11 Retail Arbitrage Sourcing Tips to Help You Eclipse the Competition

By Christopher Grant

Updated July 21, 2023

Retail arbitrage sourcing.

High-tech treasure hunting.

The modern equivalent of gold digging, even.

I still enjoy the sweet dump of dopamine when I find a sick score just sitting on a store shelf waiting to be profited on.

The thing is, it's not always like that.  It's easy to hit a dry spell.

I imagine many people even give up when this happens.

So, here is a list of retail arbitrage sourcing tips to try and help you become more proficient with your sourcing and help you practice "good retail arbitrage hygiene".

1.  DBAD

This acronym stands for "Don't Be A Dick"!

Seems like something I shouldn't have to say and it's generally good life advice.

But, I think it is doubly true when you spend a significant amount of time dealing with people in the service industry.

Be nice to employees, be nice to managers, understand they have to deal with a ton of people who probably aren't happy their milk is ringing up 25 cents more than they think it should cost.

You know, the lady with this haircut.

Being nice doesn't just stop at the employees either.

Be nice to the fellow shoppers.  We are often standing in front of a clearance section for longer than most people or blocking a portion of an aisle with 2 carts.

Move, let them pass, let them see what's on clearance.

I've even given people items out of my own cart when I have cleared a shelf.

Seems counterintuitive as I was there first but if I have 72 advent calendars or Luvabella dolls in my car already I think the karma points will make up for the profits from giving one to someone who wants one.

2. Get Familiar with Stores

This alone can be a huge time saver.

Most stores are laid out pretty similar.

For example, I know that in Target clearance is going to be on end-caps throughout the store.  Toys will be next to or across from electronics and the baby section will be adjacent to those.

Knowing this in the places you frequent can help you if you decide to do some travel retail arbitrage or just can't stop the hustle when you go on vacation.

3. Ethical Bribes

Making friends with managers or getting special treatment is not that hard as long as you're willing to ask.

I like to take this a step further out places I source often.

Just the other week we got out early and took 4 dozen donuts to a local honey-hole for the store employees.

This pays off in dividends in the future in a few ways.

Lines seem to open up magically when you have a large order.

Text messages show up letting you know something has been marked down or there is an overstock of something.

Special orders get placed for you if you ask for them.

You get to cherry pick clearance before it gets put out on the floor (true story).

Just a few tax deductible (always check with your CPA) dollars for some donuts and you have an insider at the retail store

4.  See Beyond The Shelf

I don't mean this in some transcendental way either.

Literally, see beyond what is right in front of you.

Look up, look down, look around, and be willing to ask if there is more in the back.

If you find a rockstar product and want to go deep on it this may be the way you get all the units you want.

Many stores put some overstock on the top shelf, I'm looking at you Walmart.

Some of them keep it in back and others even put it in an aisle you wouldn't think it would be in.

Keep your eyes open beyond what is right in front of you and you will be surprised what shows up.

5.  Don't Always Trust Your Scanner

Selling Funko's, for me, is an addiction.

No idea why, I don't collect them and I'm not sure I would.

One thing you may notice with these is people do two things with the listing.

They bundle them with them protectors or packs of stickers to keep people off the listings or, more nefariously, they will purposely change the UPC so it does not show up in a scanning app.

I have a Funko I sell regularly right now I know it happened to.

So, this lets us know we can't always trust our scanner.

Sometimes you have to search something by title.  Alternatively you can use the Amazon seller app to scan the actual product and look it up by the image.

This will allow to find things others don't because they only scan barcodes and pass up everything that doesn't pop up.

The other benefit to this is by searching by title you may also stumble upon multi-packs or bundles that may be even more profitable.

6.  Wholesale Leads

Your phone should be littered with pictures of retail packages.

Not just for proof of condition or taking photos next to your receipts, although that is not a bad practice either.

Rather, you should be taking photos of the contact information that is on the back of packages, like this

The drives between stores or back home are the perfect opportunity to call the number on the back and ask what it takes to become a wholesale customer.

These conversations can be easy and enjoyable even for the person who hates talking to people.

Often times, even big companies like Hasbro will point you in the direction of their authorized distributors.

7.  ABS - Always Be Scanning

Many people get frustrated and even give up when they can't seem to find profitable inventory they can scan while out sourcing.

When asked how many items they have scanned you may get answers like 100 or even 50.

That just doesn't work any longer.

Back when i first started doing retail arbitrage you almost couldn't walk a few steps without finding something worth selling.

But, it was also the wild west with fewer rules, gated brands, and a lot fewer people trying to skirt the rules.

Things are bit tougher today but still profitable.

You need to Always Be Scanning.  Stores, gas stations, restaurants, girl scout cookie stands.  Everywhere.

If you are always scanning you will find profitable inventory and, even more important, you will build that gut instinct veteran sellers have.

7. Move Out of your Comfort Zone

Back in Ohio I made some bold claims that one could make a living off of one regional retail chain.

I still believe that is the case if you were willing to travel to all of the locations in a multi-state area.

Sometimes though a source will get tapped out for a bit.

Maybe you're a machine that just crushes every day, scans every aisle, and demolishes every clearance shelf like a monster.

It may be time to try something new.

If you source large retail chains try finding some mom & pop shops.  These can easily be found up and down the main streets of suburbs downtown areas.

Look in large shopping malls, small strip centers, use google to find out all kinds of retailers in your area and make a plan to hit every single place you can.

Retail arbitrage sourcing is a numbers game especially when you are newer.

8.  Orienteering and Retail Arbitrage

Orienteering is the sport of trying to find checkpoints using just a map and a compass as quickly as they can.

You don't need to play this game when you are our sourcing.

Have a plan before leaving the house.

Addresses, lists of stores, and route planning software can make you more efficient and help you power through more stores faster.

I suggest using something like the Mapquest Route Planner on your computer or Route4Me on your smartphone.

I then use the Waze app if I need GPS while driving as it offers crowd-sourced traffic and hazard information along the way.

Utilizing tools like these can allow you to hit just one more store.  That can make a ton of difference if you are sourcing on limited time.

9.  Have a Playlist

This one isn't so much about how to source better but having something great to listen to can keep you in a great headspace while you work.

I am a big fan of podcasts and audible books for myself but if music is your thing I wouldn't say no.

Music has a way to help you get in "state" and can keep your head up even when things may get tough.

10.  Check the Condition of Your Items

It really sucks when you start prepping your inventory to send into Amazon and you find out that the back side of a box is busted or the blister packaging is peeling away from the cardboard backing.

Make sure to check over the entire package before you drop it in your cart to make sure you don't buy something you can't sell later on.

11.  Keep an Eye on the Register

You just put your local Target in a Chickenwing over-the-shoulder crossface hold and they tapped out.

You don't want to blow the win by staring at your phone and the register pulling up the wrong prices for the products you just sourced.

This can, obviously kill your profit margins and may be too late to fix once you realize.

Wait a few more minutes until you get to the car to check in on social media, post a picture of your sweet score to make your FBA friends jealous, or return that text.

It will be worth it when you catch the mistake that may cost you.

Your Turn

I know i am just scratching the surface and we could probably crowd-source an entire book on retail arbitrage sourcing tips and tricks. You could also try online arbitrage, and if you want to shortcut the process you might want to look at buying an online arbitrage sourcing list

Would you leave a comment below with your favorite tip to use while sourcing that you're willing to part with?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Join 23,000+ Subscribers and Stay on Top of the Latest News  in The Amazon Seller Ecosphere.

We Don't Spam or Sell Your Information