Monday, March 31, 2008

Designing & Critiquing An Ebay Listing: Picture(s)

To continue where I left off in designing and critiquing an ebay listing, it's time to focus on one of the most important aspects of listing on ebay and especially for etopps.

You're not going to go far selling etopps cards on ebay without having a picture of the card. I hate, when re-listing, I don't realize (for some reason) the picture for the listing doesn't show up so the card goes pictureless until I look at it (at the end of the listing) to see why it didn't have any bids.

Kudos to all of those ebayers over the years who have emailed me to tell me I've screwed up something in one of my listings to get them corrected.

Plain and simple you need to have a good picture for the listing. The encasements for in-hands are the worst thing about photographing them. It's probably a lot easier to have one scanned. But you cannot just use a cheap scanner like the one I have. If you do, you end up getting a blurry picture of the card while the hologram etopps sticker is in focus. For the Ken Griffey, Jr. listing, the seller gets an A+ for the quality of the scan.

The whole picture is in focus and shows what the card looks like with a high-quality scan.

If you're like me and choose to photograph the card with a digital camera, I highly recommend using Google's free software Picasa. It's very easy to use like most photography editing software.

The main problem with photographing an etopps card is the camera flash. All etopps in-hand cards have a refractor-like finish so adding additional light to the mix is challenging.

For any etopps card, you will probably need to take at least five pictures. Once you see them on the computer, you may need to go back and take more photos of the card to get it right. Oftentimes I check the viewing screen after the photo is taken to see how it looks. Many times I delete the photo, knowing already too much light from the flash bounces back.

Here are a few tips:
  • Background: use a couch or someplace where you can have the card stand up straight on its own. Having anything around the card or any color pattern other than a solid color is distracting. You also don't want a background that will reflect light, rather you want something that will absorb the light.
  • Lighting: have an overhead light or a floor lamp off to the side. The higher the wattage the better. You may see this light reflect in the card. If so, move around so you loose that reflection.
  • Camera approach: take the picture on an angle. Why? If you take it straight on, the flash will be reflected in the card. Also, take the photo on the side of the picture rather than in the middle. Even if the card is on the right or left side of the picture, cropping will center it in your picture.
  • Distance: take it about two feet away. Too close and the flash will overexpose the card; too far away and even the best cropping won't help the card look anything but small.

In the above picture, the card is on an angle and I took it to the right of the card. By cropping it becomes this:

Notice that light still reflects off this team card. It's hard to avoid this but at least it captures what the card is supposed to look like if you held it in your hand. Since when you hold an etopps card in your hand, it's hard not to see light reflecting in it anyway.

You can use the light that shows up in the card to your advantage too. I'll use the set of three photos of Big Ben as an example. In the left photo, you will notice that a ray of light slices across Ben's torso. This did not look cool to me. But in the middle photo, the light is aligned with Ben throwing the football. I thought that was cool so I chose this one over the left one. The right photo is what the middle one looks like after I cropped it.

Another lesson I've learned is how you hold the cards prior to having them photographed. Just as the encasements are sensitive to light, they are the same way with fingerprints. Either hold the cards on the edges (like a photograph) or remember to wipe off the card with a piece of cloth.
Most recently I purchased a shadow box with lighting so the cards would look better in the lighting. It's not perfect but I didn't have to worry as much about the lighting as I did before. Here's a picture:
I know there's a legitimate focus on portraying the front of an etopps card but what about its back? I have hardly ever sold an etopps card at a card show in which the customer does not look at the back of the card as well. Isn't the back of the card part of the experience of getting to know a card? You would think the back of the Etopps Classics sets with the re-reprint of the player's rookie card would add something to an ebay listing. I know that more photos mean more upfront const per photo after the first one.

If you're concerned about this extra expense for an etopps in-hand listing, I would recommend using the website Auctiva. Whenever I want to sell something requiring more than one photograph, I use this website to list multi-picture listings because you can use up to 20 photographs for a listing without having to pay extra.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Marketwatch - March 28

As of today, March 28 the following are stats covering the last 7 days on ebay for etopps in-hands:

Quantity of etopps in-hands listings: 271
Sell-Through: 60.52%
Average starting price: $3.62
Average final price: $8.72

Highest Single Card Sale: 2007 Cameron Maybin, $24.99
Highest Mult-Card Sale: Allen & Ginter Presidents Set, $190.43
Highest Graded Sale: 2001 Albert Pujols BGS 9, $115.00
Highest Non-Graded Autograph Sale: 2007 Adrian Peterson, $165.00
Highest Graded Autograph Sale: None

Other best sellers:
2001 Barry Bonds
2007 Brandon Jackson
Johnny Bench
Denny McLain 31 Wins
Roger Maris

In-hand listing (not including graded or autographed) that received most bids that sold well: tie - 2 Lot 2005 Matt Garza RC and Allen & Ginter Presidents Set, 12 Bids

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Designing & Critiquing An Ebay Listing: Categories & Item Specifics

After choosing a title, there a couple of things in an ebay listing to take care of before getting into the item description and picture.

When choosing a category to list an etopps in-hand, it's quite easy to find a home: Sports Mem, Cards & Fan Shop -> Cards -> Sport of the Card. Then you have a choice of Rookies, Singles, or Lot if you're selling a bunch. After the first two, you then drill-down to Range of Years (such as 2000-Present) and finally the year of the card. In the Ken Griffey Jr. listing, this is shown at the top of the listing and it's more-or-less a no-brainer. But what about the etopps baseball rookie card? It's not considered a rookie card in the traditional cardboard collecting world. An etopps rookie card is a player's first year card the year they are called up.

There are only a few etopps rookie cards that are considered "true" rookie cards. To name a few of the more well-known ones:
2001 Albert Pujols
2001 Ichiro Suzuki
2003 Jeremy Bonderman
2003 Hideki Matsui
2004 Brandon Webb
2004 Kaz Matsui
2006 Dice-K

You may get a few cardboard collectors asking you (via ebay or at a card show) why you would call a 2003 Miguel Cabrera his rookie card while his real rookie card is from 2000. I would recommend explaining that etopps qualifies a rookie card when they have their first major league at-bat or pitch rather than when they are in the minor leagues. This won't be too unfamiliar to them since the rookie card designation for cardboard has taken this approach since 2006.

The biggest mistake that's made with categories is the failure to change the category if needed for each card you list. I have seen etopps cards listed under other collectibles and for categories that have nothing to do with sports memorabilia because the seller forgets to change the category from the last listing they had made. I am quite guilty of this myself. Too many times I have gone back to listings after they have started to change their categories.

You may not care about categories but it does make a difference. No one is going to search for etopps cards in a category for webkinz stuffed animals or music memorabilia. These are actually good buying opportunities to take advantage of the mistakes of sellers who forget where they are listing an in-hand.

Now that there is something called Item Specifics, there are even more search choices (and more erroneous listings of etopps cards). The item specifics helps buyers drill-down more of what they're looking for. In the Ken Griffey Jr. listing, the seller made selections for the cards' item specifics:
Original/Reproduction: left blank
Card Type: "Single"
Year/Season: "2006"
Card Manufacturer: left blank
Card Attributes: left blank
Professionally Graded: No

I was surprised he left three item specifics blank. You've got nothing to lose by saying its an original card manufactured by Topps. In the Card Attributes, there's a set of check-off boxes (so you can have more than one) consisting of Autograph, Rookie, Piece of Authentic, and Serial Numbered. Since this card is serial numbered, I was surprised this seller did not pick the Serial Numbered choice.

Worse, the seller missed the best Card Type pull-down menu choice: there's one for etopps!

Like with the quality of the title, I would give the item specifics a B+ because he has room for improvement. He nailed the Category choice which is an easy A if you don't forget to change it for each etopps listing (that is, if you're listing multiple, single cards one after the other).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Designing & Critiquing An Ebay Listing: The Title

Let's say you received your delivery of in-hands from etopps recently. You've inspected them for any flaws and have them organized somewhere in your home. The next step you may be considering if you sell etopps in-hands is to list them on ebay, one at a time whether through ebay's SYI form or turbo lister or through another third-party website such as Auctiva.

In my nine years of selling on ebay, one thing I've learned is there are many things that can go wrong when setting up a listing. (I'm surprised ebay hasn't factored this in when they say the average sell-through rate for anything on ebay is about 40%. They should say "give or take 5%" because I think this is more accurate.)

What I think separates a successful listing from ones that don't sell is the quality of the homework done: Do you know which in-hands are selling better than others? Do you know when is the best time for a listing to end (if you are preparing a core listing vs. store)? What to ask as a starting bid or fixed price? What to charge for shipping? What to include in the item description? It can be a little intimidating if you're new to doing this. And it can be a mine-field for mistakes if you're not careful.

In this blog entry, I'll focus on the first thing to consider when listing an etopps card - the title.

This is hard to screw up unless you can't spell - name of the player for the card, the year of the card, and the words "etopps in-hand." Since almost every seller covers these basics, the rest of the listing title is what can make you stand out or blend in. (And what I'm implying is it is no longer a market in which it's a matter of selling X but how you sell X).

There are other ways to stand out in the ebay in-hand market such as price and the quality of the picture of the in-hand but keywords bring more eyeballs to listings thanks to search engines.

For ebay seller durshar, this listing of Ken Griffey Jr., is fairly good. For the title, I would give it a B+ and a B+ for the overall presentation because there is room for improvement.

Because this is a 2006 card and these were serialized, it makes sense to include the print run and the #/ to imply it is serialized. I don't think there is any gain to including the actual serialized number in the title unless it's related to Griffey like his jersey number (#030/999). On a side note, I wouldn't recommend listing total print run in the title if it's over 1,000.

The word "Reds" is a weak keyword on its own and having it with four asteriks doesn't help either. With more than 6,000 listings on ebay with "Reds" in the title, this is not going to bring more looks to his listing. When you have only 55 characters, you've got to use them.

This seller had 50 characters used out of 55 and 9 of them were used for a blank space followed by "**REDS**. What could he have used with these 9 + the 5 left over to get more eyeballs? As a store listing, I would recommend either of the following:
- baseball card (12 characters)
- e-topps (7 characters)

I recommend the first one for Google to pick up this listing. Remember: Google will pick up ebay listings depending on the title and people do not always search on Google the same way they search on ebay. "Baseball card" will help this listing with Google.

I recommend "e-topps" because it attracts not only those who search for etopps cards this way (thanks to the grading services coining this spelling) but also the hyphen isn't picked up in ebay's search engine so you attract people searching for topps ken griffey jr which, at the time of this writing, has only 7 listings. Not bad if you have an etopps in-hand listing that has more than 7 other sellers listing the same card as you.

In upcoming blog postings, I will be reviewing additional aspects of this listing that wil include this listing's category, the seller's Item Specifics choices, Pricing, Shipping, Picture and Item Description.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Marketwatch - March 21

As of today, March 21 the following are stats covering the last 7 days on ebay for etopps in-hands:

Quantity of etopps in-hands listings: 309
Sell-Through: 61.49%
Average starting price: $2.57
Average final price: $8.03

Highest Single Card Sale: Allen & Ginter John F. Kennedy, $69.99
Highest Mult-Card Sale: Cole Hamels 2 In-Hand w/ 1 graded BGS, $27.49
Highest Graded Sale: 2003 LeBron James BGS 9.5, $69.95
Highest Non-Graded Autograph Sale: 2007 Adrian Peterson, $162.50
Highest Graded Autograph Sale: 2001 LaDainian Tomlinson BGS 9.5 w/10: $278.56

Other best sellers:
1954 Mickey Mantle
2003 LeBron James
2007 Phil Hughes
2007 Ryan Braun
Torrie Wilson Autograph

In-hand listing (not including graded or autographed) that received most bids that sold well: 2003 LeBron James, 9 Bids

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Now Critiquing Ebay In-Hand Listings

Before I begin a series of postings about listing in-hands on ebay, I want to offer the following to this readership: if you sell in-hands on ebay and would like to have one of your in-hand listings critiqued, please email me ( The critique will consist of the following sections:
  • Title
  • Description
  • Quality of the photo of the in-hand (if included)
  • Pricing: Starting Bid or Fixed Price and Shipping Charge
  • Total Grade
Each section will receive a letter grade. There will also be a Total Grade which will incorporate the grades of the specifics of the listing as well as the overall quality of the listing.

The only restriction I have to this is when the listing you want critiqued will end. It must have at least 3 days remaining from the time you email me.

What I haven't decided yet is whether to incorporate these critiques into future blog entries or provide separate entries for each critique. I think this may depend on how many I receive.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Special Discounted Shipping Offer for Allen & Ginter Super Bowl Champions and Presidential Candidates Sets until 3/31

From the etopps website:

Special Discounted Shipping Offer with Matching Sequential Numbers!
The Allen & Ginter eTopps Super Bowl Champions Collection will be ready to ship the end of the month. We are offering special discounted shipping between March 17, 2008 and March 31, 2008. If ALL 6 cards from the collection are present in your portfolio and you request delivery of the six cards during this window you will receive the cards with a special shipping discount of $9.99 per set, and we guarantee each card will have matching sequential numbers (for example, the Troy Aikman card will be 5 of 999, the John Elway card will be 5 of 999, the Terry Bradshaw card will be 5 of 749, etc).

IMPORTANT: Offer is valid for delivery of ALL SIX Allen & Ginter Super Bowl Champions Cards ONLY. No other combination of cards will be eligible for the discounted shipping. While there is no limit on the number of groups of six you may request through this offer, each group is subject to its own discounted shipping price. eTopps rewards points cannot be used towards this special shipping offer. Should you request delivery of the six cards after March 31, 2008 you will be subject to regular shipping costs and we can no longer guarantee the sequential numbers on the 6 cards will match.

I tried ordering a set and noticed a few things:
  • The announcement states that the set will be available at the end of this month for delivery rather than the scheduled 4/25/08 date even though this April date is still listed for these cards if you go to the Take Delivery page.
  • When placing my order, I received this message after accepting the terms of condition sale: " Due to a communication error with our Credit Card Processor, we are unable to process your delivery request at this time.
    However, our technical staff has been notified of the error and will be working on resolving this issue as promptly as possible.
    Thank you for your patience as we work to resolve this matter."
  • When checking out, the cost is $8.99 rather than $9.99
Since registering on etopps almost 6 years ago, this is the first time I ever experienced a problem in processing my credit card order.

Update: After about half an hour from the time the offer became available, credit card orders can be processed and will be charged $9.99 for the set. Whether they will be shipped at the end of the month remains to be seen.

Update (Again): From the etopps home page and link from the home page:

Special Discounted Shipping Offer with Matching Sequential Numbers!
The Allen & Ginter eTopps Presidential Candidate Hopeful cards will be ready to ship the end of the month. We are offering special discounted shipping between March 17, 2008 and March 31, 2008. If ALL 4 cards from the set are present in your portfolio and you request delivery of the set during this window you will receive the set with a special shipping discount of $7.99 per set, and we guarantee each card in the set will have matching sequential numbers (for example, the Hillary Clinton card will be 5 of 999, the Barack Obama card will be 5 of 999, the Mitt Romney card will be 5 of 999, and the John McCain card will be 5 of 999). If you received a free pack of 2007 Topps Allen & Ginter at the time of allocation and still have the pack in your port, and wish to take delivery on it at this time, the discounted shipping rate of $7.99/set will include the free pack.

IMPORTANT: Offer is valid for delivery of ALL FOUR Allen & Ginter Presidential Candidate Hopeful eTopps cards (and the Free Pack of 2007 Topps Allen & Ginter if applicable) ONLY. No other combination of cards will be eligible for the discounted shipping. While there is no limit on the number of groups of four you may request through this offer, each group is subject to its own discounted shipping price. eTopps rewards points cannot be used towards this special shipping offer. Should you request delivery of the four cards after March 31, 2008 you will be subject to regular shipping costs and we can no longer guarantee the sequential numbers on the 4 cards will match.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Marketwatch - March 14

As of today, March 14 the following are stats covering the last 7 days on ebay for etopps in-hands:

Quantity of etopps in-hands listings: 357
Sell-Through: 57.7%
Average starting price: $3.09
Average final price: $10.40

Highest Single Card Sale: 2001 Mark Brunell: $39.99
Highest Mult-Card Sale: Mickey Mantle Collection: $300
Highest Graded Sale: 2001 Albert Pujols BGS 9.5: $86
Highest Autograph Sale: Brett Favre Event: 50,000 Yards: $250.00
Highest Graded Autograph Sale: 2001 LaDainian Tomlinson BGS 9 w/10: $158.49

Other best sellers:
2001 Brett Favre
Allen & Ginter Presidents Set
2007 Alex Rodriguez
Johnny Unitas
Bo Jackson (Football)

In-hand listing (not including graded or autographed) that received most bids that sold well:
Torrie Wilson Auto: 13

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Know Your Inventory (Don't Be Like Me)

Whenever I get a set of three new emails in my inbox for an in-hand transaction on ebay -- the acknowledgement to the buyer ("you won!"), the acknowledgement to me of the in-hand sold, the paypal payment notification) -- I'm a happy camper. I send my acknowledgement to the buyer and later that day, mark the paypal email in my inbox that it's ready for shipment and later that day I get prepare the shipment of the in-hand which begins with fishing the card out of the monster box that lives under my office desk.

But there are a few times each year that when I go fishing I come up empty. I double check: no bites. Then I triple-check: uh-0h.

Yes, ladies and genltemen of the jury: I have accidentally sold a card (or two) I didn't have. It's not something to boast about and it's down-right embarrassing especially when it's time to fess up to the buyer. It's so much easier at a card show when this happens: "Sorry, sold out."

So how can this happen to me? Or to you? If you do not have an ebay store, you probably do not have much to worry about.

If you have an ebay store, listings last 30 days. At the end of 30 days, you get a notification that the listing has ended. Simple, right? You re-list for another 30 days and so on. There is also another option for listing - you can keep it going indefinitely until you end the listing manually. For one card, this is fine. Ebay just charges you for the re-list and it continues until you want it to stop. Which is fine, too.

The problem is if you have multiples of a card (or any item), by default ebay will re-list the card with the quantity you started with. In other words, if you have a store listing that shows you have 3 2005 David Wright in-hands and 1 sells in that month, unless you manually change the quantity to 2 that are available the next time you re-list or when it re-lists automatically, the listing will say you still have 3 of that in-hand rather than 2.

And to add to this when you list a store item, you better make sure you have it listed for 30 days because by default it's set for "end when notified." So if you created a store listing of an in-hand which you have multiples of and forget to change the time of the listing from forever to 30 days, you'll come up empty on a card in your inventory...eventually.

If this happens to you, I recommend the following: curse ebay under your breath, refund the buyer fully as soon as you can and then email the buyer through ebay saying that you simply screwed up with your inventory, apologize profusely, recommend other cards you have that they may be interested in, etc. The longer the apology the more understanding they will be...hopefully. I have never received negative feedback for making this kind of mistake. I handle it professionally and the buyer is usually more appreciative of my actions than frustrated.

The lesson to all of this is to know your inventory, especially if you have an ebay store. It's always a good idea to make sure you have everything that you have listed and you may be surprised that you have that Derek Jeter you thought you had listed but missed.

Another good tool to keep track of your in-hand inventory is to create a new portfolio on cardtarget. Simply enter each card manually. It helps a lot and you can keep track of what you paid for each in-hand as well to calculate to figure out your margins. This may take time depending on how many you have but in the long run, it's worthwhile and could prevent your monster box from eating that in-hand you just sold.

If you consider selling all of your in-hands, you can always make this portfolio public similar to selling an online portfolio to make it easier for potential buyers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Back On Line, New Website Address, New Look

Due to an error by the website design company who will be using blogger for my ecommerce website blog, this blog was down since yesterday afternoon.

Rather than keeping the previous name for this blog, the new web address is more suitable

Also, I did some tinkering in the design of the site to make it easier to read.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Storing Your In-Hands: Hello Monster Box, Bye Bye Baggies

So now you have a bunch of etopps cards from etopps via UPS. Each card is still in its "baggie." Each card can be considered genuine mint. Rubber bands and bubble-wrap are strewn all over the floor. Whatever adrenaline you had in receiving them is now receding. Now what.

If you do not have that many in-hands, the box that etopps supplied for shipping the cards makes a nice storage container but if you are receiving these cards to re-sell them, the box they came in is not exactly what you want for the long haul. It will take time to find a card that sold on ebay if you store all of your in-hands in five or ten of these boxes.

Rathern than creating a monster with your inventory, I recommend a sports card Monster Box.
The picture above holds 3200 regular cardboard cards and costs roughly $5 online. They are bought and sold unassembled and are easy to put together. They come in different sizes in width based on rows. I have both 2-row monster boxes and 5-row boxes.

You can divide your cards by sport or by year. Those of us who have done card shows depend on this type of box to transport inventory. After I injured my back, I bought some 2-row boxes to prevent re-injury.

While it's tempting to keep your cards in the baggie that came with the card, storing the cards in their baggies in these monster boxes is not your best option. Each row of a monster box fits the width of an etopps in-hand card perfectly but the added width from the baggie will be more of a hinderance than an asset.

Instead I would recommend removing the etopps cards from the baggies and keep the baggies someplace else (such as the etopps shipping box) and use a different product to protect your etopps cards from scratching each other. Enter the funyet bag. Maybe this is abbreviated from "Are we having fun yet?" but I doubt it. They fit each in-hand snugly and have an adhesive seal to close each bag. These are indispensible for the 2005 in-hands to make it easy to include each card's Certificate of Issuance.

If you sell an in-hand on ebay and ship it in a fun-yet within a baggie inside a bubble-lined mailer, you're going to have a satisfied buyer who will appreciate your business.

You can buy them from an etopper who sells them in bulk. For more information, email him

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday Marketwatch - March 7

As of today, March 7 the following are stats covering the last 7 days on ebay for etopps in-hands:

Quantity of etopps in-hands listings: 300
Sell-Through: 58.67%
Average starting price: $2.73
Average final price: $10.25

Highest Single Card Sale: Allen & Ginter Ronald Reagan: $55.99
Highest Mult-Card Sale: 2005 Baseball Set: $289.99
Highest Graded Sale: 2001 Albert Pujols PSA 10: $162.50
Highest Autograph Sale: 2007 Adrian Peterson: $199.00
Highest Graded Autograph Sale: 2001 LaDainian Tomlinson BGS 9.5: $232.50 (ended 2/27)

Other best sellers:
2003 Dwyane Wade
Allen & Ginter Presidents Set
2007 Adrian Peterson
2005 Jeremy Hermida Auto
Allen & Ginter John F. Kennedy

In-hand listing (not including graded or autographed) that received most bids that sold well:
Etopps Lot of 19 In-hand Cards: 11

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Etopps Announces Shipping Delays Due to Discounted Offer

Subject:eTopps Shipping Delays

Due to the overwhelming number of orders placed during our
Special Discounted Shipping Offer, we are experiencing some
delays in processing all shipping orders for etopps cards.
Our processing center is working diligently to get all orders out
in a timely manner.

If you need to have cards shipped immediately, we suggest
that you select the NEXT DAY AIR option for shipment.
Please note that Next Day Air orders placed after 12 noon
(ET) will be shipped on the next business day.

Thank you once again for your continued support of eTopps!


The eTopps Team

Alex Gordon Autograph: Strong Buy

Based on the autograph offering of Alex Gordon that's posted on the etopps homepage, it looks like we can expect more baseball autograph offerings. In last month's Q&A, Mark Sapir acknowledged with a capital "yes" that we should expect more 2007 Baseball rookie autograph offerings.

The Alex Gordon autograph is being offered on Thursday (3/6) at 1pm. It will cost $39.99 and only 1 can be ordered per account. On ebay I did a search for the past 30 days for autographed Alex Gordon cards that had a total quantity of 99:

19 Listed
Sell-through: 84%
Average price: $52.94
Highest Sale: $120 (2007 Upper Deck Black Auto Patch Flag /99)
Lowest Sale: $21.16 (2007 Bowmans Best #30/99)

I would assume that the ones that sold the lowest were sticker autographs rather than on-the-card autographs which usually sell at a higher price. 11 of 19 of these listings sold at or below what etopps is charging for the autograph.

Nevertheless, I am optimistic that this will sell well above etopps' asking price:
  • It's the first baseball autograph offering
  • There's been a lag between this autograph offering and the last one
  • This is quite reasonable. If this was offered a few weeks into the season and Gordon got off to a good start, etopps could easily sell this for $99 and it would sell out

Monday, March 3, 2008

Inspecting for and Reporting Damaged In-Hand Cards

Today is the last day to receive discounted bulk shipping on etopps cards. It's a good deal that is offered (at the most) once a year. Usually what occurs some time after this promotion is a freeze on all shipments for a period of weeks to count their inventory. As soon as this gets posted on the homepage, I'll post it here.

(Speaking of inventory, now is the time (if you haven't already) to ramp up your baseball listings on ebay. Spring fever--I mean, training--is in full-swing and baseball buying is heating up.)

If you have taken advantage of the the discounted shipping, you probably have received the cards by now or will be receiving them soon. Each card is inserted in, what etoppers call, a "baggie" which is a sealable (a la ziploc) that is great for protecting each card's case from scratching into others.

When you order a few, etopps sends the cards in a padded jiffy envelope. When you open this up, you will find a few small bubble-lined enveloped. They fit one or two baggied etopps cards in each envelope, depending on how many you ordered.

With bulk shipping, you most likely have or will receive a box from UPS. Inside the box, you will find the baggied cards grouped together in bubble-wrap. I wouldn't stab the bubble-wrap. Find where the bubble-wrap has been taped together and remove it this way. The baggied cards will be held together by rubber band across the width and length.

There's not much friction on these bags that hold each etopps card. Once you remove the rubber bands, be careful in how you hold them and where you are. I usually remove the rubber bands over a bed or couch because the bags are slippery when you have three or more in your hands. If you are standing and they land on a hard floor, you could damage the acrylic casing.

I write all of this because it's good information on how to package multiple in-hand cards for shipment if you get a big order on ebay. I have followed these steps for shipping and have never had a problem with the cards getting damaged in transit.

The most important thing you can do when you receive these cards is to inspect them for damage. Here is a checklist on what to look for:

1. When looking at the card, make sure the etopps hologram sticker is at the bottom of the card, not at the top.

2. If the card is supposed to be serialized or have a total print, is it on the back of the card or (for 2005 cards) is the Certificate of Issuance included?

3. Are there any bits of the acrylic case (or debris) sandwiched on the front of the card or the back? If a case is damaged, bits of the case will usually show up somewhere in the case.

If a piece of the case is on the card, it's likely the surface will be scratched since the piece is most likely sharp. Over the years, etoppers on the etopps message board have reported "foreign" objects in the acrylic case such as a strand of hair. There was a famous "booger" card several years ago that made it to ebay. All of this is unacceptable.

4. Check the surface of the card. This is the most time-consuming and the most likely problem you can encounter. Because the cards have a reflective surface, move the card a little in your hand to let the available light reflect off the card. This way you'll have a better chance at seeing any damage on the cards.

The most likely problem is tiny pock marks or dots on the surface of the card. If you want to have the card graded, it's in your best interest to have this card replaced because Surface is the toughest sub-grade for an etopps card and will most likely determine if you'll get a total grade of 9 or a 9.5 by BGS.

If you like to get your cards shipped to you as soon as they become available, be aware that these surface issues may crop up more, especially when the card you wanted had been delayed due to printing problems in the past. For example, I ordered a Joba Chamberlain card as soon as it became available and I found about a dozen tiny dots on the card. Same happened with getting Reggie Bush's rookie card delivered.

If you are unfortunate to have a card that is damaged in some way or if the card is anything but in genuine mint condition, you can file a damaged card dispute. I would write here how to get to this link on the home page but for some reason, if you submitted your claim you will not get a response from etopps. This has happened to me the last two times I completed the form on their website and hadn't heard from them after a week. I called and they confirmed: do not use this form on their website.

Instead, they suggested to call etopps customer service (1-800-489-9149) to report the damage. Most likely once you explain the damage, they will send you by email a UPS label to ship the card back to them. It takes about a week to 10 days to receive the replacement card.

If you plan to sell in-hands at an upcoming card show, it is a good idea to factor in this time-frame for replacing cards that are damaged.