For the past couple of years, I’ve been an avid online seller. It’s a simple way to make some extra cash while decluttering my house.
Once, I purchased a bed frame for $20, used it for a few months, and then sold it for $50 when it no longer matched the room’s aesthetic. It sold within an hour, which tells me if I had done a better job of researching how much bed frames like mine were going for, I could have sold it for much more.
I’ve learned a lot since then, and these tips can help you learn from my mistakes before you start selling online, whether as a way to declutter or as the start of a small business.
Tips for Selling Your Stuff Online
Whether you’re looking for a way to get rid of old clothes, want to try your hand at flipping furniture, or are interested in turning your passion for art into a side hustle, you can make more money selling your stuff online if you follow a few simple guidelines.
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1. Thoughtfully Choose the Best Products to Sell
When you’re thinking about selling something, ask yourself if someone else could really use it. For example, a sweater with the original sales tags that just doesn’t fit quite right would be perfect. But if you’re getting rid of something because it’s broken or stained, chances are no one else will want it either.
If you’re reselling used belongings, find things that are in good condition that someone else could realistically have a use for. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.
If you have damaged stuff to get rid of, you can still make money on it. Some retailers recycle old stuff in exchange for cash or rewards. You can recycle household goods, clothing, electronics, and even used beauty products for cash.
If you’re setting up an Etsy shop or eBay store, read through product reviews for things you’re considering selling to get a feel for what customers like and what recommendations they have for improvement. That can help you find a unique spin that can set you apart from the competition.
For example, if you want to sell T-shirts and several competitors’ reviews say the sizing was too limited, you know you can hit a demographic of interested buyers by expanding the sizing range.
2. Look at Competing Online Businesses & Set Prices
Before getting started, check out your competition. Pay attention to how many similar product listings you see, what the prices are, and how long a listing has been live.
If you’re selling your old stuff and something similar has been up for more than two weeks, it typically means the asking price is too high. Set your price lower.
Some goods, like popular electronics, will have lots of listings for the same model. In that case, you can get a reasonable idea of how much to expect to sell yours for. If you’re selling something that has a scratch or minor damage, set the asking price a little lower. If it’s in better condition than other listings, you can price it above average.
But if you’re a business, that just gives you an idea of the market trends. You still have to calculate your unit cost (how much it costs you to sell the product) by adding up the cost of the product itself (or the materials you used to make it), advertising, packing materials and shipping costs, payment processing fees and marketplace commissions, and how much time you spend creating or selling the product. That last one requires you to know how to set your hourly rates.
Remember that on top of that, entrepreneurs and small businesses should expect to pay roughly 25% of profit in quarterly taxes.
Once you know how much people are willing to pay for a similar product, how much it will cost to create and distribute it, and decide how large a profit margin you want, you can get a pretty good idea of how much to charge.
When setting your prices, you should also account for shipping costs if you plan to pay them. You can use your chosen shipping service’s shipping calculator to figure out how much it will be.
3. Choose the Best E-Commerce Platform
To choose the best e-commerce platform, you first need to know what you plan to sell. Then, you can research the best fit for your business.
Some things to consider include:
- Sales Goals. Are you getting rid of your old things or starting a business? If you’re selling your old stuff, opt for secondhand marketplaces like OfferUp or Mercari. For online businesses, look for platforms that let you set up your own shop, like Amazon, Etsy, or your own website.
- Scope of Distribution. Do you plan to offer shipping, or do you want to sell locally? Offering shipping increases your pool of potential buyers but also makes it more expensive for customers and typically more time-consuming for you. Drop by your local post office to learn about the options for mailing similarly sized and shaped packages.
- Reaching Buyers. How much advertising are you willing to do? Advertising helps you reach people you might not otherwise come into contact with. Many platforms have their own way to boost posts within the platform, or you can purchase social media ads to reach people.
Once you have your answers to these questions, you can start comparing your preferences to various e-commerce platforms to find the best fit for you.
4. Include High-Quality Product Images
Images can help your potential buyer get an idea of what your product looks like and envision how it will look in their life. Take a few good product images from multiple angles to add to the listing.
The photos don’t have to be professional, but the lighting has a big impact on the color of the merchandise you’re selling. Indirect natural light is the best bet for novices. Take the picture on a neutral background and eliminate deep shadows or harsh reflections as much as possible. Depending on the product you’re selling, staging it may make more sense.
For example, if you’re selling clothing, model it so people can get an idea of what it looks like. Or if you’re selling an old bed frame, take at least one photo with the bed made so the potential buyer can get an idea of what it would look like in their room. Just be clear in the listing that only the frame is for sale.
Be transparent about any damage. In the long run, that helps you receive better reviews, which is important for your reputation as a seller.
5. Write a Compelling & Informative Title & Description
An exemplary product description is both compelling and informative without being overly long. It’s a challenging combination to strike, but it’s not impossible.
To write a compelling description, take a moment to think about your target audience. Use the product description to show them how purchasing your wares benefits them.
For example, if you’re selling a rug, tell the reader, “This Turkish rug brightens up any living room,” or, “This shag carpet adds a nice textural element to your space.” Or if you’re selling hand-crocheted hats, focus on the warmth they provide on a cold day and the fashion statement they add to an outfit.
Unless you can prove it, avoid using superlatives like “best” or “greatest.” You want to gain your reader’s trust through the product description, and if you can’t prove your product is the best, using that word can hurt your credibility.
An informative description can save you time answering the same question repeatedly and increase sales, as the potential buyer will have all the details they need.
Include this basic information in the product description:
- Dimensions. If selling internationally, remember to include both metric and feet measurements. If selling locally, choose the one used in your area.
- Color. Some people are colorblind, so this can be helpful.
- Damage. Be transparent about the condition of the product and any damage. You want the purchaser to feel like they know exactly what they will get. If they feel duped, they may leave you a bad review and definitely won’t buy from you again.
- Reason for Getting Rid of It. As an online shopper, I sometimes wonder why the person is selling their belongings. It puts me at ease when I see a brief explanation, such as, “I’m redecorating my living room, and this no longer fits,” or, “I’m moving across the country and can’t take it with me.”
- Variance. If you handmade your products, include a disclaimer that there might be small differences between the photo and the product someone receives. Make this positive by emphasizing that it means theirs is a uniquely crafted, one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Pay attention to questions people regularly ask. If you get the same question more than once, add the information to the description. You can either add a frequently asked questions section to the product description or incorporate it into the text.
Next, turn your attention to the title. Keep the title relatively short and sweet — 60 to 120 characters, depending on the platform. A potential buyer should be able to see the entire title at a glance. Get straight to the point, and let them know what you’re selling.
After writing the description and posting it, check the listing from both your computer and mobile phone. If part of the title is cut off, find a way to make it shorter so the entire title shows up, regardless of what device someone’s using.
6. Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Your Product’s Title & Description
No matter how compelling your product’s title or description, it does you no good if people don’t find your listing. And there are likely thousands of people, if not more, selling similar products online. That’s why you need to apply SEO to your listing too.
SEO helps your listing appear at the top of someone’s search results, whether they’re searching the internet or a specific site.
Start optimizing your product listing with a few simple keywords and longtail keywords. Keywords describe your product to search engines (and people).
For example, if you’re selling a lightly used Dyson Airwrap, use the following keywords:
- Dyson Airwrap
- Hair styling tool
And expand on those keywords to find your longtail keywords:
- First-generation Dyson Airwrap complete set
- Popular all-in-one hair styling tool
- Lightly used Dyson Airwrap in nickel-fuchsia
These resources can help you find longtail keywords at various search volumes:
- AnswerThePublic. This research tool shows you the most common questions for a given keyword. Answer a handful of these questions in your product description.
- Ubersuggest. This keyword research tool lets you see the search volume of various longtail keywords and recommends phrases. It shows you how many social media shares a certain online listing has gotten. Look at the top two or three most-shared posts and notice what that company is doing well.
- Wordtracker. Wordtracker recommends various longtail keywords based on your initial search. For each longtail keyword, it provides you with the average number of searches per month for the past year and a score to let you know how difficult it will be to rank organically for that phrase. That can help you select a combination of both high- and low-volume keywords to use throughout your product description.
- Google Trends. On Google Trends, you can see a keyword’s search volume and get recommendations for longtail keywords related to your search. It also shows you if there are any longtail keywords related to your search that have recently spiked in popularity. Use this information to stay informed about what people are interested in and incorporate a few trending longtail keywords.
The first three platforms offer limited use of their services for free, which allows you to try them before deciding if the paid versions are worth it. Google Trends has more limited data but is free.
Mix it up and use some high-volume and some low-volume keywords. High-volume keywords are more commonly searched terms, meaning a larger number of people are searching them, but there’s also more competition. Low-volume keywords have a smaller number of people searching for those specific phrases, but listings using them are more likely to show up.
7. Use Social Media to Reach Potential Buyers
If you’re an individual, post your wares on your social media accounts. You can use as much or as little of the business-related advice as you’re willing to put the time into. But if you sell your old stuff frequently, it pays to use similar tactics.
If you’re starting a business, investing the time to build a following on social media can be an incredibly valuable tool for reaching potential buyers. It’s especially good for those creating a small business, though it can work for individuals selling their old stuff too.
Choose a platform your target audience is likely to use. Pew Research has been compiling social media user metrics since 2005. You can use their Social Media Fact Sheet to find out where users are most likely to be based on factors like gender, race, age, education level, income, and living area. From there, focus on using one or two social media platforms to reach your target audience.
Once you know which platforms to focus on, spend some time scrolling through the platform to find out what content is getting a lot of interaction (likes, comments, and shares).
YouTube is a helpful resource for learning tips and tricks about individual platforms. Open YouTube and search, “[Platform name] new business account strategy [year].” The algorithms of social media platforms can change rapidly, which is why it is most helpful to learn what works for the year you’re starting your business account.
Watch four or five videos from experts talking about how to build a following and find the common denominators between what they’re saying. Different approaches work for different people, which is why it’s helpful to start with the tactics several people have found to work.
Pay attention to these topics in the videos you watch:
- How often do platform experts recommend posting?
- What type of content typically does best on your chosen platform (videos, photos, written content, heavy on hashtags)?
- With your chosen platform, is it important to follow trends to reach more people?
- How much emphasis is there on finding others in your niche and interacting with their content?
Remember, while accounts do sometimes go viral overnight, most social media platforms take months or years to gain a large following. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a while to find your people. Focus on creating consistent, high-quality content that fits the framework of the platform you’ve chosen.
8. Respond to Inquiries
People may have questions before they feel ready to buy. Be as responsive and helpful as possible.
And you have to respond quickly. Buyers are used to responsive sellers. If someone reaches out with a question but doesn’t hear back promptly, they might purchase from someone else. Try to get back to them within 24 hours, max — sooner if you’re operating a business.
In fact, if you’re starting a business, it’s even more important you respond to every single one. If you’ve had a conversation with a potential customer and they end the conversation by saying, “Thank you for your help.” Respond with a simple, “You’re welcome” or, “Glad I could answer your question. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.”
That keeps your response rate and time strong so future customers know you’re a dependable person to communicate with.
9. Make Checkout Easy
Make the checkout process as simple and straightforward as possible to avoid losing customers at the last minute. One way to make it user-friendly is by allowing customers to use a variety of payment methods, from credit card to Apple Pay to PayPal.
That should be easy if you’re using an online marketplace like Amazon or Etsy. But if you have your own website, you can look into e-commerce services like Shopify or Square.
Also, don’t ask for additional information like a date of birth (unless it’s an age-restricted product) or add unexpected fees at checkout.
10. Box & Ship the Product
If you’ve chosen to sell to people outside your immediate area, your next step is to box and ship. That’s trickier than it sounds, as you have to ensure it arrives undamaged or risk losing the sale. It also costs money to get it there, so you don’t want shipping costs to eat into your bottom line.
Start by choosing a box that’s slightly larger than the goods you’re shipping. That lets you add cushioning to protect the goods while they’re in transit, such as Bubble Wrap, packing peanuts, or paper.
If you’re shipping more than one item, wrap each one individually. Ensure the merchandise has cushion on all sides, including the bottom, and is largely immobile within the box. And choose the right material. Heavy objects like large speakers will just squish peanuts. In cases like that, opt for Styrofoam blocks.
Use packaging tape and reinforce the seams and edges of the box to ensure it doesn’t tear open.
If you’re reusing a box, completely cover any previous labels and cross out the address with a black permanent marker. Then, add the customer’s address and a return address in case there are any issues along the way.
If you don’t want to put your personal address on the box, get a post office box instead. But first check with your post office to see what their policy is. Depending on the area, you may not be able to receive returns, so it may be simpler in the long run to use a business or home address.
Next, it’s time to choose a mail service. Choose one that can handle the type of package you have, including its size, weight, and any temperature requirements, and that charges a reasonable rate. The U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS have shipping calculators you can use to figure that out. If you’re paying for shipping, you should have calculated it before setting your price.
If handling boxing and shipping sounds overwhelming, you can sell through a platform like Amazon. There, the fulfillment center handles the shipping process for you.
Another option is to sell only to local buyers. That drastically limits your range but can be a good option if you’re just looking to clean out the garage and sell a few pieces of furniture or old clothing.
Beyond function, packaging is a chance to make the purchaser feel valued and special. That’s true whether you’re starting a business or just want to frequently make some extra cash selling your old stuff. The box you ship has to meet certain standards and be able to protect your product, so focus on making the unboxing experience memorable.
I love it when a business takes the extra step of making it look attractive or adding a personalized touch. It makes the experience so much better.
For example, wrap the products with some tissue paper and a cute bow or add a thank-you note. These types of details help give your box a personalized touch and make the unboxing your final positive impression.
11. Encourage Seller or Product Reviews
Having satisfied buyers leave seller or product reviews can be a huge help in inspiring confidence in future sales or growing your customer base. Whether you’re selling your used stuff or operating an e-commerce business, ask buyers to leave a review, and let them know how much it helps you.
If you’re a business having a hard time getting reviews, you can use an incentive, such as a 15% discount code on a future order if they leave a review. That may even turn them into repeat customers, in which case you would have a product review and another sale. Double win!
Online Selling FAQs
The sheer number of options for e-commerce platforms can be overwhelming. Hopefully, by taking a closer look at some commonly asked questions, you can get a clearer idea of which platform is the best fit for you, whether you’re starting a business or cleaning out your closet.
Which E-Commerce Platform Should I Use?
The best e-commerce platform depends on what you’re selling. There are three overarching categories: general online shopping platforms, specialty marketplaces, and e-commerce website hosting platforms.
General online shopping platforms allow you to sell a broad range of goods. A few of the most popular general platforms and their key benefits include:
- eBay: List with a fixed price or put it up for auction
- Facebook Marketplace: Online alternative to a garage sale
- Amazon: Amazon fulfillment centers handle shipping for you
If you have a specialty product, like clothing, art, or electronics, use one of the following platforms:
- Etsy: Art, vintage goods, jewelry, handmade goods
- Poshmark: Designer or brand-name clothing
- Vinted: Used clothing and toys
If you’re a small business and want to have your own website, you can use one of these e-commerce website options:
- Shopify: Very user-friendly with over 100 payment gateways
- Wix: Has a drag-and-drop interface that makes it highly customizable
- Squarespace: Good option for those interested in having additional content, like a blog, on their e-commerce site
But these are just examples. There are probably dozens if not hundreds of marketplaces to choose from.
Where Can I Sell My Stuff Online for Free?
There are two primary ways to sell your stuff online for free. Some sites let you post listings for free but take a commission. Other sites are free but primarily local, so the sale happens in person. That limits your access to buyers.
There are several examples in this article, but new options pop up every day. If you’re unsure, start with a biggie like Amazon or eBay or post your stuff locally on Nextdoor or OfferUp. But your best bet is to find the best marketplace for the types of goods you’re trying to sell by looking around at what they already have on offer.
What Are the Best Websites to Sell Stuff Locally?
If you’re looking for a way to sell stuff locally, some platforms have the option for local pickup. It’s a convenient option for larger merchandise you don’t want to ship, such as furniture or a car.
Some popular options for local sale are:
- Facebook Marketplace
When selling locally, be cautious of safety. It’s often safest to meet in a public place and accept payment via a method that protects you from being scammed with a canceled check, such as cash, Venmo, or PayPal.
What Is the Fastest Way to Sell Stuff?
The fastest way to sell stuff is by charging less than your competitors. For example, if you need to get rid of old furniture quickly right before a big move, look at what people are charging for the product you’re selling. Then, price it 10% to 20% below the average price.
If you do that, people may wonder why it’s so much cheaper than the average asking price. In the product description, explain the reason you need to sell so quickly. That helps create confidence you’re not trying to scam them.
If you’re having trouble selling your belongings online but just need to get rid of them, there are several options to look into. You can use unsold goods to barter online for something else you want or donate clothes, electronics, or furniture to charity.
But if you’re thinking about starting a side gig selling stuff online, remember that it takes a lot of hard work and time to get a business started. It may take a while before it becomes very profitable.