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What Should I Sell On eBay or Amazon? - Part I

By: Skip McGrath

What to sell on eBay? What to sell on Amazon?
I probably receive more emails on this subject than any other. Buyers read our Basic Seller's Manual; they want to start selling but just can't figure out what to sell, or how to get started.

If you are a new seller, my first piece of advice is to clean out your garage or attic. You need to gain some experience selling before you go off and purchase a large lot of wholesale merchandise.

Start by selling used goods, small appliances, wedding gifts you never use, old books (non-fiction one are best), used sporting goods, clothing items (that great leather jacket that doesn't fit you any more or that pair of cowboy boots you bought on your business trip to Dallas, but never wear).

Except for the used books, I suggest selling the other used items on eBay -although, you can try Amazon if you like. The experience you gain will be invaluable, you will not risk any capital or make any investment beyond some small eBay fees.

Virtually everything is for sale on eBay. One night while watching the sport of curling during the last Winter Olympics, I though a curling stone would make an attractive doorstop and conversation piece for my office. During the commercial, I went on line to eBay and found dozens of curling stones for sale. One of them now holds the door open to our billiard room.

Next turn to your hobbies and interests. Too many sellers think the only way to make a fortune is to buy large quantities of the latest hot-selling items and put up dozens of listings. The problem is, the really large sellers with deep pockets are doing the same thing. (If you don't believe me do a search for diet pills, or cell phone cases.) As you gain experience you can move into larger markets, but this area is fraught with danger for the new seller. There are plenty of companies with enough money to import these items directly by the thousands and undersell anyone who buys through an importer or distributor.

Sell something you know something about. Almost everyone collects "something." If you are knowledgeable about a certain type of merchandise, then you have the ability to do the research to find the products at prices you can resell.

Once you gain experience, try to focus on larger dollar items. If you only make $2.00 profit per sale, you have to sell 1,000 items per month, to make $2,000. But, if you make a $15 profit on each item, then you only have to sell 133 items per month.

Another technique is to sell items in bulk. If you bought a large box of videotapes at a library or garage sale, separate them into categories and sell them as a lot. You will often make more money than selling them individually.

This can also work for clothing. There are sellers that buy children's clothing from thrift shops and garage sales, sort it by size and gender, and sell it in lots. One of my neighbors does this. She will typically pay between $3 to $6 total for several pieces of clothing that she can get over $25 for on eBay.

She does the same thing with closeout dealers. She will buy a pallet load of new children's clothing, sort it by size and sell it in lots of 5 or 10 pieces. Although she might make slightly more selling the pieces individually, this way they sell quicker, the average sale is larger, and she turns her inventory over many time more often than she could otherwise.

On eBay seller I know purchases large lots (up to 500 at a time) of hot selling items on eBay (cell phone boosters, pocket knives, etc.) and turns around and sells them in lots of 10 to 25 to other eBayers who want to buy for resale.

He recently imported 50,000 disposable cigarette lighters from Korea that he bought for about 11 cents each. He sold them on eBay in lots of 500 for 36 cents each. He made $125 on each lot, less his eBay fees. I asked him who was buying the lighters and he said that most of his buyers were flea market, gas station and convenience store owners who sold the lighters over the counter for 99 cents each. But, a few of them were other eBay sellers.

Everyone wants to sell computers, software, movies, DVD's, digital cameras and all sorts of consumer electronics. The sad fact is that Sony, Panasonic, Canon, and others don't sell their latest hottest products to small dealers who work out of their home. (In fact, they don't sell anything except through their master distributors.) Even the big stores have trouble getting a large allocation of really hot products.

It is possible to get into this business if you have a lot of money, market and product knowledge (such as you get by working in a computer store), and you have the contacts to buy the merchandise.

The problem is that you are competing with major retailers on both eBay and Amazon, some who sell under their own name, and others who sell under blind usernames. One way you can succeed selling consumer electronics is with overstock and closeout merchandise. Millions of dollars' worth of consumer electronics, computers and software are sold by closeout dealers every week. The trick is to really know what you are buying, work on small margins and turn your inventory over often. Unfortunately, it takes at least $2000 to $3000 capital investment to compete in this arena.

There is also a huge market on eBay for "vintage" hi-fi equipment, cameras, old computers and computer hardware and so on. Last year I found an Akai Reel-to-reel tape deck at a garage sale for $25 and the seller threw in 10 reels of tape. I sold the deck on eBay for just over $200 and sold the 10 reels of tape separately in another auction for $40.

I met one of eBay's product managers at the first eBay Live event in Anaheim, CA. She has a $250,000 a year business selling vintage Apple computers, parts and software. She buys almost all of it at garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores.

Drop shipping is another strategy used by new sellers. I hesitate to recommend working with drop shippers because so many of them are not very reliable -and most of them are virtual dropshippers. Those are essentially middlemen who do not actually stock the product.

Another problem with dropshippers is they sell a lot of fake merchandise -and that can get your account cancelled permanently.

The problem with drop shipping is that your feedback is on the line. If the drop shipper is temporarily out of stock, or somehow screws up your order -it is your feedback that will suffer. When you are starting out, just one or two negative feedback comments can set your back months. Also the merchandise available from most drop shippers is being sold by hundreds of other sellers.

If you are really strapped for cash, you can use a drop shipper temporarily. As soon as you can afford it however, I would start buying wholesale from direct wholesalers and/or distributors. You will make more money and have greater control over your business.

I'm often asked, "What should I sell?" I am usually also asked what are the best selling items on eBay, in other words what are the hot sellers.

Here is a list of the currently hot selling items on eBay. This is not a recommendation of what to sell. Each of these product areas is fraught with its own perils.

  • Diet pills
  • Nutritional sex enhancers
  • Cell phone boosters
  • Pheromone scents
  • Glass chess sets
  • Low cost jewelry
  • Expensive watches and jewelry
  • Heirloom jewelry
  • Used toys in good condition
  • New toys
  • New and used clothing for children, and plus-sized clothing for women
  • New and Used Western wear such as cowboy boots, belts, shirts, leather vests, etc.
  • Software (including closed-out or last year's software programs and games)
  • Tools (power and hand tools)
  • Perfume (including perfume samples and opened expensive perfumes that are at least over one-half full)
  • Perfume bottles (some with or without perfume)
  • Religious books and Bibles (Bibles are always a perennial seller)
  • Non-fiction books on hobbies, sports, nautical subjects, history, military science, popular textbooks, and art & photography. Also books containing maps and art prints that can be broken and sold individually.
  • Maps and old prints of ships, flowers, animals (horses and dogs are tops)
  • Used auto parts for specialty automobiles (Porsche, BMW, MG, etc.)
  • Low mileage Japanese cars and pickups
  • Automotive models and car collectibles
  • Signed sports collectibles

I could go on, but these are some of the best selling items on Amazon & eBay today. (I am sure I missed a few).

If you want to know what to sell, the single best piece of advice I can give new sellers is to be unique and to specialize. Find a niche market, learn everything about it and work it over and over. Once you master it, then move on to a new niche.

See Part II of This Article

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