How to bag a fashion bargain using eBay

From vintage clothes to designer labels, traders share the secrets that have earned them a tidy profit

How to bag a fashion bargain using eBayThrifty style-seekers are logging on to eBay in growing numbers, turning their passion for fashion into a lucrative sideline and snapping up new and vintage clothes on the cheap.

Sales of clothes, shoes and accessories on eBay have climbed by 55 per cent in the past two years, reflecting an increased use of the site by canny fashionistas, many of whom are making money by selling items that they no longer want or specifically bought for re-sale.

Fashion experts say that experience is key to using the site effectively to cut costs on a fashion habit. Times Money asked industry insiders and keen traders to share their know-how.

The experts

Natalie Hartley, senior fashion editor at InStyle magazine, says that the big plus points of eBay for buyers are its size and easy search function.

“I can search for a specific trend or designer, say a quilted jacket or Yves Saint Laurent shoes, and bring up a long list ofoptions worldwide.” She adds that good bargains include vintage and designer clothes and accessories, and no-brand jewellery. “I found a Seventies Chanel handbag for £500 that would have cost £1,000 in a shop. I also buy gold bangles and chains from about £50, which is great.”

Helen Russell, digital editor of Marie Claire magazine, agrees that eBay is best for targeted shopping, rather than hopeful browsing. She also rates its selection of vintage items, but cautions that buyers should do proper research around sizes before purchase “as they will come out much smaller on older pieces”.

She says that buyers should also be careful with garments such as jeans (new or old), where fit can vary widely even between items of the same nominal size.

Both writers say that selling on the site is a good way to declutter and to fund new purchases, and agree that buyers pay “surprising amounts” for quality clothes in good condition that are cleverly listed.

For this, they say that sellers must enter an honest indepth description of each item, including details of the designer, size, fabric and approximate date (mentioning any trend, such as “punk” to help buyers searching for that category).

Ms Russell adds that decent photographs are also critical. “There are lots of bad pics out there, so make yours work. Sort out good lighting, then think about styling. You might wear a dress with killer heels. Failing that, at least show it on a crisp white background.”

The regular shopper

Jessica Horton, 24, is a fashion designer, and lives in Camden, North London. Ms Horton says that she started buying clothes on eBay to save money while at university, and now visits the site regularly in search of vintage and unusual pieces.

She says: “I recently bought a great leopard-print dress for £4.50. I have an eclectic taste, and the site is perfect for that. Vintage shops in London can be very expensive, so I can make big savings over time. Money aside, the great thing is being able to use the search facility to find very specific items that I would struggle to locate elsewhere.” For example, she says that she used the site to track down a top by Lanvin for H&M that sold out in the stores almost immediately.

“I paid £10 more than the list price, but that was cheap given the demand. Plus I missed out on the queues.”

She says that she does not usually use the site to buy new clothes — “not because they don’t have good stuff, but that’s not my thing”. However, like Ms Hartley, she does use it to find striking jewellery.

The part-time trader

Kate McGregor, 24, uses eBay to buy her own clothes and also trades on the site to create a second income of up to £200 a month. Ms McGregor, a marketing assistant, who lives near Borough, South London, says that “anyone” with an interest in fashion could make similar proceeds with only a few hours’ work each month.

She says: “I buy new clothes from good labels at eBay stores such as Fashion Outlet that offer a big discount on the high street — either for myself or to sell on. If I’m buying to trade, I might pay £30 and sell for £70, against a high street price of £100. I do well, and the buyer still gets a better deal than she would in the shops.”

For her re-sale sideline, she says that she chooses womenswear in standard sizes from higher-end high street brands such as Office and Karen Millen. “I go for items that will appeal to my age group, as it is a large market and one that I can understand.”

She also lists her own used items and says that she gets good prices for anything designer. For example, she made £100 back on a Marc Jacobs handbag that she had bought new two years before for £200.

She adds that she uses the eBay application for Apple’s iPhone to save time creating and managing her listings, and recommends it to other sellers. “It means I can create a listing from scratch in a couple of minutes and answer customer queries on my way to work.”

Like many sellers, she lists all her clothes on a “buy-it-now” rather than auction basis, as she says that this attracts buyers and means less hassle for both parties in any sale.

The full-time trader

Niki Rae, of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, quit her job as a full-time electoral officer four years ago when she realised that she could earn more than her then salary by working full-time on eBay sales.

Ms Rae, 37, says that she had been interested in starting a business for a long time, but stumbled into it after she made an unexpected profit when she sold on a pair of jeans that didn’t fit. “It was so easy. After that, I started buying clothes cheap at car boot sales to re-sell for a profit.”

She now mostly sells new clothes; buying some from wholesalers and having others made by a tailor in Goa, India, under her own Four Giraffes Hugging label, with hippyish cotton dresses from £15.99.

She says: “I love the work — finding and testing different lines. My stock changes all the time and there is always a mix of some proven sellers and some more speculative items.”

Ms Rae says that she has a turnover of about £4,000 a month and, as planned, earns more than in her previous role.

She adds: “There is a risk in being self-employed, but I have done well despite starting during a credit crisis. Possibly that is because people are looking for cheaper clothes as a result.

“Over all, I’m delighted that I went for it, as it has opened up a whole new world to me.”

She says that she dedicates significant time to answering customer enquiries and to protecting her “top-rated seller” status and 100 per cent positive feedback rating, both of which help her to keep a loyal customer base.

She adds that she continues to trade on eBay, rather than use a personal site, because, despite its sellers’ fees, the site gives access to a large international customer base.

eBay: the ploys and pitfalls

• Check the seller’s returns policy before purchase. This is important with clothes as you cannot try them on as you would in a shop.

• If your purchase is not as it was described and you paid using PayPal, you should be able to get a refund under eBay’s Buyer Protection rules, regardless if the seller co-operates or not.

• It is safest to buy from well-established, UK-based sellers with excellent seller ratings. “Top-rated sellers” display a special award logo and have a record of excellent service.

• A responsible seller will be happy to answer any questions before purchase, so request whatever extra information you want and don’t be shy to ask for better photographs.

• Factor in postage and packing costs for any purchase, and check with the seller whether these would be refundable if you had to return the item.

• Sellers’ fees on eBay include an insertion fee for each listing and a final value fee if it sells. For a “buy-it-now” listing for an item under £50, fees would be 49p for insertion plus 9.9 per cent of any sale realised. Sellers also pay fees to PayPal, the payments provider.

• Anybody trading full-time or above certain limits must register as a business rather than private seller on the site and pay different sellers’ fees and observe stricter rules.

• If you make regular sales on eBay (and if you ever buy goods specifically to sell on), there may be tax implications. HM Revenue & Customs has a specific guide to the rules around sales on the site at

• All selling, whether as a private or business seller, carries legal responsibilities. The eBay website has guides to these.

• Whether you plan to buy or sell online (or both), read the guides to shopping and selling online at Consumerdirect.