How to Sell: Toys & Hobbies

Dynamic market leaves room for new sellers.

by staff writer
- Apr 28, 2010

This is one in an occasional series of EDU articles exploring the nuances of selling in specific categories.

Think back to how excited you were when you got that Ariel doll you wanted so badly for your birthday, or that model train set you asked Santa for. Even now, when you visit your local department store, odds are that if you have little ones, you make a stop in the toys and hobbies section, even if it's just to browse.

It's hard to deny the popularity of toys—among children of all ages. Many grown-up "kids" still remember their childhood playthings fondly, and some are willing to fork over cash to have that beloved toy today, or get one for their little ones. It's this enduring fondness that makes toys a great product category to sell online, says Jenni Hunt, a PowerSeller and publisher of MyToyGuide, an online newsletter for toy sellers on eBay. And if you do your homework, this category can be quite rewarding.

"The beauty of toys is that they sell all year long," Hunt explains. "There is always a reason to buy toys—birthdays, holidays, new babies, etc. You just need to know which toys are selling [at that particular time]."

Success in the Toys & Hobbies category, like in all others on eBay, requires diligence and research, whether you choose to sell new or used/vintage items. Lucky for you, we talked to the experts to find out what they had to say.

'In' today, 'out' tomorrow

One of the biggest advantages of selling toys isn't their ability to generate high profits; it's that they're returnable, notes Auctiva Product Analyst Rebecca Miller. The market can be unpredictable when it comes to toys, and even the hottest item can lose its luster in a matter of weeks.

Miller, an eBay Top-rated Seller, knows this firsthand. During the 2009 holiday season, she got in on the Zhu Zhu Pets craze, snatching up several of the mechanical critters and selling them on eBay for up to three times their retail price. However, demand for the hamsters died down in a matter of weeks, and Miller was left with four hamsters that didn't sell, and a hamster city play set. Luckily she kept her receipts and was able to get her money back.

Some of the most popular toys don't reach retail prices on eBay—while others bring in many times what you bought the item for

The unpredictability of toys should remind sellers to be cautious and avoid buying all stock of a store's "hot toy," Miller says. Don't get too carried away; instead opt for a small supply of items predicted to be the toy of the season to test out the market. After selling a few of these—and if you deem that there is enough demand—go ahead, buy more.

But always keep in mind that the market changes continuously, Hunt adds.

"Some of the most popular toys don't reach retail prices on eBay—while others can bring in many times what you bought the item for," she continues. "Making it even more difficult is the fact that what sells great this week may not be the best seller next week. The availability of the toy on store shelves is often the best indicator of whether a toy will skyrocket or be a dud—but store inventory can change from day to day… making it very difficult to predict what is selling best and what to keep an eye out for."

Finding inventory

Since the market is so unpredictable, where do you start when you're ready to buy inventory? Hunt suggests paying close attention to commercials. "Manufacturers and stores put a ton of money into advertising because it works," she explains. "A huge buzz can be started by these advertisements, so be on the watch for what the stores are pushing."

Getting on a store's mailing list and watching newspaper ads is another way to get a glimpse into possible hot products. Amazon also features a list of popular toys, which it refreshes every hour. Popular movies are another good venue to turn to when looking for possible inventory. You may even want to set up a Google alert for "toy trends."

And if you have time, why not visit one or two toy fairs to see what's coming out? Just be sure to take all of this with a grain of salt.

"These lists can be a great starting place to learn what is selling in the new toy market, but don't be fooled into thinking that just because they are expected to be popular, they will resell well on eBay," Hunt advises. "This just isn't always the case, and many sellers have a hard time understanding this… It really pays to do your research by going to eBay and seeing for yourself what is selling there."

Miller regularly monitors retail sites such as Target and Toys"R"Us to see if hot items have sold out in these stores, an obvious sign that the item really is "hot" and worth an investment. If a particular toy has sold out, she quickly looks for it in other locations so she can purchase stock to offer on eBay.

Whether you opt to sell new or old inventory, always check to ensure the item hasn't been recalled

Old versus new

Now that you know about the unpredictable nature of the world of Toys & Hobbies, it's time to decide if you'll sell new or used toys. Our experts are split on this decision, noting benefits to both. You'll just have to decide which benefits sound more appealing.

Hunt suggests beginning with used toys since they are available at lower costs than new toys, and therefore carry a lower risk for new sellers.

"The profit margins are often higher and the market can be just as good. Although finding used toys that are selling well can be a challenge, if you have a general idea of what to look for, you can usually do well," she says. "In addition, because used toys don't usually increase in availability, they tend to remain hot sellers for longer periods of time."

Miller prefers new toys so she can be certain the item is in good condition and will endure for years. New items are also easier to research since they are recent—which can be a big help when performing another vital task: making sure items have not been recalled. This is something every seller should do, Miller says.

"When it comes to anything dealing with kids you have to be extra diligent. After all, a recalled item may put a child in danger, something no one wants," she says.

Beware of recalls

So if you do decide to get into Toys & Hobbies—whether you opt for new or old inventory—visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site to ensure the items you're offering haven't been recalled. You should also do a Google search to see what pops up about the product.

Once you have your research down, you're ready to buy inventory and optimize your listings with good keywords, accurate descriptions and plenty of images to show off your products in all their glory.

When sales start coming in, begin creating mailing lists right away so you develop a good customer base and keep buyers up to date on sales or new inventory you may have. And, of course, it's important to communicate frequently with shoppers during the sale to ensure they're happy with the item they've purchased. Remember, good customer service is often the difference between a one-time buyer and a loyal customer.

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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