A Case Study: What 3,000 Sales on eBay Taught Me About the Realities of Retail Seasonality

Taylor Bickell
3 min readJun 28, 2019

Major online retailers such as eBay have the ability to reach millions of customers around the world. Generally speaking, e-commerce enables consumers to purchase just about anything, from anywhere, anytime.

I developed a full-time endeavor as an eBay seller, both learning the ropes of the platform and differentiating myself from other marketplace sellers. Eventually, I found my niche: reselling pre-owned clothing. In fact, about 94% of the clothing items sold by my store from June 2017 — June 2018 were pre-owned (i.e. something that has been worn or used at least once before).

Note: Why buy pre-owned? To begin, it’s usually cheaper than new with tags items. Second, items that may not be as affordable (e.g. luxury brands and goods) often become more accessible in pre-owned condition. Last, buying pre-owned supports increased sustainability and less waste. ♻

Living the day in and day out of selling online revealed just how central momentum and ebbs and flows are to retail business. Viewing a complete year of sales highlighted how even seemingly non-traditional retail business models like my own are affected by retail seasonality.

Defining “retail seasonality”

Seasonal patterns are considered to be predictable, and any cause for change should be fairly apparent. Typically, changes are attributed to seasonal periods within a given year (i.e. a holiday or a specific season like summer). Retail seasonality is most commonly associated with the fourth quarter of a calendar year (Q4).

So, what did you sell?

A synopsis

Total number of clothing items sold: 2,905

  • All items sold were to domestic locations (within the United States).

Format of the listing:

  • Fixed format listing items sold (duration of 30 days): 2,590
  • Auction format listing items sold (duration of 7 days): 315

Men’s, Women’s or Children’s apparel:

  • Men’s items sold: 1,892
  • Women’s items sold: 804
  • Children’s items sold: 209

Categories of the items sold:

  • Casual shirts: 956
  • Athletic Apparel: 705
  • Coats, Jackets & Sweaters: 393
  • Tops, Shirts & T-shirts: 342
  • Pants: 306
  • Shorts: 203

Up close and personal

Summer 2017:

The summer season is viewed by many as an opportune time to vacation. Those with families can take advantage of a schedule with increased flexibility to travel due to school being out. Warmer weather can also lead to enjoying more outdoor activities and consequently spending less time browsing online. With that comes the “summer slowdown,” as coined by some resellers. Just take a look at the number of sales.

Q4 2017:

You hear about it and likely experience it every year. The chaotic and crazy stories associated with Black Friday and holiday shopping have fed a culture of higher consumption during the latter part of the year. It’s clear that selling more items during this time isn’t unreasonable. In fact, it’s likely to be expected. Retail seasonality in full motion.

Conclusion

Patterns can be observable and lived realities over the course of a life. Learning to recognize them can result in a greater level of understanding about the world and the specific culture within which we live. Seasonality is just one example of a pattern we observe within the retail landscape, and my e-commerce selling experience has only reinforced the presence of seasonal patterns in consumer buying behavior. At large, a culture of consumption, such as the one we live in, transcends and influences even seemingly non-traditional selling models.

As a closing thought, I pose the following question: Why and when do you buy and consume what you do?

To view the notebook and code used to create the two primary visualizations above, click here.

I’d love to connect! The best place to find me is on LinkedIn. :)

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