What I’ve Learned so Far From Opening my First eBay Store

After running a vintage shop on Etsy for about a year and a half I decided recently to open a second shop on eBay. I was inspired by the Scavenger Life podcasts by eBay entrepreneurs Jay and Ryanne, who offer a weekly update into the nitty-gritty of growing their online resale and property rental businesses. These guys immediately seemed like kindred spirits. Unapologetically frugal and thrifty, willing to work hard to avoid the corporate 9-5 lifestyle, and determined to live on their own terms. And, as the name implies, they love scavenging for deals and finding cool stuff. Perhaps most importantly, they enjoy what they’re doing. Like them, I don’t think I could sell big stockpiles of the same widgets over and over just to make money; there has to be some joy in the work.

Opening an eBay shop is part of an overall shift in our business model (my husband and I are partners in this venture). We stock our new shop, which we’ve dubbed, FindzShop, with items purchased at estate and yard sales and other scavenging hotspots throughout our corner of the Northeast. Our “edge” is living in Connecticut, a state with a rich history and a steady stream of older residents in the process of closing up their family homes and selling possessions accumulated over many decades.

Connecticut is experiencing a massive transfer of wealth as older residents pack up and move out.

Jay and Ryanne touched on this phenomenon in their recent podcast,  “The Biggest Transfer of Wealth in Human History.” Basically, Baby Boomers and their parents who lived during the post-WWII economic boom accumulated massive piles of stuff in an era of cheap college tuition and plentiful middle-class jobs. They’re now getting rid of much of that stuff and it’s created a golden opportunity for vintage resellers that will likely continue for the next couple of decades.

I’ve already benefitted from this trend with my Etsy shop, where most of my items come from estate or tag sales in Connecticut. I was fairly pleased with my first year on Etsy as sales steadily increased and I learned more about what items sell and how to get found in search results. However, sales have slowed lately, for whatever reason, and I began to look around for other venues. I’ve been wary of eBay seller fees but Jay and Ryanne make a good case for paying more to reach a much broader market. My tentative plan is to keep the Etsy store open but pare it down to a more curated selection of higher end items. “FindzShop” opened last week on eBay and I’ve had a few sales–some involving items that have been languishing in my Etsy shop for months. I’m currently on a whirlwind listing spree to get up to the initial 250 items allowed in a basic shop. Transaction fees aside, I’m seeing a few key advantages of eBay over Etsy:

  1. You don’t have to be a “Maker.” Etsy started as a marketplace for crafts and handmade goods and that’s still how it’s best known. Vintage sellers make up a smaller although growing segment of its shops, but we are like the poor stepchildren when it comes to marketing and promotion by Etsy. There are 50 artisan soap makers, basket weavers, and the like featured in
    For sellers, eBay has some significant advantages over Etsy.

    Etsy’s promotions for every 1 vintage shop. Nothing against those shops, but it’s hard for us vintage sellers to get noticed.

  2. You don’t have to sell vintage items. Often I come across cool items at estate sales that aren’t necessarily vintage, defined as at least 20 years old. These are forbidden on Etsy and your items can be removed if found in violation. There are no such restrictions on eBay; you just have to be honest about what you’re selling.
  3. There are way more shoppers on eBay. There are just significantly more potential buyers, especially for designer or highly sought after items.
  4. It’s much easier to list. Etsy has been gradually improving its seller tools but it’s still a fairly cumbersome interface. In contrast, listing in an eBay store is faster and simpler. A couple of examples: you can make draft listings to finish later and it saves your work as you go. This should be true with Etsy but I’ve found that the “save as draft” command only works if you’ve already put in all the information–ie, if I haven’t added photos yet I get a popup saying I have to do that before saving. That seems to defeat the whole purpose of a “draft!” Another example: you have to add SEO tags on Etsy and are limited to 13 whereas eBay prompts you with categories/features while also allowing you to add your own. I could go on but suffice it to say that eBay is the runaway winner when it comes to technological sophistication.
  5. It’s easier to get found. Since I started on Etsy I’ve become much better at creating searchable titles and tags but it’s still difficult to get found. Try typing in a slightly misspelled word into the search box and you’ll see what I mean. While places like eBay or Amazon automatically intuit what you mean, Etsy will come up blank. In general, the search algorithm is mystifying for sellers and buyers. Type in “midcentury lampshade,” for example, and get a completely different set of results than you got using the same search term an hour ago. Does the system favor newer shops? Do your items get featured on a rotating basis? Do renewals, number of listings, number of sales, reviews, etc, factor into the results? No one seems to know.

These are a few of my thoughts so far but it’s only been a week so I’m keeping an open mind about the pros and cons of selling on both venues. Next week, I’ll share what’s selling in the eBay shop as I ramp up the inventory. Stay tuned and if you’re a reseller, please share your own experiences and thoughts!

What’s it Worth? How to Price Your Vintage Finds on Etsy

estate sale

Running a vintage shop can be really fun. I love going to estate sales never knowing what I might find. While some women love a day at the mall, my idea of fun is poking through mountains of stuff accumulated over decades that for one reason or another is being discarded. The more piles and stashes, the more nooks and crannies, the better the shopping experience. I’m perfectly content to sift through all manner of junk in search of treasures, and I often sink into a kind of trance, in danger of forgetting that I’m supposed to be working. Estate sales are where I find most of my inventory for my Etsy shop, Premium Transitions. With that in mind, I try to reign myself in and limit my purchases to things with potential resale appeal.

The danger for me, as someone trying to build a vintage resale business, is getting so caught up in the fun part–estate sale finds–that I neglect the real work involved in actually making sales. A few great finds during a morning estate sale run and I’m riding high–then reality sets in after I arrive home and survey the work ahead. Everything has to be cleaned, researched, priced, photographed, and listed. I’ve become more efficient since I opened my shop over a year ago but these steps still take up significant time. Researching and pricing, in particular, can bog me down for hours. Google search is a little like going down Lewis Carroll’s proverbial rabbit hole which, according to Urban Dictionary, means to “enter a period of chaos or confusion”–a very apt metaphor.

Anyway, don’t mean to discourage anyone! I have, actually, become better at the researching and pricing game over time so thought it would be a good topic for a post. Of course, I’m still learning. But here are a few tips I’m able to share so far:

  1. Bookmark. Harkening back to the rabbit hole analogy, it’s very easy to click your way through a research session without tracking where you’ve been. The excitement of finding a piece of information that actually relates to your item can make you forget about saving the source. I’ve found it very useful to create folders on Chrome, such as “Vintage Purses,” where I bookmark useful sites. Having these valuable resources at your fingertips can save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

    Finding great stuff is the fun part–then comes figuring out what you’ve got.
  2. Review Similar Listings. One of the first steps in my research is looking at similar items on Etsy and other online marketplaces, like eBay. On Etsy, it’s not unusual to find the exact same item listed in other shops but at a range of prices. Finding “sold” listings is somewhat helpful as it tells you that the item is desirable but Etsy does not list the sold price.  When looking at what’s available, I try to get a sense of the price range and price mine somewhere in the middle. Others might be trying to sell the same item for much more but price doesn’t equal value. I try to get a feel for the range of prices and land somewhere in the middle. Remember, shoppers see the same range in their search results and know they can get the same item for less at another shop.
  3. Pay Attention to What Sells. Continuing to use purses as an example, I  eventually settled into a few price points based on what was selling. Most of my purses sell for somewhere between $18-$55 depending on the condition, label, materials, and style. Beaded bags made in Japan or Hong Kong often sell on the high end while basic satin or faux-leather clutches with no labels are on the lower en
    This beautiful vintage 1950s-era clutch is now listed in my shop. I love the tiny pearl flowers and sequins.

    d of the range. Certain bags, such as mesh pouches from the 1920s or 30s, can fetch a lot more if they’re attractive to collectors. Once you decide on a general price range, put it out there and monitor its views in your shop stats. You can always make changes as you go. Correct pricing often comes through trial and error. No matter how much you might think or hope something is worth, the market dictates its value to buyers.

  4. Don’t Lowball. While you shouldn’t overprice your items, neither should you undercut the market if you’re trying to build a quality brand. Low prices might help attract bargain hunters but they can also make your shop look cheap. Besides, your prices should also reflect the time and effort you spend as a curator of vintage goods. Think of it this way: Scouring estate or yard sales is not everyone’s cup of tea no matter what bargains may be waiting for them. By shopping on Etsy, they have access to a curated selection of vintage goods that they can browse at their leisure on their computer and have delivered to their doorstep. That’s worth something!

    A cool silvery mesh purse from the 1940s.
  5. Specialize. When I first started my shop I tested things out to see what would sell, and I’m still doing that to some extent. However, specializing in a few types of items makes sense in terms of efficiency. In my case, I started with vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware, which are still dependable sellers, then expanded to other areas such as vintage purses. Once I started to accumulate a number of midcentury bags I began to recognize names on designer tags and to differentiate between genuine vintage and modern lookalikes. I spent some time reading vintage fashion and purse blogs, like Bag Lady University and Collectors Weekly, among others. Now, I am not only much more likely to pick up a genuine vintage bag at a sale but also better able to describe and price it in my listing.

    Besides purses, I’ve also begun to specialize in vintage jewelry.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for more tips on running a vintage shop and check out my last post on Lessons Learned from my First Year on Etsy. I welcome your comments!

A Few Lessons from My First Year Running an Etsy Shop

It’s been a little over a year since I opened Premium Transitions, my vintage shop on Etsy, and I remember my first sale very clearly. I had just listed a set of vintage Corning Ware”Grab-it” bowls from the 1970s and was thrilled when they sold the next day. It was my first inkling of how desirable these bowls are among collectors of vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty rare to find undamaged grab-its at a thrift shop, especially with the  fitted glass lids.  I bought that first set on a whim but have since learned to be constantly on the lookout because they typically sell within days of being listed, with or without lids. It was my first vintage find and I was hooked!

vintage corning ware
Corning Ware Grab-It Bowls: My First Sale turned out to be a best seller.

At first, I thought vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware would be the main focus of my shop but I’ve since branched out into midcentury home decor and fashion accessories as well. Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how to list and promote items in my shop and how to pack and ship delicate items domestically and internationally. I’ve also learned more about which vintage items are most sought after by Etsy buyers. Some of the things I bought in my first month are still sitting on the shelf while others, like the grab-it bowls, have become best sellers (when I can find them).

My learning curve is by no means over. However, the one-year mark seemed like a good time to pause and take stock of how far I’ve come. Starting from nothing, I now have a sizable shop with hundreds of listings and about 250 completed sales. The following tips and “lessons learned” are gleaned from my own trials and errors since over the past year. I hope they’re helpful to anyone whose thinking of starting a shop either on Etsy or another online marketplace.

  1. Develop a system. Before starting a shop, I didn’t give much thought to the hours I would invest in simply posting items for sale. However, listing can be a fairly time-intensive process, especially with a vintage shop. While it sometimes happens that I can directly copy or renew a sold listing when I list an identical product (such as the grab-it bowls), that’s rare because almost every vintage item is unique. However, once you establish a shop identity and a focus for the types of products you will offer, you can often copy a similar listing (such as a Pyrex casserole dish in a different pattern or size) and use most of the same tags and descriptors. You will still have to replace photos and customize, but it’s easier than starting from scratch.

    photography studio
    You don’t need a professional studio to start creating appealing photos.
  2. Create a Mini Photo Studio. Photos are very important to marketing your products but can also be expensive and time-consuming to create. My first photos were pretty mediocre and could still be improved, but I’ve learned a few tricks to make my products stand out without paying a professional photographer or renting studio space. First, I try to take all my photos against similar backgrounds. My backyard, where I have a mini rock garden with a variety of oddly shaped marble-like slabs, is my current go-to spot. It’s turned out to be a nice staging area for things like purses, jewelry, and collectibles. Although natural light produces the best results, the weather isn’t always conducive to outdoor shots. For those days, I created a makeshift light box in my basement using a cardboard box, tissue paper, and a spotlight (check out this simple tutorial on YouTube). It works well for smaller items. Someday soon I will invest time in making a bigger one.
  3. Work in Batches. I’ve found that taking multiple photos at once is easier than getting out my camera every time I have something to list (tip: an iPad camera works fine to start). I typically take photos of 5-10 things, then edit them in one batch. That way, they’re ready on my computer whenever I find a few minutes to create a new listing.

    how to start etsy shop
    Be careful of switching labels when you’re packing multiple items for shipping.
  4. Develop a packing and shipping process. The importance of this step will become clear the first time you inadvertently switch mailing labels and send customers the wrong order (as I unfortunately managed to do early on–hopefully you will avoid this!) Problems arise when you’re packing up and printing out shipping labels for multiple orders. It’s fairly easy to put the wrong label on a package if you’re not careful, so I now take a couple of precautions. First, after packing an order, I lightly write the name of the item and first name of the customer on the box or envelope. Next, I put the packing slips into the corresponding packages and tape them up. At this point, I cannot see the contents of the box or the packing slip, so my previous labeling is a big help in matching the correct label to the correct package.
  5. Pay attention to what sells. Some of the things I bought in my first few months in business are still sitting on the shelf. I’ve learned that not everything old or antique-y is desirable or conducive to easy shipping. For example, vintage kitchenware is popular but only for certain patterns or brands, such as Pyrex/Corning Ware and
    vintage teapot
    Novelty kitchen items like this Sadler teapot sell well but sets of vintage china often linger on the shelf.

    Fiestaware. Dinnerware is generally difficult to sell but ceramic or novelty mugs are quite popular. Weight is another consideration as many customers are deterred by the expense of shipping, which can be as much as or more than the item itself in some cases.

  6. Be patient. There’s no way to know everything from Day 1. Paying attention to what sells, listening to customers’ feedback, and learning about the products you sell takes time. I now feel more confident looking for new inventory at estate sales because I have a better feel for what customers want and how to set prices. I’ve noticed myself passing over things that I would have snapped up six or eight months ago. Similarly, I’m getting better at looking beyond labels and trusting my own judgement about what items will appeal to shoppers.

    vintage kitchen
    Quirky best sellers: This set of owl measuring cups sold months ago but still gets lots of customer views.

As I write this post, I realize that I’m only scratching the surface of what it’s like to own and grow an online shop. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more first-year insights and lessons learned as I continue on my entrepreneurial journey. I welcome your suggestions and comments!