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How to Come Up with Creative Ideas for What to Sell on eBay

Everyone who decides to start an eBay business has to make the all-important decision of what to sell.  The vast majority of new sellers immediately jump to the idea of selling the most popular, trendy items on the market.  Unfortunately, almost none of these items are viable for new sellers starting out -- for every high-profile, popular product out there, you can be sure that there are already many, many other people selling it on eBay.  You see, they had the same thought as everyone else -- they immediately decided to sell the most popular, trendy products available.

As a result, almost all of these products are over-saturated on eBay -- there's way too much competition for these items on eBay already.  And in most cases, the only sellers who are able to be successful selling these items are larger, high-volume, usually well-established eBay sellers with lots of money to invest in buying products by the truckload, placing orders of $100,000+ at a time, so they can then underprice everyone else and sell their products for a fraction of what other sellers can.

If you don't fall into that category, you just won't be able to succeed in selling those same products.  Nonetheless, this doesn't mean you should give up your plans to sell on eBay altogether.  Just because there are many products that are over-saturated and too competitive on eBay doesn't mean that ALL of the products on eBay are over-saturated and too competitive.  Indeed, there are thousands of products and categories for which there's plenty of room for other sellers to break into the market and compete successfully.  You just have to be more creative than all the sellers who jump on the trendy bandwagon and find themselves drowning in MP3 players they can't sell.  And that's what will be covered in this article.

Step 1 - Eliminate Risky Products/Categories

The first thing to do is make a list of as many popular, trendy products as possible, so you can make sure to avoid them like the plague.  If you can only think of a few, visit eBay Popular Items and look at the list of the top 10 most popular searches and those will almost always be among the main products to avoid:

  • ipod
  • xbox 360
  • ipod touch
  • verizon cell phones
  • iphone 
  • xbox 360 console
  • playstation
  • coach handbags

In addition to the most popular eBay searches listed above, these 5 categories (which almost always correspond to the most popular searches/products) should also be avoided in most cases, if possible, not just because they're so competitive, but also because eBay considers them high-risk categories, and PayPal will likely hold most if not all of your payments from buyers for items in these categories, even if you're an experienced, longtime eBay seller:

  • Electronics
  • Computers & Networking
  • Cameras & Photo
  • Cell Phones & PDAs
  • Video Games (particularly video game systems)

Step 2 - Start at Home

Sell Items from Home - The best thing to do when you're first starting out selling on eBay is to stop, take a deep breath, and pace yourself.  And part of doing that is to hold off on jumping right into dropshipping, wholesaling, or liquidation, and start out slowly, by selling items you already have at home with which you are willing to part.

Some people have a hard time thinking of anything they may have at home to sell on eBay, so eBay has created a wonderful feature called "The Idea House", which takes you through the standard rooms in a house and points out possible products in each room you might be able to sell on eBay:

eBay's Idea House

Garage Sales, Classifieds and Thrift Stores - If you're just recently started selling on eBay and you run out of products from home to sell, before making the leap into dropshipping or wholesaling, a few other fantastic and very underutilized potential sources of viable products are local, offline sources, such as garage/yard sales, local classifieds, and thrift stores. 

Although more and more of the world is going digital, all you have to do is look in the newspaper classifieds or drive around your neighborhood on the weekend to realize how many people still cling to old-fashioned sales methods like yard sales, and either don't know how to or feel uncomfortable listing their unwanted items for sale online.  If they only knew what they were missing...

Well, now you have an opportunity to take advantage of that situation and be the one who REALLY makes a profit from others' unwanted items.  Naturally, many of the items you find at yard sales won't be worth selling online, but you'd be surprised at how many ARE, particularly if you go about finding these products in a thorough, methodical and strategic way. 

First of all, it goes without saying that you should get up early the day of the yard sale and be one of the first ones there; otherwise, all of the good stuff will be gone.  Or what's even better is to look in the newspaper classifieds to see who has posted announcements of their upcoming yard sales, call them in advance, and tell them you have to go out of town or something and can't be there the day of the yard sale, and ask if they'd be willing to let you come to their house early and select your purchases.  You can offer them an additional 10% on each product you decide to buy, to make it worth their while. 

Similar to yard sales, many thrift stores sell unwanted items people have donated.  Although the prices are generally higher than what you'll find at most yard sales, the quality of the products is usually higher as well, since most thrift stores will only accept items that are in fairly good condition.  The secret with thrift stores is to ask one of the employees what day they put out their new acquisitions if week, if any, and show up right when the store opens on that day. 

The generally least promising but still potentially viable offline source of products is the newspaper classifieds.  The reason why it's usually the least promising is that, depending on the newspaper's audience size, newspaper classifieds usually have a much larger audience and therefore, potential buyer pool, than yard sales (except those posted in the classifieds) and thrift stores, which normally just attract buyers within a relatively small range of the store.  Plus, since it usually costs money to post a classified ad, the seller is often more motivated to obtain a larger amount of money for a particular item than if they just sold it at their yard sale, for instance. 

Even when an ad says "OBO" ("or best offer") in it, oftentimes the seller has an amount in mind that's the least he'll be willing to accept for the item.  In any event, though, there are still some incredible deals to be had in many classified ads.  And to make things even easier, many newspapers automatically post their classified ads online as well, on their websites, so you don't have to go out and buy or subscribe to the newspaper to access them. 

The key to taking greatest advantage of classified ads is to check them frequently, preferably every day, and when you find a promising deal, jump on it right away and pick up the phone immediately to call the seller.  Be prepared to drop everything to go get the item right away, before someone else shows up first.  Even if the seller accepts your offer over the phone, if someone else shows up at their house first, they might sell it to them (a bird in the hand, so to speak). 

Step 3 - Acquire Data

After spending at least 1-3 months selling items from home, garage sales, and/or thrift stores in your area, and as long as you're starting to feel very comfortable listing and selling items on eBay, it may be time to start looking into more stable, long-term product sources.  

Depending on your situation and financial resources, your best choices are most likely drop shipping, wholesaling or liquidating products on eBay.  The first method requires little to no upfront costs, inventory space, or packing and shipping items, but usually doesn't yield as much profit as the latter two. 

No matter which option you choose, however, you're stick back to the question, "What do I sell?"

One of the best places to get ideas for products to sell and instantly determine whether they will make you any money is the SaleHoo Market Research Lab

There you can get fresh ideas for items to sell and run them through specialized software that helps you accurately forecast how much money you will make by selling particular items. Access to the Market Research Lab is free when you join SaleHoo

Step 4 - Research, research, research!

Completed Listings - The last but quite possibly the most important step in the product sourcing process is doing thorough, accurate, methodical market research.  Listing a product for sale on eBay without researching it first is like throwing it at the wall and hoping it sticks. 

Many new sellers get so caught up in the process of obtaining products and submitting listings that they forget that their item is not going to show up alone on the page, all by itself, right off the bat.  Instead, the item will be only one of a long list of items in the search results, and buyers can sort the search results according to price or price plus shipping lowest first, and/or narrow them down according to various item specifics that apply to the product they want. 

So when buyers are reviewing the long list of products in the search results, they're going to be focusing on the price of the item more than just about anything else, as well as the shipping cost, the item's gallery image, and the keywords in the title in most cases as well.  If you want to sell your item successfully, then, your price and shipping cost need to be right in line with those of the other products on the list. 

And the best way to know what price or starting price to set, as well as the approximate shipping cost acceptable, the best category, listing format, and item specifics to select, and the best title keywords to use, is to research the product thoroughly, BEFORE listing the item for sale.

And don't just look at the current listings for the product, since those won't give you an accurate picture as far as what buyers are willing to pay for those products -- those listings haven't been purchased or won yet, so you have no idea whether or not they will successfully nor at for what price.

Instead, you should focus on the completed listings (select "Completed Listings" about halfway down the left column of the search results page), the listings for that product which have already ended, within the past 15 days.  Look at the price listed next to each item.  The prices in red indicate that the item didn't sell successfully, while the prices in green indicate that the item did sell successfully.  

After taking note of the prices for which the item sold, click on the title of each listing with a green price, and make note of any other aspect of the listing which you think may have contributed to the success of the listing, so you can use some of those techniques yourself (make sure you don't copy anyone else's images or description text word for word, though).

Market Research Tools - Although the completed listings will usually give you a pretty good initial idea of how well a particular product has been selling, as well as the price range buyers have been willing to pay for that product, it's just scratching the surface of the information you should know before listing an item for sale.

In addition to reviewing the completed listings, you should also utilize a good eBay market research tool.  A market research tool will tell you the same things the completed listings will, but it will give you the actual, exact average selling price and sell-through/success rate of each product, as well as the best listing format, categories, day, time, and keywords to use, to have the greatest chance of selling the item successfully.

Terapeak and the SaleHoo Market Research Lab are our top picks. 

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