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.
Knowing 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.