High cost of living. Stagnate wage growth. Student loan debt. These three factors, along with others, have contributed to the rapid growth and expansion of the gig economy. Every kind of service, from driving for Uber and Lyft to assembling Ikea furniture, can be outsourced to a willing and eager freelancer. While services like Lyft and TaskRabbit are intended as supplemental income, more and more people are relying on the gig economy to pay essential bills.
Another increasingly popular method of earning additional income today is buying and selling online (or locally). Improvements in global marketplaces, logistics, and technology have allowed individuals to establish their own ecommerce businesses.
But where do you source products for Amazon, eBay, or other online marketplaces? Product sources are usually guarded by established sellers. Sellers on most forums are usually very secretive about their sourcing. Why? Because they’ve spent hours of research and a lot of money in order to learn where to get their inventory. Save time by reading our article on online B2B marketplaces like Alibaba if you’re looking for alternatives.
The sources discussed in this article are great for people doing retail and online arbitrage or ecommerce. People who are flipping may recognize some of these sources and perhaps learn about new opportunities as well. Once they have their products, they can sell them on these classifieds marketplace. Or check out the fees to sell on these major online marketplaces.
If you purchase used products, you’ll have to clean (if necessary), test, and take pictures of them. Read our article on photography tips if you’re new to taking product photos.
We’ll go over some of the most common places people use to source products for their Amazon and eBay store.
Source Products For eBay, Craigslist, or Others
There are numerous ways you can source products today for a really low price and then turn around and sell it for more. Flipping requires very little capital and has low risk, but it also requires a lot of time. It’s a great way for new sellers to eBay and other used marketplaces to start their journey into sales. A $5 purchase at the local Salvation Army can turn into a $50 sale with a little bit of work. Don’t forget to track your mileage if you’re claiming travel as an expense.
Most of these items are used, but if you get them at a low enough price, there’s always going to be some demand somewhere for it. Some ultra-obscure item that you may have written off as junk may be worth several hundred dollars to the right person.
Here are some of the most common places for people to source used products. Chances are you’re nearby one of these locations and can stop by to take a look. Scroll down to our section on Amazon if you’re looking to source products to sell there. While you can sell used products on Amazon, most people go to Amazon for new products.
Thrift stores abound in the United States. Chances are you’re just a few miles away from a Goodwill, Savers, or Value Village. Even better may be independent thrift stores since they tend to be more organized and clean. But not all thrift stores are the same. Some will look up prices online before they price their products. If your store does this, then find another one.
Who knows? You may even find something you’ll want to keep for yourself.
To find the thrift stores nearest you, you can do a simple Google search by typing in “thrift stores near (zip code)” to see all the local ones. You’ll even find reviews that may help you determine whether or not one is worth visiting.
Some tips for searching for great deals at thrift stores:
- Stores near more affluent areas are more likely to have better quality or brand name inventory, especially clothing
- Many stores have specific sales days, like 50% off a specific colored tag each day of the week
- Be friendly with the workers when possible—they may give you some tips or help you out once you get to know them
- Learn the schedule for when the stores release inventory on the floor—this can be a specific time of day or day of the week
Swap Meets or Flea Markets
Swap meets and flea markets are not only good locations to source products, but they can be a fun family outing as well. It’s an excuse to “take a break” from work and bring the family along to peruse the stalls and tables for inventory. Swap meets and flea markets can take up an entire building or parking lot. Many of these may be hosted in the parking lot of your local community college. A lot of sellers don’t know what they have, or they don’t care to learn how to sell something online.
Some tips for navigating swap meets and flea markets:
- Many vendors here are open to haggling, but don’t waste their time and yours by offering insultingly low prices
- Bring cash since most sellers won’t have a credit reader, and most won’t take Venmo or some other mobile payment system
- Wear comfortable shoes for walking and dress appropriately for the weather
- Go early and you’ll have first access to the inventory, but if you go later, you’ll get better prices since people don’t want to cart everything home
Craigslist or eBay
Some people set up alerts or develop scripts to automatically notify them of products listed at low prices. Some people just want to get rid of their things quickly, and they don’t care about how much they get.
So you may find someone willing to his Nintendo Switch for $150 because he no longer wants it and needs the cash. Don’t offer an even lower price, since any delay will mean someone else will pick it up at the asking price. When these listings appear, they’re often gone within the hour. You’ll need to move quickly if you want the deal. Be wary of too good to be true deals, as they are usually scams.
If you’re not afraid of putting in some work, the Craigslist free section can sometimes have a dresser or a table that needs some work. Personalizing these pieces of furniture can often result in a nice bit of profit for a few hours of work. You may even earn more if you’re artistically inclined.
Some tips for dealing with Craigslist and eBay:
- If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is, and you should avoid the purchase unless you’re willing to be scammed
- Trust your instinct and avoid anything that is sketchy, like meeting someone in a bad part of town at night
- Meet at a public place like a Starbucks—some police stations also have specific meet-up places for local sales
- When buying expensive electronics, inspect and turn on to test—meet at a cellphone store to check serial number if possible
- For larger purchases, you may want to bring someone along if you’re worried about carrying cash, or ask beforehand about paying through some mobile payment system like Venmo
- You’ll get an idea of the person over email and text—if you feel something is off, then avoid the purchase
- Consider using a Google Voice number to filter all your Craigslist purchases so you won’t be harassed by eccentrics
- eBay items like consumer electronics that are sold as “lots” can be profitable if you know enough to repair them
- Any offer higher than your asking price is a scam, as is any offer to send you a large check for price plus shipping.
- Don’t accept any payment other than cash (Venmo may be okay, but personal checks or credit cards aren’t)
Garage Sales or Yard Sales
Garage sales or yard sales are great ways to source products to sell on eBay. Think about it: people have garage sales so that they can get rid of all the “junk” they no longer want. And in many cases, they may not know what they have and just want the stuff gone.
You may find parents cleaning out their garage or attic and stumbling across their kids’ video game systems from the 80s or 90s. Those video game systems may even be brand new in package. And they may be asking only $5 for it when it’s going for $100 online.
Find local garage sales in the local papers, on Craigslist, or on apps that list garage sales.
Some tips for going to garage sales:
- The early bird gets the worm, so a lot of expert flippers will arrive right when the garage sale starts
- Avoid annoying the sellers by showing up 2 hours early and demanding early access
- Bring cash since many people don’t have credit readers or don’t know about mobile payments like Venmo
- If you arrive a little later, you may be able to get the remaining stuff at a low price
- Don’t be afraid to make reasonable offers since most people will want everything gone
Estate sales to source products can be hit or miss depending on who is running it. Some people will hire companies to manage an estate sale, while others will have family members or relatives manage the sale. Regardless, a worthwhile estate sale will be one where the family just wants the stuff gone. You’ll know fairly quickly if people are pricing items at eBay prices. If so, you’re probably better off sourcing products elsewhere.
If you find a company you like that manages estate sales, you can visit their site and see other estate sales they’re holding. This may be more convenient for you than searching through Craigslist or the local papers. You’ll also learn to avoid the companies that are not so great. Estate Sales is an example of a website with a zip code search function.
Some tips for estate sales:
- Some estate sales will drop prices every day, so you’ll be able to make offers near closing on the last day
- Go early and wait in line or get a number since the good stuff will go quickly
- Carry anything that you may be interested in—it may be gone if you change your mind later and go back
- Don’t expect help carrying or loading your items
- Some estate sales may not allow large bags for security reasons, so learn beforehand—you can always leave one in the car in case
- Ask questions, especially about picking up larger items before you purchase or other areas you can look through
Liquidation companies can be good places to source products if you’re willing to take the risk. These companies purchase their inventory by the pallet from store closings, failed Amazon ventures, or for any other reason people have for getting rid of inventory quickly. Liquidation companies often buy inventory for pennies on the dollar, and they turn around and sell it to others for a profit.
See our article for suggestions on how sellers might get rid of their customer returns inventory to understand where and how these businesses get inventory.
Check out YouTube unboxing videos and reviews for any liquidation and wholesale companies before you purchase from them. Some of them are known to cherry pick the pallets, leaving you with only low-value and broken merchandise.
Some other tips for liquidated inventory:
- Don’t forget about shipping, which can be very high for large and heavy items
- Inspect the manifest, condition, and pictures whenever possible to determine worth
- Factor in labor for sorting and a solution for getting rid of unsalvageable items
- Electronics can be a hassle since they can’t simply be thrown into the trash, but they can be parted out if you have the knowledge and patience
Local Auctions or Auction Websites
Local auctions can be a good way to source products for flipping on eBay. Do a Google search for local auctions near you to check out their websites and hours. Check out the reviews to see what others say. Many of them will have daily or weekly auctions, and if you know what you’re looking for, you can earn a nice profit on the items. These auctions usually have overstock, clearance, or liquidated products, or even stuff from shuttered businesses up for sale. You may even find something you can use for your own business here.
Most people will think about automotive auctions or large auction houses that handle artwork, but plenty of local auction houses sell things from household goods to pianos and appliances. Some auction houses may specialize in specific categories, so learning this beforehand may save you some time if your niche is something else.
Others will scour auction websites for great deals. These might be auctions on shopgoodwill or government surplus auctions on GovDeals. Don’t expect items to be in the best of conditions when you purchase them through auctions. At the very least, you can expect to test and clean products from these auctions. You may even have to repair them if you have the know-how or are willing to learn. Some products may be more valuable parted out, so keep an eye out for these if you’re willing to put in some extra work.
You’ll want to check your state laws if you’re thinking about buying and selling cars. Most states require a car dealer’s license if you’re selling more than a few cars per year.
If you’ve watched Storage Wars on A&E, then you know what this entails. Don’t go into a storage unit expecting to make a fortune. In fact, you should probably observe your first storage unit auction just to understand how the entire process works. It’ll also give you an opportunity to see how the veterans of the trade work. You also shouldn’t harbor high expectations. More people lose money or break even with storage unit auctions than people who make tens of thousands of dollars.
You should observe because many first-time storage unit auction winners end up losing money. If they’re lucky, they may break even after hours of sorting, cleaning, and hard work.
No one, including the managers, employees, and bidders are allowed to enter the units until they’re sold. But some will actually “stage” units so that the bids go up. Be careful of these, as you may see large boxes for 65″ Samsung OLED TVs and other high-end electronics in plain sight, but these boxes may end up being empty. Other storage places may cherry pick the good items, leaving behind junk for everyone else. If you sense this from the location, it’s best to move elsewhere.
Here are some tips to consider when you attend your first storage unit auction:
- Bring a strong flashlight to get a better look inside since many storage units aren’t lit
- Set a limit for the auction and don’t get carried away—only bid seriously or you may be stuck with a unit you didn’t intend to buy
- You have a limited amount of time to empty the unit after you win, so make sure you have a vehicle and help for loading the contents
- Plan for how you’ll handle the stuff not worth selling: landfill, donations, etc.
- Look through everything—some people may hide or leave money in books
The reality with storage units is that they may not be as worthwhile a time investment as Storage Wars may lead you to believe. After all, if the show only highlighted the flops, it wouldn’t last very long. The time to sort, dump, donate, clean, test, list, and ship may ultimately net you only a few dollars an hour. And that’s if you don’t have to rent a truck to cart the contents home, to the landfill, and then to the donation center.
Retail or Online Arbitrage
A lot of people source products online or at retail stores for really low prices and then turn around and sell those items on eBay or Amazon for much more. Low prices can be a result of clearances, store closures, or even bankruptcies. Keep an eye out for end-cap clearance displays at your local Target next time you’re picking up some household sundries. You never know what you’ll find.
Clearance items usually have an uncommon ending price like $2.47 or $4.01. Stores also have daily or weekly schedules where they reprice and mark clearance items even lower, so you can time your visits accordingly. So if you see a price that doesn’t end in .99, you may be looking at a clearance item. Some are even able to earn a nice profit using arbitrage from Costco or Trader Joes to Amazon or eBay.
Check out close-out sales, deals sites like the Hot Deals forum at Slickdeals, and other major sales dates like Black Friday to get steep discounts. Chances are you can find some forum related to a niche or hobby that focuses on deals. Other sellers may load up on end-of-season clothing at a steep discount and then store it for next season. This may be riskier since fashion trends change from year to year.
Some people like to buy out limited collectible releases only to turn around and sell them at a much higher price once the supply is gone and demand is high. These opportunists have the knowledge and skill (through scripts or bots) to purchase limited releases. Some popular examples are limited edition shoes, video game consoles, and even cars.
Clearance sections online are also good product sources for items. Sometimes, you’re able to use coupons and other discounts to reduce the price. Some sellers are even able to buy from Amazon and relist on eBay to turn a small profit, but you’ll want to be careful about doing this (dropshipping) with your Amazon account. That’s because you don’t control the product condition, shipping, or packaging. Tools exist that will tell you if arbitrage between eBay and Amazon is worthwhile, and some tools compare opportunities between marketplaces like Aliexpress and Amazon or eBay.
Sometimes, online coupons, steep discounts, free shipping, and credit card rewards make an item worthwhile to sell even after Amazon or eBay fees. For instance, Amazon’s Prime credit card gives you 5% off purchases on Amazon. If you’re able to identify a large enough spread between two marketplaces, then retail arbitrage may be worthwhile.
Don’t forget to use your credit card rewards to earn that extra percent or two of profit! or use online cash back programs like Ebates to make even more money!
Other Used Classifieds Marketplaces
Don’t forget other venues people use to get rid of their things. Check out the following classifieds marketplaces. Some of these may be more active in your area than others. So browse through each to see which are popular for your region. Many new apps and marketplaces will also give you free credits in order to attract new customers. You may even find a good deal on something for yourself.
- Facebook Marketplace
- LetGo, Mercari, VarageSale, Oodle, 5miles
- OLX (International)
- Kijiji (Canada)
- Gumtree (UK)
Source Products for Amazon
Below are some of the most common methods sellers use to source products to sell on Amazon. Capital investment is higher to sell on Amazon. Many people new to selling start by selling used and then move onto Amazon when they have enough capital to invest.
Many of these sources will require business and tax information, so you’ll need to have those ready. Others will require some kind of bank wire (T/T or Telegraphic Transfer) or Paypal. Make sure you read up on the requirements and do your research before you commit to a purchase. If you’re buying from foreign companies, you may want some kind of customer protection like Alibaba’s Trade Assurance. These protections will save you a lot of time and money in the event the business is a fraud.
Trade Shows or Exhibits
Trade shows and exhibits are perhaps the best places to gather and network for upcoming products. Online business to business (B2B) marketplaces like Alibaba may be good, but they don’t quite offer the insight into upcoming products that trade shows offer. These exhibits and shows are also a great way to keep yourself updated with the latest trends.
Visiting a trade show also allows you to better plan and adapt your business. Consumers can be fickle, so trade shows allow you to anticipate and adapt to the flow of consumer demands. You may even be able to source products in small batches from some vendors to test the market and interest.
Trade shows are held almost every month throughout the US. Chances are you can hop onto a flight and visit one this month if you have the resources. If you can imagine a product and a category, then there’s a good chance a show exists where manufacturers and vendors gather.
One of the most popular and recognized trade shows is the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, Nevada every January. Do a Google search for a trade show in your particular niche or browse upcoming trade shows using Absolute Exhibit’s Top 100 trade shows organized by month. One of the major trade shows in China is the Canton Fair, usually held in October.
Some tips for visiting these trade fairs:
- Most exhibitors may be willing to sell you remaining stock or demo products at a steep discount on the last day
- Some trade shows, like the Canton Fair, are enormous, so do some planning to maximize your time there
- Wear good, comfortable shoes when visiting a big show like the Canton Fair
- Bring a lot of business cards to save time
- Have some way to take notes, whether on phone or pen and pad
- Bring some method of carrying items
Online Marketplaces like Alibaba
Many Amazon gurus or workshops will tell you to use Alibaba to source products to sell on Amazon. Even Jungle Scout’s million-dollar case study uses Alibaba. But there are other marketplaces that Chinese suppliers and manufacturers use to sell their goods. Other marketplaces like Alibaba are DHgate, Chinabrands, and Aliexpress. Check out more of these online B2B marketplaces like Alibaba.
Some tips for using Alibaba and contacting manufacturers:
- Be concise with your messages—long messages can cause confusion because of language and cultural differences
- Some businesses are suppliers rather than manufacturers, and this may not matter except some suppliers act as middlemen without offering value
- Larger minimum order quantity (MOQ) usually means lower per unit costs
- Get an inspection service for your orders to ensure quality control and to avoid a costly surprise
- Get samples via air delivery before purchase
- Work out your shipping and freight ahead of time
Distributors and Wholesalers
Another way to source products is buying from wholesalers or distributors. While this may cost a little more than buying direct, it’s also more approachable for many small businesses. Whereas manufacturers may require $100,000 orders, distributors may have no requirements except for a tax ID.
Distributors mainly sell specific categories of goods. For instance, Ingram Micro is a major technology distributor in the US. Search for major distributors for your area of focus and look at their websites for requirements to establish accounts. You may learn that for certain categories, there are only a handful of distributors supplying all vendors in your region.
Some tips for working with distributors:
- Established vendors may be able to purchase products on terms
- Have business documents and tax information readily available to set up accounts
- Shop around, as pricing may vary wildly amongst distributors
- Smaller or local distributors may require cashier’s checks before allowing new vendors to make purchases
One of the most common ways to source products for sale is to contact the manufacturer. Some may direct you to their distributors, but some smaller manufacturers may be willing to sell to you directly. Most manufacturers have a process in place for businesses interested in becoming authorized dealers or retailers. This is Samsung’s page for businesses interested in becoming authorized distributors or resellers.
Becoming an authorized distributor or reseller is important if you’re selling on a platform like Amazon. Dealing with inauthentic claims on Amazon can be a nightmare for smaller sellers. Being an authorized dealer or reseller also means that the warranties are still valid for the products you sell. This may not be the case for people who are doing arbitrage since warranties don’t generally transfer.
Many manufacturers also have Unilateral Pricing Policy or Minimum Advertised Price policies, so be sure you’re aware of those before you purchase. Some manufacturers also police Amazon listings, pay third parties to police, or subscribe to services that alert them to low prices. If you attempt to undercut sellers on these listings, you’ll likely receive some notice. Even though Amazon doesn’t necessarily enforce MAP policies, manufacturers and distributors can simply stop selling to you.
Be prepared to provide some supporting documents for major manufacturers. Some requirements may be:
- Business license and tax documents
- Some manufacturers require a physical retail storefront or website (check out our ecommerce store solutions)
- Minimum purchase requirements or order requirements, like Crayola’s requirements
Here are some helpful tips regardless of where you source products:
Many people use some kind of scanning app to determine whether or not an item is worth selling. You can find a list of these scanning apps on our handy list of Amazon tools and services. Or read our article on popular scanning apps for Amazon. Think about ways you can maximize your time. As you grow, automation will become essential to keeping expenses low and increasing the time you have to source.
If you’re selling used goods, then think about your time investment. It may not be worthwhile buying, testing, cleaning, listing, packing, and then shipping an item just for a few dollars of profit. Your time is worth more than that.
If you’re new to the world of online sales, you may want to start with what you know. Whether that’s clothing, a hobby, or even items around your house, you’ll have a much easier time listing, answering questions, and handling what you know. That also includes any skills you have.
Tech-savvy people can repair computers for resale. Artists have turned to Etsy or other Print On Demand (POD) marketplaces to market their brand.
You’re running a business, so you’ll want to keep good records. Getting into the habit of good recordkeeping will mean you’ll pay less for a bookkeeper or accountant to sort through your paperwork. Records can include mileage logs and spreadsheets for purchase prices.
You may eventually want to invest in some kind of accounting software. Here are some well-known accounting solutions for small businesses. Some even have a free option for users who don’t need much.
Always inspect and test the products whenever possible. The last thing you want is to go home with your $10 commercial microwave only to wake up the next morning with a roach infestation. Similarly, you’ll want to inspect for bed bugs or other kinds of bugs before you purchase or bring those purchases into your home.
Network. Networking is one of the most important aspects in business. While you source products for your 1st or 10,000th sale, you’ll want to make connections. You’ll never know if someone else has a tip, insight, or a deal to share with you that you would have otherwise missed.
Networking can even include joining Amazon seller Facebook groups, local Amazon seller meet-ups, or even an Amazon seller Slack channel.
Use your credit card rewards or online rebate programs to maximize your savings and profit with cash back! Don’t forget to pay off your balance to avoid interest rates. Even at 1% cash back, you could be earning hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.
Why didn’t some other obvious locations make this list? Some businesses, like pawn shops, may seem like great locations to source products. But these businesses are usually aware of online prices and price accordingly. They’ve likely priced their products right at the market rate, so you won’t be able to make much from pawn shops.
You may be wondering why some people go through so much trouble just to find items to sell. Attending estate sales, garage sales, and storage unit auctions may seem like a waste of time for some. However, others love the thrill of the “hunt,” the ability to set their own schedule, and the feeling of control over their financial security. These reasons far outweigh the doldrums of a nine-to-five office job for some.
As with any other major decision, there are both advantages and disadvantages. But there’s nothing to stop you from supplementing your income by using one of the ideas to source products. You can even start by going through your house and identifying objects that you no longer use or want. Start selling them on eBay, Amazon, or Craigslist to begin your journey the world of sales and ecommerce!
Or stop by a garage sale or a thrift store on your way back from Sunday brunch. You may even find a signed Picasso print in tucked in amongst some student’s abandoned art project at the local Salvation Army.