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eBay Standard Envelope – The Worst Best Thing in Online Card Sales?

Updated: May 21

Expensive cards get all the hobby headlines, but the vast majority of cards sold every month are cheap.

For years, the question online collectors and dealers had to answer was “what is the best way to get these cheap cards from point A to point B?”.

One camp was firmly on team “bubble mailer package with tracking” only, and the other camp embraced the wild wild west of shipping via Plain White Envelope (PWE).

The package option provided extra security, tracking, and sometimes a bit of insurance.  The PWE option was cheap.  Just the cost of a couple stamps could get a handful of cards across the country.

As a seller of mostly low end base and insert cards, I embraced shipping PWE from the beginning of my resale journey.  The articles and YouTube videos I created continue to be some of the most popular content I’ve ever produced.  The worst case scenarios of lost mail, damaged cards, and buyer scams were way overblown.  I’ve shipped thousands and thousands of orders via PWE over the last 8 years and only a tiny fraction of those orders have ever had issues.  

I was happy to generate thousands of dollars of additional sales with the tradeoff of the occasional $4 refund for a lost or damaged envelope.

However, when it came to selling on eBay, there was an additional consideration.  Seller ratings were partially based on having tracked shipments which weren’t possible for PWE mail.  

This program would allow you to print a special label through eBay to ship cards worth $20 or less in a standard size envelope as long as they weigh less than 3 ounces and aren’t too thick. Sellers would get a slight discount in postage, and most importantly, ESE orders would come with tracking and insurance.

It was a low-end buyer and seller’s dream come true!

Not so fast.  

The ESE program has been running for a couple years now, and while the vast majority of transactions flow through just fine, there are some pain points that have been raised that make the use of ESE very frustrating and challenging for sellers.  Again, a small percentage of sellers are being impacted, but there are enough issues that something needs to be done.

First, the tracking is very inconsistent:  late scans, early delivery scans, no scans at all.  Second, the USPS staff don’t all seem to be aware of the program and some sellers have their orders returned or delivered with postage due.  Third, eBay does not clearly communicate expectations to buyers and puts the entire communication, item not received, and claims reimbursement process on the seller.

Personally, I’ve had very few issues with my shipments as both a buyer and a seller, but others have not been so lucky.  Ty Wilson from the YouTube show Chasing Cardboard recently posted a Tweet where he expressed some frustration and made several suggestions that eBay could take to improve this process.

Here are Ty’s Five Suggestions which I’m quoting from his original Twitter thread:

FIRST, start adding a disclaimer to all buyers/auctions that use the ESE shipment method. Something as simple as:

"ESE shipments can take up to 4 weeks to process and arrive in your mailbox. In addition, these items do not have tracking #'s so you will not see daily updates."

SECOND, if there is ANY buyers claim that has to do with ESE shipment dates/delivery.... it should automatically just fall into a different claim category and end in a refund to the BUYER (and not force the SELLER to have to defend themselves each time).

THIRD, eBay needs to clearly communicate that basic rules of the program to the USPS distribution centers. It makes NO SENSE to have a program like this if the rules are different across each distribution center.

FOURTH, eBay should create a unique shipping label that clearly distinguishes that it's an ESE shipment. This shouldn't be hard... come up with something that clearly shows that it's part of the ESE program.

FIFTH, automatically deny/remove any negative feedback from a ESE shipping issues. Clearly, poor packaging and/or damaged goods will fall outside of this... but if it's for a NOT RECEIVED then a negative feedback SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED.

As I mentioned, personally I’ve only had issues with a handful of PWE shipments whether through the eBay Standard Envelope program or Sportlots orders that I ship with regular stamps.  I’m talking probably less than 1% of my shipments.  An even smaller number of them have resulted in me having to issue a refund and use the insurance process to be reimbursed.  

But there are enough sellers who are encountering issues, that making some tweaks to the program would be a great step to gain more consistency and enhance what is really a fantastic option for low end card buyers and sellers.  Giving buyers more clear expectations, and giving sellers more confidence that eBay has our back will lead to a stronger hobby ecosystem on the platform.

What has your experience been?  Have you run into issues with the ESE program or shipping via PWE in general?


Peter Wilhelm
Peter Wilhelm

I agree with the second and fifth suggestions. If an ESE doesn't arrive within 30 days (maybe 45?) of purchase there should be an automatic refund without the ability to leave negative feedback. Implementing the second and fifth suggestions would mean you wouldn't need to implement the first, third, and fifth. Which is good, since the first, third, and fifth concern providing information to buyers and postal works that is already available to them. If they haven't learned by now, they won't ever.

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