How to buy games on auction sites, and sell them on eBay for profit – a complete guide
For some time now, I’ve been engaging in the addictive business of hunting for videogame-related bargains on auction websites (primarily i-bidder and saleroom), and subsequently flipping them on eBay for profit.
It’s a tricky but rewarding game, and I thought I’d share some tips and things I’ve learned along the way, to help you avoid easy mistakes and find the best deals.
On the surface, the process itself is pretty simple. It’s essentially:
- Sign up to the auction site
- Sign up to eBay
- Start searching and bidding on the auction sites
- When you win one, pay for it and await arrival
- List the item(s) on eBay
- Sell them
Whilst this looks straightforward, there are many pitfalls and subtleties that can trip you up along the way. Here’s what I’ve learned from a fair bit of experience:
- Bulk lots are where the arbitrage is: It’s initially tempting to go for the smaller, one-item lots, as they tend to be more affordable or contain more ‘glamorous’ items. However, the arbitrage on the single items tend to be far less than the larger job-lots of multiple items. For example, a lot consisting of 2 Switch games, you might be able to buy for £30 and sell for £45. But a box of 50 JoyCons, you might be able to get for £100 and sell for £15 per Con, grossing £750 (this is a specific example that happened to me!).
- Sometimes you’ll have to guess: Part of the nature of online auction hunting is that sometimes the descriptions or photos aren’t particularly clear or detailed. A box of 50 games may not list any of them specifically, and the photo may just show the games at the top of the box. You’ll have to use a combination of intuition and zooming/enhancing the photos to make a call as to whether to bid, and for how much.
- Search terms: This is one area where you can gain a real advantage, and find some bargains. Generally, the search engines on these auction sites are not great. For instance, if you search for ‘Zelda’, unless the lister has specifically put the word Zelda into the description or title of the listing, it won’t appear. So blanket terms like ‘Nintendo’ or ‘PS4’ will only reveal those which have them specifically in their listings.
- Difference between a timed and live auction: This is a big one, and one I didn’t appreciate to begin with. Timed auctions essentially function like eBay; there’s an end date to the listing, and the highest bidder when the date is reached wins the lot. A live auction is one which happens on a given day over a few hours, and will have bidders online and in person there in real-time bidding for it.
Lots in Live auctions tend to go for higher prices than Timed auctions. Bidders get caught up in the excitement of live auctions, and items get more eyeballs generally, so this explains the higher prices. They’re still worth going for, just be aware you may not win as many, or may not get the best prices.
- eBay fees – only sell on 80% days: This one is probably the most important here. Every two weeks or so, eBay will run an ‘80% off fees’ promotion. This could mean that instead of paying 15% of every sale to ebay you’re paying 3%. It can have a massive impact on the arbitrage, and in some cases be the difference between profit and loss.
- Packaging: Another big, and often underestimated, impact on profit is the packaging costs. Because you’ll be sent the items from the aucitoneers with the packaging, try as often as you can to re-use this packaging. You will still have to buy your own a lot of the time, so if you do – get it in bulk from Amazon. These envelopes are those I use when I’m selling individual games.
- Labels: Postage is the third profit-eater – I find it’s cheaper and easier to simply use eBays labelling service for everything. Either print out the labels yourself, or use the QR code service for the Post Office to scan and auto-print the labels. The Post Office may pressure you to pay through them, but in all honesty it’s just unnecessary hassle if you have a lot of parcels.
- Never get emotionally sucked in when bidding: This is crucial. Have a maximum price you’re willing to pay for an item, and never go above it. You aren’t buying these games for your pleasure, you’rebuying them to sell for profit. The beauty of the auction sites is that you can input your highest willing price straight away, and you’ll only pay that amount if someone else bids £5 or less lower than it. So if an item has a reserve of £10, and you bid £100, but no one else bids, you’ll get it for £10.
- Take the hits on the chin: Sometimes you’ll get outbid for an item you really thought would do well profit wise, or worse – you’ll lose money on an item you sell on eBay. Or even worse – the item you thought you were getting from the auciton site, turns out to be a dud. I once bought what I thought was an unopened box of Pokémon cards, only to find that every pack had been opened with all the shiny cards removed! It’s ok – things like this will happen in this game. The key is to learn from it, and keep going.
- Use FB marketplace too: It’s not just auciton sites that give ample opportunity for arbitrage. Sites like Facebook Marketplace are well worth scouring for local bargains, and indeed, worth trying to sell on to avoid the eBay fees. There are drawbacks to FB Marketplace, check out this article for more details.
- Filter by Recently Listed: A handy time-saving move is to filter the search results by Recently Listed. The default filter is by auction date, but if you’re checking back regularly you’ll only be interested in what’s been listed recently since your last look. To save you scrolling through pages, use this filter.
- Advanced Settings on eBay: It should go without saying that you should always check the going retail price on eBay before you bid for anything on the auction site. But instead of checking the going asking prices or current bids of live listings, go to Advanced Settings, select ‘Sold items’ and ‘Located in your country’ and you’ll be treated to completed listings with final sale prices – so you know how much the item is actually selling for.
- Keep track of everything: It is absolutely crucial to keep track of all your activity. I use a simple Google Sheet, where I track every item, with columns for: Buying price, buying platform, arrival confirmation, selling platform, selling price, eBay commission, postage cost, net sale, profit, and percentage gain. Keeping a running total is useful and helps you keep a grip on things, and most importantly it allows you to spot patterns and trends for different types of product.
- The 1.5 rule: I’ve mentoned the eBay and postage costs – but it’s equally important to be aware of some of the hidden costs with autions. You’ll typically pay an auctioneer’s fee, VAT and shipping costs. To keep things simple, I use a rule of multiplying my bidding price by 1.5x, and that tends to cover it.
So those are my key rules and lessons for succeeding in the online videogame auction space. I hope they help in some way. Happy bidding!