Dig­i­tal Life Matthew Web­ster

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

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.

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