How I Still Make Money with eBay


In the glory days of eBay, the marketplace was ripe for amazing profits. Grandma’s hand-knitted doilies sold for $10 each, vintage puzzles with two pieces missing sold for $25. Buyers were drunk on a heady concoction of new technology mixed with dot-com incomes and childhood nostalgia.

Those days are gone. Today, eBay is a larger, but more somber virtual place. Independent sellers who aren’t managing their own drop-ship businesses struggle to survive. Making the hunt, listing, packaging, shipping, and customer service worth our time is an ongoing challenge.

I’ve been antique picking and reselling on eBay since those halcyon days — 1997, to be exact. After all the bubbles and bursts, I’ve settled into a modest groove with eBay. Some days are certainly better than others, but to stay consistently profitable in the new eBay era, I’ve embraced some old concepts. (See also: Secrets of Top eBay Sellers)


I used to focus on antiques from the early-to-mid 1900s (think Fiesta Ware, Bakelite jewelry, and the like). Today, I’ll sell anything from cowboy boots and eel skin wallets to replacement gas caps. Times have changed, and in order to consistently source goods, I have to know a little bit about a lot of stuff. Appealing to a broad range of buyers from different categories and interests also helps avoid market slumps in a single area.

Be Ruthless About Overhead

I get most of my shipping supplies from the recycling bin (thanks to a large apartment building nearby) or from generous retailers who don’t mind me rummaging through their aisles on stock day. $4 per roll for packing tape is insult enough — I cringe if I have to pay retail for bubble wrap. I stock up on boxes and supplies of all sizes and quantities regardless of what my immediate needs are. Preparation is the key in avoiding last-minute packing expenditures when I need to a get a shipment out the door.


Research is vital to ensure profitability in nearly every business. eBay is no exception. Prices fluctuate, tastes change, and new trends evolve nearly every day. Understanding what my customers are after and/or what they're having a difficult time getting is the groundwork that informs every purchase I make. Thankfully, eBay has created tools that make this research much easier. Sellers can view completed sales to investigate final prices and save keyword search terms for ongoing sales research.

Stay Ahead of the Trends

Once I know what’s selling and for how much, I can’t get too complacent. The marketplace is fickle and trends are constantly changing. Staying ahead of trends helps me be “first on the scene” for potential buyers and helps avoid paying more for these items when the word has gotten out.

Understand Your Area

Once I know what’s selling online, I can see opportunities for profit around my physical location. For instance, in the Midwest most people ignore mid-century furniture or accessories. But online, there’s no category that’s hotter right now. Though the locals may chuckle, I know that finding a 1950s starburst clock or 1960s “BoHo” purse is money in the bank.

Price to Move

Other sellers may argue with me on this one, but I price my items to move them quickly. For me, sitting on an item for two months while I wait to get my ideal price is frustrating, time-consuming, and typically futile. If an item doesn’t sell at my first listing price, I lower it until it I can (still profitably) move it. Only as a last resort do I sell to break even — and that’s just to recoup my investment and move on something more profitable.

eBay will continue to evolve and selling on eBay (or sites like it) will continue to be a challenge as even more people get in the game and the sources of good used items erode. But for the moment, there’s still a bit of meat on the bone, as my grandfather would say. You just have to look harder for it.

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Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, packing materials are the BANE of my existence. I think just mailing something off to someone has pretty much eaten up any profits I might have made on, say, Etsy!

Guest's picture

In the 'Midwest' people most people ignore mid-century furniture or accessories? What sloppy journalism! Who, exactly, lives in the 'Midwest' - a hypothetical eBay seller, or Kentin Waits himself? I think the phenom he's attempting to explain (however clumsily) is an 'urban' vs. 'rural' (or even hokey-suburban, as opposed to 'cool'-suburban) one, not a 'Midwest' (vs. everywhere 'cool') one. I'm sure designers living in Chicago (or another large city in the dreaded, vaguely-defined 'Midwest') are more interested in up-market mid-Century decor, etc. (hell, some of them helped invent it back in the day) than some random person in in a rural part of a 'coastal' state (ooh, my fingers feel elevated even for having typed 'coastal'). Or a non-coastal Southern state, for that matter. But it's somehow especially chic in this particular moment to bash this nebulous place called the 'Midwest' - which is not an actual geographic place but rather the linguistic symbol du jour for general non-cool/non-urban-ness.

Ok, I've said my piece. And my god, do I wish I could go back to the 'Midwest.' I've never seen so many Applebees-eating, Kohl's-wearing non-mid-century-interested people in my life as where I currently live (in Fairfax, VA, west of DC).

Guest's picture

Good call. I found that offensive as well. I'm from the 'Midwest' and still reside near Chicago.

Kentin Waits's picture

Rereading the article, I don't think I made any kind of value judgement about Midwesterners. I was born and raised here myself. I was simply pointing out how different parts of the country have slightly different aesthetics and trends can be regional at times. Thanks for the comment, but no hate towards the Midwest here!

Guest's picture

Not to be too contrarian: I think that dropping your prices consistently when they don't sell right away is not (in general) a good plan. Savvy buyers may catch on to your habits and wait you out. Also, perception of value is part of the key to getting the sale. Dropping prices also drops the perceived value, and consequently, the interest in the item. It is merely psychological, but all sales really are.

I keep a jacket up for two months knowing it was a rare item in pristine condition, no way was I going to drop my opening bid demand. I ended up selling it for twice my original "Buy It Now" fee. So my patience was rewarded. For some items, it's worth it to wait for your audience to find you. Especially when we consider these economic times. Everyone's sales percentages are down.

I did enjoy your article and writing style.