes total to submit.

The App then notified me within an hour (amongst various other Push notifications in Notification Center of stuff locally for sale) that my item was ready to be published and that the starting price had been found. I said “OK”, and the 97-minute auction instantly began! — The item would sell for at least that price (in this case, $85) to a FOBO user, or ultimately be picked up by a FOBO staff member themselves for the minimum starting price and resold by them later on. Hassle-free? We'll see.

3tv_fobo_notifying

After a couple of hours, I checked the auction. A bidding war between two people had begun for the TV!

Two users bidding up an item on FOBO

I believe this bidding war resulted in the higher price than average price, as a few days before that… a similar TV from a similar brand had sold for up to ~30% less:

Winner of the TV on FOBO!
If it weren't for the bidding war, it could have sold for less. I earned $120, but two other recently 32-inch TVs had gone for $85 and $100.

Because I was the seller, I was the ultimate decider of when the buyer could pickup the item. Ultimately, they only offered to come pickup the item the next day. That was kind of a pain, versus just shipping the item to Amazon whenever I found time, but it ended up being alright. The buyer and I exchanged a handful of messages in order to coordinate this, and some casual conversation once he arrived. He was reliable and punctual, so that made me happy. There are lot of flakes on other services!

The transaction was pretty simple and my total “hands-on” time invested was about a half-hour. This includes waiting for the guy to arrive at the scheduled time, chatting about FOBO and such when he arrived, and the initial listing/approval/monitoring. The price was good, but as mentioned… if I had listed it a few days earlier I could have made up to 30% less profit… which suggests that there is some demand volatility versus services with a larger reach. It's a little unpredictable when it's first starting out, but the service is convenient and really cool. You can get lucky as both a buyer and a seller! — Plus, not having to ship stuff rules.

Largest audience, yet worst contender for oversize items: Fulfilled by Amazon

Amazon is great, except for the fact that you have to ship the stuff to them first and that can be bad for something large like a TV. — For sellers, Amazon basically acts like a giant Costco warehouse to store your stuff while other people can buy it at the prices that you set. It's awesome, and lets you take advantage of Amazon's prime online retail presence and existing “Prime” customer fast-shipping network. — This is awesome for cleaning out your house (as I wrote in a previous blog post), but terrible for bulky items like televisions. In general, shipping a TV is a horrible idea. I went to Amazon's own website and ordered a $46 USD “TV Box and UBlox Foam Kit” just to hopefully carry out this task successfully without damaging it. That's $46 already invested, before fees and shipping.

Amazon (logo)

I was optimistic, since Amazon's access to “super discounted shipping” (just $13.97 for this special box's dimensions including the TV's weight) made it possible for the TV to travel cross-country to its Pennsylvania warehouse designated for this particular item. With FOBO's starting price at $80 USD for the TV, I had initially figured that trying to sell the TV on Amazon for about $149 could still fetch a decent profit as comparison. Unfortunately, while waiting for the “EcoBox” to arrive, I learned that the numbers would be less of a landslide than I'd figured as the FOBO TV had sold for $120 and already been picked up from my San Francisco apartment. I decided to try and sell the TV for $179 to make up for that.

EcoBox arrives for the TV

Having had spent about 30-minutes researching the special TV box and various shipping methods… and also calling nearby FedEx and UPS Stores for packing advice, this was already also feeling like a huge timesink compared to the local-focused alternatives like FOBO or Craigslist. Part of this was due to my inexperience in shipping TVs and the high-risks in doing so. Part of it was also due to the hassle of shipping stuff in general. — In the past, the profit margins that I've experienced while selling on Amazon have been the highest (even given the additional labor of shipping to them), so I've preferred it. However, it could be more convenient to use a service like Shyp to pack up your stuff and send it for you. Still, I doubt that Shyp would be very excited about packaging a TV.

In total, including research, printing of shipping labels, packaging of the TV, and carrying it out my front door to a UPS truck that had happened to pull up and deliver something, I spent nearly an hour in preparation of getting this thing out the door to Amazon. I did have to wait a few days just for the “EcoBox” to arrive, and then another week for the box to arrive at Amazon. I usually try to save the boxes from my inbound Amazon Prime shipments and new electronics for this reason. Just stuff them in a closet somewhere!

Since I already had a free Amazon seller account, I simply Googled the TV's model number, found the product on Amazon, and then added it as an item. I created a used item listing stating: “Good condition, working television. Includes remote and power cord."” — I also didn't have any guarantee that it would arrive safely to Amazon's warehouse even with the special box, and since UPS wouldn't insure what it considered to be an “improperly packaged” TV (although I had tried my best)the game was on, and I was rolling the dice.

Packaging the flat-screen TV carefully using the special box
Seems legit. The $46 box bears “THIS SIDE UP” wording to ensure that the carrier won't stack things directly on the TV's delicate front panel.

The last challenge with Amazon is that once someone buys something through their website, they can still return it for a few weeks. That means you're stuck dealing with an item in limbo between them and Amazon, and possibly back to you. It depends on the item, and the condition in which it was returned. Returns bring on additional fees and hassle, and for this reason, I would classify Amazon as being “medium-risk” with Craigslist and FOBO being high-risk and low-risk respectively.

If a return does come back to Amazon, they'll try to resell it but otherwise it is returned to you at additional cost. Craigslist is a cash-based, face-to-face transaction with a complete stranger and no feedback system, so there's different risks there although returns are highly unlikely. FOBO has a few more safeguards in place like user profiles and electronic transactions, and friendly staff members available to help out in the event of any issue. — Part of the higher than average sale prices with Amazon is from you basically operating as a retailer. Brick and mortar stores operate the same way: 50% average profit margins over the wholesale cost from the manufacturer. This larger profit margin is supposed to help them ensure the stores' profitability and keep them in business, even throughout the typical retail hassles of providing returns and customer service.

Amazon provides guarantees and insurance against scammers, as does FOBO. Overall, the process for non-bulky items going to Amazon is way easier, but its selling tools have a considerable learning curve as well.

Not bad, but not comforting: Craigslist

I hate selling on Craigslist. It gives me anxiety. I can tell you two “scam” stories of me dealing with Craigslist:

  1. One time I was selling an original, sealed Nintendo Wii that I had acquired shortly after its launch… just before the holiday season. It was a hot gift item and they were fetching nearly double their original MSRP in resale. — I offered one for sale on Craigslist, met up with a dubious fellow driving a Lexus in a Home Depot parking lot, proceeded to somehow miscount the money, and ended up jipping myself out of nearly $100 of the profit. I still made money (vs. keeping the Wii), but still. Electronic payments are key to reselling, as they're better at guarding against accidents and fraud like this.
  2. Another time I was selling, ironically, a 32-inch TV. A guy offered me $200 initially over email, then said his “car broke” and dropped that to $150 in another email. Then miraculously “found” $10 in the couch or something after I said “no”… to $150… bumping it to $160. — This whole time I didn't really know what was going on, but I've now heard from friends that Craigslist buying/selling “actively engineers new scams and new scam artists” through its use. This guy came to my house to get the TV and handed me $30 in cash, and said casually that I could “count it if I wanted to”. I obviously did count it (not miscounting either this time) and asked for the rest of the money. At this point, my mother came out of the house and started blasting him with kind conversation and he gave me the rest of the money stashed in his car. Scary!

With that said, for the sake of the comparison, I had to sell the third TV on Craigslist to really determine the best way to get rid of old electronics. Could it be Craigslist? Let's find out.

26-inch Samsung TV on Craigslist

The listing process was much like FOBO, where I took a few photos of the item and wrote a short description. It's 2014 and Craigslist still doesn't have an iPhone App, but they do have a mobile version of their website. Apple finally allows HTTP Image Uploads in Safari, and overall it works alright: https://mobile.craigslist.org

Unlike FOBO but similar to Amazon, I had to come up with the starting price by myself. This wasn't a “retail” price, it was a “haggler's” classifieds price. FOBO takes some of the guesswork out of finding a good starting price for you, after waiting about an hour for them to do it. Craigslist and Amazon leave this up to you based on what else is available, and then you're also stuck moving the price around based on supply and demand to try and attract a buyer. Also, with Craigslist, you're stuck negotiating with buyers after that.

Someone come to pickup the TV.
The last TV, getting ready to leave the building.

I had seven buyers contact me via email about the TV. All but the final person bailed. The names have been changed.

Anonymous: hi i have the interested for this "26" samsung flatscreen tv and i have one offert. for $95 ,00 please contac my thsnks sorry my work is very slow good look
Trey: How old ? any paperwork
Me: It's from like 2007. Want it?
Trey: I will pass to old
Me: But it works great. Want it for a better price? Make me an offer
Trey: No thanks
Nicki: Hello, I was wondering if your TV was still available? We were also wondering if you have ever hooked your computer up to the TV through an HDMI cable. This is how we currently watch TV since we don't have Cable TV and have looked at a few TVs that don't have this ability.
Me: Yes it's here! Want to come grab it today? It has a VGA input as well as HDMI. Both of which can be used to attach a PC/Mac.
(no response)
Janet: is it still available and would u consider 100?
Me: Sure, I can take $100. When can you pick it up?
Janet: I can go today. If that works...is it super thick?
Me: It's not thick... it's a flatscreen. If you can definitely come by today, what time would you be able to come?
(no response)
Ernie: I am interested to get this TV if still available, my offer is $ 100 for it. Thanks
Me: Sure, I can take $100. When can you pick it up?
(no response)

The final emailer, Fred, offered a personal introduction and seemed fairly dedicated to completing the deal.

Fred: Hi there, I'm interested in your flat screen for my girlfriend, and I have cash. I'll be in the ***** ****** Thursday night if you'd like to arrange to meet for purchase. I work at ******** ****** ****** in the ******, so I may look familiar! You can contact me here or call/text XXX-XXX-XXXX. Thank you! p.s. Is there a remote?
Me: Nice! I eat there sometimes. This sounds perfect. My place is super close to there. There is a remote, yes. I'm not going to be home until 11:30PM on Thursday though. I don't mind meeting up that late but Friday might be better?
Fred: Cool, I am not scheduled to work tomorrow, but I could come to the neighborhood sometime anyway, if that's ok. Otherwise, Friday is good!
Me: Yeah Friday is best. What time do you want to swing by?
Fred: I'm off at 5:30, how about around 6-7pm?
Me: Cool. See you then. I'll have it ready to go for you.

I stopped by Fred's place of work and had food at one point, and he was a really nice guy! He stopped by my house later that same day and picked up the TV. $140 cash was mine, which was slightly more than FOBO but required me to wait 12 days and email with a bunch of people.

Results: an exposé

It's been clear to me in the past that the most $$ can be fetched via Amazon for the right item, but the problem is that you never know this beforehand. If you've got a good job, you might value your time more than messing around with Amazon or Craigslist and prefer just going over to FOBO. Plus, both FOBO and Craigslist are way easier to use than Amazon's seller tools for the most part.

Given what a PITA shipping a TV is and the additional costs involved, Amazon loses out this time. It sold for the highest price, but got slammed with hidden costs like packaging and “oversize item” charges. — FOBO was the most convenient and safest given the electronic transaction, guaranteed sale, speed, and lack of returns, but Craigslist did earn the most overall profit in the end, despite being slightly nerve-wracking.

 CraigslistFOBOAmazon
Selling price $140 $120 $179
Net after costs $140 $102 $84.55
Avg. Selling price $65, $150 $85, $100 $225 (new)
Marketed Fees N/A 15% 8%
Actual Fee % N/A 15% 19.27%
Large item surcharge N/A N/A $16.19
Total fees N/A $18 $34.51
Additional shipping N/A N/A $13.94
Time invested 45min 27min 35min
Time to cash in hand 12 days 4 days 30+ days
Listing time 10min 10min 15min
Preparation time N/A N/A 20min
Packing supplies N/A N/A $46
Packing delay N/A N/A 5 days
Time to departure 12 days 2 days Same day
Transit delay N/A N/A 7 days
Handoff 10min, in person 10min, in person N/A
Payment method Cash Electronic Electronic
Seller risk High Low Medium
Buyer risk High Low Low
Buyer communications 25min 7min N/A
Returns N/A N/A Rare
Miscellaneous I don't want to meet up with people. Returns suck!

I will say that as the buyer from a local service like FOBO or Craigslist, you are stuck spending up to an hour going and picking up an item from the seller… where as Amazon will just deliver your purchase to your house while even give you the option to return it. — This can increase buyers' interest given that it's lower risk and less hassle for them in the end, versus just being the most convenient option for those selling.

Most people don't save the original boxes for their electronics, so in many instances shipping to Amazon is less realistic and bears additional costs. I, personally, always save the boxes for most non-consumable items over $40-$50 USD, because I believe that it is essential for storage, transport, and/or resale of these things of value. If I had had the original boxes for the TVs, I could have shipped any of them to Amazon without really any hesitation or issue beyond the “oversize item” fees.

Conclusion: FOBO is for most people.

Let's face it. Most people don't have the time or patience to tinker around with Amazon's seller tools. They just want to take a picture of something, sell it, and be done with it in less than a couple of days.

I've shipped out and sold stuff for years, so I'm pretty experienced with the logistics of it and don't really mind dealing with it. FOBO is the product that answers most peoples' needs. For power sellers, Amazon is potentially a way to make bit more cash and have a bit more control, but this will change as FOBO's audience and reach grows.

If you're selling tons of stuff, take your pick from these services. FOBO is quick and solid, and alleviates some of the pain points in selling items. Amazon can offer super cheap shipping, but still can't get around the shipping of things to multiple destinations, nor the costs of packaging and handling both typical and atypically awkward/large items.

There's no silver bullet here, but FOBO definitely finished the entire job with in a couple of days with the least conflict. Amazon generally gets stuff out of your house just as quickly while potentially earning more (for non-oversize items), but it can take a while for the transaction to complete. If you want to get on with your life and not worry about it, FOBO is where it's at.

How much effort do you feel like putting into selling something? How large is the item? Is it delicate, in demand, and reasonably up-to-date?

By all means, avoid Craigslist if possible… because it offers absolutely no protection for you as either a buyer or seller. You could be handed fake currency, or (as a buyer) end up with something defective/broken! Sometimes it's your only option for selling something… but this depends on where you live. The lucky people of San Francisco have FOBO now, and you could soon, too. — In some instances, I'd almost recommend the tax write-off from giving stuff to Goodwill over using Craigslist.

All in all, try each of these services out if you haven't already. FOBO is new, it's cool, and is a lot more enjoyable to use than the others. Figure out which works best for you and leaves you with the most satisfaction and free time to do other things. Also, check around and see where people are paying the most for whatever item that you're selling. Compare the resale prices to the amount of time required for each service. Good luck out there.

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