Digital Life Matthew Webster
Allow me to introduce you to the world of the online reseller. This is an internetinvigorated version of a very old trade – that 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 well-heeled areas. But before the internet it was a rather dingy business – not one in which a gentleman would engage.
Not now. The growth of online platforms such as Amazon, ebay and others, which allow anyone to sell almost anything, has led to a huge increase in the number of people setting up online businesses.
What’s more, and most intriguingly to 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 who do.
One couple I know have been trading for 15 years. They had both 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 reselling computer games, and grandmothers augmenting pensions by 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, market stall or 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 resellers 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 10 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 per cent of your sale price in 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 £10 pounds, you might get about£5 profit, from which you must deduct your own time and any other costs. Much less than £5 and it will begin to feel like hard work for not much return.
The second rule is to stick to items that 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 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 decluttering; go round the house, looking for items that you no longer need, 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 more than £1,000. And to think I was about to throw them all in a skip.