A guide to reselling books from thrift stores: How a trip to the thrift store yielded nearly $1,000 in expected profit, as I profile all the twists, turns, and finds from a perfectly average trip to a thrift store.
A (slightly above) average trip to a thrift store
A lot of stories you read online (including on this site) cover “outlier” stories of big yields and exceptional finds. So this post is long overdue: An un-noteworthy, “average” trip to a thrift store.
The goal of this story is twofold:
- Profile an unremarkable day in the life of an Amazon FBA bookseller, as a case study in the opportunity in reselling books from thrift stores
- Take you inside the mindset of a clumsy-but-marginally-successful Amazon seller as I “work the room” at a thrift store.
The (unremarkable) story
Late one night I spotted a thrift store that advertised on Craigslist, of all places. It stood out of two reasons. One, I’d never heard of it and it was only 20 minutes away. Two, the photos indicated something weird: it had a virtual record store built into its basement. A separate room of vinyl, fully alphabetized and organized.
Since I’ve taken a recent interest in selling vinyl on Amazon, I had to check it out.
Real thrift stores vs fake thrift stores
Its always immediately apparent if a thrift store is a “real” thrift store, or a fake one. What I call “fake” are the ones that feebly try to cultivate an image of “respectability” and orderliness by throwing everything good in the dumpster (I’ve worked at these places. This is what they do.) A real thrift stores puts almost everything on the floor. Including the weird books that sell for the most money.
When I walked in, I could tell this was definitely a “real” thrift store: They had way more merchandise than they had room for. Every shelf and table was brimming over with disorganized chaos. Just how me (and my bank account) like it.
Starting with weird used media: CDs, VHS, & DVDs
I hit the VHS shelves first, and found some gems. Five very “long tail” documentary and instructional titles (with an Amazon sales rank of 500,000+) but each going for $20+. Will they ever sell? Who cares. They were 50 cents.
Also found were two rare, early-90s Alex Jones / Infowars.com documentaries on VHS.
Then I moved on to the CDs. I usually don’t give a lot of time to reselling CDs, but I quickly noticed some business audio books mixed in (Brian Tracy, etc). So there was some potential here.
I ended up with 12 CDs, each selling in the $7 to $15 range. They were $1 each, so I was happy.
CDs are very hit-or-miss, and in my experience do not do well when listed FBA and priced significantly higher than the Merchant Fulfilled offer. So I allot my time to CDs sparingly, but at this particular thrift store it was time well spent.
And because its important to treat yourself, I found the ultra-rare “Best of Phil Hendrie Show 2005” CD. If you don’t know who Phil Hendrie is, he’s created the most ingenious form of improv comedy ever devised by the human mind. His fans are also rabid, and every “Best of” Phil Hendrie CD on Amazon is selling for $50+. The 2005 CD is apparently so rare, its not even listed on Amazon. I would price it at $100, but there’s no way I would part with it. I was definitely keeping this one.
They didn’t have many DVDs, but I quickly pulled found 4 selling for $10+ on Amazon. Three were how-to titles on making arts and crafts, and one was on repairing your credit. They were $2 each, so even at $10 I was still tripling my money after FBA commissions.
Cassettes & vinyl (???)
Reselling books from thrift stores is a practice that gets all the attention online. But reselling weird used media gets very overlooked. As I demonstrated, there’s major profit here.
Now, for the books…
Then: The books.
The basement was filled with them. I could tell right away these books were heavily, heavily picked over by other Amazon sellers. The ability to spot this Is part sixth-sense, part “every sticker covering every barcode being scratched away,” but it was obvious. This would be much more like a slow, methodical gold panning operation than bank robbery.
When a store has been previously visited by a thorough Amazon bookseller, you have to do a few things to extract profit:
- Hit the bottom shelves. The lazy resellers miss those.
- Look up books without barcodes manually. The lazy resellers miss those too.
- Get comfortable buying books with high Amazon sales ranks (1 million+). A lot of FBA booksellers need a quick turnaround (the Amazon IPI score can be a serious thing), and won’t buy anything they can’t flip fast.
When it comes to looking up books to resell manually, the trick is:
- Have a deep knowledge of books
- Know what categories hold their value
- Know what titles to give your time to. You can’t look up everything.
I go into these subject in depth in Amazon Altitude (plug), but in short: You have to look for esoteric, arcane, and weird; and leave those Time-Life books alone.
And then there are just those books the last person missed, or ones put out since they were there. I wasn’t surprised when, by the time I was done, I had 75 books.
Reselling books from thrift stores: Is finding 75 books normal?
I know I called this an “average” trip to the bookstore, and I would put 75 books as a somewhat above average score. But I found 75 books to resell because I put my time in, looked up a ton of books by hand, and was very thorough.
It took me about 90 minutes to get those 75 books. Most people reselling books from thrift stores just won’t put in that kind of work.
And, the quality of the books was below average, because it was so picked over This put me at a handicap. But there’s a lesson here: I got an above average yield from a below average selection. You just have to put the work in.
It got even better when I lumbered up to the register with everything, the cashier looked down at the 6 boxes I had filled, confronted herself with the daunting task of counting everything up, and just said “How about $50?” That amounted to a discount of almost 50%. (When you buy in volume, this actually happens more than you’d think.)
The final statistics
Total books: 75 (9 textbooks, 2 audio books, 15 books without barcodes, 49 misc books)
Average sales rank: 860,000 (this is definitely a worse-than-average number, pulled down by several $50+ books ranked 5 to 8 million, and 18 books total ranked worse than 1 million).
Total sales price for books (projected): $1,370.
Total profit on books (projected): $822.
Misc. Media Totals:
Average sales rank: 192,000
Total sales price for misc media (projected): $288
Total profit on misc media (projected): $173
TOTAL PROJECTED PROFIT: $995
And that concludes my story of a (slightly above) average trip to a thrift store.