Recently, Holly Johnson from Club Thrifty reached out to me for an interview. She was looking for someone who added to their regular income with an eBay business. She had to tailor it to a more general crowd, but I thought that the behind the scenes notes could help my readers.
Holly’s site is great for all things frugal/thrifty which is impressive because she has two daughters! I’m going to continue to absorb as much as possible from her since that’s the size of our family now. 🙂
Plus, Flipping a Dollar just hit the 2 year mark so the interview gives a nice recap of what’s gone on here for the 100+ posts, 120,000+ views, and the way too many bad jokes. Onto the interview!
Let’s start with a quick introduction.
I began regularly selling on eBay in 2013. Since then, I’ve slowly grown my store size from 5 items to over 350. Others do it faster, but I’m trying to keep life in check with an almost 3 year old, another due really soon (maybe even born by the time this post goes up!), and a full-time job. All while cultivating a happy marriage, trying to stay fit and healthy, and saving over 50% of our income!
I think slow is good because you can grow this hobby/business into a part of your lifestyle. Even with the slow growth, I still feel like I’m floundering a bit sometimes.
1. How much money do you make flipping items on eBay?
I made over $1,500 in profits in 2013.
2014 brought me just under $5,000.
So far in 2015 I’ve made just over $4,000 in profit with 4 months to go still! This comes from $8,159.83 in sales.
I was trying to hit $10,000 in profit, but I just don’t think that’s going to happen with my limited time in listing. I’ve also been much better at tracking my expenses this year, so I’m sure that is affecting my bottom line too.
2. Do you feel eBay is a good strategy to earn extra income?
Absolutely! The reason that it’s such a good avenue for extra income is that it’s proportional to the effort you put in. Only have time to list one item per week? No worries! For new sellers, you can list for free up to certain limits (something like 50 items per month). eBay has let us buy new doors without impacting our savings or touching our regular income.
3. How do you decide which items to sell?
Most of this comes from personal experience. The best thing I can think of is if you have a hobby or interest and know what the high end stuff is – look for that.
For me, I started off selling mostly video games. I was able to get some seed money from just selling games that I didn’t play anymore, but then I’d find more and more at garage sales and flea markets. The video game market started getting really competitive though, so I’ve branched out to a lot of other things.
Clothing is one of my favorites because I find it easy to store and ship. They’re definitely slow movers, but I’m OK with that because the margins are fantastic.
My wife has picked up some craft items to re-sell because that catches her eye, and she knows the more expensive brands.
4. One time I sold a shirt on eBay and someone said it had a hole in itand demanded their money back – but they wouldn’t send me a picture. I gave in and refunded, and said the hell with this. What do you say about that? What would you have done in my position?
Yuck! This is something hard to deal with. I think you mentioned that the clothing wasn’t that expensive.
For me, I’ve slowly added some rules on what I will sell. I try to stay away from items where I’ll only make a few dollars. There’s a good amount of effort that you need to put into sourcing, listing, storing, and shipping. I want to make it worth the effort.
This is a bit anecdotal, but I’ve seen a lot of sellers who feel the same way. If you’re selling low dollar items, you’re going to have more issues. When you deal with something greater than $30, the buyer generally puts a little more pre-work into buying, and you seem to have less issues.
5. What tips would you give someone who is hoping to flip items on eBay?
Start with money that you are OK losing. Sell some things from around your own house to get that seed money, and then only work with that money without adding any new cash to your buying money. This does two things. It limits how much you can buy and how quickly you can expand so you don’t get in over your head.
6. Anything to watch out for?
If you’re looking for things to buy (BOLOs – be on the lookout), one of my “white whales” would be a Pre-Duffy teddy bear.
Update: I actually got one!!! I found him on Labor Day at the Good Will. It’s a great story but hasn’t sold yet. I”ll post that when it does. 🙂
Disney created a teddy bear which unexpectedly gained popularity in Japan after it had flopped in the US. They added a back story and named him Duffy. The ones that were from before he was named can sell for a lot of money – especially the bright colors! The quickest way to look for one is to look for the Mickey Mouse ears on the feet.
If you were looking for things to avoid, I’d say high-end electronics. The only times I’ve ever had buyers try to scam me (that I could tell) were re-selling our old iPhones after upgrading to Republic Wireless. They said they never got it even though I paid extra for signature confirmation. They were just fishing though and nothing ever came out of it.
7. Can someone LOSE money flipping items on eBay?
I’m sure it’s possible. The way I minimize this is that I don’t buy anything over $5 unless I’m 90% sure that it will sell. Do I make mistakes? Of course! I regularly end up re-donating clothing if it has a flaw that I missed in the store.
I call this “Thrifter’s Goggles“. It’s a scientifically proven (not really) situation where something looks amazing in a store and loses it’s luster once you get home. As I mentioned earlier, I also limit the potential for loss by only using money from profits to fund my next purchases. If I don’t have any money in my “purchases” category, that means I should get my butt over to the computer and list instead!
8. What kind of person would be successful at this? What kind of person WOULDN’T be successful?
For me, eBay is filling the void of video games. It’s basically a real life video game. Instead of going and killing monsters in a dungeon, I’m finding treasures at a garage sale.
eBay does require a lot of patience. I find that it won’t work for you if you’re looking for instant gratification. If you want to get a fast ROI, Amazon is probably a little better. But for me, Amazon seems like higher risk since it requires a larger amount of money for a smaller (but quicker) return. If I buy something that’s not going to give me a good return, I can just donate it. That’s not the case when you’re dropping thousands of dollars on inventory like you need to for Amazon.
I also think you need to be resourceful. I was literally packing items in my car outside of the post office using tape rolls that I had bought from a thrift store. I didn’t have a tape dispenser so I had just the roll and a pair of scissors. I’ve grown over the years and now have a lot of tools that I use to help streamline the process. But this was not overnight growth by any means.
Finally, you can get caught up in the thrill of the garage sale. It’s exciting to find an item that has a high selling potential. If you aren’t persistent and don’t follow through with the more mundane and tedious aspects of prepping and listing the item, that potential will never be realized, and the item will just be taking up space.
So, I guess I’m trying to say you need to be able to follow through with a plan or else you may end up a hoarder!
9. What is the biggest hassle about flipping stuff on eBay? Is it the shipping? The returns? Spill!
The biggest hassle for me is the middle part of my eBay process. I love sourcing items. I don’t mind shipping the item since I know I got paid, but when I started, shipping was a big pain because I didn’t spend any money on bags or boxes. Now I have a whole shipping area where I store boxes, padded envelopes, and the different sized (FREE!!!!) USPS boxes.
That middle section where you need to research, clean, describe, photograph, and list is tough. You can list something and have it not sell for a long time. And that’s OK. The listing fees are really low. You don’t need to be in a hurry!
If you’re struggling to live from paycheck to paycheck, I think working on what’s going on in your own house should be priority instead of just boosting what’s coming in. More money doesn’t make the problems go away. You need to have a plan for how it’s going to be spent!
Thanks for asking me these questions about eBay! It’s something that I really enjoy doing and has let us save while improving our house, so we look at it as a win-win. Plus, I don’t know of many other hobbies where you actually gain skills and earn money!
Big thanks to Holly for the interview and to all the readers here. It’s awesome that we’re able to help each other out and make some extra money on a really fun hobby!