What to Sell on eBay
Not sure what to sell on eBay? Learn how to research your ideas, find product sources and discover what's hot.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A lot of eBay sellers start out selling odds and ends they havearound the house--and for good reason. For items that are in goodcondition, you'll probably get more money for them on eBay thanat a garage sale. You probably have plenty of stuff that you'llnever miss and you really don't need to store or dust anymore.And it's a relatively risk-free way to test the waters of eBayselling.
If you can't bear to part with anything you already have,start with products you know and have experience with. Choosethings that have demonstrable market demand (that is, you knowpeople are buying them). Don't make the mistake of selling onlythings you like, or the trendiest, coolest things you can find. Ifyour goal is to make a profit--and it should be!--then you need tobe selling things people will buy.
If you are considering selling an item, do a search on eBay andsee if that product or similar ones are being offered for sale. Ifthe market is saturated, you may want to reconsider trying to sellthat product. At the same time, if absolutely no one else isoffering the product for sale, you need to figure out if that'sbecause no one else has thought of it, or if it's because noone will buy the item.
Depending on the category, seeing a lot of similar items up forsale may work in your favor or against you. For example, you maysee a lot of the same item pop up in response to a search becausepeople are buying. Or, observes antiques seller Sue Rudolph,"It might also mean the market is flooded and nobody wantsit." You have to do more than just count the listings, shesays. Look at the individual auctions and see if people are biddingon the items--that will give you an indication of the strength ofthe market. Then check the completed auctions for the item yousearched for. That will tell you what the item is selling for (if,in fact, it's selling at all).
Issues to Consider
Whether you have a specific product line in mind or are stilltrying to come up with some ideas for what you can sell on eBay,consider these issues:
- Cost. how much will the item cost you? There's moreto cost that simply the price on the item--do you have the cashrequired to make the purchase or are you going to have to borrowmoney (and therefore pay interest) to acquire the inventory? Willthere be any additional expenses, such as shipping to you orrepairs if the item is not in saleable condition?
- Storage. Do you have room to adequately and safely storethe item while you are waiting for it to sell?
- Shipping. What are the labor and cost issues associatedwith shipping the item to your customer once it sells? Is it veryfragile, an unusual shape or extremely heavy? These are issues thatcan make shipping a challenge.
- Product life cycle. How long can you expect the demandfor the item to continue? You may have something that is wildlysuccessful today, but next year you won't be able to pay peopleto take it away from you. Beanie Babies and other fad collectiblesare a great example of this. Some high-tech items are also at riskof having a short life cycle due to technology advances. If you payattention to product life cycles, you can maximize your profitswhile the item is hot and avoid getting stuck with excess inventorywhen the demand declines.
- Season. When you put an item up for sale on eBay,consider the time of year. Heavy coats and sweaters don't sellwell in the spring and summer. Lawn and garden equipment is notgoing to move as well in the winter as it will in the summer. Ifyou have room to store items, you can make a nice profit buyingoff-season items and holding them until they sell.
Where Will You Find What You'll Sell?
One of the most exciting things about selling on eBay is thatmerchandise that will sell for a profit is virtuallyeverywhere!
- Your home. Start by looking around your own home at thestuff that's collecting dust on shelves or stashed in the backof closets, or in the attic or garage.
- Flea markets. Flea markets can be a tremendous source ofbargain-priced merchandise that will sell on eBay.
- Garage and yard sales. Savvy eBay sellers can make acomfortable living spending one or two days a week shopping garagesales for items that will fetch many times what they cost whenauctioned on eBay.
- Estate sales. If a professional is already handling theestate sale, you're not as likely to get really great bargains.But if you have access to a truck and storage, you can advertisethat you can buy entire estates. When you make such a purchase,select what will sell best on eBay, put those items up for auction,and then sell the rest through other channels.
- Established retailers. Stores need a way to move itemsthat aren't selling. Once Gotham City Online, a eBay companythat focuses on clothing and accessories with sales exceeding $1million annually, was established, co-founder Jonathan Garriss wasable to approach retailers and offer to help them solve theiroverstock problems by selling those items on a consignment basis oneBay. Eventually, he began purchasing that inventory outright.
- Discount stores. Look for clearance items at discountdepartment and drug stores. Cindy Mayer of Cindy's Collectiblesroutinely buys infant's and children's items at the end ofthe season and stores them until the following year. "I buyout of season, and I have found great sales in drugstores,"she says.
- Friends and family. Tell people you know not to throwanything away. Laurie Ayers says that members of her church willgive thing they are going to throw away or donate to charity, andif she can sell them on eBay, she does.
Buying From Wholesalers
As your business grows, you may choose to start buying fromwholesale sources and selling on eBay at retail. This can be veryprofitable, but only if you choose the wholesaler wisely.
The Internet is full of opportunities to buy lists ofwholesalers, often for just a few dollars. Save your money. You canget the same quality of information (or maybe even slightly better)for free by using any of the popular search engines and plugging inkeywords such as "wholesale," "manufacturer" or"drop ship." But even that is not the best route totake.
Instead, be more specific in your approach. Think about the typeof products you want to sell, and then look for manufacturers,wholesalers and distributors you can work with. Find companieswhose products meet your quality expectations, that have prices andterms you can work with, and that deliver the service level youwant to provide your customers. Get sample products so you can seethe quality yourself. Some companies send free samples, whileothers charge a nominal fee--either way, don't try to sellsomething you've never seen. Be sure it is truly worth what youexpect to sell it for.
Be sure you're dealing with a true manufacturer, wholesaleror distributor, and not another middleman who is marking up theirprices and increasing your costs. Ask for and check references. Youwant to talk with others who are buying from these sources. Inaddition, check with the Better Business Bureau, any industryassociations, the consumer protection agency of the state in whichthe supplier is located, and any other source that may be able toverify their claims.
Legitimate manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors will alsowant information about you, including proof that you are alegitimate business and that you have any necessary licenses andtax identification numbers. A supplier who doesn't ask for thisinformation is probably a middleman whose ethics couldn't standup to moderate, much less close, scrutiny.
Figuring Out What's Hot
How do you figure out what will be a hot seller on eBay?It's a challenge for new sellers. "They're hopped upto sell, but don't know what to sell," says Jim"Griff" Griffith, dean of eBay Education.
In fact, "What should I sell on eBay?" is the mostcommon question new sellers have, says Todd Lutwak, eBay'sdirector of seller development, adding that "eBay attempts toprovide as much information as possible to help people spottrends."
Seller Central is the place where new sellers can findhot lists that reveal the top search terms or keywords by category.Sellers can learn, for example, if computer buyers recently usingthe site preferred to use laptop or notebook as their main searchterm.
"It's great data for sellers," Lutwak says."By looking at the keywords, you know what's selling. Andit's a leading indicator of how you should be selling it."eBay also e-mails sellers information regarding the top-sellingcategories for the last month.
In the "What's Hot" section at Seller Central,sellers will find a Merchandising Calendar that reveals what itemstend to sell at certain times of the year based on holidays andevents. Outside sources such as Andale.com, meanwhile, provideinformation about hot sellers on eBay for a monthly fee of$3.95.
Lutwak sees strong growth in all of eBay's major categories.The products that sell best, he says, sell because of inventivesellers who are able to differentiate a commodity product througheye-catching listing information and innovative sales tactics suchas 24-hour shipping or bundling an entire solution. "They trydifferent ways of selling or accentuate different things abouttheir selling strategy," Lutwak says.
To become a better trend spotter, keep track of eBay's hotcategories, items and search words, Lutwak advises. Then be apioneer in your sales strategy. "Try new things and become atrendsetter," he says. "That in itself is a bestpractice."