10 lessons I’ve learned flipping video games for a year

In late 2022 I discovered an auction website, and decided to try my luck at buying and selling video games as a side-hustle of sorts. Why video games? Well, it was an area I felt I knew enough about to do OK, and more importantly, a subject I really enjoyed.

After over a year of many ups and downs, here are 10 key lessons I’ve learned that may help you if you’re thinking of doing the same:

1. Postage Costs

If you don’t pay attention to postage then it will eat into your profits like nothing else. Being based in the UK, I initially started using my local Post Office for both packaging purchases and actually sending the games I was selling.

This was a big mistake.

Using an alternative delivery service like Evri, and buying my packaing online from Amazon, made all the difference, more than halving my overall postage costs. This was possibly the single biggest change I made throughout the year in terms of overall impact to my bottom line.

2. Track Everything in a Google Sheet

I was only able to really quantify the savings I made on postage because I tracked absolutely every sale I made in a simple Google Sheet. Here are the columns I used:

BatchBought forSourceArrived?Sold onSold forEbay commissionPnPNET saleProfitCompleted?Percentage gain

The ‘batch’ is broadly every item bought within a 2 week period. Breaking down the purchases into batches allowed me to view trends as I was going, and to compare different batches in terms of profit and percentage gain.

‘Sold on’ refers to the platform I sold it on – which was almost always eBay. I dabbled in a few different platforms, like Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, but found eBay to be the best. Here’s an article explaining why.

Finally, the ‘percentage gain’ column is really important as whilst you might make more profit on more expensive items, seeing a high percentage margin on a smaller item is a good indicaiton that you should buy more of that item to sell, ideally in bulk.

3. EBay discount days

Alongside postage, the next biggest thing that ate into my profit during the year was the eBay commission. Thankfully there was an easy way around it, but it can definitely catch first-time sellers unawares.

Every 2 weeks, eBay offer 80% off their commission fees for anything listed over the course of that weekend.

The simple solution is to stockpile your items until one of these weekends, and list everything on the Sunday of that given weekend. I saw items that wouldn’t have turned a profit without the commission-saving suddenly become worth selling, just thanks to this.

4. Use Multiple Sources

I mentioned that I first dipped my toe into video game flipping because I discovered an auction website, which seemed to have gaming items at very cheap prices.

Whilst the auction site served me very well, it became clear that the best way to get the best cheap stock was to use other options alongisde it, such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree.

Ironically, the place I sold everything, eBay, I found is actually the place to avoid buying things, as the market is so hot it’s rare to find a real bargain.

5. Research it

Early on, it was all-too-easy for me to get excited when I saw somehting I thought was rare or enticing on an auditon site, and bid away, without actually knowing its resale value. Only when it came to selling it, I’d find I’d make a loss because it wasn’t actually sought after, or more likely I’d gotten competitive and bid over the odds initially.

After a while I realised no matter what I was looking to buy, I always had to check the going rates on eBay first.

Thankfully, eBay allow you to filter for items that have been sold recently in the UK via the Advanced Options setting – this is a complete godsend in actually gleaning the value of something, and I found it more accurate than sites like PriceCharting.com.

Another aspect of research is to read the fine print of the item you’re buying, particularly if it’s from an auction site. Auction sites are notorious for bad photos, selling broken items or just providing as little detail as possible on their online listings, so be sure to pour over the listing for as much detail as possible.

6. Bidding only!

It’s tempting to list your stock as a ‘Buy It Now’ on eBay, acompanied buy a hefty profit margin on your original purchase price. But in practice, this is rarely the right move. Listing your items as an auction with a Buy-It-Now optional price, gives the following perks:

  • More viewers – eBay prefers auctions, and prioritises auctioned items.
  • Drum up competition – eBay users get competitive and emotional. If they get outbid on something, theire natural insinct is to bid more, even if it’s over the odds.
  • Have an outrageous Buy-It-Now price – listing the BIN price as very high alongside the bidding has a double benefit; it makes the item seem more valuable in the bidders’ eyes, and also gives a chance that someone will be so desperate for the item that they pay the inflated price. Win-win.

By going this route, your items will sell for more overall. The only time I only go for BIN is when I’ve made a big order in bulk, say 30 controllers – listing these individually isn’t practical, and eBay doesn’t allow for multiple identical listings, so BIN in bulk is your best bet in this edge-case scenario.

7. Stay Emotionless

I’ve had a lot of highs and lows over the past year. Some months I’d make an amazingly high margin on a bulk purchase of Switch Joycons, which I sold for over 100% markup, and felt like king of the world. Another month, I’d buy several Super Nintendos, only to discover none of them worked, rendering them unsellable.

The key is to not react too emotionally to either of these scenarios.

Get too high off a good sale, it’s easy to think you’ve cracked it and it’s smooth sailing, breeding complacency. Converseley, getting to down about a dud can lead to either inertia and despondency, or worse, aggressive tilting to try and compensate for it. The best thing to do is to try to take the objective lessons from either case, and move forward with that knowledge.

8. Be Generous with Refunds

It can be tempting to be resistant to people asking for refunds after making a purchase. The money is already in your wallet, why should you give it back?

Well, there are several reasons why I found being generous with refunding customers pays off in the long run:

  • It’s the right thing to do. People don’t tend to lie about what theyve bought if there’s an issue with it. Even if you’ve tested the item, the reality is that selling second-hand video game tech, there will be issues you don’t catch before you sell. Just give them the refund.
  • It often leads to positive review: Several times when I’ve been quick to refund an item, the customer is so grateful they leave a good review. Good reviews are invaluable as an eBay seller.
  • Headspace: I found that the rare occasion where I resisted a refund, it just took up too much mental bandwidth, going back and forth for days with the angry buyer. Even if the request is dubious, just get it done and free up your mental headspace to focus on the next sale.

9. Patience is Key

At times, I may have gone a week or even a month without finding a good deal to bid on, or finding anything good in the local charity shops. Initially I’d get furstrated, and purchase something I shouldn’t, almost out of boredom.

Of course, this is a silly mistake. You’re much better off being patient and intentional with what you buy, or run the risk of being lumbered with stock that won’t sell for a profit.

10. Nintendo is King

Whilst the rest of these rules could apply to flipping any type of item, I’ll make the last point video game-specific.

For whatever reason, Nintendo hardware and software is the most sought-after stock. Whether it’s the nostalgia value, the general overall high quality, or the current successful mainstream appeal the company is having, people love the Big N.

If you can get our hand son Nintendo merchandise for a low price, snap it up as soon as you can.

Those are just some of the lessons I’ve learned after a year, and of course I’m learning more and more.

Here’s a piece I wrote on some eBay-specific tips on selling video games, that goes more in-depth into things like the type of packaging and how to format your listing.