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From $300 T-shirts to retail arbitrage, online entrepreneurs can make serious bank doing what they love

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Taking clothing you don't wear anymore to a thrift shop? That's so last millennium.

Reselling online touches several current trends. You don't add to the landfill. You streamline your possessions and satisfy your inner Marie Kondo. And you side hustle, because who can't use a few extra bucks?

Aside from clothes, people are shedding or reselling other household items, including books, furniture, kitchenware.

Three big platforms that help you do this are eBay, Amazon and Poshmark, and each has its star users.

While eBay is the granddaddy of online selling, it has plenty of competition. It's possible to make bank on Amazon and Poshmark, depending on what you sell.

Do the math on pricing and the margin you need to achieve to stay in business. Surprisingly few people run the numbers.

Experienced resellers always stress the importance of research. "My advice to anyone who thinks they want to be an online seller is to stay away from YouTubers who make it look like a get-rich-quick scheme," said Kelly McAuliffe, 41, who lives in Sebring, Florida.

Flipping clothes

Bryan Koehler, 25, turned a lifelong love of thrift-shopping into a solid income stream.
Source: Bryan Koehler

Bryan Koehler, 25, is a lifelong thrift shopper. His family went thrift shopping frequently when he was younger, and it became a hobby. In college, he'd return from a thrift shop run with five or six items of clothing. His friends would ask, "How do you have the money for this?"

When he found he had accumulated too much, he turned to Poshmark to unload some pieces.

On the site, he bought a pair of Toms shoes for $2 and sold them for $13. It was a lightbulb moment. He realized he could flip purchases. He started with men's clothing but soon realized there wasn't quite enough traffic. So he began picking up women's clothing and accessories.

"You can do it full-time or part-time," he said. Koehler does it for extra income — to date, more than $55,000, he said.

Koehler's top tip for selling is quality pictures. Give as many details as possible in your listing, such as brand and model name, if possible. Note any damage.

Keep in mind the site's sellers are also buyers. Share items from your closet frequently, Koehler says, at least once a day. "Go to your closet and click on [the bag icon], then share to your followers," he said.

Koehler recommends accumulating as many followers as you can. Follow back, and list constantly. You want to get the late-night shoppers, he says.

Never give up

For Kelly McAuliffe, 41, persistence paid off to the tune of nearly $1 million in sales.
Source: Kelly McAuliffe

Kelly McAuliffe and her husband started small. Twenty years ago, the couple used to hit garage sales and resell items on eBay.

In the early years, they pulled in about $30,000 a year. With two full-time jobs, they thought of eBay as a side job for extra cash. To make it worth their time, they tried to sell items that would bring in at least $50. "I was happy with 10 sales a week," McAuliffe said.

Last year, McAuliffe's one-time side gig became a business. She's sold cooking ingredients on Amazon, grossing $775,000 — about 35,000 sales, she said. She and her husband have ditched their former full-time jobs.

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"I have encountered just about every customer service issue you can imagine and just keep plugging along," said McAuliffe. "If you fail and go broke, it does not matter.

"I have failed over and over again to get to the point I am at now."

Recently, McAuliffe was in Home Depot and took a quick look at face masks because of the coronavirus news. She bought the last six boxes and sold them all within 10 minutes.

The $300 T-shirt

Patricia Escobedo, 44, sells unique, vintage items and doesn't worry about online competition.
Courtesy: Patricia Escobedo

Patricia Escobedo, 44, found herself sidelined by a serious health issue. She had been a user on eBay since 2008, but now needed a source of income. "Reselling is a life saver," said Escobedo, who lives in Pahrump, Nevada, and has been unable to work outside the home since having open heart surgery last June. "EBay keeps me afloat."

She likes vintage clothing and specializes in T-shirts, which she says can be resold quickly and sometimes bring in more money than women's clothes.

Escobedo can do most of her eBay work from home. She uses her living room to set up and photograph items. Her house has a storage room for mailing and packing supplies. The rise of online shopping has made her business possible. "A lot of people don't like to shop [in stores]," Escobedo said. Instead, "they shop online."

The thrill of the hunt is part of the fun, Escobedo says. "How often can you find a $300 T-shirt that was $3?" Though she normally avoids the women's section in the thrift shops she does visit, that's where she found a vintage Dr. Who T-shirt. Within eight hours of listing it for $500 as a buy-it-now item on eBay, she accepted an offer of $300.

This 32-year-old makes six figures selling other people’s stuff on Amazon and eBay

Two keys are research and patience.

Make sure to compare prices before you buy, Escobedo says. "Unless it's really a great price and you can't lose money on it," she said. "Limit to yourself to what you can afford to wait on.

"Because your money will be tied up in your merchandise, and sometimes it's not a quick eight-hour flip."

Escobedo doesn't worry about competition. "There are billions of people out there trying to buy on eBay," she said. If Walmart, Target and Kmart can successfully coexist in the same neighborhood, so can multiple eBay and Amazon sellers. "We're at least selling unique items," Escobedo said.

On the books

John Muscarello, 33, started his Amazon book business as a side hustle.
Courtesy: John Muscarello

Three years ago, John Muscarello, 33, started reselling furniture on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace as a side business. He'd buy a table for $50 and resell it for $250. He also sold thrift shop items on eBay.

"I found a YouTube video that showed how to sell books on Amazon," said Muscarello, who lives in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

"I saw a lot of potential [in selling books]," Muscarello said. He wasn't completely happy in his full-time copywriting job, which limited him to selling books nights and weekends. He decided to take the leap in November and go full-time as a reseller, because he knew he'd be able to increase sales volume with the additional time.

Muscarello now sells between 600 and 800 books each month on Amazon.

After the first month, he says, he knew it was going to work.

"Books are one of the harder things to do, because a lot of books aren't worth anything," Muscarello said. "There is a huge learning curve." He uses several strategies, including searching Craigslist for books and local sites such as NextDoor. He emphasizes the importance of pricing. The app ScoutIQ tells you the prices of books on Amazon. You pay for the service but there is a 14-day free trial.

"Start with something you know," he said. He began with books and furniture, because he was familiar with values in each.

He recommends starting locally. You generally don't have to mail items, since it's a local pickup. "It's very low-risk," Muscarello said. "You can post it.

"If no one buys it, no one buys it."

A 28-year-old who made $2,400 in 4 months selling things online shares her top tips