Which type of eBay seller are you?

Point-by-point explanation of three most common eBay product sourcing types

PLUS: Ten ways to make money from the public domain

It’s a fact that you can sell virtually anything on eBay, with obvious exceptions being dangerous objects or those which elicit incitement or hatred, and also the likes of noxious substances, pornographic materials, and so on.

Given those exceptions, so many products exist that most astute sellers are very much spoiled for choice, confused and extremely frustrated as a result.

That needn’t be so once you know about three simple product-sourcing models for you to choose from – or avoid like the plague!

Point-by-point explanation of three most common eBay product sourcing types

Method 1: Sell anything and everything. (Not recommended.)

This model works where, for example, you visit lots of car boot sales and flea markets, buying anything and everything you hope might make money for you on eBay.

The operative word here is ‘HOPE’, and by that I mean you’re never going to be sure your product will sell at a profit on eBay, even though this particular model is the one from which many top sellers, such as antiques and collectibles dealers, make their living.

But selling antiques and collectibles is risky, even though there are so many such items to buy at car boot sales and flea markets for a tiny fraction of their possible re-sell value. But if you’re not an expert in antiques and collectibles you’ll find you’re in for a lot of hard work.

That’s because:

  • Insider knowledge of specific products is the only way to be certain something you buy will sell at more than you paid for it. Buy hundreds or even thousands of different product types and you’ll never be an expert at any.
  • Succeeding on eBay is all down to testing and experimenting. Try to sell too many different items in too many different product-listing categories, and you won’t have time to test or experiment in a meaningful way.
  • You’ll have no chance to use fill-in-the-blanks templates, as most sellers of similar or identical products do. Selling all kinds of things means creating all your listings from scratch.

Where you sell just a few product types the same basic listing templates can be used with a couple of minor changes to reflect different colours, different sizes, and different prices for your products.

So if you are selling exercise bicycles, for example, you can create one template featuring the benefits of regular exercise and telling visitors how much better they will look and feel with one of your exercise cycles set up in their spare room…

Once done, all you do is change your title to reflect your different exercise bicycles, change the illustrations, change the price – and because so few changes are required to your basic template for your same-theme products, it’s possible to list items much faster than people selling rare and unusual products.

  • You’ll be constantly moving between product-listing categories on eBay, hoping you’ve found the right location for an item you know little about and may never see again. But as most of us already know, constantly chopping and changing between categories can be very time-consuming.
  • You’ll have little chance to brand yourself with a descriptive ID and shop name that shouts out loud and clear: ‘I sell postcards/doggy prints/Abba memorabilia/suicide notes’. That’s better than being Billy who sells frying pans, clocks, cars, all country coins, all country stamps!

Just ask yourself: how many people will visit Billy’s store on the off-chance something will interest them, compared to an avid collector of suicide notes who never knows what goodies are just a mouse-click away in Sickly Sally’s Suicide Shop?

  • You’ll have little or no repeat sales potential. People with a specific interest are likely buyers for other of the specialist seller’s products – say more suicide notes, or in my case, many more different dog breed collectibles. Specialise in something people really do want and will buy regularly, and you are onto a winner.

Method 2: Sell anything and everything of interest to a specific market. (Recommended subject to reservations discussed later.)

This is where a seller specialises by subject or theme. So ‘Dizzy Dolly’s Doll Shop’ specialises in dolls: dolls of all kinds, and also teddy bears, Action Man figures, puppets, including mass-market and uniquely designed.

There are old and new designs to choose from, second hand and new, some expensive, some cheap. Not forgetting books about dolls, postcards depicting dolls, old magazine articles and newspapers about dolls, and so on, and so on, and so on.

This person has the benefits of branding – she deals in solely dolls, basically that is – but she is still working hard, way too hard at constantly sourcing new items, gaining experience about new products, preparing new templates and creating listings from scratch.

Notice here how, although the seller specialises in dolls, she is still targeting all kinds of products at all kinds of people. In reality, this operation bears little difference to Method 1 (not recommended) earlier.

Method 3: Sell one item or one product type which is in ready supply and high in demand. (Highly recommended.)

The benefits of this repeat-product business model include:

  • Less time spent listing items for sale. Once the original listing is done, tested and perfected, likely changes are few and generally all the seller has to do is re-submit items unchanged, while making frequent checks for inaccuracies, unexpected changes to operating procedures, and so on.
  • All things being equal, regular reliable profits can be expected from re-listing the same products for sale every day, week or month.
  • Expertise is much faster and easier to obtain when you are dealing in one or two products than for someone selling thousands of different items on eBay.
  • Expertise and more effective testing procedures make planning easier for the business man or woman who knows almost exactly what he will be selling next week and the week after that, as well as roughly how many sales will ensue and what profits are likely.

The seller can book holidays and take days off by anticipating sales, fulfilment and delivery demands, and he can confidently answer most queries by simply emailing back standard replies from wherever he is on holiday, or by having staff or family members handle enquiries during his absence.

  • The business can be highly automated, primarily by sending copy-and-paste responses to buyers and sellers. Even stock levels and re-ordering can be made faster and more efficient by use of standard templates or email signature files, which save time and energy otherwise spent placing orders by post, fax, email, telephone.
  • Little risk is involved in the buying process, except in the testing stages. Once testing is complete and a product is proven to sell in quantity, at a specific price, the process can be automated and left to work almost untouched, save for regular checks of orders achieved, profits ensuing, and other essential matters (such as email addresses, payment options, stated delivery times, etc).
  • Generally there’s less time spent locating items to sell. That’s because once the seller finds his most profitable repeat sale products, he can sell hundreds or even thousands of products from one handy supplier.

Ten ways to make money from the public domain

Today I received an email from someone querying a postcard I had listed on eBay and which featured men standing outside a shop in a small village close to where I live.

This man did not want to buy the postcard, which has already been bid up to £60 and still has five days to go before the auction ends. I’m very confident that one postcard which cost me just a few pounds will fetch £100 or more on eBay.

Because so many people are bidding and ten more people are watching the item on eBay, it could mean the postcard is very rare, possibly unique. That is why the email I received today has set me thinking about a brand new business opportunity to start on eBay.

The postcard is a real photographic type and I have a feeling it was commissioned by the shop owner whose premises are depicted in the picture, and who is also standing outside the shop with three other men who are all identified on the reverse.

If it is rare or even unique, that means whoever wins my auction will be the solitary owner of the view depicted on my postcard. That, of course, leaves ten or more people still possibly wanting to own that postcard.

But do they want to own the postcard itself or do they (like the man who emailed me today) merely want access to the view itself – for family history purposes, for instance, or to display in their homes or business premises?

I have a feeling at least half those people currently viewing and actually bidding on my card are keen on the view itself, not the postcard as a potentially one-off collectible.

And that is the reason the man who emailed me asked how much I’d charge to create a high quality jpeg of the view to send to him on CD.

There’s the basis of a range of new products I will soon be adding to my eBay shop: namely reproduction items from the public domain, which I will present and sell on CD.

I’ve had the question asked many times about creating jpegs for various photographs and postcards, as well as prints and maps I had listed for sale on eBay, but I’ve never got round to establishing this new business idea, despite the fact I know several people who only sell public domain items on eBay – and do very well indeed.

I also know such images can be sold as downloadable files on sites like Etsy and Kindle (on the former without necessarily adding extra images or text; on Kindle with a few thousand words to back up the image).

That is why I spent more than two hours this morning researching other people selling items created from public domain originals. I discovered several selling multiple copies of the same products and obviously generating regular profits from one item that may take a day or less to create from its original version.

These are the ten most popular products I discovered with repeat sales potential on eBay, Etsy, Kindle, and several other sites:

  • Television cartoons, especially with double-figure episodes on each CD.
  • Classic films, notably war and action films.
  • Vintage views and maps – especially busy street scenes of smaller villages and towns, and maps from the 18th and 19th centuries which were originally produced on parchment with boundaries subsequently hand-coloured.
  • Antiquarian books, especially historical accounts of smaller villages and towns which appeal to genealogists and local historians. Trade directories from the early 1800s onwards are particularly popular.
  • Dog books, of which I noticed several people selling CDs containing ten or more early texts relating to specific breeds. CDs containing vintage dog images by well-known artists are also very popular.
  • Craftwork plans and patterns, notably crochet and woodwork.
  • Classic vintage comics, especially with full production runs on each CD.
  • Sheet music, usually with a minimum of ten items on one CD.
  • Stories, mainly from well-known historical authors such as Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, the Bronte sisters, and so on – usually with ten or more books on each CD and sometimes offered in sets of four different CDs.
  • Audio books, on lots of different subjects, including self-improvement, sports, hobbies, pastimes.

Now let me give you a few tips for making this business idea work for you, starting right away:

Look for additional ways to sell items you reproduce mainly for promoting on eBay. This means you can maximise profits from whatever item you buy from the public domain at boot sales, auctions, flea markets, and so on.

For example, a book I bought the other day, costing less than a pound and called The Darlington Saturday Holiday Guide was published in the late 1800s and details around 100 places within two or three hours travelling distance of Darlington.

I will use that book as source material for a site I have planned to make money from people visiting the northeast and needing hotel accommodation. I will create a simple web page for each of the 100 or so places featured in the book (I’ll do it almost word for word) then I will add affiliate links for hotels willing to pay me a share on whatever bookings emanate from my site. Easy!

Then I will scan the book into a Word document, I’ll add a few illustrations from vintage postcards depicting places featured in the book, and I’ll convert the whole lot to pdf format and sell it on CD on eBay and elsewhere.

Finally, I will sell the original physical book itself on eBay and expect to at least double my investment.

This article first appeared on Auction Genie. Read more and comment here