Get Over the Thrift Store – Sourcing Alternatives for eBay Sellers

If there is one thing that will assure the quick demise of your career on eBay, it will be getting stuck at thrift stores.  I get it, I love thrift stores too.  The thrill of the hunt, the occasional home-run, and the potential to find amazing stuff for yourself (that you desperately need, right?) all work together to keep people running around thrift stores for years trying to build their business.  I’ve said it so many times and I’ll say it again: Hoping to find better items at thrift stores is not a business plan.  Unless you have a large team to help you thrift, list, and ship, you need to find additional inventory sources if you want to make serious money on eBay.  Don’t worry though, there are plenty of ways to start small. Let’s talk about some of them:

YARD SALES

Yard sales are a great way to find amazing goods at rock bottom prices.  Unlike most thrift stores, people who price yard sale items rarely have any idea about the resale value of things.  Not only that, they are usually open to negotiation!  Use an app such as Yard Sale Treasure Map to find yard sales close by you!

Also, don’t underestimate the power of a yard sale for unloading your own items.  Since we don’t own a brick-and-mortar shop, we typically save heavy or low value items and have a yard sale once a year to unload dead inventory and deathpile things we no longer want to list.

Suggested App: Yard Sale Treasure Map

ESTATE SALES

If you have capital to spend, estate sales can be a step up from yard sales.  Estate sales are typically held when someone moves or dies and their belongings need to be liquidated.  Items are typically priced higher than at yard sales, but there are often better finds to be had.  If we happen upon an estate sale with lots of good, but overpriced items, we’ll typically leave our number with whoever is running the sale and let them know that we’re interested in buying their leftovers.

Suggested App: Estate Sales

LIQUIDATION OUTLETS/DISCOUNT STORES

Liquidation stores can be some of the best places to find inventory in bulk if you know what you’re doing.  Liquidation stores often buy out shipments from stores who have too many items in inventory, have out-of-season items, etc.  If you’re lucky, you can find items like discontinued cosmetics and hygiene items (people will pay 10x the original price for a bottle of their favorite discontinued face cream,etc…). 

A word of caution, though: when I first heard of people finding awesome things at Liquidation Outlets, I headed to a huge local liquidation warehouse and started looking up/scanning items.  I was there for an hour or two and must have looked up a hundred items and found nothing! Later, I learned that they were actually a large-scale eBay store and their “Liquidation Outlet” was their way of getting rid of excess inventory.  Man!

CRAIGSLIST, FACEBOOK MARKETPLACE, ETC.

Facebook Marketplace is an absolute treasure trove of resellable items.  We follow several searches so we can be the first to know of new postings, and flip everything from motorcycle jackets to sports memorabilia to clothing.  Because the eBay market is so much larger, anything that is unusual, rare, or has a small following will do better on eBay versus Facebook/Craigslist.  

If you haven’t tried to sell things locally, give it a try.  It can be a great way to move stale inventory or things you don’t want to ship.  However, it will also give you an idea how hard it is to sell things when your only audience is the few thousand people around you. Once you have an idea of how hard this is, you won’t be afraid to negotiate hard with people!  Also, when the moment is right, don’t be shy about telling people what you do.  A sentence like, “I actually buy and sell CDs like these on eBay, do you have any others for sale?” can get you awesome items they haven’t gotten around to listing yet!

RETAIL ARBITRAGE

If you’ve ever heard of extreme couponing, your reseller radar was probably buzzing. If getting tons of products for pennies is good, the only way to improve it is buying tons of products for pennies and then selling them for massive profit!

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a coupon-book-carrying weirdo (no offense if you’re one of those weirdos) to profit off of retail arbitrage.  The easiest retail arbitrage method is to regularly visit stores such as Walmart and check their clearance section.  We often find awesome items that are store returns, were supposed to be sold online only, or are just being discontinued at that location.  Learning to use a discount finder such as brickseek can be extremely helpful for maximizing your RA profits!

ONLINE ARBITRAGE

There are two kinds of companies that sell discount goods online: one consists of large retailers who bought their product from wholesalers, and discount it heavily to get it out of their warehouse – the other is people who buy from the first type and resell it.  If you are the type who doesn’t like wearing pants (we feel you), you can find the first type of company with a bit of searching. Companies who move large amounts of products typically will discount their items further and further as they go out of season, and we have bought items for 99% off retail.  There are so many companies that do this, just start searching for clearance sections on Google to find some go-to places to source!

FLEA MARKETS & ANTIQUE MALLS

While Flea Markets and Antique Malls are very different creatures, we have included them here because they are set up similarly and require similar approaches.  In both, sellers often rent a “booth space” and set up their items for sale.  At a flea market, the owner is usually there and the sale is up for a limited amount of time (a weekend, or maybe the seller will move on after a few days, etc.).  Antique Malls, on the other hand, usually do not have the owner present, they rent a booth long-term and you simply pay at the front of the store when you find something you want.

Flea Markets tend to be priced better, but be less curated.  Be on the lookout for unusual or vintage hardgood items, as clothing is usually scarce and overpriced.  At Antique Malls, owners are typically resellers themselves and know what their items are (roughly) worth.  There are still gems to be found, but you may have to pay up for them!

DUMPSTERS

While we typically only use dumpsters for finding free packing materials, the garbage can be a profitable – albeit inconsistent – inventory source.  One of our favorite blogs that we have followed for years is called Things I Find in the Garbage and details one guy who lives off being a “professional scavenger” and scrounging for sellable things in other people’s trash.  The storage units we used to rent at didn’t auction off units, but just threw everything in the dumpster – so we pulled out North Face Gore-Tex gear, bike trainers, hundreds or yards of bubble wrap, and all other kinds of interesting items.  While we don’t dumpster dive much anymore, if you’re hard-up for money, the opportunity is there! (Be selective of the dumpsters you go through, some business owners won’t be happy finding you in their trash. It also might be illegal, so keep an eye out for “no trespassing” and other such signs.)

STORAGE UNITS

Thanks to shows like Storage Wars, buying storage units is more popular (and less profitable) than ever.  That being said, it can still be highly lucrative if you live in the right area!  Here’s how it works: when you rent a storage unit, everything you store in it is taken as collateral for the promise of paying your monthly rent.  If you fail to pay it for a certain amount of time (usually 3 months, but it depends on the storage center), they become the owners of everything in your unit, and typically auction it off to the highest bidder to offset the cost of your neglected rent.  The owner of one of my local thrift stores actually gets 90% of his inventory from storage auctions!

You can check out a website like StorageTreasures.com to see what’s up for sale near you!

OTHER SELLERS (INCLUDING LULAROE, THRIFT STORES, ETC.)

I’m not sure of the percentage, but from my experience, at least half of eBay sellers give up in the first year or two.  So, what happens to their inventory?  It goes to people like us!  No only do we buy inventory from other eBay sellers, we often buy inventory from other types of sellers who have given up.  Large lots of Lularoe clothing, essential oils, etc. are all up for grabs if you know where to look!  The easiest way for us to source inventory from other sellers is to post an ad on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist that says something like, “Excess Inventory?  We pay cash on the spot!  Text us what you have and we’ll respond with an offer.”  Just be wary of deals that seem to good to be true, because it’s probably some savvy seller trying to unload their duds on you.

LIQUIDATION AUCTIONS: STORE RETURNS, SHELF PULLS, ETC.

If you’ve seen people on Instagram posting super high monthly sales numbers, it’s a safe bet they’re not sourcing at thrift stores.  At least, not exclusively.  If anyone asks what they’re doing, they often just say “buying pallets.”  While everyone is mum about their individual sources, buying pallets of goods can be one of the best (but riskiest) ways to build your eBay empire!

So, what are pallets?  Well, they can be tons of things: store returns, damaged goods, shelf pulls, discontinued items, out of season items, etc.  While pallets can be purchased for 90% or more off of retail value, don’t expect to be making 10x your money.  In the pallets that we buy, tripling your money means you chose very well.

While we’re not going to share our sources either, Liquidation.com or indotrading are good places to get started!

The results from our new work van’s maiden voyage to pick up pallets.

LOST GOODS AUCTIONS

There are so many auctions going on at any point in time that you’d go crazy if you tried to find them all.  If you’re looking to acquire and move products en mass, check out some of the following auctions: (just google them to find options in your area)

  • Seized Goods Auctions: Items seized by (or turned in to) police are sold at public auction.
  • Lost Goods Auctions: Business shipments that “go missing” are written off as a loss.  If they turn up, they are usually sent to auction by the trucking company that lost them.
  • Airport Auctions: Everything that gets lost at the airport during vacations?  Yep, it’s auctioned off too.
  • Surplus Auctions: These auctions are held by schools, universities, towns, etc.  They sell everything from cars to lawn mowers to computers.

​SO…WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!

There is so much inventory available, there is literally no reason to stay a bottom feeder at the thrift store.  Now that you are aware of more options, get out there and make some money!

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