It has been a longstanding goal of mine to go an entire summer without wearing shoes. Inside? No shoes. Outside? No shoes. Church? No shoes. Airport? No shoes...and probably a visit to a security room. Why this idea has always fascinated me, I don't know... but it does seem to be at odds with my fascination (not weird, right? haha) for selling used shoes on eBay.
If you are a footwear guy or gal, eBay is your playground. There are currently 440,393 pairs of shoes on eBay in my size alone! Used shoes, new shoes, rare shoes, shoes for 50%+ off retail - you name it, and you can find it. And anywhere that there is a shopping bonanza for buyers, you can bet that there is a huge opportunity for sellers as well. In the past 90 days, we have sold almost $5,000 worth of shoes (all used) on eBay.
If I could only check two areas at a thrift store, shoes would be one of them. Unlike clothing, it is typically easy to recognize shoes that are worth money, they are easy to photograph, and easy to list. And when they sell? Yep, easy to ship.
Many people avoid shoes for fear that they will have loads of returns for fitment issues, or simply because they don't want to sell grimy, used shoes. Whatever the reason, the purpose of this article is to dispel this horrendous notion. We have found shoes with an MSRP over $800 at our local thrift stores and several of the following brands are actually increasing in value as they age!
Do people really buy used shoes online?
The world is divided into two types of people: people who are fine with used shoes and people who think used shoes are "EW!" If you are a reseller, it doesn't really matter if you are into rubbing your feet where someones else's have been or not. What matters is that there are millions of people who don't see the "ick factor" and are happy to get their footsies into some used kicks. In my experience, the majority of people who buy used shoes on eBay fall into one of these 5 categories:
- People looking for rare or hard to find shoes (Jordans, high end shoes, limited edition colors, etc.)
- People with unusual or mismatched shoe sizes (we have sold up to a men's size 22!)
- People who want an exact replacement for a pair of shoes they have worn out
- People who are loyal to discontinued shoe lines or brands (eg. Skechers Shape-Ups)
- Deal-seekers and those with a tight budget
We have sold well over a thousand pairs of shoes on eBay and, despite market saturation, shoes sales don't seem to have slowed much. There will always be people with feet (or foot, amputees buy single shoes off of eBay all the time) willing to give money to resellers. In fact, there are half a dozen resellers I know that sell exclusively shoes and do over $100,000 in sales per year. Who wouldn't want a piece of that pie?!
Shoes are a beginner's bread and butter
Shoes are plentiful at nearly every thrift store, yard sale, and discount store. With the plethora of sizes and styles available, you can almost always find something to resell with very little investment. What's more, you don't need a mannequin, a soft box, or any fancy equipment to make shoes look great. See those red wing boots below that we just sold for $123.45? They were stuffed with newspaper and the background was a piece of paper from the dollar store. So if you are just starting out and want something easy to source, easy to picture, and easy to ship, try shoes!
Shoe Seller FAQs
Don't you have tons of shoes returned for fitment issues?
No, actually. Our shoe return percentage is lower than our store average (around 2%), and we rarely have expensive shoes returned. When people buy expensive shoes online, they are well aware that fit can be an issue so they either buy a brand they already own and know their size, go to a store and try on a similar shoe, or just guess and get lucky!
How do you ship shoes?
Shoes are typically too large to fit in any sort of flat rate box so we send them in a Priority Mail Shoebox (available for free from USPS). Shoes typically weigh 2-3 pounds and we always use calculated shipping. If we are shipping a pair of extra heavy boots, we typically ship via FedEx.
Where do you find them?
Resellable shoes can literally be found almost everywhere. We have gotten used shoes from thrift stores, yard sales, craigslist, school/church sales, discount stores, estate sales, store return liquidations, and even dumpsters! (How's that one for the "ick factor"?) Once you know a handful of profitable brands, you are more likely to have problems storing your shoe inventory than sourcing it! (Check out how we store our eBay shoe inventory)
Things to look for besides brand:
When it comes down to it, brand is the absolute most important thing in deciding whether or not a pair of shoes will resell and the price you can ask for them. However, there are exceptions to that rule. Some well known name-brands resell miserably, and there have been shoes with absolutely no brand that we have sold quickly and for great money. The following 4 things are types of items we look for every time, regardless of brand. If an unbranded shoe pair has one or more of these things going for it they might be worth picking up, but couple it with a well known name and you've got a home-run!
A high quality material can give a pair of shoes an intrinsic value beyond what you'd normally expect from the brand. After all, a gold necklace with no brand is still made of gold! Look for shoes made of leather or suede, shoes that still have the hair on, painted shoes, embroidered shoes or shoes with inlays, and pretty much any material that looks out of the ordinary.
The shoes to the right are a good example. They are handmade (in Morocco apparently) and have no brand, size or makers marks. But because of the awesome amount of goat hair gracing the straps and the leather footbed/stitching they still sold for $40!
Unusual shoe designs
In 2012, Skechers agreed to a $45 million dollar refund settlement for making false claims about how their Shape-up line could help customers "get fit without ever setting foot in the gym." Despite this (and similar debunking lawsuits for other unique shoe designs), people still love to get sucked into marketing and nearly every unique shoe design has developed a loyal, almost cult-like, following. If you see anything outside of the norm sitting on the shoe rack, it's probably worth looking up. While we're mainly referring to unusual designs, this can also apply to colors, materials, etc.
Shoes with a specific purpose
An extension of the "Unusual Shoe" vein of thought is to look for shoes that have a legitimate purpose. For example: fishing waders, weightlifting shoes, and orthopedic sandals can all fetch a pretty penny. When a friend of mine was redoing his roof, he called me up asking me if I had any "roofing shoes" in stock. I didn't...because I didn't know there was such a thing. After doing a bit of self education, I found out that roofing shoes were not a made-up thing, and they're super expensive! While I haven't found a pair yet, 5 minutes of educating myself and learning some of the more popular brands has given me the edge if I ever see a pair at a thrift store or yard sale!
Shoes with appealing "content"
I'm sure you remember in high school there were those weird kids who were always drawing pictures or writing things on their shoes. It might not shock you to know that I was one of those weird kids. I wrote "Right" and "Left" on the toes on my Converse as well as writing quotes on the sides which were inspiring to my teenage brain. That type of drawing and writing is a great example of something that makes shoes terrible for resale, not to mention making parents crazy. A good example, on the other hand, can include something like hand painted art pieces, embroidery, shoes from a specific sports team, shoes that rep a t.v. show or cartoon, etc.
Now that we have the groundwork laid, let's get to the real meat of the matter. After all, the more brands you know, the more money you can make. If you don't know brands, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't find great things. However, if you don't know what you're looking for, you will have to handle and look up almost every pair of shoes you find...meaning you'll be slow and get passed up by every other seller in the store. The more brands you know, the faster you'll be, and the less likely you are to leave items behind. So let's do this!
1. Red Wing Shoes
Founded in 1905, Red Wing Shoes got their first big break as manufacturers of fine shoes by making most of the shoes for soldiers in the First World War. They continued to refine their art by making fine leather shoes for soldiers in WWII, and their craftsmanship carries through to today.
What To Look For: Whenever we're sourcing, we check all the men's leather boots we see. Leather boots (and dress shoes) have the most profit potential, especially in thrift stores. Look for boots and work shoes. New sells, old and distressed sells, pretty much anything is worth picking up if it's priced well!
Quick Tips: Also keep an eye out for Worx (Red Wing's work shoe line) and Irish Setter (typically hunting boots).
2. Johnston & Murphy
Johnston & Murphy grew out of the William J. Dudley Shoes Company, founded in New Jersey in 1850. William J. Dudley was a master craftsman who had been schooled in the classical art of english shoe making. This strong influence is still found in Johnston & Murphy shoes today.
What To Look For: Johnston & Murphy make exclusively dress shoes and boots. The do have a distinctive style and you will learn the models as you see them - but the only real way to find them is by digging methodically through the racks. Unlike some brands, you won't have to scour the shoe to find the brand name. Johnston & Murphy shoes always have the brand name on the inner heel.
Quick Tips: Be sure to include the model name of the shoe you're selling in the listing title. People become loyal to distinct shoe lines and want the same ones every time. Many shoes of this brand have leather soles than can crack over time. Bend the shoe to look for cracks and be sure to check for heel wear.
3. Allen Edmonds
Allen Edmonds is a U.S. based upscale designer with heavy influence from Italian Styles. Vintage shoes in good condition are a hot seller here. Distressed brogues are also great sellers, but be sure to check out the soles as they are particularly prone to wear.
What To Look For: Dress shoes of all types. Leather brogues with distressed uppers but solid soles are very good sellers.
Quick Tips: As with Johnston & Murphy shoes, Allen Edmonds have specific style names that you should include in your listing. We keep a tin of neutral shoe polish on hand to clean up and smooth out dress shoes. A 5 minute polish can easily add $20 on to your asking price. Also, for dress shoes such as these, invest in a quality pair of shoe forms for taking pictures (just be sure to mention that they aren't included).
Founded in 1975, ASOLO is a relative newcomer to the shoe industry. They are an Italian brand which specializes high quality, technical footwear with an emphasis on expeditions, trekking, and alpinism.
What To Look For: ASOLO does make a line of casual everyday footwear, but it's almost always hiking boots that we find. You should be checking all the hiking boots you see, so look for the large logo and model name usually located on the tongue of boots.
Quick Tips: Be sure to thoroughly torture test ASOLO boots or shoes before you buy them. The soles are notorious for dry rotting if they have been sitting for too long. So bend them, twist them, maybe even step on them a bit. We sold a pair once that looked absolutely mint (they were vintage and must have been sitting in a closet for 15+ years), and the first time the buyer wore them the soles pretty much exploded off their feet.
White's has been dedicated to creating "the finest work boots in the world" since 1853. They got their start making tough-as-nails boots for loggers, and built a reputation for the most comfortable, long-lasting boots. They produce their boots (still by hand) in Spokane Valley, Washington.
What To Look For: White's Boots is most famous for their "Smoke Jumper" boots for wildland firefighters, and these are the most valuable to sell. They also make all types of outdoor work boots, both out of rubber and leather. If they are leather, they will always have the White's logo on the side.
Quick Tips: Do not be put off by White's boots in poor condition. Leather boots can be conditioned, resoled, and totally restored. The rubber bottom boots in the example picture were actually in terrible condition. The rubber had several large cracks in it and were beyond my skill to repair. I just explained the condition thoroughly, took pictures, and waited for a buyer dedicated/desperate enough to try and fix them!
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