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!