eBay is my RPG

Dollar Flipper Musings

My last post included some startling information about me. I wasn’t one of the cool kids in school. There, I said it. It’s out in the open. Wait, you’re surprised that all the cool kids don’t go out every Saturday in the summer and buy things at garage sales to re-sell on eBay?

I used to play a lot of video games and computer games, including RPGs and MMORPGs. Think Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft (before it got really popular and mainstream – we paved the way for that dumb Mr. T commercial).

Pick your own Caption! A - I think I saw that goat guy at the last flea market I went to. B - One feather in my cap is that I've never done Live Action Roleplaying. That's where you beat each other up with Styrofoam weapons.

Pick your own Caption!
A – I think I saw that goat guy at the last flea market I went to.
B – One feather in my cap is that I’ve never done Live Action Roleplaying. That’s where you beat each other up with Styrofoam weapons.

My wife (girlfriend at the time), several other friends, and I would all set up our desktop computers (no one had laptops), and play till all hours of the night. We had a blast. Killing monsters, leveling up, researching the best ways and equipment to improve our characters, and the loot. Oh the loot. In the end, we’d end up either selling our loot to other people or equip it and kill more monsters to get more loot.

People spend a lot of time playing these games, but I’ve gotten out of the habit. I’m recovered. And who needs it? I have something else that gives me a lot of the same feelings that I chased while playing video games. Instead of paying to play a game, I have an eBay side hustle where I actually make money!

eBay as an RPG

Since I’ve been selling on eBay for a few years now, I’ve come to realize that it has a lot of similarities to the RPGs.


You start out at level 1 with an RPG. As you progress through the story and kill more monsters, you gain more experience and levels.

In eBay, you start out with 0 feedback, and it increases as you get more sales and buyers leave you feedback.


Characters in RPGs have you go out and walk around, finding items or killing monsters. When you do this, you either get experience or you get or new items (loot). You need to search every corner to make sure that you didn’t miss any extra goodies.

I like to think of my garage sale and thrift hunting as my questing. I’ll even stop at a non-advertised garage sale (like a side quest!) if I see one. I also make sure to check every area of the thrift store so I don’t miss anything.


You fight monsters or other characters to either get loot and experience.

Let me talk to you about this one buyer I had. I felt like I needed to be ready for combat! Instead, I offered a full refund on return, and then I stayed away from the eBay forums and eCommerce Bytes. Those are dark places, and we don’t even link to them for fear of getting lost. Action beats whining around here.

The Psychology of eBay

Sigmund_Freud_Bobble_Head_Wackelkopf eBay

I’m sure Freud would love the fact that I got started selling on eBay because my Dad was having a lot of success with his store!

So eBay and RPGs are similar, but there’s some even creepier reasons why selling on eBay is borderline addictive. Cracked.com had a great article (NSFW) that compared RPGs to Skinner Boxes and breaks down these methods. When I read that article, I see a few of these methods in the eBay system.

Variable Ratio Rewards

It’s been shown that if you want someone to keep coming back, that they need to have random rewards that are tied to how many times you play. Think lottery tickets and slot machines. Or RPGs and eBay.

You actually get hit twice in this eBay “game” – sourcing and selling!

The more garage sales, thrift stores, and flea markets you go to, the more goodies you can find. Has anyone else felt compelled to stop at that one garage sale on the way home even though your car is already filled? “Think of all the goodies I might find to re-sell!” or “I feel good about this next garage sale.” I sound like one of those slot junkies at the casino. “Just one more pull, and Grandma’s gonna be rich!”

Note: I do not actually call myself Grandma.

Then there’s the selling. The more items I list, the more sales I have. We all know how awesome that “cha-ching” sound is. The thing is, you can’t force it to happen more often. You can increase your average rate though. And how do we do that? By going out to garage sales, buying more stuff, and listing more! Rinse and repeat and try not to become a hoarder.


Avoidance is giving you a negative action when you stop doing things. The example in the article is that your Farmville crops die if you stop taking care of them. Now, is this true for eBay?

Caveat: I haven’t seen any proof of this, but damn it, it really feels true when you’re having a slow week like the one I just had.

There are rumors that if you aren’t listing consistently, your sales dip (or your listings get buried). Now, we know that if we list more, we will increase our sales (assuming we’re not buying useless junk). We can’t force it. There may be a lot going on here.

Is this just you noticing your sales rate decrease, or are your listings getting bumped down in best match result? Are you actually just ending up with your “worse” stuff in the store since all the good stuff sold? Are you wasting time worrying and complaining on the internet when you could be photographing or listing? WHO THE HELL KNOWS!

In the end, we can’t control anything but the number of items in our stores, the quality of those items, and the quality of our descriptions and pictures. That’s it. So if we want our eBay stores to sell more items. We need to keep listing. And list more. And list after that too.

The best part about this? It will lead to some more of those nice little random “cha-ching” sounds. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all living for. The money’s  nice, but it’s also pretty cool to realize someone else saw the value in that old pair of boots that you just sold. Take that judgy thrift store clerk.


Image Credit: RalfHuels, Gizlog