My triumphs and pitfalls flipping on eBay

ebay, flipping, side hustleI sold on eBay for a couple of years, and still do occasionally. At my peak I was pulling in an extra $150 per month flipping items I found at thrift stores or garage sales, or even clearance racks or online sources.

In this post on The Simple Dollar, they talk about some of the benefits and pitfalls of selling on eBay or Amazon. I thought I would clarify a few points with my own experiences.

  • Yes, if you invested a ton in inventory, you could lose your shirt. But there’s nothing that says you have to. The nice thing about selling on eBay is you can dabble, as you learn what sells. Frankly, the best way to start is with unwanted items around the house. In fact, I had no plans to be a flipper on eBay — I started selling things collecting dust around my house. Eventually, it occurred to me to that I could buy inventory if I found the right sources.
  • There’s a trick to mastering the shipping. For one, I look for small items that will ship cheaply (and via first class, which oddly comes up cheaper than economy). Eventually I bought a large box of envelopes to further cut costs. When you look at inventory, you have to factor in the shipping before determining profit.
  • Thrift stores are a great source. And, if you have eBay’s app on your phone, you can punch in or even scan a barcode if the item has one, and a quick flick of the filter can show you if it has been selling and for how much. Eventually you’ll start to know on site what sells.
  • What sells? Things I know for sure: Sony Walkman/discmans, games like monopoly and scrabble (sell the pieces not the whole thing: Monopoly pieces, houses and money sell really well and you’ll make money, and crafters love scrabble pieces). I once sold an mp3 player I bought for $3 for $40 to someone who really loved that particular model in Sweden. That was my best flip. Others, if they look valuable, I look them up on the app and see if they’re selling and if so, for how much. It’s not a guarantee but it is usually a good indicator.
  • It’s actually pretty rare that an item won’t sell at all, if you’ve done your research beforehand. Sometimes it might take awhile, and once in a while I’ve sold something for a loss. Overall, though, you will make money if you don’t just buy without looking something up first. The only way you can really get left holding the bag is if you find a bulk quantity of something and buy it to sell, and it turns out to be a dud.


  • The number one reason I’m not selling as much: Trouble sourcing inventory (and finding the time to do it). eBay was only one of my side businesses, and lately my photography has been more in demand, so eBay went to the backburner for a bit. My strategy has been to visit thrift stores when I happen to be nearby them, so as not to expend too much extra fuel. But lately I’ve been coming up empty — I’ve found few diamonds in the rough.
  • Yes, beware of scammers, though I’ve found the vast majority of people are honest. One person tried to buy off site, and I simply told him no. I’ve had a couple of return requests, and I’ve honored all of them. One person was a bit angry over the item not working, but I told him simply to return it, and didn’t engage with the anger. As of yet, I still have not gotten a bad review.Sometimes good inventory sources dry up or the market changes. I had a pretty good thing going for awhile with buying Raspberry Pis from England and reselling them on eBay. I was netting about $5 per board, and the set up was as simple as ordering one, and re-activitating the listing when it arrived. But eventually the eBay price came down, and eventually it became a break even scenario.
  • One way I also made money: Buying things on extreme sale on Amazon and reselling them on eBay. It was usually easy enough to find $35 worth of items on Amazon to qualify for the free shipping, which made it profitable (not super profitable but usually easy to sell because you were dealing in new merchandise). Could they just have bought it on Amazon themselves? Of course. But not everyone will, and many people just impulse buy without researching prices. When Amazon changed their pricing policy to $50 that put the keebosh on that type of selling. Eventually it came back down to $35, but by then it seems the eBay market and Amazon markets started tracking pretty evenly, so I rarely came across an item that would sell for more on eBay.

Right now, with being a little too busy to shop for inventory, and the trips I have been making largely coming up empty, I’ve put eBay on hold for now while other ventures have proven more profitable. I still contend that selling on eBay can be a profitable venture, though, and I encourage others to try.


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