En español | Need a little cash? Looking to declutter? Online apps and platforms are helping people sell unwanted stuff by reaching a wider audience and targeting buyers looking for specific items.
Some of these digital marketplaces are newer and have recently gained traction. Others, like eBay and Craigslist, have been around for quite a while. Either way, a few best practices can help you find a buyer and get rid of unwanted items.
That's what Brynn Wren, 68, did when she decided to move in with her sister a few years ago and had to winnow down the contents of her 2,100-square-foot home to fit into two rooms.
"I started selling everything that I collected over the last six to eight years, pretty much just getting down to what I really need,” says Wren, of Roseville, California. While necessity initially drove Wren to start selling on eBay and Facebook Marketplace, she discovered she enjoyed it.
"I kind of got the fever and just kept selling stuff,” she says. While now Wren buys and sells for fun, the hobby has also added a little extra income to her budget. Over the last few years, she has sold some 400 items, earning a few hundred dollars a month.
"When you get a sale, the app on my phone makes a little noise like a cash register, and every time I hear that I perk up,” she says.
Wren is hardly alone in using online marketplaces to buy and sell everything from brooches and bedroom furniture to campers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook Marketplace has more than 1 billion users.
So where should you sell? Some apps and platforms specialize in certain items. If you want to connect with younger buyers who want your ‘80s T-shirts and ‘70s jewelry, apps like Mercari and Depop may be the best options. If you want to unload that gently used iPhone, Swappa may be your best bet. If you're looking to unload a big piece of furniture, think local and post on Facebook Marketplace or Nextdoor's classifieds.
And if the idea of selling online sounds daunting, here are some tips from the pros to help get you started.
1. Know your worth
Do some research so you know what similar products are selling for and try to find the sweet spot for your asking price — not too high and not too low.
Wren mostly sells online for fun, but she doesn't want to lose money, either. “I take my smartphone with me and look up things that I find at estate sales on the spot, to see if they sell and what they sell for,” she says. That means she's not wasting time or money hawking something no one wants. Wren says it also adds a “treasure-hunting aspect” to the process.
2. Create a targeted title and description
Coming up with a good title for your online listing is key to connecting with customers. “Your title is important and will draw buyers in, so be sure to use brand and product names like ‘vintage Pyrex mixing bowl,'” says Tiffany Olson, a trend expert at Mercari.
Kristi Carambula, 68, of Portage, Michigan, is an avid Facebook Marketplace seller. She says the listing — meaning the description of the item outside of the title — can be equally important. “I like to write a catchy phrase at the beginning of my listings,” she says. When she sold an RV, her listing started with “All the comforts of home.” When two copper mugs were up for sale, she asked “Moscow mules anyone?” The phrases are designed to catch the eye of people scrolling through.
Once she has a potential buyer's attention, Carambula quickly provides all the information needed. “I list the things a buyer is likely wanting to know,” she says. “For the RV I sold, I included its age, all updated items, details about the appliances and towing package, etc.,” she says.
Where to Sell Your Items
There's a digital marketplace for whatever you want to sell.
- Facebook Marketplace
Local sales and larger items:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Ruby Lane
- Facebook Marketplace
3. Think keywords
Keywords are the words and phrases people type into a search engine to find what they're looking for online, so if you're selling on the internet it helps to be a savvy here. This ties in to Olson's emphasis on titles. For example, “Vintage Pyrex Mixing Bowl” is the exact phrase that someone might type into a search engine.
Keywords are important whether you're selling or buying, says Karen McMahon, 55, of East Schodack, New York. “As a buyer, I frequently look up brand names that I'm a fan of on Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone is selling an item I'm interested in,” she says.
When she is selling online, she'll include brand names in her listings to help buyers find the exact items they want — both in titles and in item descriptions. “Provide as many details as you can on the item,” Olson says. This helps a buyer make a purchase decision, but it also helps interested parties find the items among the vast offerings of the internet.
4. Pictures, please
When McMahon posts items to Facebook Marketplace, she uses high-quality photos and lots of them.
"In my experience, the more images the better, so you give prospective buyers a good idea of the item before they make a purchase,” she says. McMahon takes the time to stage the item, whether furniture, an antique or an appliance, putting it in natural light and refraining from flash or filters, to “help buyers envision the item in their own life."
5. Be responsive
When a buyer is interested in an item, one of the most important things a seller can do is be available to answer queries as soon as possible.
"Being active on the platform and making myself available to quickly answer questions, coordinate meeting times and facilitate payment helps people feel comfortable with the process,” McMahon says. “I also find that when people know what they're looking for they're likely contacting numerous Facebook Marketplace sellers with related items. Being quick with my responses allows me to shore up interest and ensure that I'm getting the sale.”
If you don't want to be stuck on your computer all day while trying to sell an item, take a tip from Carambula and set up a specific block of time to post items when you can be available to quickly answer inquiries as they roll in.
"Some things generate lots of interest and people are eager to buy, so my quick response, honest answers and tracking the order in which offers come in is more than a courtesy, it's essential in establishing credibility,” she says. Once an item sells, Carambula quickly marks it as sold and alerts other interested would-be buyers about the sale so they can move on. “They seem to appreciate that and thank me for letting them know.”
6. Be honest
"I always recommend being forthright with the condition of your item — specifically call out any flaws or wear and tear that your buyers should be aware of before purchasing,” McMahon says. “The last thing you want is for someone to feel duped that what they purchased was not as advertised, especially when they've gone through the trouble of traveling to pick it up."
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7. Make the deal safely
The great news about online selling is that typically the buyer or the site pays for shipping. For example, on eBay, shipping is automatically calculated and a buyer usually gets an estimate of cost.
Other sites, like Decluttr, pay for the shipping, making it even easier for buyers and sellers to make an exchange. Even Facebook Marketplace allows sellers to choose whether they want to ship items or allow for local pickup. “You'll be surprised by how wide people cast their net when looking for an item they're really interested in, so as a seller, it might be worth considering shipping your item or accommodating nonlocal interest,” says McMahon.
If you are making sales in person, use common sense when meeting up with buyers. If the item being exchanged is small, people often set a public place — like a school or restaurant parking lot — to meet up. If you're selling a large item that would need to be picked up from your home, it can be trickier. Sellers may prefer to do exchanges during daylight hours and have a relative or friend at home with them when the buyer arrives.
Melissa Locker is a contributing writer who covers lifestyle, home and garden, and arts and culture. She has also written for Southern Living, TIME and The Guardian.