9 Tips for Selling Your Stuff Online (and Actually Making Some Money)

how to sell things online

There’s a platform for anything you could possibly imagine selling.

I know because I’ve made $24,000 in eight years selling my unwanted stuff online. I’ve sold it all, from Beanie Babies to a Toyota Tacoma on Craigslist, extra concert and sports tickets on StubHub, and designer clothing auctions on eBay.

Short of creating your own website or storefront, here’s how you can use these online marketplaces to make your own extra cash.

1. Figure out what you want to sell

To answer the question of what you should sell online, start with your motivation. You might be saving your first $1,000 or trying to reduce your student loan debt.

Most of us have at least a few valuable items we’re willing to part with in order to reach a financial goal. You might discover these items when spring cleaning or moving from one home to the next. They’re the things you can live without and won’t regret leaving behind. Some of them are too big to land in the trash or donation pile.

Bored during the summer after my junior year of college, for example, I helped my dad sell a beat-up Chevrolet Suburban, a TV, and some furniture for $10,500. It was my way of declining family heirlooms.

A year later, I was graduating from college when I listed my bed, couch, and bicycle. That put $750 in my pocket as I was purging for my next move.

As you make your own to-sell pile, realize that not all items can be sold legally online. Illegal items include anything from alcohol to weapons and certain plants on eBay, for example.

Next, focus on peddling items that could actually turn a profit. Some quick math can help you determine the value of a given item. If it takes 10 minutes to collect the details of an item and snap a picture of it for an online post, is it worth $20? Well, if you made $20 every 10 minutes at your real job, you wouldn’t need to sell stuff online.

To be fair, more than 10 minutes will be necessary to field offers and ship or hand off an item. Plus, you might incur a seller’s fee. But we’ll get to all that in a minute.

2. Name your price

Once you have found an item worth selling, pricing it is the next step. All sorts of factors can affect the actual price, including whether you’re desperate to sell or are merely fishing for an offer you can’t turn down.

No matter your situation, you should start with a little bit of old-fashioned market research. Find out what you paid for the item and how long ago you purchased it. Also, see what it’s going for now if it (or a newer model) is still for sale on a retail website.

There might also be an industry source to go by. When I sold my first car, for example, I searched Kelley Blue Book (KBB). I cited the KBB value to a Craigslist haggler, refusing to back down from my fair asking price. He came back a week later and met it.

Consider too what other secondhand sellers are pricing your item for on online marketplaces. If your item is in better condition compared to similar listings, you could justify a higher price. If your item is more run-of-the-mill than one-of-a-kind, you might be tempted to undercut your competitors with a discount.

But if you price something too low — say an iPhone for $40 — you might scare off some buyers who think it’s a scam.

3. Make pricing a science, not an art

Use all the information you have to make your best guess. These days, you’ll have some automated help from your preferred marketplace. At eBay, for example, you’ll receive a price recommendation before finalizing a post.

Newer platforms go a step further. Chairish (for specialized furniture) has a pricing guide called Pink Book. ThredUp (for designer clothing) has a payout estimator for every brand’s popular items.

When in doubt, rely on the rules of supply and demand. When living in Brooklyn a few years ago, for example, I was readying to sell an antique typewriter. Thinking it was a collector’s item worth hundreds of dollars, I was disappointed when I saw Craigslist and eBay flooded with similar models. It seemed everyone had ransacked their grandparents’ garages.

The going rate was about $75 to $100 for a working typewriter. Mine was in good shape and included the original operating instructions and carrying case, ink cartridges, and printer paper. It sold for $150 about 10 days later.

4. Choose where to list your item

How much you sell an item for is predicated in part on where you try to sell it. On eBay, for example, you could create a timed auction or set a buy-now price. On Craigslist, you could set a starting price as an opening for negotiations and then solicit offers.

If you’re just trying to make some quick cash, you also might sell something cheaply on Craigslist, where folks are known to skim for trash-heap finds. But if you have more time to find the right buyer, you could turn around and sell the same exact item at a marked-up price on a more sophisticated website like Chairish.

In other words, it’s not always wise to go where the most buyers are. You’re looking for the right kind of buyers.

If a mass audience is right for your item, consider that eBay and Etsy, a marketplace for craft goods, are among America’s 10 most-visited retail websites, according to Statista:

best websites to sell stuff

Image credit: Statista

Although there are platforms for other regions — eBid was the United Kingdom’s response to eBay, for example — here are the biggest players in the U.S.:

Marketplace Best use
Craigslist Furniture, lower-value items that you want to sell in a hurry
eBay Electronics or unique items that might spark a bidding war
StubHub Tickets for concerts or sporting events
Etsy Handmade or antique items for an international audience
Amazon Lightly used books and electronics; anything with a barcode

The more specialized your product, the more likely you’ll have other websites to choose from. Used phones, for example, can find new homes on Gazelle; vehicles are likely to get looks on CarDaddy.

Poshmark might be a fit if you’re looking to make serious cash by selling clothes. There are also a number of sites to sell your textbooks.

For general use, you might also consider apps like LetGo and 5miles, which offer more modern user interfaces and faster posting and messaging than traditional platforms.

5. Watch out for seller’s fees

When choosing between platforms for your for-sale items, one determining factor should be fees. If you’re selling high-quality furniture, you might reach a higher-spending buyer on AptDeco, for example, but the site will take 23 percent of your profits. Some quick math will tell you whether you’re better off selling it at a lower price on Craigslist.

Don’t forget about other fee-free ways to sell. You might first post your unwanted items to your social media feeds, giving your friends first dibs. Facebook has launched Marketplace, for example, to appease users who had been selling items via status updates and groups.

If you’re selling a few items instead of starting a garage sale business, it would be wise to steer clear of high-fee sites. On Amazon, for example, individual sellers aren’t charged a subscription fee but are hit with a 99-cent fee on each item sold.

Other sites might charge you a listing fee, whether the item sells or not. Etsy, for example, charges you nothing to set up your storefront, but it does take 20 cents for each listing and 3.5 percent of every sale.

You can use a marketplace’s fee calculator (if it has one) to help you calculate your return before posting an item.

One piece of good news: If you’re selling a few items that have depreciated in value, you likely won’t need to pay taxes on the sales. But if you start running a side business, selling 200 items for more than $20,000 overall, you’ll have to report extra income to the IRS.

6. Advertise with an attractive post

On any of these websites and apps, you’ll need to create an account. For most of them, you might need to connect a bank or PayPal account to receive payment.

If you did your homework on your item, creating the listing itself is the easy part. Most platforms have made posting seamless. The newer platform OfferUp, for example, says you can create one in 30 seconds or less.

If you have a lot of items to sell, speed is important, but so are the details. They can make or break your posts.

Generally speaking, you’ll start by choosing the categories of your post. When I sold my typewriter, for example, I listed it under both antiques and general items. This makes listings searchable for browsers who aren’t in the market for anything specific.

The listing itself will be created by filling out a basic form. The headline should include whatever the buyer might search for. In most cases, that will be the brand name and product type, such as “Olympia SM3 Typewriter from 1959, in great condition with carrying case.”

You might also include a deadline in your headline (“Pick up by Tuesday”) if you’re in a rush or want to encourage on-the-fence buyers to act fast.

A succinct description should tell buyers what they need — and might want — to know about your item. Anticipate their questions:

  • What is it, and what does it do?
  • How long have you owned it?
  • How did you acquire it?
  • Does it have scratches or dings, and does it work?
  • How can I pick up the item, or how much will shipping be?
  • Is the price negotiable?

You’ll also be encouraged to include photos of your item. Using natural light instead of a camera’s flash is one of many common sense rules to follow. Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer. Imagine your skepticism about the condition of an item if there are poorly lit photos or no images at all.

You’ll want to present your item from different angles, even unflattering ones. It’s better to show wear and tear upfront and scare off potential buyers than have a buyer return your item and leave a nasty review.

7. Consider different types of posts

When creating a post for one item, you might also consider advertising other items, too. You could batch a bunch of items, each with their own sale price, together in one post. This is a good way to promote a yard sale and attract buyers who are in the market for more than one thing, such as multiple pieces of bedroom furniture.

You might also create a lot-style post, lumping a bunch of similar items into a single price. I once sold an iPad, a case, and a wireless keyboard together, for example.

You can help your posts gain traction by sharing links to them on your social media profiles and being communicative with potential buyers. It’s also wise to seek out your marketplace’s customer support or already-written posting guidelines. eBay’s tips for sellers, for example, can be extremely helpful.

8. Send the items to your buyer

You might have also chosen your marketplace because of the way it gets your goods to your buyer. On eBay, you create a shipping label and drop it off at a postage center. On Amazon, you could send your item to a fulfillment warehouse before it’s even sold.

Both marketplaces (and others like it) include shipping costs. Make the buyer aware of the cost — and their responsibility to pay it — to keep it off your balance sheet.

On Craigslist and other direct-sale sites, the process might be quicker for you and cheaper for the buyer. Typically, you’ll sell items to buyers who live in your city, even your neighborhood. If the item is especially unique, you might have someone driving from across the state.

In-person sales might be simpler, but they’re not as safe. Avoid hosting strangers in your home. To close my most recent sale, a seven-string Chinese zither that was hogging my girlfriend’s closet space, I asked the buyer to meet me in the lobby of my office. Depending on where you live, you might see if carrying out transactions at your local police station is possible.

The media is fond of reporting that more than 100 murders have been linked to Craigslist. Although it’s extremely unlikely you’ll sell to someone who means you any harm, don’t take any chances by leaving yourself vulnerable.

When you’re selling something that’s too big to move out of your home or driveway, have a friend with you and make the sale in public. Even give your cross streets to a potential buyer instead of your physical address. That allows you to size someone up before inviting them inside.

9. Be cautious online, too

Being wise about how you share private information online can also keep you safe offline. No matter your preferred marketplace, avoid providing personal details or contact information in posts. Scams also run rampant on sites and can infiltrate your email inbox.

Use your marketplace’s secure system. Craigslist anonymizes your email address when you email back and forth with buyers, for instance, and most other marketplaces have on-site or in-app messaging.

Be aware that not everything you post will sell, at least not right away. In nearly eight years of using Craigslist, 73 percent of my posts ended in sales (yes, I tallied it). I haven’t been able to get rid of seven seasons of Seinfeld DVDs, though, so if you know someone …

Your unwanted stuff can take you places

Knowing what items to sell and how to sell them are the key learnings, as your choice of online marketplace might vary from item to item. In fact, your choice of marketplace might not be a choice at all. Nothing is stopping you from listing your unwanted stuff in multiple places.

Although it might be frowned upon by the sites themselves, it’s a practice that ensures your items will reach the largest possible audience. You’ll just want to avoid posting on more than one platform that allows the user to buy with a single click, like eBay and Amazon.

As you make sales, remember why you’re putting in the effort in the first place. Your motivation will be different than mine, and it will change over time.

The best part is that selling stuff online can pay dividends for more important goals offline. Emptying my college apartment financed my move to New York City. And three years later, emptying my New York City apartment paid for a month-long trip to Scandinavia.

So, ask yourself: What will selling your stuff allow you to do? Then, get selling.

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