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OtherIamA online seller who sells on Amazon and eBay for a living: AMA!

Jan 8th 2017 by 819lavoie • 19 Questions • 233 Points

As per requested by /u/kadegod: original thread

My short bio: I've been in the online retail industry since 2004-2005 where I was working for a bicycle retailer who wanted to sell online to help go through the long winters here in Québec, Canada. We sold mainly on eBay. I worked there until 2010-2011 because I wanted to do my own thing and I needed to finish my studies. In 2012, my ex-employer won eBay Canada's entrepreneur of the year.

In 2011 I started my own online business with a friend and started selling adult toys (very few people know this) because that was the only account we were able to open with a wholesaler. After about a year, we were able to open an account with Globe and Dwindle; which mainly sold us shoes, apparel, skateboards and longboards. Not too long after, my friend had to leave town for studies and I purchased his remaining part of the business.

In 2013, I finished my bachelor's degree and opened a retail store front where I could store stock from distributors. Lots of manufactures require that you have a bricks and mortar store to open an account with them.

So basically I've been selling on eBay since 2004 for my ex-employer and since 2011 more seriously an full time for my own business. I've been selling on Amazon.com since late 2015. 2017 will be my second full year selling on there.

2013 eBay Canada's Young Entrepreneur Award

2016 eBay Canada's Micro-Multinational Award

My Proof: Recent articles:

Questions and answers

How did you come up with a product idea?

Like mentionned, I started selling adult toys at first. I then moved from that to skateboards, longboards, apparel and shoes. At this point, around 75% of my sales are sneakers/shoes.

How much time did it take ?

It took me a good +- 4 years to figure out what was, for my situation, the best items to sell on eBay and Amazon. I'm still learning and I'm always surprised to find new items that sell incredibly well... or incredibly badly!

Where should I search for an idea?

It all depends. Are you looking to do this full time or part time? Do you have lots of time to put into this? Browsing through Amazon and getting yourself some Amazon Pricing plugins on Chrome will help you analyse pricing from products. You'll then be able to figure out if some times can be worth it.

Is there a niche that I could be successful at?

Certainly. People are buying more and more online. But businesses don't seem to follow. Very often I find that the product I have access to isn't even listed on Amazon. It took me a while to figure out the best way to list it and to sync everything with my website and eBay. It always takes a little time for a new product to get some traction, but once it does, and you're the only one selling it, it can be a little gold mine! You simple have to test different things.

Is it at all worth it?

The right question for me would be: was experimenting selling on Amazon worth it even if you were already selling on eBay. My response would be: absolutely! Things work differently on Amazon and eBay. I would confidently say that those two completely different marketplaces nicely complete each other; for a seller like me at least! As someone who sells online for a living, I wouldn't see myself "not selling" on Amazon.

I'll be glad to try and answer any question you might have! Thank you! Edit1: So many questions, thank you so much for your interest. I'll try to answer everyone :) Edit2: Here's a picture when I had my two businesses. The hamburger joint only lasted 8 months.
Q:

So to get this straight, your best advice is to find an underrepresented product on Amazon or ebay and become a steady supplier?

A:

Yes. But the hard part is probably being able to get a steady supply of whatever item you're trying to sell. I normally suggest people working with whatever they're familiar with. If outdoor sports is your thing for example, you might want to stay in that branch. It makes things much more interesting and easier for you.

I've been able to do it for my niche. But I guess that each niche needs to be approached differently though.


Q:

its gross sales he isnt making 80k a month.

A:

Exactly. It's not pure profit. But selling online is far more efficient than having a store front. I'm the only owner and I have 4 part time employees doing +- 5 hours per week each.


Q:

China

A:

Almost everything comes from China. So in the end, you may say that I'm buying from China, Vietnam or Taiwan. But not directly.


Q:

How do you combat the people who receive your shipment and then claim it did not arrive or was not the item ordered?? Usually Ebay issues them a refund without question, I've heard.

A:

eBay: Sellers are safe when a tracking number indicates the item has been delivered. The item must be shipped to the buyer's Paypal address.

Amazon: Sellers are safe when a tracking number indicates the item has been delivered with a signature. If there's no signature and the buyer claims the item hasn't been delivered, you'll most likely have to refund

Both platforms strongly encourage sellers to work with their customers and find a solution. 99% of the time this works perfectly fine.


Q:

I'm intrigued about how you found your suppliers as well! Are they open and receptive to adding new contracts, and what are they looking for when you approach them?

A:

The easiest way to know that is to ask them yourself. Call them! Make 10, 20, 30 calls per day and ask the companies what they're searching for and how you could open an account with them.

Every company has their own requirements but you'll start seeing patterns from one business to another if you stay in the same market.


Q:

How do you feel about the sellers who buy up all the stock of hot items and scalp them for double price?

A:

You're probably referring to re-sellers? For sneakers for example? I think it's really a small portion of the market that gets badly influenced by that. I mean, it's not a new technique. People have been doing that for ages. It may work at a small scale, but if you're selling hundreds or thousands of different items, you'll probably won't have to worry about artificially spiking the prices of a specific item.

I personally try to find the items that are the most popular that will sell quickly. If I can give a good price and still make good profit and sell them faster, I think that's the best situation for me. People tend to be happier in the end and I make a quick sale/profit. I learned that being too greedy doesn't get you anywhere. Just my two cents!


Q:

It's a pretty despicable way to make a business, scalping other company's products at a higher price. In the concert and sport ticket business, it's pretty much universally loathed. It's taking another artist's material and profiting off it by gouging their devoted fans.

But doing so with a company's product as opposed to an artist's show is far less prevalent as an ethical dilemma, as there's no artist or art in play; just a faceless company and consumers. However the issue remains the same, as it's still ripping people off purely for personal profit.

Not that I'm opposed to a free market, I'm just opposed to the bottom feeders who use an absence of legislation as a excuse to ignore morality.

A:

I see your point. I'm with you on this.


Q:

what could ebay and amazon do better in their selling sites, respectively?

A:

Just on top of my head!

eBay A better way to manage inventory. eBay is an old website and still works like when the majority of it's listings were auctions. It's not the case anymore. The vast majority of listings are "Buy It Now" listings. That being said, when someone uses the "Buy it Now" button, the item is immediately removed from the seller's inventory even though the item isn't paid yet. This is a problem when the buyer doesn't have the intention of paying the item. They have a partial solution for this, but yet again, it has it's flaws and problems. This is a major issue with eBay. Inventory syncing is already a problem on it's own and eBay doesn't make it any easier.

Amazon Searching on Amazon is horrible. They tried so hard to standardize the products and search results that searching is painful. That's from a buyer's perspective.

From a seller's perspective, I think they make the cross boarder selling kind of complicated for no reason. I'm in Canada and I don't even bother trying to sell my products in Canada. Some listings are eligible, some others not - I still didn't get that part.

Also, listing and adding variations (sizes and colors) to an already listed product is SO painful and a long process. Listing products on Amazon, generally speaking, is a pain in the a**.


Q:

Do you not use the listing templates CSV files? It's how we do it and it's pretty efficient for variations

A:

Yes, I did try that once or twice. But that's kind of complicated? and a lot of things to do considering you could simple click on a button to add your variations. I use this technique that I found on YouTube. I actually found how to do it a few months back - after learning how to build a listing from scratch.

In my case and it's probably the same thing for lots of other stores, I have to sync my inventory from my website and eBay. If you could simply add variations and it would create a new ASIN, it would be much easier.

People tend to list items without variations (eg. Asics Men Shoes Red 12 US/48EU/11UK). Then when I want to add variations, I just create a listing without a size 12US variation and add my offer for the size 12US listing. What would you suggest doing in that situation? In the worst case scenario, I could contact Amazon support and ask to merge both listings afterwards...


Q:

I am about to start selling on ebay. I have a decent amount of collectables and other items that I have been unable to unload through craigslist. I already have a verified PayPal account. Any advise or tutorials you'd recommend?

A:

Sell worldwide. If you're in the United-States, I think you have access to the Global Shipping Program. If you're comfortable shipping worldwide yourself, do it. If you don't want to take the time to verify international shipping prices, simply opt for the Global Shipping Program.


Q:

Hey! I love this stuff. As a college student, do you think there's any way of being able to do this on a smaller scale to make money? Obviously not as much as you are making, but maybe even a thousand or even less a month? That goes a long way as a student trying to make side money. I'd really appreciate any advice.

A:

For sure! That's how I was able to go by during my studies.

A good friend of mine had some spare time after his office job. He always stopped by my store to say hi. After teaching him a few tips and tricks, he started purchasing from Canadian Governement Surplus. Basically it's items the government are getting rid of. He bids on items and picks them up from a governement warehouse not too far from our city. I quickly Googled "US Governement Surplus" and found that website.

It's just an example. As long as it sells online, why not! Selling on eBay would be your easiest option. Once things get rolling bit, you'll have so much fun doing it. Hope this helps!


Q:

Sweet! Thanks. What about wholesale stuff? As in, do you think it's possible to take $1,000 or so, buy something in bulk wholesale, and sell it online? Or am I too small scale to be working with that of stuff?

A:

From my perspective, wholesale doesn't necessarily mean inevitable profit. The distributor requiring a minimum order of 1000 units doesn't necessarily mean he's selling them for less than anyone else.

You could try going in thrift stores. I know some people do it. You can find branded items that still sell for a lot. I would go slowly; especially if you only have 1000$ to use. Buying 1000$ of wholesale shirts or chairs won't get you nowhere if you can't sell them.

Be careful because it's now easier than ever for anyone to purchase in bulk from China. Your niche is as important as the "deal" you'll be search for itself.

eBay is easy as hell and you can do it from home.

  • Start slowly.
  • Go bigger if it works.
  • Repeat.
  • ????
  • Profit

Q:

Alright, yeah I've flipped a few items before. My only thing with flipping is I feel like I put in hours of work to find items, research if they can turn a profit, buy them, list them, sell them, and ship them, and then when it's all said and done I've only made a $20 profit. Maybe it's just because I'm new and don't know what I'm doing yet very well.

The hard part for me is, as a student who is also in some pretty time consuming extracurricular groups, finding the time to go to thrift stores. I would love for there to be a way to flip products all online. As in, I buy something online, have it shipped to me, and then sell it again online. I know it's pretty hard to do that with individual items, so that's why I was curious about wholesale.

A:

I totally understand - and you're right, it IS time consuming.

Maybe you can let them know of your business model? Let them know your plan and that you'd like to purchase multiple pieces of apparel. If it works, you'll be back for more. You can ask them for an additional discount. Let's say, 5$ per item. That way you know you'll be able to turn every single piece of apparel into a profit. This will result into purchasing more. It would be more stimulating if you blitz one time a week and list every item on eBay. If you can turn each item into 30$ and you purchase 10 a week, it's not bad. Minus shipping charges and eBay fees, you're making 10$ a piece or 100$/week. It won't go this fast at first, but give it some time. Great example would be this store "Round Two". They purchase used shoes and apparel and re-sell them. Lots of people come in with awesome little treasures found in thrift stores.

Wholesale may work if you find something nice. I wouldn't be able to help you though. Normally it's a more saturated market. Classic niches would be to purchase thousands or USB-C wires at 1$ from China and sell them for 4$ within the United-States and ship them with USPS. You can create different combos (eg. 2 wires, 1x wire and one charging block, 5x wires, 1x wire one charging block and one case, etc.) That should work, but look how many people do it around. You normally have to keep up to date for newer technologies and accessories. Also, be sure your plug is reliable and ships relatively fast. You can also ask for samples and purchase them. You can ask for express shipping so you don't wait a month to get your samples. Ask for better deals and present yourself as a potential wholesale buyer.

Try it!


Q:

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

A:

Must be working for myself. My confidence in myself, especially for business decisions, has grown considerably.

The best part of it is choosing your own hours. The idea of getting stuck in traffic just demoralizes me. I start at 11am and finish around 6pm. Never do I need "Travel time to job" notifications from Google :)


Q:

Fav hockey team? Careful, there IS a correct answer...

A:

Haha I'm not a huge professionnal sports fan. Though I respect everything about it. Since I'm in Quebec, I go to Montreal Impact soccer games or Ottawa Senators hockey games when I can. But I have to say that I have a small preference for the Montreal Canadians :)


Q:

Wrong answer ;) pulls lever

A:

Haha darn it! I sell Team North America World Cup jerseys if this can help! They're actually quite popular. It's probably a safe bet, independently of where you are , if you want to wear a hockey jersey and not offend anyone lol.


Q:

What is your rate of returns?

A:

I calculated around 5%. 80% of those returns are made on Amazon. eBay has a much lower return rate. In both situations, the buyer is responsible to return the item to our store.


Q:

Have you ever considered making an online store? Like, instead of eBay or Amazon make your own site to sell things

A:

I do have my website with the same items listed. It's ridiculous how people blindly go on eBay or Amazon. Sometimes I see order from my website where people actually took the time to "Google" the product and found it for less on the website.

What's more incredible is buyers sometimes paying up to 50% more on Amazon for the same item. Crazy how prices can differ from one platform to the other.


Q:

What is your gross margin?

What is the next level for your business in terms of scale?

Whats are the biggest risks involved?

Cool work man, jealous!! ;)

A:
  • What is your gross margin?

Technically, in the market I'm working in, the gross marging is 40-50%. But it goes down if you need to ship your items.

  • What is the next level for your business in terms of scale?

The current problem is growing my warehouse. Finding more space for my inventory. As of right now, I'm renting the commercial space I'm using. I've been there since 2013 but I'm slowly searching for something to purchase. I may be able to stay at my current location if I purchase the whole block. The owner wants to sell, but in only 4-5 years. I can't wait for him to take a decision though.

  • Whats are the biggest risks involved?

Probably buying large quantities of inventory. But that's why I try to "test" stuff before. If an item sells well, I can purchase more and so on. The more you "bet", the more you can "win". Just like at the casino. But you try to keep the odds on your side.

Thank you, I appreciate the comment :)