Nearly 40% of Americans Sold Items Online Amid Pandemic, Netting Average of $1,810

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Updated on Monday, March 15, 2021

Heading into the second spring of a global pandemic, many Americans have found themselves spending more time at home, which may mean more time decluttering.

In fact, about 2 in 5 Americans have sold something online in the past year, according to a MagnifyMoney survey of more than 1,000 consumers. We wanted to find out how people are getting rid of their unwanted items and how the pandemic may have influenced their plans. Here’s what we learned.

Key findings

  • Nearly 40% of Americans have sold something online amid the pandemic, netting an average of $1,810 total. More than half of those who were laid off or furloughed sold items online during the pandemic, compared with 27% whose income wasn’t impacted.
  • More than two-thirds of those who sold items online this past year say they were motivated by the pandemic. Among sellers who were laid off or furloughed, a whopping 90% say the pandemic led them to sell their stuff online.
  • Adding money to savings was the top way that sellers used their profits, at 57%. Sellers with higher incomes were generally able to save their profits at higher rates than those with lower incomes, as a significant number of low-income sellers say they needed the money for housing and/or food.
  • Donating to charity is the No. 1 way consumers prefer to get rid of items they no longer need, though selling online came in second. Consumers with higher incomes prefer selling their things online, while lower-income consumers are more likely to give the item to a charity or someone they know.
  • Facebook Marketplace is the platform of choice for 58% of online sellers. While eBay came in second at 39%, Instagram was not far behind at 38%, suggesting many Americans enjoy selling items on social media.
  • About 80% of Americans clean out their closet at least once a year, and many do so every season. And if you have a bag or box of items you intend to get rid of but haven’t gotten around to selling or donating, you’re not alone — 65% of consumers are in the same boat.

Nearly 40% of Americans have sold something online amid the pandemic, led by millennials and Gen Xers

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has inspired many people to look for extra sources of income while spending more time at home. This combination of conditions may have helped inspire many Americans to clean out their closets and try to make some cash off of their clutter.

More than half (54%) of Americans have sold something online before, including 38% within the past year during the pandemic.

Within the past year, millennials and Gen Xers have led this charge:

Those who sold something online during the pandemic made an average of $1,810 total, but that figure varied based on different factors. In fact, a person with an income below $75,000 who sold items online amid the pandemic had an estimated profit of $757, but that figure spiked to $2,335 on average for resellers whose income were $75,000 or more.

Separately, men made an average of $2,194, while women made an average of $1,305.

Unfortunately, selling items online is not likely a sustainable solution if a long-term financial need is the ultimate motivation.

Income impacted: Of those who were laid off or furloughed amid the pandemic, 53% reported selling items online — 90% of which said the pandemic motivated them to sell.

What consumers are selling — and what has changed amid the pandemic

Clothing, shoes and furniture top the list of items people are selling online:

Men were more likely than women to sell:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Toys
  • Tools or other household supplies

Women were more likely than men to sell:

  • Jewelry or accessories
  • Home decor

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of online sellers said they’ve increased their selling amid the pandemic to earn more money. In all, 75% of online sellers said the pandemic has changed the way they sell their stuff in some way, namely reducing face-to-face interaction.

There are a growing number of apps and websites dedicated to reselling, plus growing interest in sustainable shopping and vintage finds. But — of course — reselling an item requires that the seller already own the item. That means if you didn’t buy something expensive (that you don’t need to keep), it’s less likely you’ll be able to earn a large profit from what you can sell.

Nearly 3 in 5 Americans put their profits in savings

Whether respondents cleaned house with the intention of selling unwanted goods, the majority put any profits toward saving.

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans (68%) with an income of $100,000 or more were able to put their profits in savings, versus 39% with an income of less than $35,000.

Meanwhile, nearly 2 in 4 Americans (39%) who make less than $35,000 a year used profits for necessary expenses like housing or food, versus:

  • 35% of those who make $35,000 to $49,999
  • 22% of those who make $50,000 to $74,999
  • 15% of those who make $75,000 or more

While saving their profits was the top priority for Gen Zers, millennials and Gen Xers, paying for necessary expenses was the top priority for baby boomers.

What about the Americans who haven’t sold anything online?

Selling items online requires not just an inventory and a demand from buyers, but also time to manage listings and access to buyer networks. While it could become a lucrative side hustle for motivated sellers, Americans who think or know their items won’t have a high resale value might decide it’s not worth the effort to even try.

For the portion of the population who has never sold anything online, their reasoning ranged from preferring to donate and not having anything they want to get rid of to not knowing how to go about selling online and thinking it’s too much work.

And here’s the top answer by generation:

  • Gen Zers: I don’t really have anything I want to get rid of and I don’t know how (both 34%)
  • Millennials: I prefer to donate my stuff to those in need (26%)
  • Gen Xers: I don’t really have anything I want to get rid of (33%)
  • Baby boomers: I prefer to donate my stuff to those in need (39%)

During spring cleaning, more turn to charity than selling online

While 41% of respondents said they typically choose to donate their unwanted items to charity, 30% turn to selling online.

A higher income might make someone more likely to try to sell those items online. Among those earning $75,000 or more annually, 40% reported selling items online as their preferred disposal method. Meanwhile, just more than 20% of those making less than $75,000 agreed.

Regardless of the situation, it’s advisable to consider all the factors before you list your items. After all, we found 67% of online sellers said they’ve sold something and later regretted doing so, including 80% of Gen Xers and 71% of millennials.

Having a healthy emergency savings and nest egg are important, but these are long-term financial goals that you won’t necessarily meet by selling your best pair of sneakers.

Facebook Marketplace is the platform of choice for 58%

Though it may come with its own set of challenges, social media is making it easier for Americans to sell and give away items online.

Back in the early internet days, selling on eBay was one of the only ways to go. The resale marketplace ranked as respondents’ second choice for selling items, but Facebook Marketplace might be a better place to find buyers.

Facebook Marketplace was the top platform of choice across all generations, while Instagram was the second choice for each generation, except for baby boomers (eBay).

The change in seasons might also help drive sales, as nearly 40% of respondents said they clean out their closet every season, with even more doing so once or twice a year. More inventory in the marketplace could mean more sellers advertising to their networks and bringing more traffic to listings.

But don’t panic if you have a pile of things you’ve been meaning to donate or sell — you’re in good company. Our survey found 65% of consumers have a similar stash in their homes right now, including 72% of Gen Xers and 71% of men. If you’re looking for a sign to try to sell — this could be it. You miss 100% of the sales you don’t list.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,013 U.S. consumers from Feb. 26 to March 1, 2021. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (defined as those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.