How to Sell on eBay for Beginners (Guide for 2020)

YOU DO WHAT FOR A LIVING?!

things stuff items….

That’s probably the first response we get when we tell people we sell on eBay for a living.  Even after we explain somewhat that, yes, we do make a decent living and, yes, there are literally thousands of people that do the same thing around the world, people want to pinch our cheeks and give us a “awww…you and your little business…that’s so cute…”

​Even for those who are interested in selling on eBay are shocked when they come into the community and learn that there are people who make six figures selling out of their spare bedroom.  Selling on eBay has opened the door for anyone to get started in an online home based business.  In my younger days I subscribed to Entrepreneur Magazine and spent most of my time reading through the ads at the back, pondering how I was going to come up with the $55,000 startup cost for a Italian Ice Cream Stand that “Sammy” made over $100,000 on during the summer.  Later (while in college) I would lay awake at night thinking about how in the world I could get the $90,000 franchising fee to open a restaurant.  After all, Mark opened a pizza chain location and made a profit in only 3 years!!!  After some time bouncing around I decided that, if I wanted the money to start a business…I probably needed to start a business.  This put me on a path of $0 dollar internet startups (all of which eventually failed).  I knew that people sold on eBay but had heard about how saturated it was and that “the golden days are no more” so I never took it seriously.  When Kirstie and I got married in November 2014 we were both still in school.  I had a job at a Boy’s Home which consumed my entire life at a rate of $16 an hour and Kirstie worked at a Math Tutoring company.  We weren’t desperate for money, but what we really wanted was our lives back, the freedom to run a business, work together, and craft a life on our own terms….enter eBay….

Why selling on eBay appealed to us:

  • Minimal start up money needed
  • No business experience
  • You can start profiting you very first day
  • No networking/finding supplies/etc (at least when you start out)
  • You profits are limited only by your smarts and your willingness to work
  • Lots of users/potential customers

eBay, unlike most businesses, has nearly unlimited growth potential.  There are couples who started 10 years ago selling out of their basement as a side income and now they run companies with hundreds of employees that process thousands of orders a day.  There are also couples that started selling out of their basement 10 years ago and stopped selling within 6 months because it was “too hard.”  The lesson here: You get out of reselling exactly what you put into it.  So let’s figure out how you can start turning your energy and passion into an income stream!

THE EBAY BUSINESS MODEL

 Selling items on eBay is the most distilled and pure form of business that exists (in my humble opinion).  You buy low, sell high, and pocket the difference.  You are not limited to a certain type of item, a certain type of sourcing product, etc.  Most people start by selling items around their house or by finding items at yard sales/thrift stores.  No matter your interests or hobbies they can usually be applied to eBay to make you money.  Vintage cuckoo clocks?  They sell great on eBay!  Original art?  You bet!  Used pantyhose?  Well…you get the idea.  So next time you find something that looks like a great deal, look it up on eBay…it might just pay your rent.

​BUT…AREN’T RESELLERS THE SCUM OF HUMANITY?The term “reseller” simple refers to people who buy items with the express intent to resell them.  If you start combing thrift store for profitable items to resell you can count on some serious kickback from ornery customers who will tell you that you’re “stealing from people who need those items.”  Baloney.  Resellers add to the economy, support their families and leave 99.9% percent of items still on the rack.  And here’s another secret: most thrift store are for-profit operations.  The ones that are charitable organizations use the money they make from selling goods to fund their programs.  So the more you buy, the more charitable you are!  Just be prepared to let things roll off your back.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

One of the main reasons that people fail at a project is because they have an unrealistic idea about the amount of work needed to reach their goal.  I have a buddy who keeps a picture of a 280 pound bodybuilder as his phone screen to “motivate him” but then works out maybe once a week.  Once you find someone who inspires you, ask yourself, can I imagine reaching the point they’re at doing what I’m currently doing?  Can I imagine that people are leaving their jobs and making money on eBay by sourcing and listing 5 items a day?

If you want eBay to support you as a business, we must treat it as a busines right from the start.  However, not matter your goal we’re going to start in the same place.  By finding something to sell:

SOURCING YOUR FIRST ITEM:

According to Suzanne A. Wells (founder of the popular Facebook group Stay at Home Moms Selling on eBay) the average home has $7,000 worth of unused “stuff” sitting around in closets and junk drawers that could be turned into cash through eBay.  Kirstie and I actually got our start on eBay by selling some car parts that I had left in my parents garage since a high school project.  There were for an unusual car and I couldn’t find a local buyer so onto eBay they went!  Even though I had no idea what I was doing, listed them on auction starting at $0.99, and actually ended up losing money that was the start of an era.  Soon we were combing our apartment looking for unused wedding present we could turn into cash. ​

If you’re interested in selling clothing on eBay, you’ll be excited to know that we have a complete guide for selling just clothing (for free) you don’t even have to subscribe to an email list or anything!  Read that guide here!

CHOOSING AND RESEARCHING ITEMS TO SELL ON YOUR SMART PHONE

Your eBay business will flourish or die based on the product you source.  If you source poor product you can sell dozens of items per day and make absolutely no profit.  Alternatively, you can sell 1-2 items per day and make $1,000’s of dollars per week!  Knowing that, it makes sense that beginning sellers are both confused at what to sell, and amazed at the “knowledge” that experienced resellers have.  Well here’s a secret…the most experienced resellers do not know exactly what is worth money and what isn’t.  What usually happens is they see something that seems unusual or high quality and decide to look it up.  They see that it sells on eBay for several times what they can buy it for.  And that’s how you make money!  No knowledge required!

So how do you research how much items sell for on eBay?  Well thankfully it’s very easy.  Whip out your phone, download the eBay app, and let’s get started!

FINDING SOLD ITEMS:

Let’s take our thrifting trip from today for an example.  I was digging through bags and found a rumpled up bag that felt nice.  It said “Petunia Pickle Bottom” across the front and had backpack straps which was all I needed to look it up:

For the $4 that the thrift store was asking this was defintiely a good buy!  Remember, you aren’t pricing things here, just getting a general idea of selling price.  While I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d price it at, I knew I could clean it up and sell it for enough to leave me with a healthy profit.  For your first item, I highly reccomend sourcing at your house.  Follow the exact same procedure and look up things in your house to see what they’re worth!For your first item, I highly reccomend you find something with no flaws.  You will eventually get to the point where you are comfortable selling flawed items but it can be risky at first if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Also, you can end up with an unhappy buyer who didn’t read your description and leaves negative feedback, derailing your young eBay business.  When we first started reselling we used to pick up really dirty running shoes because I knew I could make them look new with just a bit of elbow grease.  These days, we know we can make more money sourcing that cleaning so, unless an item is extremely valuable, look for items that are clean and ready to list.  There are enough things out there that you don’t actually have to pick up items with flaws.

TAKE PICTURES:

The more eyes you get looking at your item, the more likely it will sell.  If a buyer is looking for a very specific item or model they might still look at your item with crappy pictures, but eBay is full of window shoppers and people looking for a certain “look” of clothing.  Great pictures sell because they are the first impression a person has of both your product and your business.  A high quality picture communicates that you are serious about doing business at a high standard, take care to choose and care for quality items, and will provide customer service.  It seems like a lot for a customer to get out of a single picture but we have seen time and time again how changing their picture taking can double a seller’s sell through rate overnight. So what makes a good eBay picture?

  • ​A flattering first picture: Your cover picture is often the deciding factor for whether a potential buyer wants to know more.  Take the more flattering picture of your item, whether it is flawed or not.  The description and the additional pictures are the place to tell your customer more about the garment, not the main picture.
  • Correct Colors: If with all the effort we put in to taking pictures, we get a couple returns a week because the item “didn’t match” or “wasn’t the color it looked.”  While you can try and describe the color in the description, how people perceive and interpret this will vary so much that it all comes down to your picture.  To get the most correct color use a white background, natural lighting, and have an accent piece in the picture.  For example, many resellers have a plant, a mirror, or even a wall hanging in their eBay pictures.
  • Good Lighting: If you are interested in easy money, get on eBay and browse until you find people who take pictures in their basement with no additional lighting.  We have bought items on auction that noone else was brave enough to bid on and sold them for 4x what we paid simply by taking better pictures where people could actually see what was for sale.  If you don’t have a bright or well lit house (like us) you will need to invest in a light kit at some point in your selling career.
  • Minimal Background: Nobody wants to see pictures of your house (dirty or clean) behind your item.  I have seen some pictures of nice items laying on truly disgusting carpet and haven’t bid because I just can’t imagine that the items is clean and odor free.
  • A thorough and accurate representation of your item: You are allowed 12 pictures for free with your listing so make use of them!  Take pictures of the inside, the outside, different angles, labels, tags, any flaws, etc.  Give the person a good idea of what it is and why they want it!

CREATE A NEW LISTING

Once you’ve found an item to list, head over to eBay and Create A New Listing!  (If you don’t already have an eBay account, you can find lots of great videos such as THIS ONE to walk you through the process).

eBay has streamlined the process and made it as self-explanatory as possible but let’s still cover some areas you may have questions on and give you our suggestions for your first time:

The Title:  Think about what you would type into eBay’s search bar if you were a buyer  trying to find the item you’re selling.  You only have 80 characters here so do your best to use them all with keywords that accurately describe what you have.

Should I Pay for Upgrades? We have sold over 10,000 items on eBay and paid for upgrades less than 10 times.  Give these a pass.

How many filters should I fill out? Just the basic ones.  Brand, size, material and color.  Having more filters rarely results in additional sales.

What should I include in the description? There are sellers who have long templates or copy and paste sales terms that they put into every one of their listings.  In general, these are unnecessary and do nothing to add to your buyer’s experience.  Our advice would be to not try and hide anything in the description but be 100% honest about the condition and type of item you’re selling.  Don’t stress out about being too wordy, our descriptions are usually only a couple sentances and we finish with something like, “Check out the pictures and feel free to ask any questions :)”

Buy It Now or Auction? Our first listing on eBay was an auction.  While it was a great way to get our feet wet, we ended up losing money on it.  I would recommend listing your item in a GTC (Good ’til Canceled) format at first.

Shipping: We typically use calculated or free shipping on our listings.  If you are listing an item that weighs less than a pound, you can ship it via First Class for less than $5.  As the weight creeps up so do costs so I would reccommend weighing or guesstimating the weight of your item and shipping it via calculated Priority Mail.

Payment:  PayPal.  If you don’t have an account, go set one up.  It is currently the only real option on eBay and not offering PayPal will result in nearly no sales.

Returns: Yes, accept returns.  30 or 60 days, buyer pays shipping.

Every other setting we didn’t touch on can typically be left at it’s default setting!  So without further ado, list your item!Read More:

BUT WAIT….WHAT DO I DO WHEN THIS ONE SELLS?

When your item sells, there’s nothing left to do but get it to the buyer!  This is as easy as putting it in a box with some crumpled newspaper (we grabbed several copy’s of the free community paper outside the grocery store to use as padding when we started) taping it up, and going to the post office to ship it!  You can get free boxes from the post office and, if you’re nice, they might also have tape for you to use!

If you have a printer, you can print a label right from home by visting My eBay.  This method actually saves you a few dollars as eBay offers bulk shipping discount rates to its sellers!

It’s worth noting here however that you won’t actually have access to the money from the sale (even to ship the item) until it is delivered.  PayPal holds the funds from new eBay sellers until the item is delivered without problems as a protetcion to the buyer.  This is typically lifted automatically once you’ve proved yourself a reliable provider.

Paying Your eBay Fees: It’s not free to sell on eBay.  Find out how much it costs…

FINDING MORE ITEMS TO SELL

For many experience sellers, they are able to source many more items than they would ever be able to list and end up either hiring help or sticking to high profit margin items.  When you first start out however (or have limited start-up capital) finding profitable items is likely to be the bottleneck of your business.  I am sure we have passed up (and continue to pass up) items worth hundreds of dollars simply because we don’t recognize it for what it is.  So what can you do?  Well, as a beginning seller, you are left to look up nearly every item you come across.  Even now I stroll down an aisle and end up looking up dozens of items along the way.  Even items that I think are “winners” and make it into my cart don’t always get purchased.  After 4 years of reselling we still find a spot to sit down (or a corner to stand in) and look up every item in our cart that we have questions on before checking out.  Luckily, there are dozens of lists online which will give you a jumpstart on brands to look for, the types of items that are currently selling well, etc.

Oh and just so you know, BOLO means Be On the Look Out, signifying a brand or item that you should be looking for while sourcing.

BOLO GUIDES

60 of the Best Women’s Clothing Brands to Sell one eBay47 Men’s Clothing Brands for Resellers31 Non-Clothing Items to Sell on eBayMost Profitable Used Brands to Sell on eBay21 Outdoor Clothing Brands to Resell for Huge ProfitsHow to Sell Men’s Jeans on eBay (Plus 18 BOLO Brands!)8 Things to Sell Instead of Throwing Away12 Most Valuable Thrift Store Finds of All Time​Massive Profits Selling Cowboy Boots on eBay

SOURCING INVENTORY

When we are doing some spring cleaning (or are particularly low on inventory) we often end up looking through out house and garage for things to sell.  The more “stuff” we buy and sell the more we realize how easy it is to acquire more things.  I would almost always rather have money in my account rather than an infrequently used item in my closet.  If I miss it that much, I can always buy another!

If you know the types of items you want to sell but just can’t seem to source them consistently, this might help:

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS…

One of the main pulls of an eBay business is that you don’t need much.  Don’t let that change.  People build fluffy businesses that look really cute and make them feel cool but aren’t any better at generating profit.  A lot of people face a problem and ask themselves, “What Tools Do I Need To Get This Done?”

This is the order in which we invested in business items/expenses…Inventory Storage SuppliesScale (more accurate listing weights)LightingThermal Printer (Check out that article here)Pretty much everything else is fluffPRODUCT REVIEWSBest All-Around Thermal PrinterBest Scale For Shipping From HomeBest Lighting Set-up if you’re on a Budget (Coming Soon)​Poly-Mailers: Should you use them? (Coming Soon)Top Sweater and Clothing Shavers​ (Coming Soon)