As the coronavirus pandemic began to spread, a black market for hand sanitizer, toilet paper, face masks and other necessities emerged. Many price-gouging individual sellers have since been shut down, but a market of non-essentials still persists. Nintendo Switches, iPhones and other entertainment devices you might have gotten a deal for on Black Friday can now fetch double their worth on eBay, as everyone is stuck at home looking for ways to pass the time.
But the people who sell them aren’t just people who happened to preserve their new consoles — instead, they’re devoted flippers who’ve been profiting from deal-hunting since long before quarantine. One such flipper is Adam (a pseudonym), a man in his 20s who has recently turned retail arbitrage and eBay reselling into his sole paying gig after losing his job from the virus. Last week, he drove across the country, scooping up the last Nintendo Switches still on the shelves of rural Walmarts. This is his (some might say ethically questionable) story.
* * * * *
I was employed full-time at a job I had relocated to work for. However, I lost my job because of the virus. So, I decided to drive across the country to return to my home state. It took me six days.
Before this, I’d already been selling on eBay for almost a year. I began doing thrift store and Goodwill flips, where I’d find items that were lower priced and then sell those on eBay. I’ve been doing retail arbitrage [which refers specifically to new items in traditional retail stores] for three months now, too.
• Read Next: These Grandpas Are Gaming the Bejeezus Out of Quarantine
My routine, when everything was normal, was to head to the Walmarts in town after work and check for any in-store special deals that may be going on; then I’d check the clearance aisles. By doing this, I was able to keep steady.
I still haven’t had time to check my profit from the cross-country drive, but I know I profited from certain entertainment items and game consoles that went up in price from demand. I’ve sold a lot of iPhones that were on clearance through Walmart, and video game consoles and video games. While on the road, I would check inventory checkers — websites and apps that tell you if stores still have particular items in stock — every hour or so to see if the city I was approaching had any items that there’s a lot of demand for. If they did, my only focus would be to get that item.
Rural Walmarts seemed to have stock due to their small local population — most of the inventory I purchased over the trip was from Nebraska and Kansas (although most stores have a limit on how many you can purchase, usually two at a time). I’d be in and out of the stores in five to ten minutes. I wore a mask and obviously washed my hands. Throughout the trip, I went to maybe 10 Walmarts.
I’d list the items on eBay as soon as I got them, and all of my shipping supplies were bought from Walmart. Each night, I’d pack everything from my hotel room and then mail it out from the local post office in the morning and continue on my journey. I repeated that same process until I got home.
The profit for a Nintendo Switch can be around $40 to $70, depending on whoever you sell to on eBay. Shipping and fees cost more depending on how far away the person is — there aren’t any fees if you sell locally. I bought 25 Nintendo Switches on my trip, and spent around $8,000 total. I’ll net between $1,000 to $1,750 from it. The ones I’ve sold so far have gone for around $440, and I bought them for $393.32 (I usually keep a spreadsheet, but I haven’t updated it yet).
• Read Next: The Accidental Female Gamers of Coronavirus Lockdown
Due to the pandemic, I’ve switched to finding most of my inventory online. When I go out for groceries, I’ll do a quick check to see if there’s anything profitable: Makeup, phone cases, cleaning supplies — any of the miscellaneous items a grocery store might sell besides food that could end up on clearance. I just check eBay, see if there are any listings selling the items for more than they’re being sold for at the store and if so, I buy them. But I’m not doing it as much now that I’m home and isolating.
I haven’t yet received any criticism personally for what I’m doing, but other people who do retail arbitrage have, for price-gouging essential items. Some people on eBay have had their listings removed for price-gouging, but they were selling items like soaps and medicines. I’m currently making enough to get by with consoles and other miscellaneous items I flip, but I miss working and having a guaranteed income. Before this, reselling was just a hobby, a way to pass the time.
I don’t feel bad about what I’m doing. I do understand why people are angry, but I’m setting my prices at whatever the market is at. Once everything settles, I’d actually recommend practicing retail arbitrage — there’s the obvious benefit of making money off of it, but more than anything, it helps you make smarter shopping decisions. It forces you to think if you can get a better deal someplace else.
This Is Life Under Quarantine
- Here’s a gift guide for your quarantined loved ones.
- People are wearing underwear as masks — but does it actually work?
- Here’s why your Wi-Fi might feel slower in quarantine.
- It’s time to end the phrase “I hope this email finds you well.”
- People are still going on dates — walking together, six feet apart.
- Spend some time doing jigsaw puzzles. They’re great for anxiety relief.
- People hate Dasani water — even in quarantine. Why?
- Out of toilet paper? Survivalists recommend some alternatives.
- Here’s how to clean your food while you’re protecting yourself from COVID-19.
- And just be grateful you’re not on an all-Soylent diet.
- If, by some miracle, you actually have some money left, here’s what you should do with it.