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Earn More Money: eBay Selling and Flipping

This article was written by in Income. 13 comments.


This is the second article in a series about methods of supplementing income with spare-time projects. I typically focus on the big changes people can make that result in earning significantly more money, but this series focuses on incremental income. The first article was about becoming a secret shopper.

A friend of mine is stuck in a job she hates. She’s been looking for a way out, but for financial reasons, is currently stuck in her position. One way she’s trying to earn some income is by buying items at low prices from a variety of sources and selling these items on eBay for a profit. The concept makes sense, because eBay is such an efficient market. Garage sales or yard sales are much less efficient because there isn’t a wide pool of potentially interested buyers to drive up the cost of a rare item. Nevertheless, people still use garage sales to sell unwanted items because they don’t want the hassle of creating an effective eBay listing.

Finding deals at physical shopping locations and selling those items on eBay can produce a healthy profit with the right kind of knowledge guiding the shopping prices. It’s also possible take advantage of bad eBay listings and flip products purchased online for incremental income.

Finding the right items to sell

Income potential for selling items on eBay is limited only by the seller’s ability to recognize good deals before purchasing. In this case, a good deal is anything that is underpriced based on the eBay market. This type of knowledge comes from paying close attention to completed eBay sales. It would be very difficult to understand the eBay market for all products, so it might make sense to focus on one or a small number of product categories, such as old books, magazines, dolls, vinyl records, or vintage clothing. As you gain knowledge and experience, you might have the confidence to expand into additional categories.

Book SaleKnowing the target prices for purchasing products, the price at which you will be able to earn a profit, is one step for finding the right items; next, you need to be in the right places to find a deal. Here are a few locations where you may scour for deals.

  • Garage sales and yard sales. Your local newspaper or local events website can help direct you to garage sales in the area. At garage sales, you can often be successful negotiating towards a better deal, increasing your potential profit if the item can be sold on eBay. There are two good times to visit garage sales: at the beginning, when some of the best deals have not yet had the opportunity to be scanned by other shoppers, and at the end, when you have stronger negotiating power and sellers who are motivated to get rid of their less popular items at any price.
  • Book sales. Libraries and schools often put collections on sale to the public once they’ve outlived their use. The key is to be able to cherrypick the best selections, spotting any editions that may be rare or collectible. That isn’t the only way to succeed, however. Often, at the end of sales, you may find that the selling organization offer deals where you can fill a box of any books and take an entire lot at a small price. Even with books that aren’t rare, you can make a profit by listing these individually on eBay or a book selling website of your choice.

    For an overview of what this can be like, take a look at the Bryn Mawr/Wellesley book sale, an annual event in Princeton, New Jersey. The claim to be the biggest book sale on the east coast, and many shoppers here are looking to profit by reselling their finds. Here’s a video.

  • Other eBay auctions. If you become adept at spotting auctions that are not well-designed and would not attract a lot of interested buyers, you may be able to bid a low price, win the auction, and turn the item around on eBay with a better listing to earn money. There are tools you can buy that help in this endeavor, but I wouldn’t suggest paying any money up front for a tool that can help with incremental income. Search eBay listings for popular misspellings, and you may find popular items with less traffic than they should have, if the correct spelling was used. Many sellers anticipate misspelled searches and use incorrectly-spelled words in their listings to draw more attention from potential buyers.
  • Flea markets and swap meets. Thanks to eBay, it’s less likely to find great deals at flea markets and swap meets. The more savvy vendors have moved the bulk of their operations online because of the greater revenue potential. Nevertheless, flea markets and swap meets could provide some opportunities for finding profitable items, but education and experience is more important than ever.

Building your eBay reputation

You can attract more potential buyers on eBay by being a good — and frequent — seller. Always offer good return policies and always communicate well with your customers. The feedback and ratings they provide will solidify your reputation as a trusted seller. The more you sell, the more eBay increases your status. The more business you do on eBay, the faster you will move up to and through the ranks of PowerSeller. The eBay PowerSeller badge is a somewhat important piece of advertising for your seller account, but it isn’t the only criterion that buyers are concerned about. Interestingly, as a PowerSeller, eBay allows a certain number of policy violations, but the more you make your selling approach friendly to buyers, the less you need to worry about that.

To build your reputation, you may want to focus on growing positive feedback from buyers, and that might require forgoing significant profit. Sell as many items as you can handle, even for a bargain, to quickly receive the positive feedback you need to attract more discerning buyers.

Here are a few ideas that will move your reputation in the right direction.

  • Ship your items quickly after receiving payment and offer shipment tracking.
  • Respond to shoppers’ inquiries immediately.
  • Charge reasonable prices for shipping.
  • Always be gracious in your communications.
  • Leave great feedback for others.

eBay selling income potential

Unfortunately, the internet is full of promises of riches to be derived from selling items on eBay. Many such advertisements simply fail to subtract the cost of goods from their revenue, others just outright lie. However, it is possible to earn a living making a business out of scouring physical sales and inefficient eBay listings for deals, selling the best finds for a profit on eBay. My former co-worker’s husband made such a living, but I believe he would say that he wasn’t exactly rich and it was a hard, time-consuming job. He focused on music recordings, and really enjoyed music, so besides the potential revenue he was working with something he enjoyed. Furthermore, their entire apartment was full of stuff determined to be unsaleable or waiting to be sold. To do this well, you may need significant storage space while your items are being sold, and that could be a drawback.

More likely than making a living, this process has the potential to add a few hundred dollars to your bank accounts each month. Even this requires diligently finding only the best deals and attracting enough buyers on eBay. In the worst case scenario, you spend more for your inventory than you can make by selling on eBay, resulting in a loss. It’s a risky business, but you can reduce that risk with practice and by focusing your tactics on a specific category to start.

Do you have a profitable side business (or main business) selling or flipping items on eBay? What are your suggestions for success?

Photo: Phil Roeder

Published or updated September 5, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar tom

People still use eBay?

I thought it got taken over by shady dealers hocking potentially stolen or counterfeit goods.

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avatar LR

I have sold several household items on eBay in the past. Unfortunately, by the time I factored in the ebay commissions and cost of shipping and packing materials, the net $ received wasn’t really worth my time and effort. Unless you do this full-time and/or have a large sales volume or large profit items, it doesn’t seem worth the time and effort. Now, I generally donate unwanted items to charity and get a receipt for the tax write-off. It takes less time and is still beneficial to my bottom line.

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avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

LR has a point. I’ve been disappointed in the final selling price of some items lately. Books go for almost nothing, unless they are really rare. To make a profit, you have to get an item for almost nothing. If you list an item at a price where you will make a small profit, sometimes you get no bids. Ebay is a tough sell these days.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

My 14 yo son is trying to become an ebay tycoon. We’ve given him some miscellaneous stuff to sell, just stuff that we wanted to get rid of anyway (sister’s old clarinet, a nice pair of cowboy boots, etc). He’s made some decent money (for a 14 yo) in the last month, but he’s wanted to expand his inventory by picking up items at garage sales, etc. I’ve been trying to sway him from that, because I’m afraid that he’ll buy something worthless then be stuck with it.

After the ebay commission, insertion fees, fees for pictures, etc. there is a minimal amount of profit left over. That’s why we’re giving him stuff to sell that we would either give away or sell for cheap at a garage sale. This way, he’s making a little extra cash and we’re getting rid of stuff we don’t want.

I will say that if you have an eye for vintage items, you can set up a shop on etsy.com and probably make a little more money, since there is a flat listing fee (less than a dollar per item, I think), without any final sale charges or photo charges.

I don’t think ebay has gone the way of the dinosaur quite yet. I think it’s good for one-time sales or for instances like my son, but as for a money-making venture – it’s a lot of work.

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avatar molly hatchett

Ebay is a venue of the past.Nobody Ebay’s anymore.

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avatar Matt

I’ve personally experienced that eBay is becoming more and more difficult to sell on. I am not a power seller, but I do sell stuff from time to time. It works for me because I am selling stuff that I want to get rid of. Trying to make a business out of it through margins seems like a difficult task due to the volume needed for a sufficient income.

I get that garage sale-ing has become harder. What about craigslist? Has anyone had any success by shopping around on CL for good finds?

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avatar Kevin@OutOfYourRut

I’ve sold a bunch of stuff on ebay and I’m always surprised at how well it works. I think it could be built into a legitimate side business by someone who’s motivated in that direction–I’m not, but who knows what the future holds. I always hold open the possibility but as Shellye correctly reports above, it’s a lot of work. You have to have an eye for buying salable merchandise on the extreme cheap, and thats a talent unto itself. And of course, if you have that talent, you can make money even without ebay!

Another problem is that Ebay fees have climbed higer so you really have to focus on higher priced items, and they also have to have low shipping costs so as not to compete with retail prices. It’s definately not as easy as a few years ago. Also, strong competitors have sprung up, like Amazon.com (I confess to buying far more there than on ebay).

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avatar jim

I think this can be a pretty good way to make some side money and quite a few people make a living doing this.

It could take a while to get established. You aren’t going to sell a ton of stuff from day one. You have to build positive user feedback and learn more about how best to buy/sell stuff.
Inventory storage could be a problem like the people with the entire “apartment was full of stuff”.

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avatar OrchidGirl ♦16 (Newbie)

Profitable (including accounting for your time) eBay flipping seems to require some specialized knowledge of a certain type of item. Plus you need to know how to create a good listing – good photos, a clear description with all the information a typical buyer would want, etc.

So unless you know a specific area inside and out (and passionate hobbyist might), it is probably just worth selling your own things, especially if yard sales are not an option for you. Also, before you invest too much time, first check out the what the items have been selling for in the past (you can do that with eBay’s advance search).

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avatar Scott

I bought the Beatles box set on Amazon for 77.73 shipped and some months later I sold it on Ebay for 106.50. I thought I might have made a little money, but after subtracting all the associated costs – packing materials, shipping, listing, auction and payment fees, I barely broke even. I will only sell stuff on Ebay that I’m getting rid of and only if I couldn’t sell it on Craigslist first.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

When my husband was out of work eight years ago he sold computer parts that he had bought and upgraded on ebay. This made the difference between the unemployement and his weekly salary. I sell my fiction books on ebay. The extra income was decent and while most of the books are books that I bought and personally read some of them are yard sale or close outs from 2nd hand book stores. This is how I fund Christmas.

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avatar qixx ♦1,819 (Half-Dollar)

For those that have not sold on ebay recently their fees have gotten a lot better as of late. For those with low sales volume you can often list items for free. There are still some items that sell really well on ebay. Concert tickets and memorabilia. Since these are limited item they can usually bring good profit from few sales. If you live near a concert venue and are willing to deliver tickets in person buyers are much more comfortable and are usually willing to pay more. If all else fails you can always go to the concert yourself.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

This is still interesting. Lately, due to my continued interest in coupon savings, I have seen lot of coupons for sale on Ebay, The price some people pay for these are outstanding. Some are free so the owner has nothing invested in the price.Almost, 100% profit,

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