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When I was 16 I swiped my mom’s bank book so I could set up an eBay account. Despite my stealthy tactics, I had innocent intentions: I wanted to buy anime videos that were sold only through this one eBay seller. I’d get money orders from CVS and mail them off to the seller, waiting over a week for that sweet padded envelope to arrive.
eBay has changed a lot since then. For one, instant payments with my credit card is how I roll these days. Also, there are new competitors cropping up all the time offering sexier features, like free shipping kits and the ease of putting up a listing in “less than 60 seconds.” Nowadays, there’s no shortage of avenues to sell your stuff online: Poshmark, Tradesy, The Real Real, Let Go, the list goes on. And when these newer sites all tout simplicity, eBay, with its clunky, outdated interface, can seem like a dinosaur.
But eBay is far from dead.
The Advantage of Selling on Ebay
Remember: What you get for convenience and simplicity, you pay for in fees.
|Platform||Listing Fee||Final Value Fee||Payment Fee||Sample Selling Price||Sample Net*|
|eBay||Up to $0.30||10%||2.9% + $.30||$50||$43.25|
|Etsy||$.20||3.5%||3% + $.25||$50||$46.30|
|Poshmark||Free||$2.95 under $15; otherwise 20%||Free||$50||$40|
|The Real Real||Free||45%||Free||$50||$27.50|
|Tradesy||Free||Up to 14.9%||2.9%||$50||$41.10|
*For simplicity’s sake, shipping fees aren’t accounted for in this chart.
For a comparison of platforms, read about my experiment selling on five different resale sites.
But, if you sell on eBay, you’re going to be able to keep more of the profits than you would with many of the other sites. That’s why it’s my platform of choice for selling brand-name clothes.
I’ve sold clothes, shoes and bags on eBay, Etsy, through Instagram, and on another site of mine. The same selling principles I talk about in this post will apply no matter the platform.
Why Sell Your Old Clothes Online?
We live in a world where everything is cheap and fast, so even the strongest can’t avoid impulse buys. That’s how we end up with closets stuffed to the brim with unworn clothes and feeling like we have nothing to wear. But times are changing. Thanks to the KonMari method, we don’t want the stuff that doesn’t “spark joy” anymore, The Minimalists have inspired a cult-like following, and every day there seems to be a new article about how buying experiences, not things, makes us happier.
Purging is suddenly cool.
You need to get good at selling your clothes online, because the market is more crowded than ever. Unless you want to face sunk costs and donate everything for free. Which is totally fine. But I think most of us would feel better if we recouped at least some of our money, am I right? Then you can use the profits to focus on a better wardrobe you love.
Common Seller Problems
- Have you ever wondered why your listings get lots of views, but no one ever buys your stuff?
- Have you ever wondered if your clothes are even WORTH selling?
- Are you stepping over heaps of clothes, because you have no idea how to even start selling online?
Sit back and relax. This guide is for you.
What to Sell Where
The three platforms I’d focus on are:
- eBay – High-end designer (any designer that has a runway show) and rare items
- Etsy – Vintage and handmade items
- Poshmark – Mass-market brands like J. Crew, Lululemon, Michael Kors, etc. and below
The other platforms don’t have enough volume or users to be worth it. You know that saying, go where the fish go? Same thing with selling online: Go where your target audience shops.
The Secret to Selling Clothes on eBay
Real-life example time. A few years ago, I bought a used Delvaux Givry bag from eBay for $500.
It was absolutely gorgeous, but made of suede, which is a high-maintenance fabric, so I was afraid to use it. Instead, it sat in its dust bag on the top shelf of my closet for months. In other words, I had no business owning that bag. So I decided to throw it back onto eBay.
A week later, the bag sold for over $870.
Was I able to sell it for $370 more, because I got lucky?
That original listing I bought the bag from? It was horrible. The pictures did it no justice, the description was riddled with typos, and I had to ask the seller a million follow-up questions because there wasn’t enough information. Since I was an imaginative buyer, I had very little competition and got the bag for a steal.
But most buyers don’t have the patience I do.
For my listing, there were very specific tactics that I used to make it appealing to buyers, and I’ll show you my exact strategies further down below.
So, what’s the secret to being better at online selling that everyone else?
It’s so simple you’re going to laugh.
The secret to selling online is to assuage people’s fears.
Tactically, this means that in a crowded market, you need to stand out by doing the things that other people don’t do. But wait, isn’t snapping a few photos and putting up a short description enough? Well, if everyone does that, how can you stand out?
With how well you assuage people’s fears with the pictures and the words.
With a $15 item you might be able to get away with being lazy, but the higher up you go in price point, the more the details matter.
I believe that online selling is one of those things where the work you put into it is proportional to what you get out of it. If you do lazy work, then you get lazy results. And lazy results = lower profits.
So, if you want to truly excel at selling your stuff online, prepare yourself to actually do the work. Yes, work.
Ready to roll your sleeves up? Let’s get started.
Part 1: Is It Worth Selling?
The first part is the hardest. Being honest about whether or not your item is worth selling is a critical key to success.
This is where many people, understandably, go wrong. I see a lot of people just buy the clothes they like, put them all up on eBay, then get frustrated that none of it sells. After all, if they liked that stuff, wouldn’t other people, too?
You see, people are bad at assessing the value of their things. It’s called the endowment effect. The idea that something increases in value just because we own it. It’s an irrational way of thinking that keeps us hoarding stuff that no one else values.
Example: one time my roommate brought 20 of his Calvin Klein shirts to sell to our neighborhood consignment shop. They paid him $6 for all 20 shirts. He was insulted. “They were brand-name from T.J. Maxx,” he argued.
I can recount a dozen stories just like this. The shirts he bought were not actually designer. You see, Calvin Klein IS a designer. He DOES have fashion shows. But he has, like, a dozen fashion lines, and the only one that is truly designer is labelled Calvin Klein Collection. Everything else (Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Sport) is regular mass-market stuff. My roommate’s clothes seemed like they were designer, but they actually weren’t.
If we think objectively, just regular Calvin Klein is not an in-demand brand that people are searching for online.
And I don’t care how cute that dress is that you got from Hong Kong. If it’s not a brand name that people recognize then it most likely won’t sell.
To determine whether or not your item is worth selling, do your research by searching for similar items on different platforms. Is there a market for your item?
Garment Type Matters
In my experience, dresses are the easiest to sell and pants are the hardest. I would think twice about selling pants. The fit for pants are so specific many people are wary about buying them online when they can’t return them. Shoes will need to be lightly worn. Workout clothes and swimwear will need to be brand-new.
The price you set is important. I think most people price their items way too high, probably due to the endowment effect! Pay attention to the market, and price your item about the same or a little bit higher than similar items. You can price it higher if it’s in great condition, but lower it if there are flaws or wear.
In your research you might see some items selling for $3. My personal selling threshold is a minimum of $15. If I don’t think an item will sell for more than that, it’s not worth my time. And the work involved for a successful listing is not insignificant, so that also needs to be factored into whether or not you want to sell online.
Wait for the Right Season
Pay attention to the seasons. If it’s 90 degrees out, most people won’t be in the market for a wool sweater. It’s better to hold off until it’s the right season. A good guideline is to take a look at what stores are selling when. If the stores are selling bathing suits now, then you have the green light to list yours, too.
Can You Overcome Potential Buyer Barriers?
Like I said earlier, your success depends on how well you get the customer to trust you. Remember: by default, online items are missing a major component to how people shop: touch and feel.
And as someone who buys almost everything exclusively online, I still have a ton of fears. Let’s look at the barriers you’re up against. I’m scared that:
- The item won’t look the same as it does in the listing.
- The item won’t fit me right.
- The item’s fake or stolen.
- The item will be in worse condition than what it says in the listing.
- You’re a sketchball seller who’s going to take my money and not send the item.
Remember, you’re not a trusted brand like J. Crew. Repeat after me: to buyers, You.Are.A.Sketchball.Seller.
If you want to increase your chances of success, every aspect of your listing needs to address these barriers.
Part 2: Photo Production
OK, so you’ve figured out there’s a market for your item and you think you’ll get at least $15 or it. Now it’s time for the photo shoot.
Prepare the Garments
Most likely your item has been folded away in a drawer, so 9 times out of 10 it will be wrinkly as hell and not photo ready. This won’t do, so bust out the iron or steamer. Have scissors nearby in case you see any loose threads. Loose threads are a sign of wear, and you want people to feel like your item is in the newest condition possible.
Stage a Photo Shoot Area
A picture is worth a thousand words, so take the time to get this right. You’ll need:
- A cell phone camera (if you have a nicer camera, go ahead and use it, but I don’t think it’s necessary)
- A clear, uncluttered background to take pictures against. Under no circumstances do I want to see your messy bedroom in the background. I usually put a nail in a wall, or hang items from the back of a door. If you don’t have any of those, you can also lay the items flat on your bed with a nice-looking, unwrinkled duvet cover or sheets. If it’s shoes, you can put them on the ground in front of a clean wall.
- Wooden hangers to help elevate the picture. Wire or plastic ones look cheap. Just to reinforce my point, when in doubt, listen to Mommie Dearest.
- Painters tape. Some clothes don’t look their best on a hanger. I’ve used painters tape on the back of the garment to stick it to the wall. This way you can better control the drape.
- Natural light. Flash is terrible, and no, I don’t care if you only have time to take a picture at 11pm. Wait until you can do it when there’s natural light. The flash will distort the colors and makes everything look worse.
- An image editing program, like iPhoto or Photoshop. Don’t do any editing besides brightening the photo a little bit. You want the colors to look exactly like they do in real life.
Clean and Uncluttered Photos
Take Multiple Photos
Barrier: The item won’t look the same as it does in the listing.
As a reminder, I’m going to drop in the buyer barriers where necessary, because you always have to put yourself in their shoes when creating content for your listings.
Many listings don’t have nearly enough photos. At the minimum, you should show:
- Any flaws
If the platform allows, I always add extra pictures:
- Close-up of the label
- Any interesting design details
- A stock photo of the item. Go onto Google and find a retail picture of the item on a model. However, this stock photo SHOULD NOT be your primary picture. The reason being that everybody uses stock photos as their primary pic. Remember, you want to stand out, so use your own photo as the primary pic instead.
For Etsy, Put It on a Body
If you’re selling something on Etsy, to increase your chances of success, you need to show it on a body. On that platform, people expect to see how it looks on a person.
Why this is important:
People are bad at looking at a flat piece of clothing and connecting that to themselves. So, if you put the item on an actual model, and show a complete look, it’s much easier for a potential buyer to imagine how it might look on them. For example, look at this pair of striped, chambray pants I got from a thrift store:
Just by themselves they’re nothing special. Let’s be real: they look like pants your grandma might wear. They don’t have what you call “hanger appeal.”
To my annoyance, my friend’s sister threw some shade: “No one’s going to buy these!” But I knew she was wrong, because we’d address the barrier in our listing. The barrier was: “I don’t want to wear these pants and look like a grandma.” So in our primary picture, we put the pants on a model to show a complete look. So with the non-grandma styling, here’s what we came up with:
The pants sold in a few days. You can guess how smug I was about that sale.
However, DO NOT model the item for eBay or Poshmark. I find that buyers don’t want to be reminded that non-vintage clothes are used, or will get discouraged easily if your body type is different from theirs. If your item doesn’t have any hanger appeal, put it on a mannequin or find a retailer image from Google to use. And for the love of God I don’t want to see anyone’s feet modelling a pair of designer shoes I’m considering.
Part 3: Crafting the Listing
Now that pictures are out of the way, it’s time to start wordsmithing.
Your title is the key to discovery, so using keywords buyers would use is important. And I see so many listings that are missing something as basic as the size. Let’s check out a bad example:
‘Rag & Bone Jeans 25’
That isn’t descriptive enough. You’re only appearing in search results for these three keywords:
‘Rag & Bone’
How many other listings do you think will have those same exact keywords? That title doesn’t help people find you. It helps you get lost in the fray.
Now, consider this much better title:
‘Rag & Bone Black Kassidy Skinny Jeans 25 XS’
Use the title to help users find you. Here’s a guide for what to include, with examples:
- Brand name – Rag & Bone
- Color – Black
- Style name (if there is one. Do a Google search first.) – Kassidy
- Garment adjective – Skinny
- Garment type – Jeans
- Size (since sizing isn’t standardized, feel free to use multiple equivalents) – 25, XS
Extras to include if there’s room:
- New (if it’s new, duh)
- Rare (if it’s collectible)
- Material (if it’s something like silk or wool)
- Any interesting design details
Descriptions That Tell a Story
The item’s fake or stolen.
The item will be in worse condition than what it says in the listing.
You’re a sketchball seller who’s going to take my money and not send the item.
Buyers can’t touch and feel your item, so be as thorough as possible in the description. A great place to start is to Google the item so you can see how retailers described it. I usually cross-reference a few, and slightly wordsmith the exact descriptions. Then fill in the details with your own opinions and experiences with the item. Tell a story. Here’s a checklist for what to include, based on what the buyer will want to know:
- What’s the item name and style?
- What kind of occasion is it for/how does it fit into my life?
- What color is it?
- What size is it? Does it fit true to size, run big or small? Is it European or US sizing?
- What features does it have?
- What materials is it made of?
- What condition is it in?
- How long/much had you used it?
- Is there anything wrong with it?
- Where did you buy it?
- If there isn’t anything wrong with it, why are you selling it?
- Is it rare or sold out? Is there any urgency to this listing?
- What was the original retail value? Am I getting a deal?
- Where is it made? If the item was made in Italy, France or the US, then include it.
Barrier: The item won’t fit me right.
People are afraid your item won’t fit them for good reason. Sizing is not standardized across brands. It’s your job to tell them exactly how you are measuring your items. For example, if you say the bust is “42 inches,” did you lay the item flat on the ground? Did you measure from armpit to armpit, and then double that measurement? Or did you measure across the actual bust part? Explain exactly how you are measuring.
Extra Credit: Tags for Designer Clothes
Barrier: The item’s fake or stolen.
For all higher-end designer clothes, here’s a mega pro-tip: keep all the original tags and boxes.
I don’t keep all these tags for my health. Selling is about PERCEPTION. If you’re the type of person who would take the time to keep the tags, then you’re probably the type that would take good care of your clothes. Let’s think about it, would you rather buy from someone who just crumples up their clothes into a ball on the floor, or someone who takes care of their things? With counterfeits being a problem, showing a picture of the tag with your item gives the buyer another reason to trust you, getting you closer to the sale.
Putting It All Together: Example Don’t
This Mansur Gavriel Red Bucket Bag got bids, but only up to $128.38, despite it being brand new. There are lots of pictures, and while the quality and angles are not great, that’s not the main problem of this listing.
The reason why this bag did not sell is because of the description below. All the description is is a repeat of the title plus the shipping. There’s no information about the size of the bag, why they are selling it, where they bought it, etc. Besides the pictures, this listing made no effort to ease my fears as a buyer.
Putting It All Together: Example Do
Here’s an example of a great listing. It’s the same Mansur Gavriel bag, but in a different color. It’s used, and yet, it sold for $395, so over $200 more than the other example. First of all, the primary picture stands out a lot. Many people use a white background and this picture immediately caught my eye. This seller also cued that she takes care of her things by adding ‘dustbag + tags’ right in the title. She also was upfront that this bag is used in the seller’s note, but instead of saying ‘used’ or ‘preowned’, she chose more positive phrases, like ‘beautiful patina’ and ‘well cared for’.
Where this listing really shine is the description. The seller went above and beyond by leading with her own story. She also included the retailer description at the very end. Basically, she overcame every fear that a buyer would have by appearing really trust worthy.
Save Time by Batching
As you can see, making a perfect listing is time consuming. To save time, I wait until I have multiple items to list, then check the weather report for the upcoming weekend to see which days will be sunny so I can get optimal natural light. I’ll take pictures for everything in the morning/mid-afternoon for the best light. Then I’ll go through each step like an assembly line.
I once had to pay $25 to ship a pair of shoes from New York to California. Considering I offered free shipping, this had a big impact on my overall profit. Ouch. It’s important to have an idea of how much it will cost to ship your item. eBay has a handy shipping calculator that can help you research costs before you even list your items. And if you’re going to be listing lots of items, investing in a postage scale (I had one for my online store) can be a smart move. Make sure to weigh both the item PLUS the packaging (tissue papers, envelopes, boxes, etc.) That way, there are no surprises when you actually pay for shipping.
But to keep it really simple, I’ve only used two shipping methods:
- USPS First-Class (anything up to 15.99 ounces)
- USPS Priority (anything above 15.99 ounces)
Revisit and Reframe
If your item doesn’t sell the first time, there are lots of reason why that might be, but it’s almost always the price. Don’t be afraid to relist, but tweak just one thing. I would first tweak the price, and then the pictures. If you make multiple edits, you won’t know which part of the listing converted the sale and won’t have learnings for future listings.