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Economics of Trading 101 – Part 2 (Logistics & Shipping)

Wow it’s been awhile since I wrote part 1….I had been hoping to make this a weekly series but with life, work, games and family, it looks like it took 4 whole months to get to part 2 of this, but let’s pick up where we left off and hope part 3 doesn’t take 4 months.

So anyways, when we left of we had discussed the two main kinds of traders; those simply looking to turn an unplayed box of cardboard into something new, and those who are trying to maximize their gaming dollar, even if means trading a game they like, in order to get a game they love instead. In this article, I’ll jump into the logistics of trading, whether financial, time, energy etc.


In no particular order, let’s start with shipping. Shipping breaks down into 3 main categories;
1) Shipping Costs
2) Packing Supplies
3) Getting it to a shipping location.

Starting with 1, you have your first blocker to most trades. Shipping expenses can range from as little as a stamp, when shipping a promo card, to as much as $40-$50 when shipping a giant box of games from one end of the country to the other (to keep things simple, I’ll avoid discussing international shipping in this article, and will save all aspects of international for a future article). The basic shipping “stages” you’ll find start with shipping a promo card in an envelope for the cost of a stamp. That being said, I’d highly advise making sure whoever you’re sending that to is ok with it…while most of the time it will arrive just fine, there is always the chance it will get damaged en route.

The second basic level, is shipping first class in a bubble mailer, which will usually run you the $2-$4 range and can be relevant to decks, any lcg items, expansion boards for games, e.g. Power Grid Maps, the fantasy flight line of small box games and dozes of other items. You’d be surprised how many things you can fit into a bubble mailer, and at $3 average, shipping is still pretty cheap, and the bubble lining does a great job of protecting items from all but the most vicious of postmen. All that being said, keep in mind the value of what you’re sending….$2-$4 is cheap, but not that cheap if you’re only getting a $3-$5 item in return, since you’re now spending 50% of the value of what you’re getting, as well as giving up an item presumably worth $3-$5. We’ll cover that a bit more shortly but the key point is that shipping is neither free nor always the best option.

The third level is assorted priority/flat rate options that will handle anything from a small game to a 12x12x3 Ticket to Ride to the large priority specially designed for game boxes, and the pricing will basically range from $6-$14 for those.

The fourth level is where it gets interesting….everything up to priority, USPS is often cheapest for anyone without a special shipping discount, but once your games no longer fit into flat rate/priority, you’ll often find that Fedex and UPS start getting progressively cheaper, the larger the box. This is also the level where distance starts becoming more of a factor as shipping to a neighboring state will never be comparable to shipping across the country. This makes the fourth level particularly hard to analyze, as there aren’t clear steps, rather it’s more of a matrix, with packages starting off cheapest when you’re shipping distance and weight are low, and then getting increasingly more expensive as either or both of those factors rise. You also want to be EXTREMELY careful of dimensional weight, which many people aren’t aware of, and we’ll cover that more in detail very shortly.

So the main thing to take away from this is not what shipping options are cheapest or most expensive, but rather what overall trading packages give you the best return on your dollar. More specifically, let’s examine the two most common scenarios at a glance. Scenario one involves Mike trading with Andres, Mike gives up Thunderstone Advance, and pays $12.75 to ship in exchange for getting  Ticket to Ride from Andres. Both games have a roughly $30 used valuation based on boardgamegeek used game sales, so the trade is fair, but Mike has no just given up a $30 game, and $12 to get Ticket to Ride, which he could have bought for $30 used, or $33-$36 new. Therefore, Mike’s was willing to “lose” $12, in order to not spend $30, a valid decision but not necessarily the best one. Let’s now look at scenario two. Jane and Matt complete a trade where Jane is giving up 7 games valued at roughly $205, for 4 games valued at $200. And let’s assume a midway point shippingwise. Those 7 games might cost Jane roughly $19 to ship, meaning Jane has now given up $19 cash and $5 trade down in value, to avoid spending $200. Comparing the ratios on the two scenarios, in the first, a $12 loss to save $30, means that every dollar given up, bought you $2.5 in saved cash on hand. In the second scenario, giving up $26 combined cash and value to save $200, means every dollar given up, bought you $7.69 in saved cash on hand, a MUCH better ratio. Had Jane instead made 3 smaller trades to get those same items, her outlay would have been closer to $45-$60 in shipping costs, and a far worse savings ratio. Or  in other words, when it comes to trading, bigger is always better.

Now let’s quickly jump into dimensional weight, which can drastically change your shipping costs if you aren’t careful. Before we explain further a quick example will give you an idea of why this is a thing. Let’s say you shipped a decent box of collectible coins down to your uncle in Ohio. Being a box filled with metal, it would likely be a decent weight and thus price for a small box. But let’s say your uncle starts collecting obscure bird feathers instead, and so one day you ship a gigantic box full of feathers larger then you can carry down to him. There’s a decent chance that box would weigh less than the coins, despite the box being 8 times the size. And thus dimensional weight. In order to not charge ridiculously low prices on large but light boxes, most shipping services use dimensional weight to give a box an imaginary weight based on size. The short version,is multiply the length by width by height of your package. Round each measurement to the nearest whole inch. The resulting total is the cubic size of your package. Divide the cubic size of your package in inches by 166 and you have your weight. So let’s say you have a 12 lb box coins that measures 6x6x3. The dimensional weight is  6 times 6 times 3, or 108. Divide that by 166 and your dimensional weight is less than 1 lb, meaning that the real weight of 12 lbs will be used, since it’s the greater of the two numbers. Whereas if you take that giant box full of feathers that’s 36x36x24, despite the actual weight only being 15 lbs, the dimensional weight will make it equal to 187 lbs…a significantly greater weight and thus price.

Now as a general rule of thumb, board games are dense enough that dimensional weight doesn’t kick in, or if it does, not by much. The heavier the object, the less likely that dimensional weight will be a factor. But if you ship 4-5 board games in a box twice as large as it needs to be, and add a lot of packing material…you’ll get sticker shock when you try to ship it out. So it’s definitely something you want to be mindful of. Here’s a link to fedex’s Dimensional Weight Calculator so you can play with options yourself. Make sure to correctly use inches/centimeters etc.

This mostly wraps up what we’ll cover with shipping, so let’s move onto packing supplies. Packing supplies really fall into two categories, the box and the buffer materials to protect your games. While you can of course buy boxes, no one really wants to pay $3-$6 to ship a box, as that will drastically reduce your benefits. You’re far better off getting your hands on some free boxes, with two ideal ways to do so. Either save your Amazon boxes (or whatever other service is showing up at your door), or alternatively if you need some boxes, make your way down to your local big box store and just ask for a few boxes…most stores will be happy to accommodate this request, and you can pick up 5-6 decent boxes and save yourself $30 for very little work.

Packing materials can really be picked up the same way as boxes, or of course newspaper or some other such stuff. As a rule of thumb, it will often be a huge pain to get packing materials right when you need them but if you save them when you do get them, you’ll find yourself having more then enough when it’s time to ship out that box.

Which brings us to our last problem, getting games to the shipping center. The slow and simple way to do this is to make a run down to your local post office. While not a big deal in and of itself, if you find yourself needing to make runs 3-4 times a week then it can often be an inconvenience so there are a few other options possibly available to you. To start with you can start by seeing if your work has a daily pickup from USPS/Fedex/UPS. If they do, you can often have them grab your packages. By the same token, it can be slightly harder or less common, but if you catch your USPS/Fedex/UPS delivery person as they’re dropping things off, more often than not they’ll be happy to grab your box, although some might not want to so that’s a bit of a hit or miss.  As a final option if neither of those help, then just make an effort to stagger your trades. Whether by actually making sure to propose in batches, or whether by asking people if they don’t mind if you ship [insert day here]. More often then not people will be accommodating, so it never hurts to ask.

That’s it for now, hopefully part 3 won’t  be so long in coming, and happy trading in the meantime!