Making a Card Trade Via Mail? Here’s Some Tips and Proper Etiquette.
Here are some keys to help make your mail trades go smoothly
Trading cards has been around since the creation of cards themselves. There are plenty of advantages to trading and while I don’t do much of it, it can be very helpful.
The biggest benefit to trading is to secure cards you need without having to pay for them. The concept, of course, is a simple one. You trade cards away that you don’t particularly need in the hopes of getting something that better fits your collection.
Trading in person is always best because you can see the cards up close and don’t have to worry about all sorts of issues with mail, etc. But mail trades these days are quite popular and, before you know it, you may find yourself making a deal with someone you don’t even know.
If you find yourself in that position, here are some tips and things to keep in mind.
Send Clear Scans/Photos
Your trading partner will probably want to see a picture of the card(s) they are trading for. If you’re working on a trade where condition is a key component, make sure that any scans/pictures you take show all of the flaws. Scanners are going to be a better option for most cards but even then, you want to be careful.
Some scanner settings may not necessarily show all of the damage on a particular card. If that’s the case, be sure to note any condition issues up front.
And please don’t take a picture of your card with just a cell phone unless condition really doesn’t matter much or unless it’s your only option. Cell phone cameras are more and more popular these days as the technology has gotten better. But if condition is an issue in your trade, I really recommend against using them unless you’ve got no other choice.
Ship When You Commit to Shipping
We’ve all broken promises during the course of our lives. But if you tell someone you’ll ship a card on a particular day, make every effort to do that.
Collectors are anxious for their stuff and you don’t want to delay someone’s package. If you can’t commit to getting a card out by a specific day/time, say so up front. That will avoid confusion later on.
I’ve been guilty of not always following this rule and while friends may understand, new trading partners may not.
Package the Card(s) Well
Again, common sense here. If you’re trading a couple of low-grade cards and want to swap them via a plain white envelope, that’s fair game. Even in that instance, use some common courtesy by at least placing the card in a semi-rigid toploader if it’s a standard sized card.
And if you’re using a bubble envelope and you go the semi-rigid route, taping that to a hard toploader or between cardboard isn’t a bad idea. Even if the card isn’t important to you, there’s a reason someone traded for it — and that’s because they wanted it.
By the same token, don’t let someone else bear the brunt of the shipping costs. If you know they’re shipping you something that has to go in a box or via a more expensive means, always factor that cost into the trade. For example, if someone is sending you a baseball, it may cost as much as, $7-$10 to ship. If you’re only sending a card and your costs are $3 or so, try to make that difference up.
Use Tracking and, if Necessary, Insurance/Signature Confirmation
A while back, I wrote about some rules for using plain white envelopes. When it comes to value, you should never use one for a card where having to reimburse a buyer or trading partner will cause you any amount of pain. If you’re comfortable sending a $10 card in one, have at it. But if you’re card is worth, say $100, really bad idea. Even if the card shows up, you’ve got no proof of that. Further, even if your trading partner admits to receiving the card, cards inside of plain white envelopes can be mangled if they go through a sorting machine and are too thick.
For any trade of value, always send it with tracking at the very least. Any bubble envelope you ship as a package should come with that, anyway.
If you’re working on a really expensive trade, I always recommend using signature confirmation. While rare, there are instances of packages showing up as delivered through tracking but that did not technically arrive. If that happens, you could run into problems even if a card says it arrived. With signature confirmation, someone has to physically sign for it so there’s a paper trail.
And it goes without saying but adding insurance is a good idea, too. There’s some really bad misconception out there that collectors have, believing that tracking covers them for loss or damage. But having tracking only provides you with details about a package is. If it is lost or damaged, you’re not covered for the value of the card. Thus, sending a $500 card with only tracking and no insurance is another really bad idea.
Good etiquette is also to provide your trading partner with the tracking number shortly after you send it. That allows them to see its progress real time.
Don’t Intentionally Rip Someone Off
I’ve said it before but your reputation is everything when it comes to cards. I’m amazed at the tricks I see collectors pull all in the name of making a fast buck.
It’s not worth it.
If someone is offering you a deal that’s way in your favor, speak up and say something. Maybe they don’t care. I’ve made plenty of deals where I’ve overpaid in terms of trade value and have had no issue doing so for cards I really want. But don’t take advantage of someone that doesn’t know any better.
Fine line. I get it. I mean, if you go to a yard sale and someone is selling a $100 card for $10, do you speak up and say something? Some people are more hesitant to point out a mistake to a dealer who specializes in cards than they would be to an unsuspecting seller who doesn’t know the first thing about sports cards. The barometer is different for everyone so I’m not going to try to play your conscience here. But, in short, don’t be a jerk. Coming out ahead in a trade a little bit is one thing. Taking a valuable card out from under someone that doesn’t know any better is another.
Know Your Partners
This goes for just about anything. You always want to know who you’re trading with.
Are they well-known in common hobby forums? Are they new to collecting? Do they have a large following on Twitter? Are they somewhat ‘public’? Do they have a good track record on eBay as a seller? Factor all of that in. None of that on its own is a great indicator of how a potential deal could go. But collectively, it can really make or break a decision to attempt a trade.
That doesn’t mean you can’t make any deals with people you’re less familiar with. I’ve traded cards valued at hundreds of dollars with collectors I didn’t know all that well. But I did it after receiving good scans, getting a good sense of them, checking their history on forums or social media, etc.
Just be aware of who you’re dealing with.
Consider the Value
Surprise, another no-brainer.
This one is pretty common sense. But in general, really expensive trades are sometimes better off made in person.
I’m not necessarily talking about a trade for some cards valued at a few hundred bucks. But if you’re making a trade worth five figures, you either should really know that person or even consider meeting in person if you can swing it.
Here’s the thing. Even if both parties have great intentions, know each other, etc. Sometimes, sending that kind of value through the mail is just not a great idea, anyway. Even with the proper insurance, you can still run into snags with delays in reimbursement, questions about true value, etc. There’s always a risk with something negative happening when you send a card through the mail and while that is rare, it’s something to consider.
Who Ships First?
Finally, one of the most common rules to trading is determining who ships first.
Typically, both partners sending at the same time is probably what happens the most. But what kind of exceptions are there to that?
If you’re trading with a well-known dealer or collector and don’t have any references or other way to vouch for yourself, you may be asked to ship your side of the trade first. Or if you are the one proposing a trade to someone else, you may need to ship your cards first.
My rule is pretty simple. I’m pretty ‘public,’ writing for several websites and my identity isn’t a secret to anyone. Still, I rarely would demand that someone send a card first in a trade. Typically you do that when you are worried about someone following up on their end of a deal. And, really, if I have those kinds of reservations, I’m probably not going to be inclined to make a trade with them anyway.
If someone approached me out of the blue and offered to send their cards first, I wouldn’t object to that. But I think when you’re making those kinds of demands to others, it’s just kind of a bad look. If you’re that concerned about someone following through on a trade, it’s probably best to steer clear of that person altogether instead of making demands.