Once upon a proverb, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was just another way of saying, as 1960s hipsters did, “Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.”
Then came the internet and eBay, followed by dozens of innovative imitators. Now, all kinds of household castoffs can find fresh life under new ownership.
And you, with your tight budget and daunting piles of debt, can get in on the action. There is a way to eliminate, or at least lighten, the load of debt that your load of used furniture, tools, housewares, clothes, etc. helped create.
In other words: These days, there truly is treasure in your trash.
Recommerce — selling previously owned items — is huge and growing. Sustainability-conscious millennials, in particular, embrace “thrifting” — buying second-hand goods for dimes on the retail dollar. Industry analysts predict the resale industry in all its forms (brick-and-mortar as well as online) will double by 2022 to $41 billion.
Where You, Too, Can Wheel and Deal
How do you get a piece of that action? It helps to know the players, of course — not just the big-name general stores, such as eBay, Craigslist, Bonanza, and the Amazon and Facebook marketplaces, but also those that specialize, for instance:
- Used fashions, accessories: The RealReal, thredUP, Tradesy
- Vintage, antiques, collectibles: RubyLane, Chairish
- Furniture, home goods: EBTH (Everything But the House)
- Jewelry: Ex-Boyfriend Jewelry
- DVDs, CDs, games: Decluttr, SecondSpin, Abundatrade
- Electronics: BuyMyTronics, Gazelle, Swappa, NextWorth, SellCell (PC magazine is among the reputable publications with device-wiping instructions)
- Local buyers: OfferUp, VarageSale, LetGo, 5miles, Next-door
- Wedding gear: NearlyNewlyWed, StillWhite.com, OnceWed
- Musical instruments: Reverb
And that’s barely scratching the surface. Enter “sell my” followed by any letter of the alphabet — including q, x, and z — into your favorite search engine, and it’ll instantly provide you the top 10 most-entered phrases, everything from including “sell my antique car” and “sell my guitar” to “sell my Quinceanera dress” and “sell my Zimbabwe dollars.”
Disappointingly, “sell my zebra” has nothing to do with subSaharan equines.
In short, market your surplus stuff online, and your shop window opens onto the world. Those in the know recommend online selling far above organizing a garage sale or hiking down to the local consignment shop.
“With garage sales, you only get local buyers,” says veteran online peddler and blogger (My Money Chronicles) Jason Butler. “If you sell [online], you can get global buyers.” Butler rejects consignment shops out of hand: “They don’t pay enough.”
Selling Fast — Without a Garage Sale
Knowing where to peddle your used stuff is only the beginning. Know the techniques of successful sellers and you’ll sell more of your stuff faster and for higher returns.
Wait, you can sell fast online? Conventional wisdom says if you want to move lots of merchandise fast, a well-advertised garage/yard sale is your best option.
Conventional wisdom never met Liz Jeneault, marketing vice president for Faveable, sort of an online Consumer Reports. When she bolted television news in Austin, Texas, for her new employer’s Philadelphia headquarters, she and her “little family” downsized by about 60%, scoring enough in a matter of a few weeks to pay for their move by listing with Letgo.
Jeneault sold everything from a velvet couch and a sectional to an armoire, a fire pit, and a treadmill, and more. Her keys to selling? High-quality photos, thorough and energetic descriptions, and invitations to contact her with questions.
Getting Started: Do Your Homework
Getting started can be unsettling, but most sites provide primers. Remember, they want you to succeed.
In the headline, describe your item as completely as possible, otherwise the vendor’s search engine might miss it. Selling a Samsung 55-inch smart TV? Say that. Do not say: “used flatscreen.” Provide complete, lively, and accurate descriptions. Be honest about the condition of what you’re selling. If there’s a flaw, point it out.
“Always be 100% honest about any defects or damage,” says Los Angeles-based interior/furniture designer John Linden, whose background includes moving used furniture via online sites. “The buyer is going to find out eventually, so why lie to them?
“Remember,” Linden continues, “your success on a platform like eBay depends almost entirely on your reputation.”
Echoing Linden, online-selling veteran Heather Kavolino says honesty regarding blemishes, stains, defects, or flaws “is a zero-tolerance policy.”
“Customers deserve to have all the facts and make an educated decision about buying,” she says. Being forthright in your description is one way. Providing “good quality” photos is another.
Use Pictures to Tell Your Item’s Story
The founder of Gypsy Spoonful, sort of a boutique Etsy for customers who favor a personal shopping experience, Kavolino commends the storytelling abilities of an array of pictures.
“The customer can not pick up or inspect your item,” she says, “so your photos need to do this for them.”
You needn’t sink several hundred dollars into a professional camera. Chances are, your smartphone camera will perform well enough; just make sure the lighting is right. Review online tutorials and videos about creating a simple light box — or you could spring for an inexpensive (less than $50) portable photo studio.
Show the whole item from at least a couple of angles as well as a few close-up shots to reveal details and blemishes (if there are any). Is the item a coveted brand? Provide a shot of the logo or tag.
Nitty-Gritty: Pricing and Shipping
What about pricing? Here, research is everything. Shop the sites you’re considering using for each item you want to sell. Don’t pay much attention to the asking prices for items like yours; instead, search out actual recent sales. That’s where the market is. After all, you want real transactions with real buyers, not a fantasy kill with a nonexistent sucker.
Shipping, too, is usually a consideration. Online shoppers, even Amazon Prime members, are accustomed to absorbing shipping costs when they buy in the used marketplace. Be certain you know what your costs are and pass them along. Or offer to pay for shipping, but boost your price enough to cover the expense.
Consider this from Blue Daisy Books owner Jenny Wilson, who’s turned online selling into a lucrative side hustle:
“Don’t be afraid to ask a little more for your item than other sellers,” she says. “I’ve found that people are willing to pay a little extra for items with detailed photos and descriptions.”
Let’s Be Careful Out There
One final thing to keep in mind: Recommerce has grown large enough that, in many jurisdictions, it commands the attention of local law enforcement — in a good way. Responding to reports of local online sales handoffs going bad, plenty of police departments and sheriff’s offices have established “safe-exchange” zones.
If you’re selling to someone local, check with the local constabulary for its recommendations on safe places to meet. Otherwise, meet in a well-lit public place during a busy time of day.
After all, you want to sell your unwanted stuff to help ease your budget crunch, not wind up on the wrong end of a mugging.
Tom Jackson focuses on writing about debt solutions for consumers struggling to make ends meet. His background includes time as a columnist for newspapers in Washington D.C., Tampa and Sacramento, Calif., where he reported and commented on everything from city and state budgets to the marketing of local businesses and how the business of professional sports impacts a city. Along the way, he has racked up state and national awards for writing, editing and design. Tom’s blogging on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.
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