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.

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