Looking for a reliable source of quality merchandise to boost your online business? Don't overlook the retail stores in your own town. It may seem counterintuitive to buy products at retail with the idea of reselling to bargain hunters on eBay, but name-brand items can often be found well below market prices—and you don't have to purchase them by the truckload. It's just a matter of sniffing out the deals.
Whether selling online is your primary job or a part-time avocation, try to build some shopping time into your schedule every week, and then stick to it. If you can, get to know the stocking schedules of your favorite places—when they get new merchandise in, and when the old stuff goes onto the sale rack. Weekends are the busiest shopping days, so if Saturday or Sunday is the only time you can go, try to be there the minute the store opens when fewer people are out.
Where to shop? Just about anywhere you would normally shop for yourself. But adjust your approach. Rather than going in with a buyer's mentality, look at products with a seller's eye. Spotted a deeply discounted DKNY dress on the clearance rack that would look fabulous in your closet? Consider buying an extra one or more to sell online. If it's an off-season item and you've got a place to store it, put it away until next year, when it's more likely to fetch a higher selling price online.
"You can find great stuff anywhere," says Rebecca Miller, an Auctiva product analyst and eBay Top-rated Seller. "You just have to know how to look for it, and know what will sell."
Play it right, and you can get products for as little as 10 percent or 20 percent of the original price
Like many eBayers, Miller, who sells under the name bertthedog does a fair amount of rummaging at garage sales and thrift stores for gently used and unique items to sell. But about 90 percent of the merchandise she offers in her Auctiva Store is brand new, plucked right off the shelves of major retail and discount stores such as JCPenney, Lowes and Big Lots, as well as craft and hobby shops—and even surplus grocery outlets.
"I look for items that are 75 percent off or more. That way I can sell them for a low price on eBay and still make a profit," she says. "If I'm not sure about an item, I'll sometimes buy one, take it home and research it on eBay. If it looks promising, I'll rush back to the store and buy more."
Miller watches for the advertising circulars that come out in the daily newspaper or in the mail. Many large chains have regular sales to clear out inventory—even if it's still "in-season." One leading regional department store is known for its Wednesday-only "super sales," when clearance merchandise is an additional half-off.
Clearance events can be excellent sources of name-brand merchandise at fantastic markdowns. Often, retailers will offer additional discounts to customers who put their purchases on a store credit card. Play it right, and you can get products for as little as 10 percent or 20 percent of the original price. But don't forget to pay the full balance on your credit card bill so you don't give back the savings in finance charges!
Another way to get discounts below the mark-down price is to sign up for bargain clubs and newsletters, and search newspapers and online for store coupons that don't have restrictions on sale merchandise. Big Lots has its Buzz Club, which gives customers who provide an e-mail address advance notice about upcoming deals and new shipments of liquidation merchandise. Miller says she jumps on these opportunities to buy cartfuls of the best stuff before the rest of the world even knows about it.
It pays to dig through close-out bins and keep an eye out for specially-marked items anytime you happen to be in the store
A recent merger between two retail pharmacy chains turned into a windfall for Miller, who scored a bounty of overstock items including top-name skin care, hair care and weight loss products at rock-bottom prices, and sold them for big profits on eBay.
It also pays to dig through close-out bins and keep an eye out for specially-marked items anytime you happen to be in the store. Home improvement and hardware retailers, for example, frequently end up with merchandise that a customer specially ordered but either didn't buy or returned. These are usually placed in mark-down bins or on end caps, but sometimes wind up on an inconspicuous shelf where you would never expect to find them.
If you're in the right place at the right time, you can walk out with brand new bathroom fixtures, lighting and other specialty merchandise for pennies on the dollar.
Auctiva Product Analyst and eBay PowerSeller Rebecca Miller is quoted in this story and will be featured in future articles to be published exclusively on the Auctiva Education tab. You can view Miller's active listings here.
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Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.