As most of you who have visited this website regularly will note, I have not listed any new material in a very long time - over a year in fact. It's been very frustrating for everyone I'm sure, including myself, because I have tens of thousands of stamps here for sale and have wanted nothing more than to see them listed.
But, after three years of listing on e-Bay, I realized that the largest problem facing stamp dealers is the labour problem: stamp dealing is an extremely information-rich and precise field, at least if one wants to approach it professionally. Thus, the listing of stamps is an extremely labour-intensive endeavour. Labour is perhaps one of the dealer's largest expenses now. Sure, with online businesses, there is no rent, but a dealer like myself has, at most 10-12 hours in a day to list items for sale. To type out a listing with a title, a description and scans takes on average at least 10 minues a listing. This means that in a 10 hour day, the most I can list is 60 items. This isn't very much material. So, the listing process is very slow. This is one of the largest reasons why prices are as high as they are: because a dealer has to recover that labour cost somehow. If all he has is 60 listings for a day, he has to make enough profit on those listings to cover a day's labour, plus a time-value-of-money factor to take into account the time it will take for all listings to sell.
There are other problems to consider too. One of them is the possibility of errors made in the listings, as a result of trying to look things up in catalogues as the listings are made. Another is the system of SKU's for identifying and retrieving items. Before on E-bay, there was a 12-digit number assigned to every listing. But the number had no meaning and if it changed, it made finding items very difficult. A third problem has to do with SEO and the ease of navigation on the website itself. When you create a listing from scratch, you have to decide which web pages you want it to appear on, and ensure that it contains the appropriate page tags. Then, you also have to manually make and upload between 2 and 4 scans for each item. Finally, at the end of all this is the possibility, at least for unique early stamps, that your labour time is not easily usable to make a new listing without a lot of modifications.
After 3 years of trying to list my inventory, all I had managed to do was complete to the end of 1934 for Canada only. I hadn't touched anything past the first issue of Lagos for Nigeria, nor had I listed much modern material after 1935. At the rate I was going it was going to take a decade to get everything listed. This was wholly unacceptable - I needed to invest the time to find a new way forward.
I discovered that Shopify allows listings to be created using an Excel Spreadsheet. So you use separate colums for the title, the description, the price, and the images at a minumum. When the spreadsheet is complete, you simply upload the whole thing in one operation, which creates all the listings at once.
So it became apparent to me that before I so much as touched another stamp I had to produce a spreadsheet that was complete and contained all the stamp listings I could think of for Canada and Nigeria. The advantage to producing a complete listing would be fivefold:
- It would speed the listings process up dramatically. I wanted someting so complete that I could sit with a lot of Canada, sort it, identify the stamps and then just enter quantities into a spreadsheet and upload the whole thing. I wanted it completely automated.
- It could be copied and adapted with just a few tweaks to accomodate the different issue formats. So, for instance if I had a complete listing of all the stamps, I could adapt it very easily for say plate blocks, sheets or used singles, without having to do that much work.
- I could turn it into an entirely different product later, like a checklist for collectors, or the basis for a new line of stamp albums, or even my own specialized catalogue.
- I could standardize everything like the description and I could come up with a naming convention for SKU's. The advantage to that would be that customers could search by SKU and the SKU itself would be intuitive.
- If I could solve the labour problem, then I could also lower my prices and make my pricing consistent.
The first step, which I had largely completed by the end of February this year was to list all the stamps in Unitrade and in Gibbons for Nigeria. I had completed the columns for the catalogue numbers, denominations, issue names, titles and tags. I then used the concatenate function in Excel to construct the titles from the information in the various cells. I hadn't completed the booklets yet, I hadn't entered the prices, nor had I dealt with the variations. But I was well on my way.
As I went through the Unitrade listings it became apparent that they needed to be parsed. What I mean by this is that oftentimes Unitrade will list a variety as its own thing, when it actually applies to all the other listings before it, or it can apply. So, for example, Unitrade will often list say 5 or 6 varieties of a stamp, but in reality there are really 25 or 30 varieties, once you parse them out. Unless I did this, the spreadsheet would be of limited use because I would forever be adding new lines as I worked through material, and it would slow me down a lot. Not only that, but if it wasn't a complete list, it wouldn't be any good as another product, like a checklist or basis for an album. So it became apparent that I would have to go through my listings again and ensure that where a variey appeared in a footnote, or was listed, but applied to multiple listings, that it was FULLY listed. So, I spent another month going through and doing this.
Then, I realized that many collectors who use catalogues other than Unitrade are going to want to search using the catalogue numbers they are familiar with. Other than Unitrade, the main catalogues for Canada would be Stanley Gibbons, for collectors in the UK, McCann, for collectors of booklets and Van Dam, for revenue collectors. So, it would be necessary to add cross-references to the titles for the other catalogues. Each catalogue lists the same stamps in a slightly different order, so ensuring the correct numbering across all catalogues took at least another month.
Then of course, as I went through these other catalogues I saw listings that were not in Unitrade at all, and should be. Given that Unitrade is a specialized catalogue, it does not make any sense to me that Gibbons would have listings that are not in Unitrade. The opposite makes sense, but Unitrade should have the most listings if it is going to bill itself as a specialized catalogue. So I spent another month or so adding them.
So as of now, the spreadsheet is 18,194 lines long. All of the stamp listings are complete for Canada and Nigeria. The only areas that I haven't tackled at all as of yet are:
- Some other esoteric back of the book like semi-official airmails, sealed packs, Canada Post items, Kiosk stamps etc.
The prices have not been entered, nor have the descriptions. But all of the information required to produce the descriptions has been entered. The descriptions depend on the grades though and the grades are a item variation that has to be added. But I can't do that efficiently until the entire list is complete.
Needless to say I've been getting very impatient now, because I want to start using it SO badly. But I don't want to make any big mistakes by rushing it. So, a compomise that I have settled on is that I break it up into smaller components, finish that section completely, and then use it to list my inventory for that area only. That way I can put off areas that I have very little inventory for, like revenues, Newfoundland and that estoteric back-of-the book, and focus on what I do have.
So, with that in mind, I have nearly completed the booklet section. The only thing I have to do now is to add the Centennial and Caricature booklets, parse out the Floral booklets that have 5 and 10 cover designs, add in all the dotted cover dies found on the 1935-1955 booklets, and then when this is all done, copy it and modify the copy to be for French booklets on the pre-1949 booklets, and counter booklets for the 1968-1989 booklets. The last step will be to add the prices in, and then I will be ready to list all my booklets. That will be the first section I tackle. This will include all the booklets in the large Centennial consignment that I took possession of in October 2019.
After that is done, I will proceed with the regular issue singles, starting with 1935. I will work forward to date, including the remainder of the Centennial consignment and other consignments, and then circle back and replenish my pre-1935 inventory. From there, I will do the plate blocks, full sheets and then start on Nigeria.
So, 2020 will be an exciting year I think, as a massive amount of material will come online. Right now the listing count is just over 5,000 active listings. But the number at the end of 2020 should easily exceed 20,000.