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How to Sell Your Mugs on eBay

The author is a veteran eBay mug-seller with lots of valuable advice for up-and-coming eBayers.

Hilo Hattie Hibiscus Mug

Hilo Hattie Hibiscus Mug

A 2009 Starbucks Mug I Recently Sold

A 2009 Starbucks Mug I Recently Sold

Motivation in a Local Starbucks Store

As a cold and overcast late autumn day prepares to close its sleepy eyes, an hour or so away from the blanket of evening covering the southeast Washington town of Walla Walla, I find it most appropriate to begin writing this article about how to sell mugs on eBay while sitting in one of my favorite local coffee shops.

I might be drinking my venti-sized eggnog latte from a covered paper cup, but literally ten yards away from me in this comfy and cozy Starbucks store are dozens of beautiful coffee mugs, close cousins to their vintage predecessors whom I've been blessed to have sold on the awesome global marketplace of eBay.

Case in point: To the right of these opening paragraphs, check out the lovely Starbucks mug I just sold for $27.99. It was sitting on a Goodwill Store shelf just waiting for me to pick it up for a paltry $1.99. A little bit of research, a simple title and description, a few good pictures, a reasonable price, a bit of visualization (seeing the item being sold), and a sprinkling of patience later, I had a sale.

I make it sound easy, but honestly, it takes very little effort to sell mugs. In this article, I'm hoping to share with you a basic plan—one that I encourage you to tweak to your heart's content—for marketing and selling your mugs.

An Otagiri Mug (Judy Matthews Wood Ducks Design) That Sold for $9.99

An Otagiri Mug (Judy Matthews Wood Ducks Design) That Sold for $9.99

The Hawaiian Odysseus Plan for Selling Mugs

I believe in keeping things simple. Life is too short to be tripping over discombobulated complexities. So the plan I follow is just that—extremely simple!

Here's an outline that covers every aspect of selling mugs on eBay while maintaining a down to sand (I'm an island boy at heart, remember?) and easy to follow approach. Feel free to tweak the plan to your heart's content in order to form-fit it to your individual style, working environment, and accessibility to product sources.

  • Where to Find Your Mugs
  • What to Look for in Selecting Your Mugs
  • Cleaning Your Mugs
  • Taking Photos of Your Mugs
  • Creating Good Titles for Your Mugs
  • Creating Good Descriptions for Your Mugs
  • Choosing a Format—Auction or Fixed Price?
  • You've Made a Sale! (Now What?)
  • Packaging and Shipping Your Mugs
  • After the Sale
Mugs at a Local Thrift Store

Mugs at a Local Thrift Store

Where to Find Your Mugs—My Mission Statement

There's no rocket science to any of this, especially when it comes to product sourcing. There's only one caveat—the mugs I advocate selling are used mugs. If you're interested in selling new mugs, then I suggest that you find articles on wholesaling and drop shipping.

Personally, I prefer the aspect of mug rehabilitation—of finding throwaways in need of TLC and restoration. As was and is the case with my personal journey, there is joy and blessing in finding that which has been lost and giving it worth and value. The Hawaiian Odysseus mission in life is to thank God by giving back through the redemption of fringe items and teaching others to do the same.

When it comes to why I sell on eBay, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Okay, then, so where to find the mugs that we can sell on eBay? The following are some suggestions. Hopefully, by reading through the following list, you may come up with a few innovative ideas of your own.

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  • Your own kitchen cupboard. When was the last time you actually took notice of the mugs you have sitting on those shelves? Like a good spouse, those mugs have been taken for granted for far too long. Man up or woman up and give them some long-overdue attention.
  • Other people's kitchen cupboards. Admittedly, this could get a little sticky. Your mom, sibling, cousin, neighbor, bff, or bmf might just be concerned about your lack of boundaries if they were to find you rifling through their kitchen shelves. So do the right thing and let them know upfront that you're a mug collector. Would they be interested in getting rid of any of their old mugs? Find creative ways to present your needs in a way that results in win-win transactions.
  • Yard, garage, and estate sales. Unless you're a Robinson Crusoe or Rip Van Winkle, you're already aware that these events are virtual goldmines for finding used items that you can resell. I've found dozens of mugs that were priced as low as a nickel, dime, or quarter each at these functions. The estate sales items may cost a bit more, so I simply amp up my human relations skills—i.e., schmoozing, shrewdness, and haggling—again, always keeping in mind how to turn a transaction into a win-win proposition.
  • Liquidation sales. In my hometown, I've come across two sites that sponsor ongoing liquidation sales. At these events, my wife and I stuff a couple of cardboard boxes with dozens of items, including mugs. We then present our finds to the person in charge. He or she roughly assesses our purchase and throws out a dollar amount. More often than not, we're happy to hear a very inexpensive price—say, $5 or $10. The most we've ever had to pay was $20. Once in a while, if the price is too high, we respond with a counteroffer. Because we're frequent shoppers, the salesperson knows that by making us happy, we'll keep coming back. Thus far, we've never had to walk away empty-handed.
  • Church rummage sales. We absolutely love these non-profit functions! First of all, the proceeds usually go towards scholarships for church youth or for other benevolent causes. The win-win factor has already been worked into the equation. We walk in feeling great about contributing to a worthy endeavor, and we walk out grinning like the Cheshire Cat because we got such great deals. On the last day of these sales, the prices are often discounted 50%, and we've found some absolutely ridiculous deals. As in the case of liquidation sales, the parishioners are motivated to sell as much of their inventory as possible. The rest is then donated to local thrift stores.
  • Thrift stores. Goodwill. Salvation Army. St. Vincent de Paul. Value Village. These are just a few of the many thrift stores my wife and I have observed here in our town and in our travels. Thrift stores exist in every town and city across America. In every thrift store, you will find at least one section of shelves specifically designated for showcasing mugs. Be sure to carefully scrutinize other areas of the store, too, where mugs may be hidden among close cousins such as glassware, vases, and pottery. I have found many a treasure where I'd least expected to find them by carefully searching high and low in these thrift stores. Be especially cognizant of what's hidden from view on the lowest shelves.

Okay, so there you have it. This list is not intended to be exclusive. Hopefully, it serves to prime your Aha! factor, triggering even more ideas regarding the sourcing of your mug inventory.

Set of 4 Tall Ships and Chinese Junks Mugs That Sold for $32.00

Set of 4 Tall Ships and Chinese Junks Mugs That Sold for $32.00

What to Look for in Selecting Your Mugs

You're sitting at your kitchen table enjoying an early morning cup of joe. As you savor the last gulp of coffee, you whimsically revel in the unusual colorful designs adorning your mug. You're curious as to its origin, so you turn the cup upside down and read the brand name and accompanying information. In one fell swoop, you've unwittingly accomplished two essential steps for finding mugs to sell on eBay.

  1. Sure, you could do a lot of research on eBay to find out which mugs are selling, but I can tell you from experience that some of my best sales were with mugs that I didn't find by doing a lot of homework. On the contrary, and in keeping with a laid back and easy Hawaiian style of doing things, FOLLOW YOUR HEART! That's the best advice I could ever give anyone. There's an inner voice deep inside of you, the same voice that may have whispered, "He's the one!" or "She's the one!" Relative to mug selection, something will figuratively reach out and grab you. It could be the combination of colors; it could be a special swirl built into the mug wall; or it could be a three-dimensional human, animal, or object figurine cleverly attached to the mug handle (see the Pink Panther hub link to the right). Whatever that je ne sais quois element might be, it calls out to you . . . to the point that when you try to walk away from it, you find yourself compelled to return for a second look. THAT, my friend, is a mug you want to purchase.
  2. Use the okole maluna process for selecting mugs. Okole maluna is a Hawaiian concept that means bottoms up. Whenever I go on buying trips for mugs, I always look for valuable information on the bottoms. By practicing okole maluna, I discover important details like brand name, where the item was made, year of production, whether it commemorates a special historical or sociological event, and other pertinent information. Later, I incorporate some of these concepts into the respective title and description.
Froggy Surprise—Sure to Elicit a Startled Response . . . Maybe Even a Scream

Froggy Surprise—Sure to Elicit a Startled Response . . . Maybe Even a Scream

Cleaning Your Mugs

Incredibly, two of our best-selling mugs—a Pink Panther delight and a very simple white mug that had a green frog on the inside bottom-—were found in a freebies section outside of a huge warehouse in an airport industrial area. Exposed to the elements, these mugs were absolutely filthy, and it was easy to understand why they'd been overlooked. True to our mission statement, however, my lovely wife—just as she'd done when I'd courted her—looked past the dirt and saw wonderful potential. (Someday, I'd like to give a layman's sermon based on that last phrase.) Although she never realized it at the time, she was practicing the concept of visualization—seeing something as if it had already happened. Sure enough, these items that we got for free from a liquidation center sold for $73 and $22.11, respectively.

While the mugs you come across won't always be as muddy as the above two, it is absolutely imperative that you clean your mugs thoroughly. Presentation is everything, and the first key step is to have clean mugs.

Dish detergent, hot water, and a soft sponge suffice for cleaning the majority of your mugs. Every now and then, you may need to gently use a scouring pad to get rid of the more stubborn stains. Be careful, however, to not scratch or compromise the aesthetic appeal of your item.

The sales stickers on mugs you've purchased will usually come off with hot water and a gentle scraping with your sponge or even fingernails. After the mugs are dried, however, you may feel a sticky residue from the labels. To remove this, simply dab a cotton ball or bundled tissue with rubbing alcohol and wipe the residue off. Fingernail polish also works, but use it as a last resort because it can remove the colors and lettering on your mugs.

Closeup of a Unique Spinning Soccer Ball on a Mug Handle

Closeup of a Unique Spinning Soccer Ball on a Mug Handle

Taking Photos of Your Mugs

Empathy is as significant and integral to the entrepreneurial process as it is to the health professions.

The success of an eBay seller is directly proportional to his success as an eBay buyer. A successful eBay buyer studies the seller's description and photos carefully and deliberately before making the purchase. The key to taking good pictures, then, is to ask yourself, "What would I, as a buyer, want to see about this item?" Remembering your experience as a buyer enhances your presentation as a seller.

Basically, take photos from all angles—front, left side, back, right side, top, and bottom. You may also want to include a closeup of pertinent lettering or an iconic image or the name of the artist/designer.

Find a nice background that helps showcase the appeal of your mug. I use everything from a dark sweater placed on my bed to my computer desk to the kitchen table to a solid color towel or blanket draped from a piano keyboard over onto the bench to the same fabric draped over a portion of the stairway. Good lighting is important. If you're using a flash, be sure to choose a shot angle that doesn't leave a glare on your item.

Creating Good Titles for Your Mugs

Again, it's important to see yourself as the potential buyer when contemplating a good title. While I love to write with tongue firmly embedded in cheek, I am usually very straightforward in putting together my titles.

Search engines being the zealously literal robots that they are, it is imperative that a seller place as many keywords into his or her title as possible. eBay generously provides the seller with 80 character spaces with which to do this.

Important data such as date, brand name, mini description, mug size, or amount of fluid ounces it contains, and iconic references should be included in your title.

Here's an example of a good title with the actual mug featured in the photo to the right:

1993 Life's a Croc Florida Mug Cup Unique 3-D Crocodile Clinging to Side © Hz

Smiley Face Mug

Smiley Face Mug

American University Mug with Unique Handle

American University Mug with Unique Handle

Creating Good Descriptions for Your Mugs

There are two basic formats for writing your item description—a narrative style and a bulleted listing style.

I've used both styles in drafting my eBay item descriptions with equal success. The narrative style came easy for me because I love to schmooze. My wife observed, however, that I was taking too long to post my listings. In time, I modified my approach and am now more inclined to use bullets in highlighting the important elements of the specific item I am listing.

My suggestion is that you set aside a few minutes each day, at least in the early going, to study different styles that eBay sellers are using to sell their products. You, and you alone, need to make the important decision as to what style works best for you.

An Example of the Narrative Style of Describing Your Item

Just in time for the festive holiday season, one of the items we're offering up for auction today is this gently used 2007 Starbucks mug. Appropriately representing the Emerald City, corporate home to Starbucks, is this emerald green, clear glass mug that can hold up to 16 fluid ounces.

This handsome mug is approximately 4-1/4" tall by 5-1/8" wide with a mouth diameter of about 4". It is as strong and durable as it is appealing.

Whether you're at the office or relaxing in front of your living room fireplace, you'll look grand with your grande-sized coffee mug as the light dances through and highlights its jade-bejeweled aura.

PayPal is our preferred method of payment.

We will ship to either USA or international destinations via USPS Priority Mail.

An Example of the Bullet Style of Describing Your Item

  • Starbucks 16-oz Emerald Green Clear Glass Mug
  • Raised scripted white lettering spells out Starbucks brand name
  • Strong, durable mug
  • Mug measures approximately 4-1/4" tall by 5-1/8" wide (including handle)
  • 4" mouth diameter
  • Mug alone weighs 20.1 ounces
  • Holds 16 fluid ounces
  • Excellent, gently used condition
  • From the Emerald City, a classic emerald green beauty
  • Bearing a look that says, I've arrived!
  • A perfect holiday, birthday, or special occasion gift for that corporate executive, yuppie, or very significant special someone
  • A wonderful complement to your home or office décor
  • A great novelty item for the Starbucks mug and/or Seattle memorabilia collector
  • Sure to be a topic of lively discussion among family and friends
  • PayPal is the preferred method of payment
  • Shipped via USPS Priority Mail to either USA or international destinations

At the end of my description, no matter what style I'm using, I include a note of appreciation and an invitation.

Thank you very much for viewing and participating in our eBay listings. Welcome back anytime!

Make an Offer Option

Within the fixed price or Buy It Now format, the seller can also provide the potential buyer with a Make an Offer feature. This can be an effective method for obtaining a quicker sale. eBay provides the seller with the technology to determine the high and low parameters for the buyer's offer. Each buyer has up to three consecutive offers he can send to the seller. The seller can either accept an offer or send the buyer a counter-offer.

Choosing a Format—Auction or Fixed Price?

In a phrase? Do both!

The nice thing about eBay that sets it apart from most of its competitors is that the seller actually has the best of both worlds. You can auction off your items, or you can list them at a fixed price.

Literally, from these two options, you can utilize one or more of four approaches:

  • Use only the auction format. On eBay, you can choose to run your auction for 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 days. More often than not, I choose the 7-day auction. If your starting price is 99 cents or cheaper, the listing fee will only be a dime. The risk, however, is that someone may end up buying your mug for just that—99 cents! Even if you paid only 50 cents for the mug, by the time your eBay and PayPal fees are factored in, you may be operating at a loss. My suggestion? If you're going to use an auction format, start your item off at $9.99. You'll be charged 25 cents for a listing fee, but if the mug sells, you'll make a decent profit. The bonus is that your item may appeal to multiple bidders and thus end up with an even higher amount.
  • Use only the fixed-price format. It may take longer for your item to sell, but at least you'll get the price you wanted in the first place. The listing price is generally less than that of an auction. Because I subscribe to a monthly intermediate eBay store plan, it costs me only a nickel to list fixed price, or Buy It Now, items, no matter what my asking price might be. As a lark and a marketing gimmick, I once listed my Lords of the Fly business on eBay for $100,000.00. My listing price? A measly 5 cents per month.
  • List some of your mugs as auctions, and list the other mugs at a fixed price. As a rule, auctions seem to get more attention from potential buyers than do fixed-price items. A wise seller, then, would employ both auction and fixed price formats to gain more market exposure. In other words, there's a good chance that people bidding in your auctions will have some level of curiosity about other products you're selling. You might gain little or no profit from a 99-cent auction, but that same auction may lead an eBayer to purchase a Buy It Now item from you for, say, $25. In a way, then, the auction format is essentially an effective advertising tool for you.
  • Simultaneously, list your mugs as both auction and Buy It Now items. Depending on your budgetary constraints, you can give your item a starting price at auction for $7.99 with a Buy It Now for $9.99. The listing price will be more, but you'll have two ways to appeal to customers rather than just one. Psychologically, a potential buyer may like your starting auction price but not be willing to wait until the end of the auction. He'll look at the $9.99 price and reason that it's worth paying the extra $2 to get his item now. Especially around the holidays, this option makes great sense.
Whale Mug with a Tail for a Handle

Whale Mug with a Tail for a Handle

You've Made a Sale! (Now What?)


I sincerely revel in the success of any individual who puts forth the effort to sell on eBay. By doing so, you've done your part to put to rest the cynical notion that The American Dream is a thing of the past.

Celebrate with your spouse! Tousle your kids' or grandkids' hair! Whoop and holler to your heart's content! Do whatever you feel like doing.

Just don't sit on your laurels. There's still work to be done!

Packaging and Shipping Your Mugs

It's true. You can scrounge around for boxes small yet durable enough in which to mail your mugs. I've certainly done my fair share of this.

But there's an easier way to address both the packaging and shipping of your mugs. And the best part about it is that Uncle Sam's postal delivery service will actually bring the boxes—in bulk amounts (multiples of 25, I believe)—to your doorstep. How? By simply choosing to mail your packages via USPS Priority Mail.

If you go online and check out the site, you'll find a link where you can order all kinds of free supplies. I use priority mail shipping for a good percentage of my products.

There's even a convenient size of priority mailbox for mailing your mugs. It's the 7" x 7" x 6" size. The majority of mugs you'll encounter will easily fit within the confines of this particular priority mailbox.

When you list on eBay, you'll do your bottom line a favor by knowing what the weight of your package will be and charging the customer accordingly. Because postal rates can differ according to your customer's geographical location, I suggest you use the calculated option rather than attempt to set a flat fee.

If you list your item with FREE SHIPPING, eBay has it set up where your item will have more visibility—i.e., rank higher on the search pages. I'm all for free shipping, and I utilize that strategy at times with my mugs. When I do, I make sure the estimated shipping costs are included in the actual price.

To the right, you'll see the basic steps I follow when packaging my mugs for shipment. You'll need a good supply of bubble wrap. The department store I shop at carries these huge bundles of bubble wrap. It saves me a lot of money in the long run to buy in quantity, so I don't mind paying the $15–16 to buy a big roll.

Running a green business means recycling our newspapers, cardboard, and plastic shopping bags. All three items come in really handy when packaging mugs.

  • Place your mug so that its top and bottom are equidistant from the respective edges of the bubble wrap.
  • Give your mug three to four wraps and secure with tape.
  • Cut or tear a piece of cardboard large enough to bend and cover the mug handle. Tape it to the bubble wrap.
  • At this point, you have the option of writing a thank you note along with the eBay item number as a reference. Tape this somewhere on the bubble wrap. As simple as this gesture might be, customers really ap