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The reselling world

October 2018

Allow me to introduce you to the world of the online reseller.  This is an internet invigorated version of a very old trade – the trade of market stall holders, tinkers and house clearers.  Since time began, quick-witted dealers have been buying what some thought of as rubbish and selling it to other people who valued it more.  That’s why the Steptoes used to take their cart through the well-heeled areas.  But until the internet arrived, this was a rather dingy business – at least, not one in which a gentleman would engage.

Not now.  The growth of online platforms like Amazon and eBay, and others, which allow anyone to sell almost anything, has seen a huge increase in the number of people setting up online businesses.

What’s more, and most intriguingly for me, they are a new breed, not the Private Walkers and Steptoes they might once have been.  Many nowadays are graduates who have given up safe jobs to earn more by selling things that some people don’t want to those that do.

One couple I know has been trading for 15 years.  They both had had good, well-paid public sector jobs but ditched them to do this full time.  From the proceeds, they have bought themselves a house, paid off the mortgage and enjoyed a comfortable living on their own terms.

I have come across undergraduates funding themselves by re-selling computer games, grandmothers augmenting pensions selling clothes.

It is all because the internet, together with the growth in delivery services, allows us to do business worldwide without having to engage directly with our customers, at least not face to face.  So, we don’t need a shop, a market stall or a white van. 

Some traders specialise, of course. One I know only trades in Lego.  He buys any old boxes or even sacks of Lego, cleans it (in the dishwasher), sorts it and sells it.  That’s in the morning; in the afternoon he plays golf or sails.

However, most re-sellers are generalists, and almost all find their stock the old-fashioned way, from car boot sales, charity shops, jumble sales, auctions and recycling websites.

If this sort of thing appeals, there are some rules you should know, which the professionals apply.

The first is that if you can’t sell what you buy for at least ten times what you paid, it’s probably not worth doing unless there is almost no work involved (cleaning, sorting, mending).  You can lose up to 40% of your sale price in sale costs: Amazon or eBay charges, PayPal or credit card fees, packaging, postage and so on.   So, if you can buy something for a pound and sell it for ten pounds, you might get about £5.00 profit, from which you must deduct your own time and any other costs.  Much less than £5.00 and it will begin to feel like hard work for not much return.

The second rule is to stick to items which people tend to get rid of after only using them a few times.  This might be camping gear, toys, kitchen gadgets, sports equipment and clothes.  There are always new people entering those markets for the first time.

Thirdly, you really need to learn the online value of things.  A good way to dip your toe in the water might be to do some de-cluttering; go around the house looking for items that you no longer need that might sell, look for them on eBay or Amazon and see what they go for.  I recently did this with a load of old technical stuff – a couple of broken laptops, some old phones, iPods and some tools. 

To our astonishment, we made over £1,000.  And to think I was about to throw them all in a skip.


A few extra pojnts to consider if you want to have a go

You don’t need your own website – sell via one or more of the four main platforms:,, and  All those sites have detailed explanations of how to proceed.

You will almost certainly need a PayPal Account – this is only a bank account that integrates well with online sales.  It is owned by eBay but can be used in lots of places.

There are millions of websites which offer advice on how to sell online – please be very wary.  It is generally better to learn by experience than to be sucked into paying for tuition, which is all too easy.

Start slowly – once you get the hang of it, you can pick up the pace,

There are any number of re-sellers posting videos of their exploits on YouTube which may help you assess your chances – you might try Nic & Andrea Hills as an introduction:  Click here