A comparison guide on available softwares
The barrier between a hobby and a small business, or alternatively the way to pay for a few holidays a year or something that means you can put the down payment on that nice house you've had your eye on is mainly managing your time effectively. This includes not wasting time when there are better alternatives available, which is even more important if you've just got yourself to rely on. Strictly speaking that's a bit of a simplification but I will attempt to address one small, though extremely significant component, starting with a quick case study, which should help to put things in perspective.
Say you're receiving 20 orders a day for low margin goods, but every evening (assuming you have a regular day job) you're logging into PayPal, or your email client, and copying and pasting addresses for goods into an Excel sheet or Access. You print them out on an A4 sheet of labels, with maybe even a receipt. Why are you doing this? Because you've always done it, and it worked before, so it works now, but only up to an extent.
Now I'll go a bit further.
You've listed a few more orders, so you're receiving 30 or maybe even 40 orders a day and things are looking good, but you're not sleeping anymore, and you're making mistakes, customers are starting to complain and your feedback rating is bombing as your buyers aren't getting the stuff that they ordered.
What happened? You weren't keeping track of your orders, your order processing sucked but you weren't curious enough to go and find a better alternative. Now I have introduced my topic, order management & d(e/i)spatch, I will attempt to demonstrate why you need it, and why you have been wasting time without it (and why your carpal tunnel syndrome isn't getting any better) by reviewing five different softwares that I have used in the past, and to try and be as objective as possible.
The first piece of software which has been around for a few years now is Mail Order Works (MOW). This is desktop software for Windows, and costs 199GBP for a 15 month license. This app has too many features to list here, though has most of the bases covered in regard to managing your orders, e.g. order status, customer details, order tracking, issue tracking to name a few. These however all have to be entered manually, though Instant Payment Notification (IPN) integration with PayPal is also available (if you don't know what IPN is check out wikipedia; all you need to know about it is that PayPal sends a notification of a payment to a destination of your choice when it is made) whereupon MOW charge an extra £10 per month, which could in my opinion make it a bit expensive for many eBay sellers. Therefore, MOW is a great piece of software (both functionally and visually) for mail order tracking, but eBay and PayPal integration is decidedly lacking. It does come with a 30 day trial with a few limitations so you can give it a spin.
Moving on, I stumbled across this one when searching for printing and PayPal. Digital Media IPN Lightweight Label Printer, a desktop app for Windows which is free, though unfortunately the download link doesn't work, but I will give it a brief review all the same as it highlights a couple of things. Very simple piece of software for printing your dispatch notices, which you export from PayPal using the 'Download history' link to get the CSV file (comma separated file, which can be read by Excel and most decent label printers). You can subsequently print the addresses onto A4 sheets with lots of different formats. Ok, so it's printing software, and you can't download it, but it fills a niche that many of the other products don't attend to. "One step better than copy and paste" as my friend put it.
Next, Label Pro Printer 2.0 by AIMCO Software, which costs 40GBP for a single user license and 19.95GBP for every additional license. This is a plugin for Internet Explorer which (when you login to PayPal, Amazon, PlayTrade, eBay, Cubecart, Google checkout and so forth) sticks a checkbox next to each order so you can export the records quite easily. An interesting method, but effective. The program formats your addresses and can be used with PPI (from Royal Mail) images as well. So there are a few downsides, it's just for printing, and not for tracking your orders (but it sure beats cutting and pasting from emails), but the real gonger is that the approach is against the T&C's of eBay and probably most of the other auction/ shopping sites (using screen scraping to get the relevant information) so it's a potential risk that eBay could block your account.
Second to last is the answer from Microsoft, Office Accounting 2008. This program sure will keep you busy. Well, to be honest, it's got everything. Mostly. Complete order tracking, payroll management, stock synchronised with eBay, completed transactions are sent from PayPal and so on. It's got a lot. And, to be honest, the price is not ridiculous, at 149.95GBP. This is another desktop app, which of course runs just on Windows. I really can't go through everything as it has such "a wide range of features" but it does comes with a price, namely complexity and a monthly charge for PayPal & eBay users to integrate, plus a small fee on each transaction. So if you've got some spare change lying around, I would highly recommend this piece of kit.
Ok, last but not least, is a slightly different approach to the aforementioned solutions in that it's a website. And it's free, and made just for eBay and PayPal, scrobbld. Scrobbl'd is a fairly easy way to organise and track your orders, receiving payment notifications (IPN, remember?) from PayPal whenever a transaction has taken place. Features include automatic email notification (with an automatically generated and attached pdf invoice if you so choose) to let buyers know you've received their order, and when you're going to dispatch. You can do eBooks and e-deilvery (so a file is uploaded and associated with your item and then link is sent to the buyer when they purchase an electronic item from you, which can be set to expire), and it organises everything into a searchable list, so you can see everything a particular customer bought or how many items you've unfortunately had to refund. You can also export data as a CSV file which can be marked as read (so you don't do it twice). What it does, it does really well, though it's a bit weak on the regular Office sort of things (you can't for example stick any customer details in at the moment), though you can do more interesting things like keep an eye on your levels of stock, and it sure beats logging into PayPal. The thing that really clinched it for me is the lack of any price tag, and also that it was made *just* for eBay and PayPal. Also, I would highly recommend the registration process (What? You don't want me to confirm my password?). Anyway, the site can be found at scrobbld.com.
I hope I have made things a bit clearer, and also saved anyone reading this a bit of time. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about which program I am now using!