One of the first things you face when starting an eBay business is where and how to store the goods you plan to sell. Most people don’t have access to a warehouse, so they have to set up their own goods storage system. In this blog post I’ll try to cover the warehouse set up options available to small-time online traders.
If you don’t want to store and dispatch goods on your own, you can always take a look at fulfilment houses and the services they offer.
But in most cases, when you are just starting out and want to save every penny, having a storage system in-house is the best way to go.
The best, most suitable set up will depend on what type of goods you’re selling.
For small items (like jewellery, craft supplies and similar), these would be the most suitable options:
1) Linbins – one of the most popular and oldest ways to store small items. Linbins are affordable, come in a variety of sizes and can be stacked on top of each other or attached to special wall panels to create gigantic storage units. The downside of Linbins is that they don’t close so expect dust to get onto products in the long run. You can protect your products from getting dirty by placing them in plastic bags first.
2) Storage bins with cabinets – these will be more expensive, but they close fully so no dust problem here. These storage bins are very durable but the downside is the cost – they’re really quite expensive.
3) Tilt bins – perfect for storing loose items, such as craft supplies (beads), screws, bolts and similar items. They’re fully closed and can be attached to any wall to create large storage blocks. Picking items from these units is very easy due to their vertical tilting system.
4) Shelf trays – plastic boxes with an open top, suitable for use with a shelving system. They are very durable (basically a lifetime warranty) and easy to operate. The downside is that you need a shelving unit to use these, plus they do not close fully, creating a dust problem.
5) Small parts drawer systems – These are perfect for very small items. They close fully and come in a variety of sizes. Most of these units are inter-connectable which means you can build one larger warehouse block made up of several smaller units. There are also special stands available.
6) Cardboard bins – these are a perfect, cheap alternative to plastic bins/shelf trays. They are very affordable, and come in dozens of different sizes. Again, for these bins you’ll need to purchase a separate shelving system. As they are made from cardboard they won’t be as durable as plastic ones. But if the items you sell are quite light (not bolts), this could be the perfect storage system.
There are many other types of storage systems and boxes out there but ones listed here would be most popular ones and suitable for eBay/ECommerce shop owners.
You can even find boxes and plastic bins in your local DIY shop or garden centre, but please note that their prices will be much higher as they’re mostly targeting home users, not businesses.
Here are some of the most popular online shops in the UK:
With small items you really need to get some sort of storage system in place, especially if you have 100+ different items. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending hours each day just to pick and pack orders!
All of these systems cost money, of course. But you really shouldn’t look at this as an expense – it’s an investment in your business! One that will pay off tenfold by making order picking and order processing more efficient and faster for you.
But if you’re really on a small budget and can’t afford to invest in these specialist storage systems, there are still a few options left:
1) Use suppliers’ boxes as a temporary storage solution. Yes, why not! When you receive goods from a supplier, unpack them from the boxes, label them with your SKU numbers or whatever system you use, and place them back in the boxes. Sure, this won’t be the most efficient system to use, but in the beginning it will help you to stay organised.
2) Use plastic bags. If you deal with small items but can’t afford to invest in small item storage units, you can simply use cheap plastic bags to keep each item separate in the box. Make sure you label each bag with an SKU number and ideally the item’s name.
3) Use any kind of boxes. You can visit a local shop and ask whether they have any boxes they are going to throw away (they usually do).
If the items you sell are bigger (like tablets for example) AND you don’t have that many different items, you can simply stack these boxes on top of each other in the corner of your room and you’ll be fine. If you can invest some money, get a shelving unit. One of the cheapest and most popular companies for affordable shelving units in the UK is:
You can get their cheap plastic units starting from 20 quid or metal units starting from 30 quid. Even better pricing is available for bulk purchases. Also, be sure to check out their Mega Shelving Deals. Quite often you can find very good deals there, like a 3-bay metal shelving unit for less than £100. A set up like this will last you for years.
SKU Numbers Explained
Once you have a proper storage unit in place, the next step is to actually create some sort of stock location system and this is what most small sellers overlook.
For example, if you don’t have such a system in place, when an order comes in you simply take an invoice and go to your storage unit and spend time trying to find where this item is located. That’s not efficient, far from it.
Obviously, if you are only selling 5 different tablets this won’t be a huge problem as you can simply put one type of tablet on one shelf, another one on a different shelf, etc. And you’ll know from the product packaging which one is which.
But if you have dozens or hundreds of different items in stock, this won’t work.
What you need is to create a stock location system where you assign a UNIQUE number or code to each of your bins, boxes or storage units.
It can be as simple as this, for example: 001, 002, 003 and so on. Each box/bin will have its own number. Very easy.
If you have bins with multiple dividers, you’ll need to introduce a second number, like this: 001-1, 001-2, 001-3 and so on. 001 will stand for the bin number and the second number, -1 – to the bin’s inner dividers.
If you have several shelving units, you can use numbers or even letters like this: A-001, B-002 etc. Each shelving unit will have its own letter, so when you pick goods you’ll know exactly where to go to pick an item.
The same method can be applied to small goods storage units like this: A-001-1, A-001-2 where:
A stands for the unit block
001 – individual bin
-1 – divider of bin 001
I hope this makes sense!
When you have a system like this in place, you can use this number on eBay (custom label in Selling Manager Pro inventory settings) or in your eCommerce shop. So when you print out an invoice or packing list, along with the item’s name you’ll get this SKU (stock-keeping unit) number which will show you exactly where in your warehouse the item is located.
To label boxes and products themselves, you can use a Dymo label printer. Get a roll of small labels (like 57mm x 32mm, 1000 labels on the roll, ID: 11354) and simply print out any labels you need. Dymo has a built-in number counter which you can use to print out say, 100 labels starting from number 1 and ending with 100:
What’s also great about Dymo software is that it has a built-in barcode generator and it’s actually a good idea to include a barcode on these labels too. Even if you don’t use a barcode system at the moment, trust me, over time when your business grows, you’ll be happy to have a barcode system already in place. And this doesn’t cost you anything extra, you’re already printing out these labels – just add barcodes to them at the same time!
When adding barcodes, simply use Code 39 from the list and in barcode data enter the same SKU number (e.g. 001 or A-001-2 etc.). What it will do is simply encode that same information into barcode standards so it can be read using a barcode scanner:
To sum it up – I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a good and efficient warehouse system in place to make your life as an online seller enjoyable. And yes, even if you’re just starting out you want to have a proper system in place from day one (ideally) as then you can put all your efforts into growing your business rather than wasting hours each day on order processing.