What's the best way to sell vintage stuff?
September 15, 2010 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I would like to start selling vintage goods (kitchenware, art pottery, etc.) online and am looking for suggestions.

I've researched eBay, Etsy, Ruby Lane and Bonanzle. All have pluses and minuses that are well-documented online. But before I move forward I want the hive mind's opinion on which of these would be best in terms of visibility, affordability, and the ability to sell my stuff at a decent profit.

I'm also open to other suggestions -- should I just get my own website? Should I try to do this IRL, like at flea markets or consignment shops?

I'm looking for advice based on what other MeFites have done or where you shop online. I've already read pretty much everything I can find online about the subject so I'm not really looking for links. Thanks!
posted by xenophile to Work & Money (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Etsy tolerates the sale of one-of-a-kind antiques, but it's not quite the right venue and does sorta go against their TOS. eBay has been OK for collectibles and antiques, but it (as a seller, and a son-in-law of PowerSellers) has been weakening as a high-profit-margin sales venue. I have no personal experience with Ruby Lane, but haven't heard anything particularly bad about it. Sadly, I've never heard of Bonanzle before you've mentioned it.

As for IRL: my in-laws used to have a half dozen full booths and antique malls throughout Wisconsin; they are now down to only one, and they're not sure that one is worth it either. Wifey and I rent two cases at local antique malls, and profitability is all over the board -- one month we make a bunch, the next we're paying in to keep up the rent. You really need to do research if you want to get into an antique mall to know if you're going to see the customers you want to sell to.

If you do flea markets, ADD IN THE COST OF YOUR TIME, FOOD, TRANSPORTATION, etc. You need to make a couple hundred bucks a day on top of the cost of your items just to break even. If you sell twelve things and figure your profit was $50, it won't be worth the effort.

"Getting your own site" means figuring out a way to manage transactions online yourself -- asking people to email you when they want to buy something is a pain in the butt and difficult to track. PayPal lets you do simple things with basic HTML, which might suffice for small inventories. My wife likes to point people towards using a WordPress PayPal plugin, which lets you maintain a website store using Wordpress Software. It's more complicated than I like, and I've never messed with it, so I can't say just how easy it is.

Ruby Lane may be your best route if you want a non-auctiony website to sell things on, without the headache of managing transactions yourself. You need to keep a pretty heavy inventory to maintain a online store website like Ruby Lane and keep it worth your while; if your inventory is small, eBay may still be your best bet.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:57 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Starting out, you're probably best using an existing site. By all means run a concurrent blog or something that showcases your stuff, but you don't want to have to deal with all the checkout and security and direct negotiation with your bank about payment methods stuff straight up.

I've only used Ebay, with some success, but have found that anything I sell needs to have a 10-15 dollar margin to cover my time. Even once you've got it down pat, getting all your listings up for a week, responding to questions, checking payments, and packing stuff up for shipping takes quite a bit of time. Also, don't forget to work packing materials and insurance into your standard shipping rates. That'll just eat both your profit and your $10-15 time margin.

But there is a problem with this. Lots of people will pick free packing and shipping over carefully calculated actual costs. So try to sell things in an area where the margins are natural. Ie what you buy can be marked up by more than all of your costs, and still allow you to turn a profit.

Despite my experience only being with eBay, Etsy has actually always looked more attractive to me. The listings and photos are certainly better, and the quality of what's being sold seems higher. But (this may just be my stupidity) I've never found a good way of searching the thing. So in a field where lots of other people are selling similar things, it seems like it would be easy to get drowned out.

Good luck!
posted by Ahab at 2:01 PM on September 15, 2010

I buy a lot of stuff online and rarely sell but based on conversations with other sellers here's my two cents.

You get more traffic on Ebay and better $$ but the rules are more difficult and the dispute process is biased in favor of the buyer. If you sell here it's be good to learn about the dispute process, holds on $$ for sellers etc. You should also learn the ins and out of Paypal disputes if you sell here.

If you choose the ebay route check out this post . Likely your items won't be as high risk for scamming as designer bags but some of the tips are still good.

Bonanzle has less traffic but is simpler to use. You can just leave things up until they sell. You can even put a booth on vacation if you're away.

Etsy and Ruby Lane see like they'd have a great built in audience for vintage. No idea about selling here.

If you made your own site the question would be traffic and making people feel comfortable to shop there without worry.

Consignment shops would probably take a lot maybe even half of the total sale but would do all the work.

The flea market in some ways would be easiest. Cash and no returns.

good luck!
posted by oneear at 2:11 PM on September 15, 2010

Here's the post .
posted by oneear at 2:12 PM on September 15, 2010

For clothing, Market Publique "is the only marketplace dedicated to vintage fashion." They started it when they realized the lack of online spaces to buy and sell vintage.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 1:37 PM on September 25, 2010

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