Among the many types of online businesses you can start nowadays, selling antiques is one of the more exciting ones. It’s a good combination of dealing with people with interesting stories, researching unique items, and learning a bit about the past. Learning how to sell antiques online can take a while if you're new to the field, but it's one of the easier reseller markets to break into.
You can approach this in several ways. While some believe that buying and selling antiques requires a lot of personal interaction, it’s actually not difficult at all to set things up online these days. You can easily handle a large part of your business without ever interacting with people in person.
Is Selling Antiques Online a Viable Business?
Selling antiques online can bring in a lot of money if you pick a good niche and spend enough time researching each individual item. You can work with consignment shops to simplify things, but be prepared to give up a large portion of your earnings – typically between 35% and 50%.
It’s also a business that scales well. You can easily start it as a side gig and invest just a few hours a week. Once business picks up and you’ve identified some profitable niches, you can start dedicating more time and money. It’s possible to transform this into a full-time job in the long term, but this will require some patience until you get through the initial slow period.
Where Can You Sell Antiques Online?
You’ve got several options for selling antiques online. Some of them require a large initial investment, while others allow you to jump right in with minimal resources. Even if you’ve got substantial funding available, it’s a good idea to take things slowly at first if you’re not familiar with the field.
Sticking to popular marketplaces that handle most of the backend work for you will allow you to focus your attention on learning the ropes faster.
People use eBay for all sorts of things and antiques are a very popular niche on the platform. eBay is a great option for beginners because it requires almost no effort to set up an account and start listing items. It does most of the promotion for you too – as long as you have something that people want to buy and list it at a reasonable starting price, it will always get noticed.
Etsy is mostly associated with arts and crafts, but the platform has expanded a lot since its inception. Antiques are now a popular category, with thousands of shops listed on the site. Etsy is great if you want to specialize more tightly as you can set up a shop targeting a very specific niche.
Facebook and Instagram can be great places to sell antiques if you use them right. Each social media platform has its own tone and style that you need to follow for the best results. On Facebook, you should ideally join local groups for antiques.
Don’t limit yourself specifically to ones for selling. Look up any general hobbyist groups for discussing antiques. As long as their rules allow commercial activities, you can occasionally scout out people looking to buy something that you might have in store.
There are also specialized online stores that deal exclusively with antiques. Some are more general, like Ruby Lane which allows you to sell most types of antiques, while others are very tightly specialized. Red Line Vintage is a good example of a store that specifically deals in art. If you’re planning to focus on a specific type of antiques, this is an area you should pay close attention to.
Your Own Store
Setting up your own online store takes some time and effort, as well as some initial funding. You will need to purchase a domain (which can cost you as little as roughly $10 per year), hosting (around $5/month for the cheapest offers, but realistically between $10 – $20 if you want good quality), and a subscription for an ecommerce platform.
These vary a lot across the board – for example, Shopify charges $29/month for their most basic package and $299/month for their highest-priced one. Wix starts at $16/month and can go up quite high, depending on your usage patterns.
You can also use WordPress with an ecommerce plugin to build your own site. This is not as challenging as it sounds, as most of the tools you need for the job require very little initial configuration. WordPress itself is free if you want to go with the self-hosted approach. You just need to pay for a professional theme ($50 – $100) and a good ecommerce plugin (the price for those varies a lot across the board, and there are several free options available).
Don’t forget about promotion! One downside of running your own store is that it will get no traffic by default, unlike listing your items at a site like eBay. You’ll have to either promote it yourself (by posting about it in relevant communities) or spend some money on marketing.
What Types of Antiques Are Worth Selling?
The antiques market is full of options to explore, but not all are equal. It’s not just about the base price of the items you’re selling. You must also consider factors like storage (How much space does each item take? Do you need to invest in specialized features like climate control?) and shipping (some items will require more expensive shipping to ensure they arrive in good condition).
Some of the best-selling types of antiques include:
If you’re looking to diversify with some more specialized items, you can consider some of these:
- Musical instruments
Where Can You Buy Antiques?
Finding good places to buy antiques is going to be one of the biggest challenges when you’re still starting out. There’s no “standard” place for good deals – if there was, everyone would be buying from there in the first place, and there would be little room for competition.
Some of the options we listed above for selling your antiques can also be used for the reverse. You should start with eBay. Set up alerts for several types of items that you’d like to deal in and make sure to respond to them quickly. Not too quickly though – make sure to vet each offer before committing to it. One of the main downsides to buying from eBay is that you can easily get scammed if you’re not careful.
Craigslist can also be a good option if you have an active community in your area. It’s roughly on the same level as eBay in terms of safety, and can actually be even worse in some regards. Be prepared to waste some time chasing after deals that end up falling through.
Always play it safe too. If you have to meet up to collect something, especially something of a higher value, always do that at a safe public location. Many police departments allow citizens to use their parking lots for internet deals.
Garage sales can also end up revealing some hidden gems here and there. You should never approach a garage sale with the expectation that you’re actually going to leave it with something valuable though. Most of the time, there won’t be any good catches. But every once in a while, you’ll come across something that nobody else realizes the true value of.
Flea markets and thrift stores are similar. Keep in mind that many antiques sellers use these options frequently, so if you live in an area with a lot of activity in this corner of the market, you will have to be fast. Ideally, you should have some routine for traveling around popular locations and checking their inventories after they’ve restocked.
Should You Refurbish Your Antiques?
Refurbishing antiques depends highly on the specific type of item. For some items, it can be a good idea. Furniture is a common example of this. Most people who buy antique furniture want to use it for its intended purpose instead of keeping it as a display piece. This means that a thorough cleaning can increase the value of the item.
But for other items, even the gentlest cleaning can destroy the item’s value. For coins and watches, the patina is often just as important as the item itself. This is the thin layer of oxidation that progressively coats items made of certain metals over time. Items with an undisturbed surface will sell for more because buyers see that as proof of their authenticity.
At What Point Does It Make Sense to Work with an Appraiser?
Working with an appraiser can come in great handy when you’re dealing with antiques with a potentially very high value. You should always make sure that you know exactly what you have in your hands in these cases and get a professional’s opinion.
However, that’s not the case by default, especially when you’re just starting out. You should do your best to preserve your resources in the beginning, so working with an appraiser for every single item you have might not be the best idea. Plus, you might find it hard to find someone willing to do regular work on low-value items in the first place.
Always get your appraiser’s final statement in writing. This is not just good for your own safety, but will help make things smoother when you find an interested buyer. Having an official appraisal certificate will add some legitimacy to your deal in the eyes of someone who’s working with you for the first time, and it will remove at least one obstacle from the sale process.
You will usually have to make special considerations for the shipping of your antiques. The exact details depend on the type of item you’re shipping, but there are some common details that you should always consider.
First, always work with professional shipping companies that offer appropriate insurance for the types of antiques you’re selling. Even in the beginning when your funds are still limited, this is not an expense you can forego. In fact, it’s probably even more important to play your cards as safely as possible at that stage. Paying a little extra for each shipped item can seem annoying, but one lost or destroyed shipment can severely set you back if you trade in high-value items.
Always use paper for wrapping your items – never cover them in plastic directly. It’s okay to further wrap the paper in plastic, but you should always start the packaging with paper. Plastic can leave marks on certain materials like wood – especially if you use bubble wrap or something else with an irregularly shaped surface.
Go with a box that’s slightly larger than what you would normally use for shipping a given type of item and fill it with enough package filler to ensure a snug fit. Securing an antique in place during transportation is much more important compared to regular items. One tiny scratch can sometimes tank an item’s value.
And for some items, consider the option of transporting them yourself if you’re selling within your state or one that’s close by. If you start seeing lots of local business, buying a truck can be a worthwhile investment. It will be a bit steep initially but it will pay for itself in just a few months if your business takes off.
Can You Turn This into a Full-time Job?
Selling antiques can be a good side gig that brings some nice money to the table. Once things have started to pick up and you’ve identified viable niches that you can easily keep yourself supplied in, you might start thinking about ramping things up and turning this into a full-time job.
That’s definitely possible, but it will be a very different game compared to doing this on the side. First, like with most side gigs, you should have enough patience to wait until you’ve started seeing regular income. Ideally, you should go farther than what you think is necessary both in terms of time and money.
In other words, wait until you’ve had at least a few good months where you’ve earned more than what you would need to sustain yourself comfortably. Even then, don’t rush to quit your day job. Wait longer to ensure that this is not a temporary lucky period.
Another consideration before going full-time is to have an established connection with at least one professional of each type you’re going to need. You should know who to turn to when you need an urgent appraisal, and have a lawyer to advise you on tricky cases.
There are a lot of ways to make money online. Some are good, some not, but ALL of them are still just trading hours for dollars.
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