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Updated Oct 20, 2023

Got Old Stuff? Start a Side Hustle by Selling It

Peer-to-peer marketplaces make reselling easier than ever.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Online peer-to-peer marketplace sites – such as eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other platforms – have made it easier than ever for private individuals to make a quick buck selling unwanted items. With just a few clicks, you can list and sell virtually any product you want.

An online resale business can be lucrative, whether you have a lot of personal items to sell or you bargain-hunt at yard sales, thrift stores or flea markets for merchandise. If you’re considering becoming a private online reseller, here are some things to keep in mind to help you succeed. Happy selling!

Why start a resale business

Resale businesses have several advantages for entrepreneurs. With multiple reseller marketplaces online, the overhead is low. Pretty much all you need is a phone and something to sell. 

One business model, known as dropshipping, doesn’t even require inventory. Resellers market the goods held by a third party. A resale business also provides a convenient way to convert unused items into cash. 

Growing a resale business

While resellers can do well, you can only get so far selling your old, used stuff and that of your family and friends. Consider expanding your inventory by hunting for hidden treasures at estate sales, thrift shops and garage sales, and then selling them online for a profit.

Successful reseller businesses tend to have an edge, such as knowledge of or privileged access to a wide selection of a specific product category. That could be designer clothing and accessories, in-demand furniture, or vintage car parts. The most successful resellers become a destination for one or more types of items. For example, online consignment platform Love That Bag etc. specializes in designer handbags and jewelry. Even used items can sell for thousands of dollars.   

Tips for selling used items

In many cases, it makes sense for consumers to buy used items. But doing so still generally comes with more risk than buying new. Following these tips and putting your best foot forward with buyers is a surefire way to make your online selling endeavor a success.

1. Be honest and thorough.

Establishing a good reputation as an honest, trustworthy seller is important for an online business. Even if you’re not looking to cultivate repeat business, online reviews and user ratings reflect on you in such a way that could either encourage or discourage future business.

“Make sure to list the condition of all your items, even if they are excellent with no flaws; buyers want to know that,” said Heidi Ferguson of princessntheflea, a vintage seller who uses several platforms, such as Etsy. “Fill out your shop profile and shipping policies completely. This gives buyers a feel [as] to who you are and further insures trust.”

Moreover, completely describing the condition of the products you’re selling can prevent returns, which quickly eat into your profits and demand more of your time and attention.

“Make sure you describe the condition of the items well upfront,” Ariel M. Ruggeri, an eBay seller, told Business News Daily. “If you don’t describe it well and the buyer would like a refund, it’s a huge hassle and waste of time and money to have them ship it back and resell it again.”

Resellers need to interact effectively with their customers. Here are four key pointers for improving communications.

2. Use many high-quality photos.

You can further protect yourself from returns and dissatisfied buyers by including multiple high-quality photos in your listing. Generally, the more photos you include, the better. Beyond informing buyers of the condition of the product, it boosts your listing in search results. 

“Use seven to 10 pictures in your listings. You’ll get more visibility and credibility from potential buyers,” Ferguson said, adding that it’s important to optimize your virtual storefront for mobile devices. “Always check your shop from multiple electronic devices to make sure to see what a buyer sees.” 

A word of warning is to avoid copying a photo of the product you’re selling from the internet. Post high-quality photos of the actual item you are selling; otherwise, you run into trouble with buyers for even slight differences.

“Take really good photos and never ever right-click and steal photos from Google images,” said Gari Anne Kosanke, an online seller who runs Bead Lovers Korner on multiple platforms. “Taking good photos will make listings unique and provide potential customers with a good visual so they won’t be upset or disappointed when they receive the merchandise.” (Here are Business News Daily’s picks for the 12 best photo editing apps for business.) 

3. Mind your profit margins.

Online selling can sometimes feel like a personal endeavor, but remember that you’re running a business. If you don’t think you can turn a substantial profit, it might be better leaving that cool item on the shelf. The mantra for successful sellers is “Buy low, sell high.” And pay close attention to your profit margin.

“I always ask myself one question: Can I double my money?” Ruggeri said. “If you come across [a] great product [to resell] but it’s overpriced, walk away!”

It’s also important to document your business so you can track what is flowing in and out. Like any other business, budgeting and tracking income and costs are key to really understanding how well you’re doing, and can help you adjust your strategy accordingly.

“Create yourself an Excel spreadsheet with revenue, original cost of item, fees and profit for each item you sell,” Ruggeri said. “This will congregate your data all in one place and keep it simple.” You might even want to find the best accounting app for your SMB.

4. Market yourself properly.

It’s hard to sell items when there’s no audience, so don’t forget a marketing plan. Social media is a good way to drive traffic to your store, as is following best practices for listings on the platform itself (i.e., many quality photos, complete descriptions, tags, good reputation). Cross-promoting and even cross-selling are great ways to get the word out. 

“Promote the heck out of yourself on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, and link all of your accounts back to [your selling platform] to drive traffic,” Ferguson said. “Keep it interesting. Engagement is key, not likes.”

Once you have an engaged audience, you can start building. Organic search is a great way to find one-time buyers, but cultivating repeat business is also highly effective. For sellers who specialize in one category, such as Ferguson in vintage, it can be a huge benefit to find collectors or enthusiasts who come back to your shop time and again.

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Should you cross-promote on social media? Here are key marketing concepts for SMBs.

5. Confirm payment prior to shipping.

This may seem obvious, but ensuring payment has cleared prior to shipping your goods is essential. Payments can bounce, or buyers can choose not to pay. Unfortunately, not everyone is trustworthy, so to avoid getting swindled, keep finances at the top of your mind.

“Do not ship until you are paid and the money is in your account,” Ruggeri said. “If you receive a check … make sure it clears. If you’re selling through Craigslist, try to take cash only. It will make it much easier for you.”

Reselling is a fast way to start a business

Just about everyone can try to start reselling. With a good eye for deals and some social media savvy, it’s possible to do very well. But while reselling can grow out of a passion for a certain product category, it’s important not to let personal excitement get in the way of business. Pick up only items you’re confident can be sold for significantly more than you’re paying.

Additional reporting by Alex Halperin.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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