A lot of my readers want to make more money, preferably online. Well, so do I, and I’ve recently spent at least the last six months trying out a recently popular side hustle to make money. I want to share the results of this experiment with you so that you can learn what it was like and if it’s worth it.
This hustle is called flipping or reselling. And it involves going to thrift stores and garage sales to find underpriced items and reselling them online, usually through eBay. Top influential entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk tout it as something anyone can do with $0 and time to make to $1,000 to 10,000 a month — so no more excuses or complaints. It’s also getting popular in young side hustle / make money communities online.
I also spent a couple months trying Amazon FBA, which is similar, but involves buying in clearance aisles of stores like Walmart and reselling on Amazon.com.
I am proud of myself for trying this hustle out because I’d heard about it for years and avoided trying it out because I assumed it would be too much of a hassle, the shipping and tax fees would just eat away all my profits thanks to my naivete, and I won’t have the knowledge to figure out what items were worth buying. Plus, it’s just a hassle to have all this stuff in your house if you end up not being able to sell it.
But I wanted to practice what I preach and stop assuming things. Your assumptions can sometimes be wrong and I wanted to see for my own eyes and prove that I’m not just someone who sits in his chair, spouts theory, and does nothing to increase their chances of a better life.
One Step Forward, One Back
Well, I tallied everything up, and I sold over a $1,000 in revenue on eBay and other online selling platforms like Mercari, Facebook Marketplace, and Offer up. But before you start cheering, once I subtracted all expenses (e.g., Ebay fee, shipping fees, etc.), I more or less broke even, which sucks given the time invested. Frankly, I think I lost money but I can’t do all the calculations because I was sloppy and in track everything precisely when I could. And eBay shockingly doesn’t keep records of your sales past 30 days which I didn’t know until it was too late.
So how could this have happened? Honestly, I saw it coming because I knew instantly right at the post office after paying for shipping that the shipping would cost a lot more than I thought, and sometimes more than any profit made from some people have told me I can just cancel the transaction at that point, but when you pay for the cardboard box, taped it up, and paying for the printing label, most of your chips are in.
And I don’t want to look bad to the customer once he or she is already purchased an item. But looking back, I was probably paranoid because I don’t think they can break you after you cancel the transaction. Plus, their unhappy customers who want to return items, and on those rare occasions when that happens, I tried to go above and beyond, and there usually inclined to have you pay for return shipping as well. Which puts me deeper into the hole.
I will elaborate later in this article how it’s much harder to estimate shipping costs then you would think sometimes for a variety of reasons. Another person I ran into a person who wanted my help getting started with this hustle was also surprised at this point. Maybe I’m just bad and others can do better or maybe this is just the reality of the situation.
Well, a lot of the fears that I first thought were true.
I want to emphasize that this article isn’t a piece that is complaining or attacking the art of flipping. I was inspired to try this out. Gary Vaynerchuk’s video series Trash Talk is amazing. It documents him going to garage sales and walking through the entire process including the bargaining. He broke down almost everything and I was so inspired to try it out because I finally thought it was possible and anyone could do it.
Gary said in the video that it takes time to build up your knowledge and get better at it, so of course my first time trying it out was going to be far from perfect. You get better as you develop in more knowledge and experience.
A Peek Into My Rocky, Crazy Journey
If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that sometimes, not always, some of your assumptions and fears are true. Another lesson is that you absolutely must do the math and make sure you will get a profit with a fat margin before you buy or sell anything. You can’t hope that you’ll get lucky or that you’ll get the highest price you’ve seen and item sell for on eBay or anything close to that. With an auction style listing, that’s likely not going to happen.
So what were the major causes of my losses during the flipping process?
There were a few high-ticket purchases that went sour. Because of shipping costs and miscalculations.
I bought a few vintage toys from a comic book store 50% off on a Black Friday sale. I checked the prices that they were selling for on eBay and they all would have sold for 20 to 40 bucks more than I had bought them for. And I had bought most of them for around $40. But what I didn’t account for was that the shipping costs rise exponentially for anything that is big and bulky or weighs more than two pounds, which these things weighed at least 10 lbs each since they were playhouses and action figure assembly kits for Star Wars, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Marvel. So long story short, I ended up paying $40 in shipping on average for these items.
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I have cleared out almost all the stuff I have bought on Black Friday, clearance sales, and thrift stores to resell. The total revenue is over seven hundred. Sounds like a lot and I don’t think I spent more than four hundred but after shipping and costs, I may have lost money —I did on most of the flips. There were a lot more losses than significant gains. I haven’t tabulated and done all the math and will see if I am overall positive once the dust settles and I sell the twelveish funko pops remaining, a few other items, and my xbox rebate clears. This #resell experiment was more of a learning experience than a profit center based on my gut. Nonetheless, I am proud I tried a hustle I avoided for years and finally saw it firsthand without any excuses. I have learned that as I suspected, shipping does eat through your margins — something some experts say doesn’t happen but does. It is really about finding huge bargains for a dollar or two. Take this cup in the photo. If it sells for fifteen, I paid one dollar for it plus one dollar in packaging and five dollars in shipping. But if I bought this for five or seven dollars, it may still be way under regular price but the shipping eats away at cost. Funkos worth buying in the store new and flipping are a needle in a haystack. I found a few but miscalculated on others.
In fact, I bought a ton of stuff for Black Friday, often 50% off. I spend the whole weekend driving around. I thought for sure that the exclusive Funko Pop toys and boxes would sell for a profit. But there must be too many resellers as the prices online tanked immediately to a point where I’d make little to no profit. I ended up spending a lot of time trying to sell it online, slashing prices, and returning items to the store if they’d take it or keeping them for myself (the one side benefit to buying items you actually like). One “Captain America vs. Thanos” Funko toy ended up breaking even for me after shipping costs. So for that instance, I invested a couple hours of time and came away with not money, but learning lessons.
The random things you don’t like you that you buy to resell from garage sales and clearance sections of comic book stores end up piling up in your house though if they never sell. That’s an unexpected downside to the craft: your room becomes a mess of random items. My room had a Tony Bennett record, Twilight book set, and WWE action figures — none of which I cared about.
I learned that the price that they sell for depends on whether you have all the pieces to a SAT, and the condition of the set, and on the luck of the draw for the auction. my vintage collectibles we’re not as pristine and then have all the pieces. I didn’t think it would matter as much on how much people will bid on it but it definitely does. and sometimes, maybe just due to the time of year that your auction is listed, the same exact listing can have a decent swing in the final price. even if a previous listing for the same thing sold for a lot more, due to Pure timing of the man, you may just end with a much lower price. Some people online say that you should only listings as Buy It Now on eBay if you’re going to flip them. I’ve tested this out too and I found no one willing to buy my listing unless I lower the price to the market average or lower.
Another mistake I made was trying to innovate and do my own Retail Arbitrage rather than just stick to the mugs and other items that the experts online recommended. I bought a bunch of signed copies of popular books new from Barnes & Noble with a small 10% discount coupon. The autograph books sell at Barnes & Noble for the same price as the non-autographed ones, and I noticed that they would sell online for on average $15 more than the regular retail price.
What I didn’t realize was how expensive it is to ship books especially if they weigh over 2 lb. Each book cost 22 $25 to ship on average. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t cancel the sale when I realize I was going to lose money on eBay. I wanted to start my eBay profile and ratings off with a good start by doing the right thing. I discovered that it was against eBay edicate to cancel an order once it has finalized, even if you’re going to lose money on it. So that’s why I ship them. That said, after dozens of Trades and building up my profile to have multiple reviews with an average of five stars, I have finally backed away from that philosophy because I realize it’s just stupid to continue with an order where I’m clearly losing money and the couple times I’ve canceled an order without telling them, the buyer wasn’t upset. (When I do ask first, that’s when they demand the order.)
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There is something special to me about holding a book that was touched and signed by a girl with millions of subscribers. Other people may not care, but it makes me feel like there’s a chance I can get there. The autographed book connect me and humanizes this person. They are real and not some untouchable being. Also, I would be happy with 100,000 true fans. I don’t need millions. That makes everything even more attainable.
Heck, even the one time I thought I had absolutely had to make money, I lost money. I made probably the biggest ROI and margin I ever did on a sale before shipping costs. I bought 13 Naruto manga books for a dollar apiece at a garage sale. I sold them on eBay for about $40. But then, after I found the smallest box that they would fit in and shipped it off, the cheapest place to ship them cost more than the entire sale price. Yep, anything big and bulky that weighs over 2 lb just guts you in terms of shipping costs. Especially, if the winning buyer lives on the other side of the country.
One thing that none of the experts told me was how much of an art shipping itself is. There are three major mail carriers: FedEx, USPS, and UPS. Usually, USPS is the cheapest unless the package gets bulky and heavy, which usually means FedEx is the winner but not always. Then, there are no convenient online calculators to discover what’s the best way of shipping your items, and there are dozens upon dozens of different names for sizes you can ship packages. The whole thing is very confusing, and I’ve resorted to just Googling for the best way to ship a specific item, like a book, Funko pop toy, or dvd. But it’s a hassle to sometimes find the box or put it together. For example, I had to custom order some special Regional boxes from USPS because it was the cheapest way to ship board games, and they don’t have them at the post office.
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Also, guess what? Just because you see an item (or five) sell for a high price doesn’t mean yours will sell. Sometimes, the demand is low. I now know I won’t buy something unless I see at least ten to twenty “Sold” items in the last 2 weeks. I’ve bought many mugs that did sell for a lot more than the $1 I bought it for at some point in the past, but the demand was so low when I listed it that they never sold.
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A final note: eBay listing fees aren’t too bad. I got a hundred free listings as a sign up bonus, and they often do free promotions that give you 50 more free listings almost every month. And taxes are minimal too. It’s really the shipping fees that gut you. And be careful of international shipping. that’s when the shipping fees go through the roof. I shipped one book to Germany for over $50.
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Here’s a photo of one of the few mugs that I actually made a profit on. But the kicker is that it didn’t sell on Ebay when I listed it. Due to a stroke of luck, someone on Facebook Marketplace wanted it. Usually, there’s even less demand on Facebook.
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Conclusion: I’m done with this… mostly.
I am glad I tried this experiment and I’m still trying this experiment because most people never get off the couch and just assume things will never work. They use skepticism as a comfort pillow to stay lazy, never do anything, and never change their life.
Reselling items didn’t work well for me. I would’ve made more money mathematically working a minimum wage job and getting paid per hour. In fact, that’s what I have done recently. I am working part-time at an Escape Room as another test, and it’s fun most of the time, and I get a consistent paycheck (but the income per hour is capped).
That doesn’t mean reselling won’t work for you or it hasn’t worked for others. Gary Vaynerchuk and others have made a killing off of it, and you’ll most likely get better and better over time so you won’t have to make the mistakes I did and lose money. You probably get better at spotting opportunities, avoiding bad investments, and build a more efficient system to pack and ship items.
More than anything, it’s about whether you love it or not. I mostly didn’t enjoy the process, and I did it mostly for the money and to validate an idea while proving to myself that I was executor rather than someone just sits on the couch saying “it won’t work.”
The biggest reasons I didn’t love it are…
First, the hassles of packing and shipping. There’s just so many dimensions and weights and packages that it’s hard to estimate how much something can go for before you buy it especially considering that the distance can have a huge impact on price. Someone ordering from the other side of the country costs more than someone a few states over — and you don’t know who buys until they bid on it. And that’s how I lost a lot of money on things. Then, there’s buying the appropriate box or package from Staples or elsewhere and packing everything up.
And imagine all the cluttered junk sitting in your room — it’s just not a clean, good feeling.
Second, the horrible buyers you occasionally deal with that can hide behind anonymity or distance. A good example would be this one guy from Mercari who was annoying about everything. He hassled me about how can get the tracking number right away and I told him it takes time to process. We were only a state awaits so I told him that it would even take that long to ship anyways but he kept hassling me. I told him that I got the shipping label directly from Mercari’s system and it usually pulled a tracking number automatically so my hands are tied. Then, when he received the item, he went on a tirade, blaming me and being very rude and hateful because he assumed that the item I was selling was for a metallic version of a toy when it wasn’t. I never mentioned metallic in any of the text for listing and he made an assumption. Throughout the whole process, I was very kind and responded with nice words given the knowledge I have learned from reading books about customer service. The whole experience was enjoyable, and of course, I lost money well over the cost of the initial toy from shipping’s in return.
People can be impatient, quick to blame others rather themselves, and make assumptions in their purchases when they shouldn’t. I would’ve figured that people wouldn’t do that given that I’ve made a mistake many times before and learn from it long ago but how I am is different from other people.
I also learned that it was partly my fault and I have to be precise and accurate with describing my listings. That takes more time and it’s a pain, but you have to do it. I was also lazy and wanted a rapid minimal viable product to test, so I often take stock images of what I have online rather than take pictures myself to because it’s faster. Unfortunately, this was a case where I chose the wrong picture and the stock image I chose was for a metallic version of a toy, which is such a subtle difference that I did notice.
I will still do a little hunting with Facebook marketplace, eBay, Mercari, garage sale, and thrift store shopping every now and then because I haven’t completely given up on the idea some people like Reezy Resells makes a killing off of it.
On occasion, I will turn a profit, but it seems to be much more enjoyable for me when it’s an obvious no-brainer, with a lot of demand, a huge profit margin, and an easy shipping and packaging process that I know how to wrap up and how much to pay. These usually amount to couple employees and items within my knowledge base that I rarely find. More than anything, it’s just given me more knowledge of bargain shop hunting for myself. I’m more able to find board games, clothing, and other things I would but retail price that I can buy like new for a fraction of the price.
At some point, I hope to give reselling another fat chance. I have YouTube videos bookmarked from influencers like Reezy Resells because they have their own style I’d like to try. Book and shoe reselling could be a big profit center if done right. And I may enjoy that type of reselling.
It doesn’t all have to be about “finding your complete passion” early on, especially when an extra $1,000+ a month can make a huge difference in your life. Plus, some say that getting good or seeing money makes you a bit more passionate about it.
When I do go for it, I’m only going to look for items that have a clear, obvious, fat margin, which are hard to find. And I’ll document every purchase and expense, and make sure I calculate the exact shipping method and cost before I start or complete any listing online. I’m going to reduce the amount of time I spend investing in this activity. I haven’t given up hope on it because anyone can start this hustle and many people do make a lot from it. I’m just going to be a lot more particular with my transactions.
I have made many small transactions that netted a prophet, particularly in the Funko pop toy collectibles. But the few dollars in profit was washed away by the massive losses from the high ticket items that I try it out. Plus, was it really worth making a few dollars in profit on each listing given the amount of time I have the spent buying the cardboard boxes, taping them up, adding the bubble wrap that I bought, and driving to the post offices to find the cheapest price to ship them off? Probably not. I’ve still yet to find some good products that can consistently and reliably let me some serious cash. But I’ve tried a lot.
I feel like what’s work best is just selling stuff that I already own and don’t use locally. I don’t have to pay for shipping and it’s basically a hundred percent profit because it’s usually stuff that have zero value to me anymore, like magazines, cooking items, toys, or Anime necklaces. That said, expect a lower sale price than you would get online with a national audience. But maybe not at once you factor in shipping fees, eBay listing fees, and tax.
In conclusion, attempting to flip dozens of items taught me that many of my assumptions were true. I was able to post some profitable flips, which I’m happy about, but shipping fees and other mistakes brought me to break even after a few hundreds dollars of “revenue.” But I’m proud I gave it a chance with an open mind rather than just let excuses stop me from trying. Part of the issue was my lack of passion, beginner mistakes, and trying to break the rules and get creative too soon (Don’t buy autographed books brand new from book stores and try to resell them! Bulky objects cost a shit-ton to ship! One or even a handful of listings of a sold product at a high price isn’t enough demand to sell your item close to that price!). Will you try out flipping?