2# Find the Deals — Of course, all the knowledge in this world is useless with no product to sell. Over the course of the three years, during which I was selling on eBay, I changed my tactics quite a few times. It was always a matter of getting creative and devising new strategies to find the best deals that would turn in the best profits. There is one source however that I used since I started out, and kept using until the very last day: eBay itself. There are a number of auctions on eBay one can target to find deals below market value. Listings in the wrong category go for significantly less than those listed in the correct ones because they are missing impressions from those eBay users who browse by category. Misspelled names also tend to go for less. They are easy to spot if one browses by category. In order to find both of these types of listings I used to search both ways every day. If a listing has a misspelled title and is in the wrong category at the same time, it will be very hard to find. For this reason, I used to search both titles and descriptions because finding that kind of listing was like finding diamonds in the sand, especially one with a low starting bid and no reserve. Other listings that were worth trying were ones where the seller ships to the US only. Now, I do not live in the US, but, upon asking politely, most of them used to agree to ship to me. My trick was to make them think that I would place an extremely high bid on the item. This method stopped working as well as it used to, when George Bush declared war against the world, and some crazy nuts began sending me foolish replies such as, “I don’t sell to ferriners! GOD BLESS THE USA!” Thankfully, Obama fixed the mess, which that crazy man brought upon the world. I am proud to say that President Obama is one of the five people I admire most in the world. He is truly a great statesman, but it is better if I go back to making money on eBay before I digress too much into politics, and no one manages to stop me. Given the above, another tactic, which I used to employ, was to buy from the foreign eBay sites. This was particularly useful after George Bush’s War On Terror had begun. Many US-based collectors were not willing to buy from foreign sellers and that resulted in some great deals for me especially from countries such as the Philipinnes, South Africa, Greece and even Canada. Of course, there was an obvious downside to this, but more on that later. The final tactic I used was buying from high risk sellers. These are sellers that have zero feedback and want to be paid by bank transfer. “What?” you’re asking bewildered. “Are you crazy? No, Arthur, don’t! You will get scammed.” You know what? I never ever got scammed by a high risk seller. I managed to buy many gems for $20–$50 each using this method and sold them back for $200–$500. Had I got scammed once, twice or even ten times, I would have still made a massive profit. I was scammed on eBay as a buyer four times, but every time it was from different Powersellers who went nuts. I lost a total of $1200, which is nothing compared to the money I gained.
Something else I used when I entered the business was to contact local toy shops. This did not bring in much to my wallet. I managed to find a few items I could flip on eBay, but they were $20–$50 flips. The good thing about the whole deal was that the toy store owners only took pennies for them. Some actually paid me to have me remove those “old, useless toys” from their shops. Thirteen years ago, most people in Malta did not even have Internet access. Those who did had no clue that eBay existed. It was like taking candy from a three year old child. Yes, I know, I am evil…
After I depleted all toy stores in Malta and its whereabouts, I resorted to iBazar.it, an auction site similar to eBay, which served the Italian market. There were many great deals on that site. Many Transformers and Masters of the Universe were sold every day; so many in fact that I often had to pass great deals, such as a Transformers Ultra Magnus valued at $300 that was selling for $50, due to lack of funds to invest. I had the best time of my life making money on eBay by reselling merchandise that I bought on iBazar. Sadly, eBay bought iBazar in 2001 to shut down the place and replace it with eBay.it. That was unquestionably a great thing for the sellers who saw their sales quadruple, not so much for my business. But it took me only a few weeks to find yet another reservoir filled with Transformers.
This final source that I used was another foreign auctions site, and I am talking of none other than Yahoo Japan. Today that site is well known among US buyers, and there are many services that will act as agents to international buyers for a fee. Exactly, the biggest problem I faced on that site was the fact that the sellers will not ship overseas. Asking politely and learning Japanese did not help. I am sad to say that I got the impression that many Japanese people are extremely snobby. They even have a slang word to describe foreigners, but I forgot what that is. Can anyone of you remind me? Despite these issues, I finally managed to find a partner there, i.e. an agent who would help me in exchange for a percentage on my profits. I did factor out his commissions in the $30,000, which I said that I spent on my business. It was about $7000. I went on buying from Yahoo Japan and reselling on eBay for almost two years when one guy, a Canadian, signed up for the site and started bidding on each and every Transformers auction that he saw. He entered many bid wars and sometimes paid more for them than what they would sell for on eBay. He alone is responsible for the quick and drastic inflation that the prices for these collectibles sustained in 2003–2004 on that site. He was a reseller, of course. I still have no clue why he did that since he often ended making loses on many of the items he bought. And marginal profits at the very best on most others.
Once both iBazar and Yahoo Japan were out of the question, I kept using eBay to find deals but my profits started decreasing quickly. I did search for other sources but found none that were as good as those two.
3# Wait for Buyers —Making money on eBay is easy. There is no need to do SEO, link building or spend months writing up essays such as this one to get traffic. It is already there. The only thing we have to worry about is the competition. When selling a Panasonic TV, one will be competing with hundreds of other sellers. If one is an international seller with no feedback going against US-based Powersellers, his chances are next to nil. That is why I do not feel that those “guru products” that teach how to get rich on eBay buying televisions, make-up kits and hovers are legitimate. They all fail to address on-site competition. As such, making money on eBay becomes feasible only when one can offer something that no one else can. Obviously that something can be an extremely low price, but who wants to give away the merchandise found with so much hardship for potatoes?
I did have a decent feedback of about a hundred comments with no negative or neutral ones on my profile. The main issue was that US-based customers, who represented the majority of collectors for Transformers and MOTU, became very mistrustful about dealing with foreign sellers and buyers after the events of the Twin Towers in 2001. It was very obvious from the tone of the emails I was receiving in those days. Before 2001: “Hey man, I am a fellow collector and I want to buy your Mr Robot figure. How much is the shipping?” After 2001: “I am interested in the toy. Would you ship it first and I pay you later? Or can you send it to a friend in the States, so that I have to deal only with him?” Okay, I am not saying everyone was like that. Far from it, but receiving these sorts of emails became quite common and annoying too. Needless to say, I ignored them all.
So what I did to get an edge over the competition was to try and sell only the very rarest items I could find. If it is rare enough, you can bet that collectors would buy from me anyway, even had I been Cruella De Vil. I also set up a Web site called “Collector’s Heaven.” With hindsight, it was a terrible site, by the way. I also offered a 60 day money back guarantee and took any and all shipping risks on me. To protect myself from other resellers who wanted to take advantage of the mistrust that many US customers had against foreign sellers in those days, I always used the “Buy It Now” format rather than the typical auction style listings. I had to re-list the items most of the time, but, in those days eBay used to run many promotions offering free listing fees for one day on a different international site every month. For Example, in January they would offer free listings on eBay Italy and in February they would offer the same on eBay France. By listing my items on the appropriate site, I could list for free and not risk anything. I still used to manage to sell around 20% of my current stock every time I listed. Consider that I could only take payment through bank transfer or check, since Paypal was not available in Malta, back in the day. And I still made so many sales!
Believe it or not, this is basically how I did it. There is nothing more to it. Take into account that I was not even trying to make money. I only wanted to distract myself. There are many things I would do differently if I could go back with the knowledge I have today. I could have probably made twice as much money, but that will be a topic for another article. I am sure that even without Yahoo Japan and iBazar, I may somehow find new sources to get merchandise from, possibly by expanding my repertoire to other collectible toys beyond Transformers and MOTU. What really held me back from trying seriously were two things: I was much happier working as a graphic designer in the DVD industry, even though now I had to quit doing that due to my becoming visually impaired very recently. The other reason is Maltapost. The Maltese postal services were privatized years ago and since then the company that manages them quadrupled the postage rates. Shipping a standard sized Transformer to the US would cost $10 from within the continent, $20 from other European countries and about $50 from Malta! Can I compete with other sellers and still make a profit in today’s environment? I think not, but that should not stop you from trying. Making money on eBay is a very lucrative business. As far as I am concerned, I am going to apply what I learned during those years to selling digital goods that are as close as possible in nature to the toys which I used to sell: domains. I will report back on how I am doing shortly, so keep an eye on the site for more money making ideas!