Starting an eBay Business: An In-Depth Guide

Have you ever thought about starting an eBay business as a side hustle, or maybe even a full time eBay store? What is holding you back? It’s really not as difficult as it may seem, when you have a bit of guidance. You just need a bank account, a PayPal account, and some items to sell. And the best part is: you can try it out for little to no cost! Let me show you how – starting an eBay business isn’t as difficult (or expensive) as many think. I’m going to use pre-owned clothing for this example, because it is such an easy business to start up; but you can use these tips for a different line of products as well. Let me show you how simple starting an eBay business can be.

Starting an eBay business in detail

Why Used Clothing?

I’m glad you asked. There are many benefits of selling used clothing on eBay. Here are my favorites:

  • It’s cheap (including the start up cost)
  • It’s easy to get a hold of
  • It’s easy to store
  • It’s easy to photograph
  • It’s easy to ship
  • It has a good profit margin
  • It’s easy to weigh and package
  • There is a huge market for it

Convinced? If not, I understand, but stick with me anyway. Even if you’re considering starting an eBay business for auto parts or used cell phones, you will gain from some of the helpful tips here. So let’s get started with the plan.

The Basics of Starting an eBay Business

First, set up an eBay account and a PayPal account, if you do not already have these. The majority of users pay with PayPal, and it is the fastest way for you to get paid, so just do it. Once you have your accounts set up, you are ready to sell items! eBay actually offers 100 free listings each month, so you don’t have to purchase a store in order to start your business. (Although once you are established, a store can really take you to the next level!)

Also, about once a month, they have a promotion which allows you to list up to 1000 items for free during a certain time frame (usually several days). Be sure to take advantage of these freebies and list as many items as you can, because people are more inclined to buy from a seller who has plenty of listings. You should try to maintain about 200 items/month once you get built up. If you are able to acquire more items, obviously you can increase your profit margin; but 150-200 items is a great goal. You may need to contact eBay to ask for an item limit increase, which they will gladly offer when they see that you are making sales.

You can invest in a USPS scale if you want (they’re only about $20!), but feel free to use a cheap kitchen scale like THIS that weighs in ounces. You can even get a digital scale for less than $10. Either way, you just need a scale to weigh clothing in ounces, as eBay uses this unit to calculate shipping cost.

After running a successful eBay business for over 2 years, I have learned what works. I'm sharing this in-depth guide with you for free, so you can learn how to do start your own profitable eBay business for little up front cost.

Shipping Materials

If you set up an account with USPS online, you can order Priority boxes and envelopes to be dropped off on your doorstep for free. But of course, Priority mail is only needed for items weighing more than 13 ounces. The other option is to purchase 9″ x 12″ poly mailer bags in bulk from an eBay or Amazon supplier. These cost pennies each and have a self-stick seal, which makes packaging clothes super simple.

You can fit most children’s clothing and adult shirts and slacks in these 9″ x 12″ mailers, with the exception of adult sweatshirts, heavy pants/jeans, and outerwear. For the larger items, you may want to purchase a small set of 14″ x 19″ or 19″ x 24″ poly mailers. Keep a handful of flat rate 9 1/2″ x 12″ Priority envelopes on hand if you plan to sell jeans or other heavy clothing items, as this will save you money on shipping to far away states.

eBay makes shipping easy! When your item sells, you are able to print the address label with a simple click of the mouse. All you have to do is click on “Print shipping label.” Wow, that was tough! So print it off, trim it up, and tape it down, and you’re ready to ship. There’s no need to purchase sticky labels unless you really want to…Scotch tape works just as well.

 

Stacked clothing

 

The Inventory for Starting an eBay Business

Before you go out and buy a bunch of stuff, go through your closet! Go through your kids’ clothes! Heck, if your husband isn’t looking, go through his closet too! 😉 Ask your friends and family if they have any unwanted clothing. You should be able to find a decent amount of clothes to start up with, just by looking within your close circle.

If not, hit a yard sale, a church sale, or a cheap thrift store. Try to avoid the big chains like Good Will and Salvation Army except when they are having a sale. Check Craigslist in your area to find listings for local garage sales and community yard sales. Sometimes churches will list sales on there too, and they are a great source because they often have “bag sales.” These little jewels are sales where you can fill up a whole grocery bag (or whatever other bag they designate) for $2-$5. You can score big on bag sales!

If you want to sell children’s clothing, check your area for a Once Upon a Child chain. They sell baby bodysuits for 50 cents each! Only get the cool ones. 😉 Buyers will gladly pay $2-$4 for a boring little bodysuit like THIS. You just quadrupled your cost. Boom. 

 

Here are some tips on the TYPE of clothing to buy:

  • Make sure it’s GENTLY USED! It’s better for you and your buyer if you can honestly describe your items as “gently used.” This means no rips or stains, no missing buttons/snaps/zippers, no obvious pilling, and nothing else blatantly wrong.
  • Buy a RANGE of BRANDS. Yes, you will get a bit more money for Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Alfani, but you will usually pay more for these also, so just keep that in mind. It may sound crazy, but Wrangler and Faded Glory clothes (Walmart brand!) sell really well too. There are just as many buyers looking for a certain style as there are ones looking for a certain brand.
  • Buy a VARIETY of STYLES. If you just want to sell one type of clothing, like women’s, keep it that broad. Don’t just sell men’s button ups though – sell men’s t-shirts and jeans too. Does that make sense? Keep it open-ended to gain more returning customers.
  • Look for LEGIBLE TAGS! Try your best to get clothing with tags that are still easy to read. You will be taking pictures of these for your listings. Besides that, how will you or your buyers know for sure what the size is if the tag is illegible? This is also a good sign of a gently used clothing article.

Now that you have your inventory in hand, make it look good. Either throw it in the dryer with a damp towel, or iron out those wrinkles. Either way, your photos will look WAY better, and people will be much more willing to buy from you if your clothes look neat. Be sure to pull them from the dryer immediately if you choose that option, and hang them up…or they will just get wrinkly again!

Taking Photos

You want your photos to look sharp. Nobody wants to click “Buy it Now” on a dark and blurry image. The easiest way to take good photos of your clothing is to set up a hook on a clean door or wall. (You could also use a small nail, or even a push pin on the wall, if you don’t want to run out and buy something.) A single hook like THIS works the best, and they only cost a couple bucks. Wherever you decide to put your hook or nail, make sure it looks clean and uniform.

Natural light is the best option for super-looking photos. You can check out my other post about Taking Awesome Photos for more tips on this. If you can’t take the photos during good lighting hours, make sure you have good indoor lighting, or use a lamp. However you do it, make sure you have plenty of light so your photos don’t end up looking shady.

Hang your clothing item on a hanger (preferably white) and place the hanger on your hook or nail. Smooth out any bumpy spots, and make sure it is hanging neatly. These are the shots you will want to get for each item:

  • Front
  • Back
  • Tag
  • Any embellishments
  • Logos
  • Any minor defects

eBay allows you to post up to 12 photos for each item at no cost, so take advantage of that! The more photos, the fewer questions buyers will have…and the more likely someone will be to purchase the item. Check out the difference here…which item would you be more interested in clicking on?

How to take good eBay pics

Item Titles and Descriptions

Your titles and descriptions are so important! Take the time to do these right., as this can really make or break your sales when you’re starting an eBay business. For your title, follow these steps in order:

  1. State the brand
  2. Tell us what it is
  3. Give the details (material, size, color, etc)
  4. Promise fast shipping (but only if you can keep that promise!)

Here is an example:

“Tommy Hilfiger Men’s Polo Shirt – 100% Cotton – Medium Blue Striped – Fast Shipping”

Your items will show up better in a search if you do things in this order. Think about it: there are a lot more people looking for a men’s polo shirt than those looking for a men’s 100% cotton Medium blue striped polo shirt. You want to title your items appropriately so they get ranked better in the search.

In your item descriptions, you want to basically restate the title. Tell your buyer exactly what the item is again. Then give them any additional helpful information. Does it come from a smoke and/or pet free home? This definitely adds value to your descriptions if you can truthfully add this. Give your seller details about the measurements; it’s best if you can list the measurements clearly. (This is especially true of women’s clothing!) Then tell them how quickly you will ship it, and invite them to check out your other items. Below is an example of a well written description:

“This is a gently used 100% cotton Medium blue striped men’s Tommy Hilfiger Polo shirt. No rips, stains, or missing buttons, and it comes from a smoke-free home. Dimensions are as follows:

Bust: 38″

Length: 34″

I ship items within 2 business days of receiving payment. Please check out my other items. Your prompt payment and positive feedback are appreciated!”

That was easy, right? You may be wondering why we didn’t say “gently used” or “pre-owned” in the title. eBay actually requires you to choose the item’s condition from a list, so there is no need to state this in the title, but you do want to put it in the description.

Other Listing Details

When you click “Sell Item,” you will first be asked for the title. Once you enter it, you will then be able to fill out the rest of the listing. You must choose a category (such as Men’s casual shirts), and eBay will offer some suggestions based on your title. You will need to upload at least one photo; make sure the first photo buyers see is the front view. Fill out the rest of the blanks for details, item condition, format & price, shipping and preferences. Here are a few tips:

  • Choose 1-day handling
  • Accept returns
  • Use the fixed-price option for clothing, unless it is something special.
  • List for 30 days
  • For shipping, don’t overcharge your buyers. Below are reasonable shipping cost guidelines that will keep both you and your buyers happy:
    • Baby clothes $1.99
    • Toddler clothes $2.49
    • Children’s shirts $2.49
    • Children’s jeans $2.99
    • Women’s shirts $2.99
    • Women’s slacks $3.99
    • Men’s button up short sleeves $3.99
    • Men’s polo shirts and long sleeve button ups $4.99
    • Adult jeans $4.99
    • Hoodies $4.99
    • Outerwear $4.99

Pricing Items

Honestly, this one is a toughie. The best piece of advice I can give you is to look on eBay for a similar item (continuing our example from above, say, a Tommy Hilfiger men’s polo – it doesn’t have to be any more specific) and you will get a feel for the item’s price range. If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me at tiff@18thavenuemom.com and I will be happy to offer individual pricing suggestions.

Selling and Shipping Items

All you have to do now is follow these steps and publish your listings. Then sit back and wait for notifications. I highly recommend downloading the eBay app onto your smartphone, as this allows you to take photos while you are listing, so you can get everything done for your item in one fell swoop. You can adjust the settings to allow notifications, and you will get a notification whenever someone bids on or purchases your item. All you do then is open eBay on your desktop and click the notification, and select the “Ship item” option.

Weigh the item on your kitchen scale or USPS scale, and round to the next higher ounce. (For example, if your measure 2.1 oz, type 3 oz in the weight box on the screen.) This will calculate the actual shipping cost for you, and your PayPal account will be billed for the amount. Click the Print Shipping Label button, and print out your label. Package the item, place it in the poly mailer or Priority envelope, and tape the label onto the front. Hand it to your mailman when he comes by, or take a trip to the post office. There – you just started selling items on eBay!

Relisting Unsold Items

Now you know how to find, purchase, prepare, photograph, and list your items. You also know how to ship them when they sell. Make sure you keep up with your inventory. Any items that do not sell within the designated time will need to be relisted until they are sold. This part is easy. When you open your eBay account, you will see a Selling tab, which shows Active, Sold, and Unsold items. Click on each item in the Unsold list (or click the Select All option), and choose Relist. All of the information for the item is saved, and you don’t have to do anything over again – just click Relist!

Total cost for Starting an eBay Business

Depending of what you already have available, you may start an eBay business for little to no cost. Here are the potential purchases (assuming you have a simple printer and paper at home):

Scale: $7 on Amazon

Poly Mailers: $2 for a pack of 10

Clothing: $20 for 20 items at a garage sale

That’s really all you need to get started: less than 30 bucks of startup materials! If you can list at least 20 items, you should be able to sell a few in a short amount of time, then use the profit to purchase more items. This is how you have little to no out-of-pocket cost in the long run. If you have a kitchen scale, some large envelopes, and some used clothes laying around at home, you won’t even have to spend a dime initially.

As you begin to sell items, try to replace them as quickly as possible, in order to keep your number of listings up. Use your profits to purchase new inventory and shipping supplies as they run low. It’s a low maintenance process. If you really take off and begin selling several items per day, you will definitely want to switch to a store, so you are able to list more items each month. By that time, you will be making enough profit to cover the cost of the store (best value is $50/month and includes 500 listings/month). But let’s focus on starting an eBay business for the moment…growing it will come next!

Are You Ready?

Okay, now it’s your turn! Are you excited about starting an eBay business? It’s so easy, and it can generate a few hundred or a few thousand dollars each month, depending on how many items you want to sell. Give it a try. If you have any issues at all, please leave a comment or shoot me an email, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Happy selling!

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