eBay sellers rely on a variety of sourcing and business models to sustain their businesses. Beginning sellers should consider two things first: what to sell and how to find a source for things they can sell.
If you're not planning to be a hobbyist seller specializing in a particular variety of goods, and you don't have an existing bricks-and-mortar business of which eBay is just a part, these questions are critical to your success as a seller.
Too many beginning sellers become associated with a single drop shipper, then proceed to browse through the goods listed there and select items to sell on an ad-hoc basis. This is the road to frustration, since it ignores supply and demand and presumes that online businesses are a "set it up once, then let it generate money" kind of affair. They're not.
Daily Attention for Daily Results
Like the rest of the consumer marketplace, eBay buyers and their purchasing habits evolve constantly. Today's hot item may not be hot tomorrow. If it does stay hot, every seller on eBay will flock to it, driving margins (and thus profits) into the ground and leading sellers into troubled waters.
Contrary to the perception many beginning sellers have, eBay success isn't usually about getting an exclusive supplier to help ruthlessly undercut all of the other sellers all of the time. Most sellers work hard to figure out where demand will be and how they can reach the most buyers. This image is one of dedicated research, light-footed adaptability, and lots of hard work on an ongoing basis.
Models for Finding Products and Sources
Start with research from sources like eBay Pulse, Terapeak and other analytics tools, your own auctions, completed listings, general market research like trending Twitter topics, and even Google searches. Combine this information with one of the following models to decide what to sell and where to get it.
Hot Items in High Demand
For this to work, you have to know what's selling on almost a day-by-day basis, keeping up with hyped-up product releases, movie and television trends, the latest viral memes online, and so on. When competing against the much larger businesses and corporations that dominate this space, independent sellers can compete only on the most in-demand, must-have-it-today items for the buying public.
The sourcing for this model is most commonly retail. Look for goods that are sold out, in short supply, or not yet released in other areas of the country or world but that are available in quantity in your area at department stores, wholesale clubs, or through other retail outlets.
Items Similar to Hot Items
For every item that is truly hot on eBay, there is a market of some kind for similar items, often at a lower price or feature point for the value buyer. Keep a narrow mental list of the very hottest products that are selling well in the marketplace and keep your eyes peeled for clones, knockoffs, or value-oriented versions to sell. Sourcing for this will be places like wholesale clubs, but also importers, specialty retailers, drop shippers, wholesale lots, and even online retailers like Amazon.com or Overstock.com.
Related Accessories and Parts
Most consumer goods also drive the sales of related accessories and parts, and this is one of the classic areas of eBay profitability. Keep a much broader mental list of the big-ticket, high-demand items that are selling well across multiple categories, then creatively scour your sources for fun, unique, or in-demand accessories.
Almost any expensive item that's selling like hotcakes can be accessorized, protected, customized, or matched to related low-cost goods in some other way that offers a low-overhead fulfillment opportunity for independent sellers. Best sources for this model will be drop shippers, online retailers, and wholesale lots.
Seasonals and Popular Culture
Subtly different from the other research and selling models above, this one relies more on being aware of the various buying publics and events, seasons, and elements of popular culture. For this kind of selling, eBay-based analytics and research can often give way to Twitter, Google, and Facebook research.
This is one of the easier segments to source but the window may be limited. It will include retail and local wholesale for regional goods with national or international popular or seasonal appeal; drop shippers, online retailers, and wholesale lots for discount seasonal goods.
With each of the models above, research and timing are critical and hard work is everything. Be one step ahead of the market and you turn a tidy profit. Misidentify consumer demand or arrive late to the party along with all of the other sellers and you lose your shirt in fees for unsold items even if you don't acquire or maintain any inventory.
The key insight is that an eBay business is a job, not a series of websites, accounts, or tools. To succeed most sellers must put in daily hours, make use of the sourcing options already around you, and know what the buying public wants. That's how most successful sellers decide what to sell and where to source it.