How to Sell Clothes on eBay (Level 2)

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How to Sell Clothes on eBay: Taking it to the Next Level

If you’re here, I assume you already know the drill.  You source inventory, you sell a few things a day, and you want to take things to the next level and make some serious money on eBay.

There are really only three steps to succeeding on eBay, so let’s hit them each hard.  Here’s what we’ve got:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Listing
  3. Shipping

The only variable between people who succeed or fail on eBay is how well they do those three things (and most importantly, how they do #1). So let’s get to it!

When you’re done here, also check out our blog post on How To Scale an eBay Business to get some more growth ideas!

Sourcing

The entire name of the game on eBay is: buy low and sell high.  If you want to outpace the competition, you need to buy lower, but in larger quantities, or buy from sources that others can’t.

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to sourcing inventory for eBay is that you’re looking for nice and expensive brands.  It’s not true. What you’re actually looking for are items that are significantly underpriced.  This is why there are sellers who are able to make huge amounts of money selling everyday brands that they find at the Goodwill Outlet.  However, no matter what you’re sourcing or from where – if you can get it for significantly less than what it’s going for on eBay, you’ll be able to make it!

When we source items, we typically only pick up items that we can sell on eBay for 4x what we pay for them.  This varies widely by seller (some people are content with less than doubling their money), but you’ll need to figure out what works for you.  If you pick up lots of items that have a lower ROI (return on investment), you’ll need to focus on fast-selling items, or you’ll end up with a ton of money invested in inventory that doesn’t move.

So where are the best places to source?  Well, the real answer to that question is: the place where no one else is sourcing.  If you can find a novel source of inventory, you will be able to control the market.  However, since such sources are difficult and time consuming to find, let’s talk about the more common places where you can find great clothing to sell.

Thrift Stores:  Thrift stores are the bread and butter of the average reseller’s sourcing game.  Even after 4 years as full time sellers, we still get a large portion of our inventory from thrift stores in our area.  However, the influx of resellers at thrift stores has caused several significant issues:

  • Competition is stiffer than ever.  Let’s face it, selling on eBay has exploded in popularity in the past few years.  It used to be that I could go to a thrift store and take hours calmly flipping through racks of clothes.  Now, however, there are a dozen different people running after every new rack as it’s wheeled out.  While there are still great things to find, we are leaving with fewer pieces than ever.
  • Thrift stores are cutting out the middle-man (you and I).  Thrift stores have gotten wise to the reselling game and realized that they are leaving huge amounts of money on the table.  In effect, they realized that every time someone bought something to sell they were missing out on money.  They responded to this in two ways: they raised their prices and/or started selling online as well.  So not only do almost all thrift stores recognize and inflate the prices of “nice” brands, but there are several Goodwill megastores selling on eBay.  Learning new brands is the best way to stay ahead of the game for now, but eventually, it’s probably safe to assume that most for-profit thrift stores won’t be leaving any room for reseller profit.
  • You are limited to what stores are in your area. Ask any reseller what the best thrift stores in the area are for luxury goods and they will know.  They probably won’t tell you…but they know.  Sourcing from thrift stores in rich areas is a common trick for getting the best inventory, but what if you live in an economically depressed area or just have very few thrift stores available?  Well, you might just be out of luck and have to source another way!  When we relied only on thrift stores for inventory, we were driving 1,000 miles per week to hit all the thrift stores within 2 hours of ourselves in every direction.
  • You have to be on your feet looking for stuff. If you want to sell on eBay to avoid the rat race, stay out of thrift stores.  Being elbow to elbow with other resellers every day can make selling on eBay feel just like a busy day at the office.  And if you don’t thrift?  You don’t get paid.

Yard Sales: If you live in a yard sale area, you can have way better luck sourcing there than at thrift stores.  In our area, yard sales are too seasonal to be a consistent source (it’s hard to have a yard sale in 3 feet of snow) – but, for many people, they can find enough inventory in a weekend to last an entire week of listing!  Yard sales have many advantages over thrifting, including:

  • Items aren’t cherry picked.  You have a much better chance of being one of the first people at a yard sale than the first person to see things at a thrift store.  Get there first (or at least early) and you’ll have the run of the yard!
  • People have no idea what their stuff is worth.  Unless someone is a professional yard saler, they probably have no idea what their stuff is worth.  While a thrift store might price a Merona jacket differently than a Kate Spade blazer, at a yard sale you’ll probably just see a sign that says, “Tops: $3”
  • You can get bundle deals and make offers.  This past summer I was at a yard sale and there was a table covered in Star Trek VHSs.  They wanted $2 apiece, but I offered $50 for the entire lot (about 70 tapes) and they accepted!  You might have to have some thick skin to make offers, but you’ll find that people are usually nice and eager to just have things gone!

Plato’s Closet (and other used clothing boutiques): While the profit margins are lower, we have had great luck shopping at used clothing boutiques.  On sale days we have scored NWT luxury items for 90% off the already low price (which means 95%+ off of retail).

Online Arbitrage: If you want to source inventory from your computer chair, you can do it!  Online arbitrage follows the same “buy low” principle that sourcing in person does.  If you are unsure where to begin, resellers have had luck in these areas (plus many more):

  • Clearance from outlets/brand websites.  Many brands do end of season clearance where you can get close out items for 75% or more off of retail.  If you can stack coupons or get free shipping, it is possible to do even better! 
  • eBay Auctions: It is possible to find extremely underpriced items on eBay without much effort.  I have bought items and sold them for 10x as much within a couple days.  Look for items that are mislisted, have misspellings, terrible pictures, etc.  Another honey hole is items with a high price but low demand (such as vintage or antique items) that are put on auction.

Retail Arbitrage: Every time I shop (in the real world), I try to find something I can resell to offset the cost of what I’m buying.  Checking the clearance racks can be very profitable anywhere from Walmart to Best Buy.  Also be sure to check out stores that are really just closeout centers, such as Ross, Nordstrom Rack, and TJ Maxx.

Craigslist/FB Marketplace:  If you have specific things you like to sell, then looking at online marketplaces can be a great source of inventory.  For example, back when Lularoe used to be a great seller, we routinely would buy large lots of leggings and dresses off of Facebook Marketplace.  If you are looking for higher end or more specific items, it may be worth your time to actually post ads of your own stating what you’re looking for and offering to pay cash!

Buying Direct: If you have a significant amount of money to invest, buying direct from companies can offer the best inventory at the lowest possible price.  What does this mean?  Well, you would approach a company – let’s say, Nordstrom Rack – and offer to buy their excess inventory.  This might mean you end up paying $100,000 for 4 semi loads of clothing, but if you can handle it, then do it!

Liquidation Auctions: If you (like me) can’t afford to buy direct, liquidation auctions can be the next best things.  People who can afford to buy direct buy large loads, sort and group items, and then sell them in smaller lots.  Because they got such a good deal, they are still able to offer items at 80% or so off of retail.  If you’re interested in liquidation, there are dozens of companies out there doing it now – just be sure to put in your due diligence before buying/bidding!

Family members: Don’t be afraid to tell people what you do!  I’ll admit it does feel a bit odd at first, but we have gotten inventory from several family members who were otherwise going to throw away or donate their stuff.  Just be sure to tell them the whole truth about what you do so you can avoid the awkwardness of telling them that they don’t have anything worth selling.

Your own closet: Your own closet is probably the best place to find stuff to sell!  I typically only buy things for myself if they’re a good enough deal to resell and end up cycling through everything in my closet every year or so.  If you’re just getting started on eBay, practice selling your own items first!

There are literally a dozen other places to source inventory for selling online and you are really only limited by your creativity.  Look around and get thinking about what unique ways you can source items!

Listing

If I could choose my favorite part of selling on eBay, it would not be listing.  Getting paid and sourcing inventory would both come before it.  However, listing is where the rubber meets the road.  No listings, no sales.

So if you have mastered the art of acquiring inventory, your income will now be limited by how fast you can complete a high quality listing.  While some sellers are capable of listing 50 or more items per day, this is highly unusual.  In my opinion, you are typically better off to source better items, create higher quality listings, and shoot for 10-20 listings per day.  Our current ASP (average sale price) is $48, and we have a goal to list 10 items per day.  While we could probably push harder, this is enough to ensure that we stay about $12k per month in eBay sales.

So what’s involved in the listing process?  Well, it depends what level you’re at!

However, here’s a terrible secret: no matter what level you’re at, the listing process is very similar.  Sellers who have 5,000 active listings haven’t figured out something magical, they’ve just put their nose to the grindstone long enough that they are able to get a little faster every time.  When I first started, I was lucky to list 10 items in a full day.  Now, 20-30 isn’t out of the question.  So let’s talk about a few common areas where you can shave minutes off your listing time and get more items up for sale!

  1. Master Your “Death-Pile” Storage.  Storing non-listed items properly will do a great deal to expedite your listing process.  First of all, get your pile off of the ground.  No serious business stores their items in a pile.  Get a rack to hang things on.  This will let you see what you have and stop things from getting wrinkled/dirty.  Next, don’t cherry pick your items.  When you source new inventory, hang it at the back of the rack.  Only pull off one item at a time from the front.  Take it off, and if you’re not going to list it, re-donate it.  The only exception to this is #2….
  2. List similar items at the same time.  If you want to get fast, you must think of your listing as a production line.  Do one thing at a time, do it well, and then move on.  So picture all your tops, then move on to pants, etc.
  3. Have dedicated areas for work flow.  If you have the space, have a dedicated place where you picture items, where you measure/do inventory/etc.  Being able to move inventory through a physical system will help you be efficient.
  4. Master your photo stream.  Taking pictures is one of the most important and time consuming parts of listing on eBay.  If you’re just starting out, feel free to use your phone.  We only started using cameras in the past year or two, and made hundreds of thousands of dollars from our iPhones.
  5. Have a “copy and paste” description.  Unless you’re selling on Poshmark, writing a unique description for clothing items is a giant time-suck.  Most people know what they want, they can see what your item is, and just want the specifics.  People say that your description is your chance to “sell your product,” but I have seen no difference in clothing sales when I use a generic, copy/paste description.
  6. Use standard weights (or flat rates) for shipping.  While we have never weighed every single item while listing, some sellers do.  In the interest of speed, we typically estimate the weight, offer free shipping, or use flat rate.
  7. Don’t use a mannequin if you don’t need it.  We went through a phase where we thought that, in order to be professional and increase sales, every piece of clothing should be on a mannequin.  It looks better that way, right?  Wrong.  Unless you’re selling very high-end clothes on a mannequin that is just the right size, things will almost always look better on a hanger or flat lay.  Your pictures may look nice, but remember, speed is of the essence and dressing a mannequin 20 times a day is not a great use of time.
  8. Don’t overthink it.  Just get it listed!  If your item doesn’t sell, you can always tweak the listing later.  If someone wants it, they’ll buy it.
  9. Be consistent.  You don’t have to actually list every day, but set some goals and be sure to smash them!  Listing every day might be helpful for keeping you motivated, but the number of listings you have live is much more important.  We have a weekly listing goal and typically list only 3 days a week, preferring to dedicate the other days to sourcing, listing, shipping, etc.

Shipping

Shipping eBay orders is one of those things that you simply have to do to figure out.  So I’ll assume, as I have with everything else so far, that you already have a working knowledge of how it works and just share tips.  So here we go!

  • Don’t offer 1 day handling unless it works for you.  We have 3 days of handling time on all of our listings.  Because we are a two person team, there are many instances where we can’t get things out very fast.  If we had 1 or even 2 days of handling time, we would quickly lose our Top Rated Seller Status.  3 days gives us some breathing room if we’re busy, can’t find something in storage, need a special box, or just don’t feel like shipping that day.  In three years, we have had to explain this to several buyers who wondered why we hadn’t shipped yet – but we have never received negative feedback because of it!
  • Get the right supplies.  If you want to take eBay seriously, get a thermal printer, at least 2 sizes of poly-mailers, and a stack of free USPS boxes.
  • Use a variety of carriers.  When we first started selling, we shipped everything via USPS.  Dumb.  We lost a ton of money by not price checking with other carriers.  Now, eBay does this for you automatically on the shipping page, but don’t be afraid to ship UPS or FedEx!
  • Schedule pick up.  Personally, I like going to the Post Office every day.  It gets me out of the house, I get to talk to the people who handle my packages, and I can make sure they’re scanned in on the spot.  However, if you are having consistent sales and don’t want to make the trip, you can save time by scheduling a daily pickup (or biweekly, weekly, etc.) from your mail man.
  • If you can source it, you can ship it.  We pick up a ton of bulky items that other resellers pass up because they don’t want to ship them.  Think of it this way: everything ships in a box.  If you have a bigger item, just get a bigger box.  We have shipped rolling chairs, golf bags, commercial juicers, and even a 200 piece china set.
  • Get free materials when possible.  We have several family members and friends that save boxes for us, we get some from a local thrift store, and I’m never too proud to pull a box out of a dumpster.  A dollar saved on shipping supplies is a dollar of profit increase!
  • Ship as professionally as possible.  Receiving your package will be one of your customer’s most important impressions of you and will be your only physical interaction with them.  If you’re shipping items in diaper boxes with plastic bags as padding, it might taint their perception and affect your feedback.  If you are a business, ship like one!
  • Don’t feel bad if you overcharge a bit for shipping. I’m always confused by people who refund shipping if they overcharge.  Your customer was willing to pay that price, and when you inevitably undercharge for shipping, you don’t have the option of charging more.  It all evens out in the end.
  • Use free shipping judiciously.  From my own experiments (and others I’ve read), free shipping doesn’t equate to a large increase in sales.  Most people understand needing to pay for shipping.  Free shipping is a great tool, but calculated shipping is our go-to!
  • Over-due shipments kill listing exposure. If you have an overdue shipment, your sales will stop in their tracks.  Ship fast and keep a long enough handling time that you don’t have even a single shipment that isn’t scanned in on time.
  • Either ship from eBay or add tracking ASAP. If you ship from eBay, your tracking will be emailed to the buyer automatically.  If you don’t, be sure to upload it quick so eBay knows that the item has been shipped.
  • Don’t be afraid of shipping internationally…unless you just don’t want to. Shipping internationally is easy.  Especially with eBay’s Global Shipping Program.  Sometimes shipping internationally just hasn’t been worth our time (for big, very fragile, or cheap items), but don’t be afraid to ship items outside your country!  It goes in a box and gets an address the same as anything else!

Now you’re a sourcing, listing, and shipping pro!  And since those basics are out of the way, let’s talk about the foundation of all used clothing sales.  The common veins that make used items valuable.  No matter the brand, this is the framework that we use for evaluating pieces we find while sourcing.  Don’t skip over the next section, because there are literally millions of clothing brands – knowing how to recognize value is more important in the long fun than just recognizing certain labels.