True Tales From Selling Makeup On EBay

Illustrated by Refinery29.
Say hello to a little-known crop of beauty entrepreneurs: eBay makeup resellers. They've taken to the online marketplace to peddle everything from run-of-the-mill drugstore cosmetics to hard-to-find shades and pieces from limited-edition collections, often scoring some serious dough in the process. In fact, for certain It Items, enterprising eBay-ers could be looking at a payday of nearly 20 times the product’s retail cost: Chanel’s Jade nail polish, which sold at counters for the relatively modest price of $25, goes for upwards of $400 during resell.
With such mega-markups in mind, to say these online entrepreneurs have a corner on the market is a definite understatement. And, despite questions of legality (not to mention morality), it's been fairly earned. A perusal of eBay’s policies reveals that resellers aren’t doing anything against the rules — the site does in fact permit the sale of unused cosmetics. But, the question remains: Are these eBay-ers taking advantage of the gotta-have-it nature of specialty makeup? Or, is it a simple case of supply and demand? Several resellers agree with the latter, running their eBay shops like businesses.
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"I found myself without a full-time job, and I needed to figure it out fast," says Lilly, the woman behind macbabyscloset. "I chose makeup because it’s what I love, and selling what you love never feels like a job; it’s a passion instead."
That said, it's not all lip gloss and lollipops for online resellers. Competition for limited-edition items is fierce, with the pool of potential buyers growing rapidly. “It’s hard to balance all of the different types of buyers," said Lisa of thecosmeticfiend. "You have people who just love using makeup, you have makeup artists who purchase items for their job, you have collectors who get an item and hold onto it for a while and hope that it increases in value. And then you have those people who just buy and sell to make money."
Add to this a slew of real-world entrepreneurial issues like keeping units in stock and managing everything from customer service to shipping, and you've got yourself a retail environment that, while tumultuous, can be highly profitable for those able to navigate its complexities.
Ahead, one such online reseller, who preferred to remain anonymous, candidly discusses her methods, motivations, and just how she knows that limited-edition shade of lipstick will be a home run — before it hits stores.
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Illustrated by Refinery29.
How and why did you start selling makeup on eBay?
"It really started from a place of pure curiosity. At the time, two to three years ago, MAC was in the midst of launching the Marilyn Monroe holiday collection. It was super hyped... the buzz was everywhere! I noticed that there were several eBay sellers offering pre-orders on the collection before it was even released.

"My interest was sparked right then and there. I already planned to purchase the lipsticks for myself and decided to order some extras. I listed the lipsticks from the collection, and they literally sold within 20 to 30 minutes at double, even triple the price. I was shocked! I haven’t stopped selling since."
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What products sell best?
"MAC LE (limited edition) lipsticks do extremely well. After the lipsticks, I’d say LE blush and eyeshadow quads do really well. I don’t think there is another makeup company whose makeup, LE or permanent, sells out like MAC."

How do you determine how to price things?
"Profit is definitely important. If an item is limited edition, and sells out super quickly, you can really make use of the scarcity of the item to drive pricing upwards. The longer the item has been sold out, the more rare it becomes. I usually tend to double purchase cost."

How do you get around the new maximums that retailers put on buying any one thing of an item?
"I usually purchase from multiple, different retailers. That usually gets me all that I need for any particular collection."
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A lot of people get irked because when a collection sells out, they attribute it to eBay resellers buying up all the stock so no one else can. How do you respond to that?
"Honestly, I understand the frustration. However, people need to recognize that companies can end a lot of the frenzy we see by just simply producing more product. They won’t! In many ways, these companies orchestrate the shortages because it serves their brand.

"It keeps all eyes on them and creates a kind of product value that might not exist otherwise. After all, it is only a lipstick! Although understandable, so much of the frustration is misplaced. Sellers are just taking advantage of a prime buyer's environment."
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How do you make the judgment call on what is going to be a big seller in a limited-edition collection or product? What's going to cause that frenzy?
"I think a lot of it is based on instinct. As a woman and avid makeup collector, I sort of get what will be hot. Some of it has to do with research — constantly reading blogs to see swatches before release, listening to what other women are excited about in the new upcoming collections in chat rooms and understanding trends in fashion (colors, textures, etc.).

"I try to get an idea of the items that folks are really interested in and check out early swatches of the product before it’s released. Can you say market research? I love makeup myself, so I have a pretty good handle on what other women will covet. But, some of it is risk… sometimes you are wrong and that has to be alright as well. You might get stuck with three or four extra lipsticks. So what!

"That said, high-profile, celebrity-driven collections do extremely well. Currently, the MAC Osbourne collection is going like hotcakes. It sold out in minutes! Rihanna’s collections were incredible. Fashion icon Iris Apfel’s collection was really popular as well. MAC has also done really well in tapping into our collective nostalgia with collections like Archie's Girls."
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Why do you think people are willing to pay more — sometimes hundreds of dollars — on eBay for a trendy product?
"I think it feels really amazing to have something that no one else has, an item that others have tried to obtain and failed miserably at getting their hands on. We see it with the Dominique Ansel cronut hype, every new iPhone model, the latest Jordan sneaker release... folks really thrive off the pursuit of the unattainable.

"Additionally, many limited-edition items are gems, with completely distinct color or texture from items in the permanent collection. People really fear not being able to ever find that color or a color like it again. So they pay big bucks to get it. What also tends to happen is a woman is able to secure an LE item and subsequently falls in love once she starts to use it. By that point, everything is sold out forever. She'll end up paying to get a backup."
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