eBay is my RPG

Dollar Flipper Musings 18 Comments

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’sĀ  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

Comments 18

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  1. Once upon a time, I supported my hobby by buying lots. I’d keep a couple of items and resell the rest. And I can attest that eBay is a terrifyingly addictive rush. Also an exhausting amount of anxiety if your stuff isn’t doing well. I don’t think I could ever get back into that regularly. Then again, I always hated the hassle of packing things up and getting them to the post office (even with prepaid labels).

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      Funding a hobby (or recouping some of the money spent) is such a great idea!

      For the post office, I’m able to drop off anything that will fit into the local blue box. Such a time saver. International still needs to be at the PO but that’s only a few a month. That was definitely a game changer for me!

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      Right? A lot of people pay good money for hobbies. I get paid and I get to keep a lot of the clothes!

  2. I had to look up what an RPG was..you can tell I’m a gamer right?! LOL I do still love the original Super Mario Bros though!! So your Dad’s got a store too?

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      Yep. He’s a much larger seller and does Amazon too. He also doesn’t have a 2 year old running around. šŸ™‚

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          That’s a good idea! Maybe a “how I got started” at least. I wonder how old my daughter will be when she sells her first item on eBay!

  3. Great post, and I totally agree–I think the use of google analytics does a lot to gamify blogging and other web activities, as well. I don’t do much ebay flipping (my wife loves garage sales/thrift stores, but I just get so BORED), but I like to think of our investing/blogging/saving in gamifying terms, as well.

    For me, it’s generally an “investment portfolio total = exp” situation. Having Robinhood with its beautiful (and free!) interface just feeds the addiction. Ha!


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      That’s a great point. I didn’t even think about blogging as gamefied too. The stats are definitely a big part of it!

      If you’re bored at garage sales, you’re just not looking at the right stuff! Start with stuff you’re interested in.

      And I too keep track of all my finances. It’s a Saturday morning ritual (sometimes during the week too if I get antsy).

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  6. Ebay is certainly addictive. I love finding great items and am always on the lookout for ‘the next big (or medium…) score’. My biggest way of ‘leveling up’ is learning about new items. I can’t believe how many expensive brands exist that I was unaware of prior to starting eBay. Who pays $500+ for a polyester dress that looks like a parachute…? I love finding things at the bins and realizing they were crazy expensive new.

    Video games are a slippery slope. They are super fun but can be such a huge time suck if you can’t pull yourself away. Thank goodness eBay pays you for your addiction šŸ˜›

    Sorry to comment on such an old post but it was a great throwback choice for your to link to. Hope your family feels better soon! Being sick is such a drag :/

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      Don’t worry about commenting on an old post. I still read all the comments. šŸ™‚

      I think I’m more nostalgic about the fun I had with friends when we were playing video games than I am about actually playing them. I have so many other things to worry about that seem much more important now-a-days. But I do love me some Zelda…

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