Peggy began to understand the power of eBay when she sold an African fertility statue for $125 that she received for free at a white elephant work Christmas party. It drove her passion to see how cheap she could buy things and how much she could sell them for. She has had some unbelievable sales.
Here is a bit of her story.
What are some of your most memorable sales you have made on eBay?
I was at a garage sale and I have always been interested in antiques and I knew a little about them. This lady had some dishes that looked like something I had seen on TV called Majolica. I bought two sets for $10. I put them on eBay and between the two sets they sold for $1500. So I started learning more about antiques. I started going to classes and ramping up my educational efforts. I took an Asheford Institute of Antiques class and got certified as an antique appraiser.
In the antiques field you really need to go to markets because you need to get your hands on stuff. It is what is cool about going to flea markets around the world. I bought a toddler mannequin in Germany and it was bought by the prop crew of Leatherheads. So she is in the movie Leatherheads. I went to a country auction and bought a glass plate because I knew what it was. I bought it for $9 and sold it for $700. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way. About nine months ago I even sold a box of rocks. Yep, that’s right. I sold a box of polished stones and in my title used, ‘A Box of Rocks’. I think they sold for about $25. I bought them at a garage sale for $5.
I call this my Plan B. Living in Michigan and living with the economy up and down we have used eBay as a way to get us through some hard times. The year that we made the most money on eBay was the year our gross sales were over $60,000.
What is the spectrum of products you sell?
Really, anything. I know the most antique-wise about glassware and pottery, but I also know that anything unusual sells well. If you go on eBay and you look something up and see that 45,000 other people have it, then it is not really worth much. You need to find something unique like the set of Majolica I bought.
On my eBay site right now I have plus sized clothing. We have started going to thrift stores and started to buy name brand plus sized clothes because most women that wear plus sized clothes can’t go to the store and get good brands in plus sizes for a decent price. We have found amazing things in thrift stores or at garage sales. If someone advertises on Craigslist that they have plus sized clothes at a garage sale I will go there and ask how much it would be if I bought everything. I do the same thing with CDs and DVDs. If they have 50 – 100 of them for $2 piece I will tell them I will take them all for $50 and they figure $50 is better than carrying them all back in the house. I used to sell on consignment for people, but I don’t do that anymore because I work full time and I don’t have time. I sold a rock cutting machine on consignment. Some guy drove all the way from the east coast to our house in Michigan to pick it up. Do you know those Christmas lawn ornaments people put on their lawns at Christmas time?
They are called blow molds. I was at a garage sale or an estate sale that had a backyard that was full of these things and I asked the guy, ‘How much for all of them?’ We took a pickup truck over there twice to get them all — that is how many there were. We sold those things all over the world. There was one guy, from South Africa I believe, that bought one for over $300. It was absolutely insane. This is a great example of not realizing how ‘hot’ or collectible an item is until you risk the purchase and list them.
Rhinestone jewelry sells really well. Half the fun of it, is not knowing about stuff and researching it and finding out if it sells well. If it sells well I look for more of it. If it doesn’t sell I take it to a local charity place and donate it and get the income tax deduction for the contribution to a charity.
How do you pick the products? You must have gotten pretty good at doing so since 1998.
I have been referred to as the chicken in the barn finding the last kernel of corn as far as how I look for things. It is just a gut feeling with me. I just know. I just see something and think, ‘That might sell.’ I was at an estate state and I was looking at this little silver box for $30. The guy thought it was a matchbox, but it was really hitting me to buy it. Later I went to an antiques store and on a table was a book about ‘silver smalls’. That is what they call small silver antique things. The first thing I open to explains what that box was. It was an antique nutmeg grinder. I flew back to the estate sale and I asked the guy if it was solid silver and he said no. My husband polished it up, revealed the wonderful hallmarks identifying it as old silver. We sold it for over $300 dollars on eBay. I almost have a sixth sense for it, but I am of course not accurate all the time.
It sounds like what you are saying is the more obscure the better on eBay.
That has been my experience.
Do you have any idea what does not sell on eBay?
The things that do not make enough money to make it worth my while to post are the average sized women’s clothing, because it sells dirt cheap. Anything mass produced. A lot of antiques have gone down in price because of eBay. What you used to think was a one of a kind that you had to drive around from antique shop to antique shop to find, now you can find it in a half hour online. For the most part people are looking for antiques that are in perfect condition. If it is rare or really, really old they will accept imperfections. There are things you can’t sell on eBay. I know you can’t sell used cosmetics or any fakes. It has been so long since I looked at the rules. I kind of just stay in my safety zone.
What is an eBay Power Seller?
It is a designation you get by volume of what you are selling. It used to be by dollar value. They have another designation which I am more proud of which is Top Rated eBay Seller and that all comes from giving people very high levels of customer service. You have to have a 4.8 out of 5 rating to get it. I have always maintained a 100% positive feedback rating. I think that is the most important part of being a Top Rated eBay Seller – great customer service. If you don’t have that you won’t be able to sell. People won’t trust you and they won’t buy from you.
What goes into ‘top notch customer service’ on eBay?
Accurate descriptions, making sure you reveal any defects or flaws. I always try to get my products out the door within 24 hours of receiving payment. Because I sell a lot of fragile things I really, really pack them well. I really try to communicate well with the customers and buyers. When I send the item I send most of it off the USPS website and then you can send a message to the recipient that it has been sent. It is little things like that.
How many items have you sold?
Almost 3200. 3211 exactly, as of this date.
Walk me through the process of putting products into eBay.
This is not a get rich quick thing. Becoming informed is the best thing to do. Take very clear, very simple pictures. Use appropriate key words in your titles. You have to think of eBay as opening up a catalog and making a buying decision. You want a really clear picture and a good description. I always reveal the condition it is in. Be honest and ship things out in a timely manner.
Is there a particular time of day or day of week that is better to post on eBay than others?
They recommend Saturdays and Sundays if you are selling auction style. But because I sell internationally people are not awake at the same time I am, so it does matter to me what time of day or what day I do it. I do it when I have time. If it is an item you are selling as buy-it-now you can do it at anytime.
With the buy-it-now option you have your item up on eBay until it sells?
Yes. Sometimes I use the strategy of best offer which means I am willing to accept less than I have it listed for. If I have something listed for $20 I probably paid $3 for it. If they offer me $10 or $15 for it I will take it. They feel like they have gotten a bargain and I have made money on it.
With eBay there are three ways to sell things, the straight auction, buy-it-now or buy it now with best offer?
Yes, that is correct.
Tell me how the reserves work.
With any auction you go to there may be a reserve which means bidders need to bid a certain dollar amount until they are able to win the item. The buyers do not usually know that the item being auctioned has a ‘reserve’ amount. The item will not sell if you do not hit the reserve amount even if you are the highest bidder. To me I don’t like that because I feel like it is being sneaky.
The title of your product is important. The title is how people are going to search things. Don’t use flowery adjectives. I put NR in my title sometimes, which means No Reserve. I always put my starting bid at what I am willing to accept if the first person who bids on it gets it. If I have it listed as $250 and you offer me $250 it is yours even if it is worth $1000. I probably bought it for $30. If somebody else wants to buy it and resell it for more money God love em’. I try to make the price 5X what I paid for it.
So if you bought something for $3 you would sell it for…
$15. If it is reasonable for that. When I was in Las Vegas I bought a pair of Gucci classic black pumps for $12.99 at a thrift store. I sold them for $50. They were a size 10. Where can you find a pair of genuine Gucci black classic pumps for $50? Maybe the buyer will wear them, maybe resell them for a higher price.
What is the advantage of putting your things in a store as opposed to selling them as individual products in an auction?
When you put them in a store they are buy-it-now and you can leave them up there until they sell. Most auctions are seven day auctions. What I do is put my stuff on there for a seven day auction and see if it sells. If it doesn’t sell then with a few clicks I can put it into my store. If I don’t think it is going to sell then I donate it and get the tax write off.
Is there a fee for moving it to the store?
Yes, it is five cents per month. There are three levels of stores. I am not sure what level of store I have. However your search options are not as high when you have your things in the store. eBay puts the auction stuff higher in the search results than items that are in stores. You can leave anything in your store until it sells without any additional fees. If it doesn’t sell then there are no additional fees. If it does sell then there is a final value fee.
What about shipping?
You can set up your profile on eBay to offer different shipping option via UPS and USPS [United States Postal Service]. When you list an item you put how much it weighs and the different shipping options available for that item. The eBay shipping calculator then shows the potential buyer the cost of shipping based on the zip code in their profile, so that they know how much it will cost to ship right up front. I don’t like to send things first class mail because there is not any delivery confirmation and they can claim they never got it. If I do things online there is delivery confirmation so I will know they got it.
Do you significantly mark up the shipping costs as an additional revenue stream?
No. I put myself in the position of the buyer and say, ‘Would I pay that much for shipping?’ Typically, if a buyer has overpaid shipping by more than $1, I even refund the difference. Some sellers do use it as an additional revenue stream, but eBay frowns on it and buyers won’t pay it. They may look for a like item with lower shipping and choose to buy that item.
Do you have any strategies for getting the good stuff at garage sales?
If you don’t see what you want, ask! I was the first person at a garage sale recently. It was very obvious that this guy was getting rid of his wife’s stuff. From the quality of glassware and clothing she had I thought, ‘I bet she has nice jewelry.’ Marked, costume, vintage jewelry is very hot. As I was leaving I asked the guy if he had any jewelry. He told me he did, but he hadn’t brought it out yet. He brought all of this jewelry out of his house and I bought almost all of it. I probably bought 75 items for $125. I bought a brooch and some earrings that sold for $131. I paid $3.00 for them. But, it is because I asked. None of that stuff was sitting out there. I assessed the situation there. There was nice glassware, clothes and shoes. It looked like they traveled a bit. But because I was respectful to the guy and by him seeing the type of stuff I bought he trusted me and sold almost all the jewelry to me.
When should people sell on auction vs buy-it-now vs buy-it-now with best offer?
It depends on the products. Let’s say with that jewelry, I am probably going to put that on auction, because I do not know a lot about it. Those who know the product will determine the price, so my advantage will be to let them determine the value. Because of my high rating people know that they can trust me and that I am giving them a good product, but I don’t know how high it will go because I don’t know that much about it. I will start low. I did not pay more than $2 for any of those items. If I sell an item for $20 I have made far times more than what I bought for it.
Do you have any recommendations for anyone who might want to get started making extra income on eBay?
Don’t be afraid to start. It is an intuitive process. You can feel like you are getting lost in a quagmire the very first time you are setting things up, as at first the process seems long, but a lot of it you only have to do once. Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
How do you find out where the garage sales are?
I will search for garage sales on Craigslist or just drive around and watch for signs. I will also search Craigslist for specific things I am looking for at the garage sales so I am shown all of the garage sales that are selling that particular item. I have been known to send an email to the person having the sale and say, ‘I am on my way to Germany tomorrow and I would really like to get this before I leave. Can I come over and take a look at it before the sale starts?’ I do this with plus sized clothing too. I put XXL in the search box and it brings up any descriptions that have XXL which are typically clothing.
What problems have you run into along the way?
I had one guy be retaliatory towards me. I bought an item from him that did not work and eBay policy required that he refund my money. This was many years ago. Later he bought a DVD from me and then wanted to return it. In order to get a refund from Pay Pal all you have to do is prove that you have a shipping number or a confirmation number from USPS or a shipper. He ended up sending me back an empty box.
I tend to stay away from brand name purses. Young kids buy them and then complain. You refund their money and they never send it back. I rarely sell common electronics because people buy it and say it doesn’t work. Then they swap it with one that really does not work and they send that back to you. When you think of someone who buys plus sized clothing they are just typically not the kind of person that does that. I was talking to a woman that was selling clothes starting at .99 cents. People would buy it, complain about it, she would return their money and they would never send it back.
If you sell something for $50 what are the fees they will take out of that $50.
My husband is the MBA and he does all of this, but I want to say my fees all together are about 10%. You hear people all the time complain about the eBay fees going up and yes, the prices are going up, but where else do you have an international audience that is in front of their computer anytime of the day or night? You certainly cannot do it on Craigslist or the local antiquing sites. The prices have gone up, but look at the audience eBay is giving you.
What about Amazon or Craigslist?
I tried Amazon with CDs and books. I wanted to build my feedback rating on eBay and Amazon would be another thing I would have to monitor. I do not really trust the safety of Craigslist anymore.
Anything else you would like to add?
We have our eBay business registered as a legal business and pay taxes on all of our sales. Not too many people actually do. It really does have a lot of advantages, besides, it’s the law. It is not a get rich quick opportunity, but anyone that has a computer and camera and a desire to make extra money has the opportunity to make money on eBay. It is my plan B and my retirement plan. It’s also how I make money to travel to Europe a couple of times of year. For anyone who wants to see the items that I sell, my seller name is Orthotech.
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