Get Into the Holiday Spirit

Year-round sourcing for seasonal sales

by staff writer
- Sep 15, 2008

Don't you hate it when stores start to put out Christmas displays and hype their online holiday specials and it's not even Halloween yet? Well, annoying as it may be, there's a good reason this is common practice. According to eBay, 75 percent of buyers do their Christmas shopping online—and 32 percent started their holiday shopping in September.

"Many people wait until after Thanksgiving to list [holiday items on eBay] and by then it's too late," Lisa Suttora, founder and CEO of eBay Certified Provider, tells eBay users. "Last year, the biggest sales day on eBay for the holiday season was Cyber Monday—the Monday after Thanksgiving."

Sellers hoping to cash in on the Christmas rush would do well to start building their holiday inventory now. And it pays to keep the holidays in mind as you source products all year-round, because the best deals on holiday merchandise can often be found in the lulls between gift-giving seasons.

Feel the pre-holiday buzz

Of course, the biggest holiday shopping season is those few months leading up to Christmas. By that time, it's pretty clear what the must-have items are going to be. The latest electronic gadgets and computer models are typically introduced during the summer or fall to allow time for holiday demand to build. And toy manufacturers start plugging their new releases shortly after the start of the school year.

Occasionally, product manufacturers will create a buzz around a new product long before it's introduced, and then release it just before the holidays to maximize their sales potential.

Remember the Wii video game console? Nintendo first publicized that product more than two years before it was finally released—on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving—which is historically the biggest Christmas shopping day of the year. Frenzied shoppers camped for days in advance outside of Best Buy and other electronics retailers, hoping to purchase one or more of the season's hottest new item.

When there's that kind of pent-up demand, listing an item right before Christmas can really pay off—and the harder-to-find the item is, the better your profit is likely to be.

Play the game to your advantage

But you don't have to wait until after Thanksgiving. If you see an item that you know is hot, grab as many as you reasonably think you can sell for the holidays—or as many as the store will let you purchase at one time. Bring along friends and family to buy extra quantities if the store has per-customer limits.

eBay PowerSeller Rebecca Miller recalls one shopping trip to Radio Shack to buy ZipZaps, miniature radio-controlled cars that were the must-have item that Christmas. The store had a limit of three per customer, so she brought her in-laws with her to buy extras.

"Those little things cost about $25 each," says Miller, who is also an Auctiva product analyst. "They were so hot; they sold on eBay for more than $100 a piece."

Save all your receipts. If the item doesn't sell on eBay, you can return it to the store

Sometimes, getting your hands on the best stuff requires diligence. A few years ago, when Cabbage Patch Kids were reintroduced, Miller would go to Target every week looking for the boy dolls, which were harder to find. "I would literally dig through the boxes of new merchandise as the employees brought them in from the stock room," she recalls.

Just keep in mind that fads are fleeting, and what's hot today may be passé tomorrow. "I still have a box of TMX Cookie Monster and Ernie dolls in my garage," Miller laughs.

If you do invest in a trendy product that turns out to be a dud at holiday time, you can still recoup your cost. The trick, says Miller, is buy within 30 to 90 days of the holiday you're targeting—and save all your receipts. That way, if the item doesn't sell on eBay, you can return it to the store (check your store's return policy before you try this). Even if all you get out of it is store credit, you can probably find other good eBay merchandise on post-holiday clearance.

Become a clearance-sale regular

Of course, some items make great gifts anytime. Couldn't sell it for Christmas? Valentine's Day is just around the corner. And there's always Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduation… you get the picture.

However, when shopping for off-season deals, don't limit yourself only to holiday-oriented merchandise. There are also big seasonal opportunities in back-to-school gear, summer and resort apparel, bedding and sports-related items. Use your imagination.

Name-brand fragrance gift-packs, slippers, bathrobes—these are things that never go out of style, and they're usually plentiful on post-holiday and year-round clearance tables at major department stores. If you do your shopping online, you can often find free-shipping deals on clearance purchases over a certain amount.

And don't forget outlet stores, where major retailers send end-of-season leftovers. Markdowns of 75 percent or more are easily found. Just make sure what you're getting isn't a factory "second," meaning it has some type of defect that led the primary retailer to reject it.

'Special' is not always 'new'

If you specialize in used items or collectibles, you don't have to feel left out of the holiday selling season. Holidays aren't just about gifts; people are also looking for special-occasion apparel, accessories, decorations and more. And pre-owned is hotter than ever, with more people making purchasing decisions based on the potential environmental impact. Suttora of points to a recent survey, which showed that 72 percent of people were strongly in favor of buying pre-owned products.

The key when selling used items on eBay is to promote your goods as holiday items, she says, and be sure to use keywords that convey a niche.

"A red velvet dress is not 'just' a red velvet dress," Suttora says. "It's a red velvet holiday dress perfect for Santa pictures."

About the Author

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.

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