How to sell items online safely and profitably

By Shane Hickey
Money How To sell online WEB
Selling online can help you be more sustainable and engage with the circular economy. Illustration: Jamie Wignall

Whether it is an embrace of minimalism, a want to clean up after 18 months of working from home or a desire to be more sustainable and engage with the circular economy, decluttering is the way ahead. And you can make some money in the process.

Work out what you want to sell – and if it’s saleable

Martin Lewis’s MoneySavingExpert suggests using the 12-month rule – if you have not used something for a year, then get rid of it.

When you are selling something, it is important to be honest about the condition. If you sell it on eBay and describe it as being “like new” then it must be – the buyer can return it if not and you have to cover the postage and packing costs.

Citizens Advice has some useful information on your obligations as a seller. Unlike someone running a business, you are not obliged to give the buyer their money back just because they have changed their mind.

Research prices

After deciding what you want to sell, you can get an idea of how much to charge for it by looking online.

Ebay has a function where you can search for completed listings, which shows what items have sold for in the past. Look across other sites such as Amazon, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree in order to get a wide view of what the going price is.

Look at how others describe their items to get an idea of what details customers expect. Be as specific as possible when describing your item, including the colour, year of manufacture and the condition.

Consider an auction site

The eBay website
Ebay has a function where you can search for completed listings, which shows what items have sold for in the past. Photograph: Ebay/PA

The first choice for many will be eBay, the online auctioneer where it appears possible to offload (almost) anything.

The advantage of an auction site is that if you do not know how to price your item the market should, in theory, work out what it is worth for you. You can set a reserve price – a lower limit that you will not part with the item for less than – but that attracts an extra fee of 4% of the reserve (to a maximum of £150 an item) whether it sells or not.

On eBay, when your item sells, you pay a final value fee of 12.8% of the total amount of the sale, plus a fixed charge of 30p an order. The fee is deducted from the sale and the rest of the money goes into your account. Using optional features such as bigger pictures on your ad also attracts more fees.

Using eBay will give you access to customers around the world, which should enable you to maximise the price you get. Buyers pay the postage and eBay has an option of estimating what the cost will be based on what other sellers have charged. If you want to add the postage charges yourself, make sure you don’t set them too low. The Royal Mail has a price finder for postage based on size, weight and destination. On top of that, remember to account for the cost of packing up the item if you are using new material.

Advertise to people in your community

You can avoid the issue of postage costs by advertising to people who can come and collect the item.

Gumtree charges no fees to post an ad. It will let you reach buyers in other parts of the country but it is often best used by those who are local to each other. Facebook Marketplace offers free ads and links sellers with buyers who typically collect the items in person – meaning it is better for people in urban areas where there is a bigger local audience.

Use a specialist site

Teenager at home with a smartphone using the Vinted app
Apps such as Vinted allow you to sell clothes and accessories online. Photograph: Photononstop/Alamy

To reach people interested in the type of thing you are selling, it might pay to use a specialised site, especially for fashion. Vinted is weighted in favour of the seller – there are no listing fees and commissions are paid by buyers. On Depop, which is aimed at a younger audience aged between 14 and 24, sellers can list for free but pay a 10% commission on items sold.

If you are selling items with designer labels there are a number of sites to choose from. Vestiaire Collective, one of the most prominent of the high-end sites, has fixed commission of £13 for items listed up to £130 and 15% to 25% for items between £130 and £7,000. There is a fixed commission of £1,750 for anything more than £7,000. The commission is taken by the site after the item is sold.

If your wedding dress has been hanging in your wardrobe since your special day, you could list it for sale on Stillwhite.com, which charges £17 for a standard listing with four photos or £27 for eight photos and it being on the site’s homepage.

Dotte is a marketplace for children’s clothes that charges sellers 15% commission for each transaction.

Sell to a resale site

For DVDs and CDs, use sites such as MusicMagpie, which suggests a price for the goods once you scan the barcode. If you are happy with the price, the site will buy the items off you and sell them on. After the goods are sent in for free, cash is deposited into your account.

The site also buys mobile phones: an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S10 would get you £160 in good condition.

Ziffit operates on a similar basis, with the seller scanning barcodes, packing up the goods and then using a courier service to send them to the company before the money is paid by bank transfer, PayPal or cheque. Both sites also buy books, as does WeBuyBooks, where users enter the ISBN numbers, get quotes and a free address label, and then get paid. For example, the site currently quotes £3.26 for a copy of Nigel Slater’s Greenfeast and £3.74 for the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Students may be able to sell on their academic books through Blackwell’s, which offers up to 20% of the selling price, although they must be current editions and be in a reasonable condition.

woman sitting on floor reading pile of books
If you want to sell books, you can use one of many reseller websites. Photograph: JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Loopster sends “clear-out” bags to parents for good-quality branded clothes, which are then checked and put on the site. It gives parents an offer for the clothes and the money is promised within a week. A Polarn O Pyret baby fleece can fetch £7, while a Zara dress for a three- to-four-year-old can net £1.30.

Protect yourself against rogue buyers

Selling secondhand goods online can come with problems if you encounter an unscrupulous buyer. Ebay has protections for sellers when abusive buyers claim an item is not as described or do not pay, among other offences. The site allows you to report a buyer. Ebay says it will warn them, not facilitate returns being sent and possibly suspend their account.

However, the company has attracted criticism for not doing enough to protect sellers amid claims some of the protections do not work as they should, leading some sellers to only deal with people who will pay cash on collection. Aim to deal with buyers who have high ratings on their profiles.

There are no protections on Gumtree and the site recommends that cash is “often the safest option” when selling. Similar rules apply on Facebook Marketplace – use cash and make sure you exchange goods in a safe place.


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