Thrift Store Flipping 101

Thrift Wars cover





From Thrift Wars: A Battle-Tested Internet Business Plan: Find Hidden Thrift Stores Treasure and Sell on Amazon, eBay and Etsy for Huge Profits with Online Arbitrage


Let’s go thrift shopping!!!!

Not so fast, young Padawan.  Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke leaves his Jedi training with Yoda too early, in order to go face Darth Vader?  What happened?  He got his hand cut off with a light saber.  Don’t get your hand cut off with a light saber.

Learn the basics of thrift shop flipping, before you buy a bunch of junk and fill your basement with worthless crap.



There are several fundamental guidelines that every flipper should follow when shopping at thrift stores.  You should write these down and keep them in your go-pack (which we will cover later in this book), so that you can keep them fresh in your mind.


  1. Know the potential value of the item(s) that you are buying.
  2. Time is Money!
  3. Condition, condition, condition
  4. Understand your competition
  5. Treat your thrifting as a Business


Each of these guidelines is very important and they will all affect your bottom line.  Let’s take a closer look at each guideline.

Know the Potential Value of Thrift Shop Items


The last thing that you want to do when buying items to resell is to guess what their value might be.  Even though items at thrift stores are relatively low priced, it is still very easy to buy items that will lose money.  This is especially true of used books, which is a staple of the thrift store flipper’s inventory.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books that will lose you money at every thrift store.  Don’t be the flipper that buys a shopping cart full of penny books because they like popular fiction books.

Many factors play into the resale value of thrift shop items:  Production numbers, current availability in the marketplace, competition and collector’s appeal affect resale prices.

There are three ways to evaluate items before you buy them:

  1. Check current prices with your cell phone
  2. Prior online research on eBay, Etsy and collector sites and forums
  3. Your experience with selling or listing the same (or very similar items online

Amazon has a seller app that is very handy for flippers, especially for items with bar codes.  You can scan bar codes with your cell phone and the app will tell you what the potential profit is, based on the cost at the thrift store.  We will talk more about this app later.

Of course, I will take occasional flyers on items worth under $1.  For these low priced items, it’s often not worth taking the time to look up the value.

This guideline can affect your business in several ways.  It is vital to assign a self-assessed baseline for the value of your time.  For instance, I say that my time is worth a minimum of $10 per hour.  That assessment gives me a way to figure out how much I should spend on each item.


Time is Money


Another way that this guideline affects your business is in your time spent shopping and driving.  Remember to factor this expense into your business plan.  If it takes you 45 minutes to get to your nearest thrift stores, then you had better plan to reduce the number of trips to minimize drive time.  If you are only 5 minutes from multiple thrift stores, you can shop almost every day.

You should also learn how to complete your shopping at each store in the minimum amount of time.  Figure out which aisles to spend more time in and which aisles are mostly junk at each shop.

Remember, if you spend three hours in a thrift shop, you already have to make up for $30 in time spent.


Condition, Condition, Condition


This is probably the most overlooked guideline of the six provided in this book.  It is also one of the most important.


Say it with me…  “It does not matter how rare or valuable an item is if nobody will buy it.”


I have found tons of great items at thrift shops that would have been worth hundreds of dollars, were it not for missing pieces, electronic malfunctions, broken lids or other defects.

Look over the entire item before you put it in your cart or buy it.  Make sure that it has all the pieces and required accessories to use it.  Look for chips, cracks and broken parts.  Any defects will greatly reduce the collectible value of vintage items.  They may also prevent your item from being eligible to sell on Amazon.

However, I have found some GREAT deals on vintage and collectible items that were only missing power cords and accessories.  I have picked up several vintage Nintendo NES systems for $1-2 and resold them for $70-80 on Amazon, after buying a $2 power cord or AV cord on eBay.  That was a five minute fix worth $60!

Test battery powered and electronic items, when possible.  Many thrift stores will have outlets available to use.  You should also keep a supply of various sized batteries in your go-pack, in order to test battery-powered items.


Understand Your Competition


Once you have been thrift store flipping for a short time, you will start noticing all of the other flippers at your local shops.  The tendency is to start thinking, “Man, how can I make any money, when there are so many other people doing the same thing as me?”

You must understand who most of these people are.

Most resellers focus on only one type of item.  They also only sell on one internet venue – either eBay (probably 70%) or Amazon (20%).

You will be in the upper 2% of sellers, if you follow the advice in this article and diversify your selling efforts across multiple venues and sales categories!

When you become a regular thrift store shopper, you will notice the same woman scanning books.  You will see the guy who only buys CDs or video games.  You will see the couple with a cart loaded down with vintage clothes.  Just smile and nod, and then proceed to kick their tails when you walk out of the store with everything that they missed with their narrow-minded approaches.

Remember, most people are lazy.   They learn just enough to sell one line of items in one manner.  This is why many eBay sellers fail (well… besides that eBay sucks).  The categories that are easy to sell on draw tens of thousands of sellers and the competition kills everybody.

By making the effort to learn dozens of categories to sell in and how to sell in them, you will easily defeat the competition.  They will be like that army of dozens of storm troopers that fire barrages of laser blasts without hitting anything, while you can deflect one laser blast with your light saber and take out three or four storm troopers.


Treat Your Thrifting as a Business


Most thrift store flippers treat their shopping as a hobby.   You must be a businessperson to succeed long-term.  There are a lot more things to consider than simply buying items at a thrift store and earning profit by reselling them online.

As we have already discussed, you have to factor in your time spent, materials used to prepare the items for sale, packaging and shipping costs and transportation costs.

One way that you can reduce overhead costs is by buying supplies in bulk.  I buy my bubble wrap and shipping containers once or twice a year on eBay.  This reduces my per item shipping costs by almost 30%.  You can also order all of your USPS Priority Mail shipping boxes and envelopes for free on the USPS website.  Make sure that you order Flat Rate Priority envelopes and boxes.

Treating your Amazon and Etsy selling as a business also has perks.  You can write off many expenses on your income taxes each year (mileage, meals, portions of utilities and cell phone service, supplies, etc.).  Consult your income tax professional for advice on specific exemptions.

Article Name
Thrift Store Flipping 101
Thrift store flipping can be very profitable, if you treat it like a business. Here are some thrifting tips to get you started selling used items online at Amazon, eBay and Etsy.
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