With “having a side-hustle” being all the rage these days it’s no wonder that thousands of people are jumping into selling clothing online. Clothing is plentiful (especially used clothing), it’s cheap, and it’s easy to sell! But is there a catch? Are people really buying this stuff? Well let’s jump into it and find out!
This may not come as a surprise, but clothing is the #2 selling category on eBay (behind electronics). In fact, there are over 20,000,000 items available in the “Clothing, Shoes & Accessories” category on eBay. Despite the staggering number of items available, people are constantly curious about what kind of used goods are even sell-able online. In fact, we are constantly getting the question both here on the website and on our social media accounts, “Can I sell clothes on eBay?” The answer is a resounding, “yes!” In fact, there are hundreds of sellers who make a full time living selling both new and used clothing online. We have personally sold well over 5,000 items of clothing. The two most wonderful things about selling clothing are:
- It can grow or shrink to fit whatever amount of time you have available! When it comes to online income of any sort, you get out of it what you put into it. There are times when we are able to list several items per day and we net over $10,000 for the month! There are other times (during finals, when we have impending deadlines at work, or just when we’re lazy or out of town during the summer) where we go several weeks on end barely listing at all. If we’re lazy for months on end, our sales fall to around $5,000 a month. When we’re rested up, however, we can put in more time and our sales pick up right where they left off!
- It provides semi-passive income! Nothing beats selling a pair of pants while vacuuming the floor! Whether you are a full-time or part-time eBayer, it is a wonderful feeling to wake up and find out that you made money while you were sleeping. Or you’re grinding away on an 8 hour shift at work, only to hear a “ChaChing!” from your phone and make more money from a single sale than you’ve made the entire shift at work.
BUT IT’S 2020…IS IT STILL WORTH IT?
So we’ve established that there is a lot of money to be made by selling clothing on eBay…but what about if you’re just starting out? Is the eBay market too saturated to get into? Amazingly, the answer is a resounding “NO”! Or at least, it depends on what you sell. If you plan to order poor-quality products from China, or sell dime-a-dozen brands from your own closet or run-of-the-mill thrift stores, then yes, the market is saturated. There was a time when you could get away selling all sorts of junk on eBay and make money doing so. These days however, buyers have much higher expectations. So does that mean we give up? Maybe. If you’re not interested in making money or don’t have the guts to try something new, then by all means give up now. If, however, you have some grit and determination, you can simply adapt to the ever-changing circumstances in this world and line your pockets with profits!
WHERE MOST SELLERS GET IT WRONG (AND HOW YOU CAN MAKE MONEY INSTEAD)
At first, 20,000,000 items is an unbelievable, staggering number. If you’ve spent any time at all on eBay looking for clothing, you’ll know how frustrating it can be. There are sellers who take terrible pictures, don’t provide more than the briefest spurt of information about their clothing, have poor products, poor titles, and more… The point being – most sellers focus all of their energies in the wrong areas and end up getting discouraged. If you want the same results that everyone else has, do the things that they do! But because the professionalism and level of service is so low from many sellers, it has become incredibly easily to distinguish yourself from the myriad of sellers who will never be anything but low-level, part-time sellers who can’t figure out why their business is struggling.
WHERE TO FIND CLOTHES TO SELL ON EBAY
Kirstie (my wife) and I got our start selling on eBay when I found an incredibly nice coat at a local thrift store. I had been looking for a similar coat for months, but being starving students, they were well out of our price range. Imagine my luck in finding one….that was 2 sizes too small! I typically wear an XL and can occasionally squeeze into a Large if I’m feeling froggy. A men’s small though? Not gonna happen. So what to do…put back the $300 coat that was in excellent used condition and selling for a paltry $8? No way! I told Kirstie that I was going to buy it, find someone in another state who was a size small and had found an XL coat at a thrift store, and trade them. While that didn’t exactly happen, after some research, we ended up listing the coat on eBay and making a very tidy profit within a week! Since we were already on the bottom of the economic barrel (having not yet graduated) we spent a good deal of time at thrift stores, naturally, we gravitated toward thrifting to source inventory. Before long, however, we branched out into several other methods of acquiring products to flip.
If you are interested in selling used clothing on eBay, the best sourcing location can depend on many factors – such as where you live, what kind of clothing interests you, and your budget. However, there are a number of common locations where you can find used clothing. Remember, your goal is to buy low and sell high! The less you pay, the more profit you’ll have when you sell (assuming you have a quality product, of course)!
If you are interested in selling new clothing, you can research what is known as “retail arbitrage.” New clothing can be purchased for rock bottom prices at stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, or other outlet discount stores. Clearance racks and couponing are also common to the retail arbitrage-ist. The competition selling new clothing is usually stiffer and profit margins can be very low indeed. So what do we suggest?
If you’re wondering whether eBay is for you, we suggest starting in your own closet. Pick 3-5 items that you no longer need (but think someone else might want) and list them on eBay. Even if they don’t sell, you’ll have received a valuable lesson in the process of selling online! If they do sell, you might end up like us and start selling everything out of your closet! When we started, we had very limited funds and financed our thrifting trips with objects we found around our house.
Quick Tip: Many people who sell on eBay are under the impression that they should only be looking for high-end clothing to flip. While high-end clothing finds are fun, that mentality misses the mark. You’re not looking for high end clothing…you’re looking for under-priced clothing. Sourcing items for $1 that you can flip for $15-20 is a much better use of your time than searching out those items which sell for $80 but cost you $30-40 to acquire. The majority of high end clothing brands that you’re likely to recognize are also recognized by thrift store employees and priced accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to look for items that you can make at least 5x your money on, no matter what they cost.
WHAT KINDS OF CLOTHES SELL BEST ON EBAY?
- Clothing items made of high quality materials. Look for 100% wool, cashmere, camel hair, quality leather, Gore-Tex, etc.
- Current or Seasonal Trends. Whether it be snowsuits, ugly sweaters, or swimsuits, buy things off-season and list them at high times to take advantage of the buying frenzy that happens!
- Unique or Vintage Pieces. The more unique a piece is, the more you can ask for it. We have purchased incredibly “ugly” items of clothing that have sat in our store for over a year before going to a delighted buyer who had been looking for that exact thing!
- Plus Sizes. Large or unique sizes can be difficult to find in stores, so buyers often turn to eBay! We know a couple which specializes in buying the largest bras they can find and sell them for awesome profits!
- Products without a brand. The only exception is if it’s of a very fine material, classic vintage, or a current hot trend.
- Mall brands. We avoid brands like Gap, Forever 21, Adidas, and others like the plague. If you can get them for $2 or less they can still be a good flip, but typically the profit margins are barely worth our time to process these items.
- Damaged items. At one time, we would buy items that were missing buttons, had small holes, etc. Although they would sell, we either spent a bunch of extra time fixing them, or got returns from unhappy buyers who didn’t read the description. These days, it doesn’t bother us to put back very nice brands that are flawed in some way or another.
If you want to hit the ground running, the best way to do it is to identify several brands that consistently sell well and be on the lookout for them. When you first start thumbing through thrift store racks, we can almost guarantee you’ll be overwhelmed with brands you’ve never heard of. If you have a dozen brands in mind that you’re looking for, you’ll reduce the anxiety and almost never walk away empty handed. Check out the following articles for brands to be on the lookout for:
These days, we have a pretty good idea of what kinds/brands of clothing sell best on eBay. If, however, you are new to eBay or have limited funds, we recommend doing as we did and looking up every single thing before you buy it. If you don’t have any idea what we mean by “looking up” a product then you’re in luck! Here is the step-by-step we use for doing item research before buying and pricing:
- Download the eBay app to your smartphone. Sorry to say, but having a smartphone is almost necessary for selling on eBay. If you don’t have one, your best bet is to keep a “little black book” with a list of brands and/or things to look for. If you plan on being an eBay seller for any length of time, invest in a smartphone. We used ours for researching, photographing, and listing for almost a year when we started. If you’ve already got one, download that app and let’s move on!
- Do a search on eBay for the product you’ve found. A brand name and a couple of descriptive words is typically enough to give you what you need. Unless we have a specific model name, we’re not looking for the exact product we’ve found, just more general trends. Typically, if you see that dozens of other items from a brand are selling well, it’s safe to say that yours will too. For a first search, something like “eddie bauer down puffer coat” or “St John black dress” is enough.
- Go to “Filter” and select “Sold Items.” Here, you’ll be able to see similar items and the exact price that they sold for. Be sure to scroll through a few dozen items to get an idea of the general selling price. If the average seems to be 4-5x what your item costs, it’s fair to say that it should be a profitable flip.
- What if you can’t find anything similar? When we’re sourcing vintage or handmade clothing items, it can be difficult to find a match. In this case, we make our search more and more general until we find something. For example, we might simply search for “vintage leather jacket” to see what they typically go for. If this doesn’t work, and a google search for the company doesn’t turn anything up, the only reason we will buy the item is if it is very very special in some way.
When we’re shopping for eBay, we’re totally shameless. We will pull items off the rack and look them up right there. Or, we will throw everything we like into a cart, go and find a seat and look things up one by one. Just remember that it’s poor form to be throwing tons and tons of stuff into the cart that you’re not going to buy. As a reseller, you need to be extra aware of etiquette while shopping since you may be frequenting the same thrift stores a couple times a week for years.
ENOUGH OF THAT…LET’S MAKE MONEY!
CREATE A GREAT TITLE
If you don’t have an awesome title, no one will ever find your listing. The majority of eBay sales come as a result of a direct search. That is, your potential customer types something in to the search bar on eBay, and chooses what they will purchase from among the results. If what they search matches the keywords in your title, your listing will come up for them to view! Of course, this necessitates good keyword research and great title writing. Since you have only a limited amount of space, you must craft a coherent, accurate title, totally loaded with the words that your customers are looking for.
For your benefit, we actually have a complete guide on crafting the perfect title for your eBay listings. Check that out here!
TAKE A PICTURE THAT SELLS
It’s hard to say whether a title or picture is more important for your eBay listings. It’s your title that makes your item come up in search results, but if you have a poor picture, very few people will end up clicking on your listing. No clicks=no sales.
So what does it take to have a great picture? Well, it depends on what you’re photographing. Having a mannequin, a professional background, and excellent lighting is the gold standard for eBay sellers. When you’re starting out, however, this can be quite an investment. Many sellers get by instead by laying out clothing items on the floor. In fact, many high volume sellers also forgo using a mannequin as it slows down pictures and can be very difficult to get just right. We’ve gone through many different phases of eBay photography, as you can see by the examples below:
All of our eBay pictures (including the 6 above) are taken with an iPhone. As we do the majority of our listing from our phone we find it to be the fastest and easiest camera option. Could we get nicer pictures with a nicer camera? Definitely. Would they be nicer enough to affect our sales? Probably not.
Backgrounds and backdrops: Unless your walls are a crazy color, we suggest starting out with using your wall as a backdrop for anything that you take of picture of on a mannequin or on a hanger. If you insist on a background, stick with neutral, non-patterned options. The lighting kit we use (shown below) actually comes with 3 backgrounds and a background stand and that’s all we’ve ever needed!
Removing the Background
While removing backgrounds is typically unnecessary and time-consuming, if you have a decent backdrop, there are times when it can be beneficial. For example, when we sell high end shoes, hats, or non-clothing items, we often find it gives a more professional look to our items if you have a plain white background. If we can’t perfect the background in the picture, we often resort to using a program to automatically removing the background for us. We highly reccomend using Background Burner by Bonanza as it’s totally free and totally fast. You do need an account to use it, but it’s free and they don’t send you any troublesome emails. Win-win!
Mastering the art of the flat-lay is one of the most important things that a new eBay seller can do. Flat lays are exactly what they sound like, laying at article of clothing flat so you can take a picture of it. The first picture above is an example of the flat lay technique. Since pretty much anyone can figure out how to lay a piece of clothing on a backdrop, there are really only two tricks you need to master for the perfect picture. You need good lighting, and you need something to help you balance the color.
- Lighting: When it comes to lighting for a picture, natural lighting is the best you can get. You want lots of non direct natural light. Think of a cloudy day with lots of gray light and you have an idea of what you need. The problem for most sellers (like us) is that we don’t have an abundance of outdoor light, much freetime during the day, and time to wait for perfect light/weather. So the obvious fix for the problem is to buy a lighting kit. The lighting in most homes gives a yellow hue to pictures as well as muting colors. This was so true for our house that before we bought a light kit there were entire days when we were only able to get a few pictures before we lost the natural light or weren’t even able to take a single decent picture.
The lighting kit we use:
Luckily, it’s no longer necessary to break the bank to get a lighting set-up that is adequate for eBay pictures. While the majority of articles and beginner sellers point others to a light kit on Amazon that you can get for under $100, we refuse to do that. Because we bought that kit. And it’s terrible. If you’re interested in a kit that’s actually worth what you pay, sometimes you have to pay a little more.
Lincostore’s 2000 watt studio lighting set-up blew us away for the price. Is it mind blowing quality? Yes, for what you pay. Short of spending thousands of dollars, there’s no way you’re going to find an option that gives you 3 softboxes on stands (one of them a boom), backdrops with a stand, a packing bag, all the light bulbs you need, etc. There wasn’t a single extra thing we needed to buy, and now we can take pictures anytime, day or night!
For less than $250, you can have professional looking photos time after time. No more waiting for natural light, getting three pictures in, and then stopping because of a cloud. Of course it’s an investment, but investing in your business is the fastest way to get it to grow. I know that our set-up has paid for itself several times over with the increase in sales that came along with better pictures!
Ready for action? Get this kit here!
Color Balance: If you’ve mastered your lighting situation, you’ll be relieved to hear that the secret part of taking an awesome eBay picture is very very cheap (or even free!). Modern cameras and phones automatically adjust the colors when you take a picture to try and and get the most true to life colors. The problem is, my phone isn’t quite as smart as it thinks it is, and usually ends up washing out colors. This is especially true if I’m taking pictures of something that only has a single color in it. If an item has several colors that a phone/camera can compare to each other, then the colors in the picture will be much more accurate. Our solution (it’s not new and we didn’t come up with it…but we use it…) is to use a small, decorative piece to add color. The most common choice is a reflective piece (see the brass tray in our example pictures above) and a colorful piece on top (the candle) Other sellers place a ball on top of a tray, or even use a bouquet of flowers. Find something that works for you and take some trial pictures!
MAXIMIZE YOUR USE OF THE DESCRIPTION
So people find your listing, and click on it because of a beautiful picture, only to find a boring or non-existent description. If you don’t maximize your use of the description area, you are losing your one real chance to give a good sales pitch. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but since neither of us are professional photographers, we rely on the description to give the buyer a feeling of ownership and help them to experience the product through us.
Besides helping your customer experience and understand the product, there are a few things you’ll always want to include in the description of your clothing items. For our purposes, we try to include the following information in all of our listings:
Measurements: In a store, how many clothing items do you have to try on before finding “the one?” Personally, I can try on 20 pair of jeans and still walk out of the store empty-handed. Now imagine the compounded difficulty of buying online when you can’t even hold the items up to you, let alone try them on. The solution to this is: provide measurements for your buyer! That way, they can measure their own clothing and see how your item compares. So what measurements should you provide?:
- Armpit to Armpit
- Sleeve Length
- Total Length
- Rise (Measured from the crotch seam, up the zipper to the top edge of the pants.)
- Bottom Hem (Ankle)
- Shoulder to Shoulder
- Armpit to Armpit
- Total Length
PRICE YOUR ITEM COMPETITIVELY
If buyers find your item because of your title, click on it because of your picture, they decide to buy or not based on your price. New sellers often get very stuck on what to ask for their items. Well let me tell you, it’s not that big of deal. If you under-price your item, it will sell quickly and you can take your profits and go buy more things to sell. If you overprice it, it is unlikely to sell. But that doesn’t mean the item disappears – you can always lower the price and relist it! We start on the high end for most of our items… and we have things that don’t sell until they’ve been listed half a dozen times with a lower price each time. So do a more thorough search of “Sold Listings” and look forward to the day when you have the experience to price your item with no second guessing!
Fixed Price vs. Auction
As with pricing, it really doesn’t matter what selling format you use for your items. There are very successful sellers that swear by each one exclusively. We take a more middle-of-the-road approach and prefer to use both. If an item is in high demand, we will likely place it on a 7 day auction. We typically start the auction at the minimum we’re willing to take for the item. We have started items at $0.99 before and had them sell with a single bid – so don’t list things too low! For all other items, we list them with a GTC (Good ’til Canceled) format.
QUANTITY VS. QUALITY
If you spend any time either selling or buying on eBay, you’ll notice that there is a small army of sellers whose only concern seems to be listing as many items as they can, as fast as possible. Terrible pictures, crumpled up shoes, wrinkly pants, etc. Their mantras are along the lines of “List, List, List, List, List….” For us, even our online reputation is worth too much for us to send out crappy products. In one memorable instance, we received a sleeping bag we had purchased in an old diaper box. When we pulled the bag out, our nostrils were hit with a truly unfortunate stench which made the sleeping bag totally unusable. Imagine our disappointment! And anger….
While it is especially important for those just starting out, we recommend that every single eBay seller put their love and effort into every single product that they sell. Not only does the product sell for more money, but you’ll have much more satisfied buyers. For example, we often find boots that could benefit from a wash and shine. Although they could sell as is, we routinely put in the effort required to bring the boots up to a standard we would appreciate receiving them in. When you really care about your buyers, they will appreciate the effort! Happy customers are return customers! Be the seller who washes the clothes they sell (be sure to follow the care instructions so as not to ruin items!), steams them, packs them professionally, and is willing to go the extra mile.
THE BEST WAY TO SHIP CLOTHING SOLD ON EBAY
Shipping is one of the most daunting tasks for new eBayers. In fact, many people pass up great items because they are scared of figuring out the shipping! Well, if you’re too scared to take a risk and change for the better, you’re probably better off where you are. But if you’re reading this, I assume you’re a person of action, so I’ll give you a rundown of how we ship clothing items sold on eBay.
If you are just starting out on eBay, you have two options: print a label from home using your normal printer, or trek to the post office and ship your package there. Printing from home is cheaper as it allows you to take advantage of eBay’s shipping discount. We explain the advantages of both, as well as how to set up a home shipping station, in our post “How To Ship eBay Orders.” If you’re already selling on eBay and are looking to get more serious, check out our list of The Top Thermal Label Printers for eBayers.
Unless an item is fragile or expensive, all of our items get stuffed into a polymailer. They are by far the cheapest and fastest way to ship any clothing item. To minimize what we have to buy and stock, we use only three sizes of polymailers: 10×13, 12×15.5 and 14×19. (Get the ones we use and recommend here) If an item is too large, fragile, or expensive to fit in any of these, we find a box for it.
Light Items (Shirts, Dress Pants, Bras, Hats, Shorts, etc.)
The cheapest way to ship small clothing items is by First Class Mail. Typically, the weight limit on First Class Mail is 13oz. Luckily for us, eBay has a special deal with the postal service which allows sellers to ship items that way up to 16oz via first class.
Bulky/Heavy Items (Coats, Jeans, Snowsuits, etc.)
As with small items, these get stuffed into a polymailer. These head out via priority mail. Always go with priority mail over the standard rate. It’s a small price bump, but your customer gets the product much faster – which means positive feedback! For most of these items, we offer free shipping. The average t-shirt ships for around $2 which is easy to work into the cost of the product. It shouldn’t come as a shock that most eBay sellers don’t actually offer free shipping, they just add it into the price of their product. For example, they charge $34.95 with free shipping, rather than $30 with $4.95 in shipping.
As we offer only two shipping methods for clothing, things are pretty easy to keep straight. Just remember, sometimes you will totally lose your butt on shipping, and sometimes you will come out ahead. You are a businessman/woman so just take it all in stride. You are not allowed to ask for extra shipping so if you underestimate a size or weight, you are left to pay shipping out of your own pocket.
Calculated vs. Flat Rate vs. Free Shipping
As with everything in the section, what you choose for shipping doesn’t really matter. The only caveat is that you need to account for how much something will cost to send. Personally, I use only the calculated and free shipping options. If it’s a small, light item, free shipping. Offering free shipping can give you a boost in search results and help you stand out against the competition. For anything that weighs over 1 pound, I choose calculated shipping and just remember that the shipping cost lowers the price the buyer is willing to pay for the item.
THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT!
If you wanted to know how to sell used clothing online….well now you do! What you do with that knowledge however is only up to you! While only experience can make you a pro selling clothes on eBay, you now know enough to hit the ground running and make a solid part-time income. If it doesn’t strike you as amazing that you just gained the ability to build a business and create a second income for yourself, then you’re probably in the wrong spot! Selling clothes on eBay doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Give it a try and see if it’s for you! As for us, we’ll keep listing, shipping, and hanging out at the beach while our friends punch the clock at their “real jobs.”