I was recently surprised by a friend’s admission: He’s made $10,000 on Amazon this year — selling flip-flops.
Frank (not his real name) was hunting for his favorite brand of sandals. He couldn’t find them online, and Amazon was selling them for “an outrageous price.”
“I found a company selling them in bulk,” Frank told me. “I contacted them, got an even better discount and figured I’d sell the rest online.”
Within a week of listing them on Amazon, he sold out.
Not only did he find his favorite product for cheap, he also made a decent profit — all with very little work. Luckily, Frank’s supplier was excited about this opportunity, so he’s been able to go back multiple times and restock his store.
”Running a small Amazon store is easy,” said Frank, who uses Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) to handle the shipping, customer support and returns.
“I spend 15 minutes per day responding to customer emails, monitoring reviews and handling the occasional shipment from my supplier.”
And if you’re lucky, the business can grow.
Stephanie Madesh launched her store, Kalon Clothing, in 2006 — “at a time when websites were just beginning to do e-commerce.” Almost a decade later, Madesh owns and operates six brands on Amazon, from activewear to packaging supplies, and runs her business from a 40,000-square-foot distribution warehouse.
But you don’t need a whole warehouse to make a little side money. If you’re just starting out, use FBA — all you need is a good product, a supplier and some common sense.
What Should You Sell?
When it comes to selling “casually,” the key is finding a specific product without a ton of competition — think “Bob’s Fabulous Hair Product” as opposed to hair products in general. Amazon’s known for selling everything, so I can’t promise this will be easy.
“High-quality consumer products are a good place to start,” said Frank. “People are willing to spend money, and they care about the convenience of Prime.”
He’s considering branching out from flip-flops and looking at products “that have 3.5 stars or above and at least 10 reviews or more. That means there’s sufficient turnaround” — which means you’ll likely have buyers looking for your product.
But 2,000 reviews and a ton of different sellers means the market might already be exhausted.
To help you decide what to sell, start by considering what you think is missing from Amazon.
For example, “We started a card company because I wanted thank you cards on the cheap,” Madesh explained.
“We started a packaging supply company because we use so many packaging products, we could manufacture them for about a quarter of the price we were paying.”
Where to Find a Supplier
Your Amazon store, big or small, depends on a good supplier. Are the supplier’s products of good and consistent quality? Does the company ship on time? Is it trustworthy?
Whole books have been written about this topic, so don’t expect to learn everything in an afternoon. But if you spend the time to find a reliable supplier for just one or two core products, that’s all you’ll need.
Essentially, there are three ways to source items to sell on Amazon. I’ve listed them from easiest to most involved.
1. Buy From a Local, Individual Supplier
A little Googling, a phone call, a relationship — this was Frank’s process in the beginning. Sometimes it’s as easy as that.
Say you want to sell dog shampoo. Poke around your neighborhood and search online. A local salon, for example, might be willing to sell wholesale, or a friendly vet might make her own dog shampoo.
This is less scientific, and more about luck and relationship-building. It’s also easier to manage long-term if you’re not looking to start a dog-shampoo conglomerate.
2. Use Retail Arbitrage
Shop at places like Target or Walmart, buy up anything on sale and then resell it. This is the strategy The Penny Hoarder founder Kyle Taylor used to make $10,000 selling toys during the holiday season last year.
However, it’s a bit more complicated because you’ll always need to be on the lookout for new sales, and there’s no relationship to rely on. You’ll also need to look up prices online before you buy.
Some sellers use sites or apps like Slickdeals. However, so many people jump on the same deal that by the time you’ve purchased, received and shipped those items, the price on Amazon may have gone down.
If you want to try your hand at retail arbitrage, “opportunities are everywhere,” said Grant.
“You could be out at the grocery store and see a great item on clearance. If you have the Amazon Seller app, you can immediately look it up, then turn around and make money off it.”
3. Order on Alibaba
Alibaba is China’s biggest e-commerce company, and the site is a great source for cheap products you can sell on Amazon.
The most involved of the three selling options, this one also presents the most opportunity for consistent success.
To make this strategy work, you’ll need to talk to a lot of suppliers. Then, purchase samples of the product to make sure everything is sound.
Interested in giving it a shot? Will Mitchell of StartupBros wrote a great post on using Alibaba to stock your Amazon store.
Use Fulfillment by Amazon to Run Your Store
Frank recommends using FBA to handle the shipping, customer support and returns. He simply lists the items, packs them up and sends them to his nearest distribution center.
“If you’re selling through FBA, you’ll take a hit on your margin,” said Frank. The cost of using FBA depends on a variety of factors: what you’re selling, how much of it you’re selling and how long it’s stored at the Amazon center.
But for him, the perks outweigh the benefits: In addition to the ease of letting Amazon handle the details, “customers are more likely to buy from you,” he explained. “Amazon has a big interest in promoting their FBA sellers because they make more money off them.”
Don’t Ignore Amazon’s Rules
There’s a reason Frank’s beloved flip-flops weren’t available online: The creator of said product didn’t want them to be. Some brands have strict regulations on where you can buy their products as this can impact cost, branding efforts and quality.
Because Frank is buying from a licensed supplier, the onus is on the supplier, not Frank. That said, avoid selling products that could get anyone in trouble. This will save you a lot of hassle should you lose your supplier or get shut down by Amazon.
“Know the rules and follow them,” advised Madesh. “Amazon is a giant and they have lots of rules — for a reason.”
“Read through their policies, review their selling guides and jump on the forums. Most likely if you have a question about something, someone else has the same question, and there is some good advice on the forums.”
Will You Start an Amazon Business?
While it’s a little more complicated than answering surveys or clipping coupons, selling products on Amazon isn’t as hard as it sounds.
“It’s enormously profitable, if you do it right,” said Grant. “You can ultimately keep it as small or grow it as big as you want.”
Your Turn: Are you interested in selling on Amazon? Have you tried it? Share your stories in the comments.
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Marian Schembari is a writer and blogger based in Düsseldorf, Germany, by way of San Francisco. She writes about travel and creativity and spends way too much time on the internet.