Is a buyers club a good idea for you?

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This afternoon, many of us will try our hand at scoring a super rare coin with the hopes of flipping it for a small fortune with a few clicks of the mouse while also picking up a couple grand in easy credit card spend. That particular deal has hit every corner of the miles-and-points blogosphere because some popular buyers clubs are offering to commit in advance to buy it from you for $1,000 to $2,000 in profit if you promise to sell it to them (if you’re lucky enough to get it in the first place). Comments on Greg’s post about this deal indicated that many readers may wonder about buyers clubs, so I wanted to share some basics for those new to the concept, my first-hand experience with the club Greg wrote about, and some general warnings in order to shed some balanced light on this avenue for earning miles and points.

What is a buyers club?

A buyers club is a company that pays its members a pre-determined commission to buy specific products from specific stores (usually at specific times). If you commit to buy a product for the buyers club (i.e. on behalf of the buyers club), you will purchase the product and send it to the buyers club and then the club will pay you back for the product, typically with a previously agreed-upon commission/profit added. You essentially lock in a known level of profit before you purchase an item (and the buyers club offers this because they know they can resell that item for even more than they pay you to buy it).

For example, let’s say a TV goes on sale at Amazon for $200. The buyers club offers to pay you $250 for that TV. You order the TV from Amazon for $200 and ship it to the buyers club (either directly from Amazon or perhaps after you receive the product) and then you get paid $250.

This type of model can be profitable and it can also represent an opportunity to pick up easy credit card spend that can increase your rewards or make it easier to meet minimum spending requirements.

Why does a buyers club exist?

First a foremost, a buyers club exists for the owner to make a profit. At the base level, the owner of the club is locking in the price of inventory that they presumably know they can resell for a higher price. In some cases, they likely have purchase orders locked in ahead of time to buy the products from them and they use those purchase orders to determine how much they can offer you to buy the product on behalf of the club. In other cases, they may be speculating what they expect to be able to earn, but they offer you a set commission in advance (taking on the risk of price volatility for themselves).

In many cases, deals on popular items are limited to one per customer or one per household, etc. Therefore, even if you recognize that a product will be offered at a price low enough that you can earn a profit by purchasing it to resell, you may be limited by quantity restrictions. It is impossible to scale that kind of deal working as an individual.

A buyers club gives the owner the chance to order a mass quantity of an item that would otherwise be quantity-restricted.

Let’s imagine for example that the newest Apple iPhone model costs $1,000 at full retail and that Apple announced that it was going to sell a limited-edition lime green version of the phone autographed by a popular celebrity for the same $1,000 price with a limited quantity of 2,000 phones. Each customer is limited to purchasing one phone per billing address / household. It wouldn’t take a psychic to guess that there will be high demand and that many people who want the phone will be unable to buy it directly from Apple. Therefore, the secondary/resale market will likely be high (maybe $1500 or $2,000 or more). A buyers club offers to pay $1300 to any interested member who commits in advance to sell to the club if they are able to buy it (a $300 profit for the member). This helps the owner of the club lock in a price and quantity.

With an idea as to how many people have committed to sell to the buyers club, the buyers club owner can now negotiate with several electronics shop owners in advance to sell those phones for even more (ideally getting purchase order commitments in advance and filling them with the phones purchased by club members). The buyers club members earn a profit with very little effort and the buyers club owner makes a profit by being able to offer a useful quantity to stores that would otherwise be unable to stock this product.

What are the advantages of joining and selling to a buyers club?

The key advantages of selling to a buyers club are that you eliminate the risk of price volatility and eliminate the time and effort that would otherwise need to be invested in finding a buyer. You also eliminate a lot of risk on the sales end. Let’s break those each down.

As an individual, part of the appeal of a buyers club is that you don’t need to worry about whether the price of the item in question goes up or down after the deal goes live because you have already locked in an agreed-upon price. In the theoretical example of the iPhones above, perhaps the celebrity turns out to be less popular than expected or perhaps Apple decides that since it was so popular they could keep producing more and they flood the market with lime-green celebrity-autographed phones and thus the resale price plummets. Eliminating the risk of the price dropping by locking in a known profit is especially appealing to the risk-averse among us who would rather earn a guaranteed return than chance a sharp decrease in value. You know in advance that you’re making $300 in profit and you’re getting $1,000 in reimbursed spend.

Using a buyers club also eliminates the time spent trying to sell your item: you don’t need to waste time creating listings on eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, etc. Eliminating this step can be especially appealing when you don’t know the product in question well. For example, I’ve sold many pellet stoves and wood stoves over the years, but when I first started I knew nothing about those products. I spent a lot of time looking up max BTUs and how many square feet a stove could heat and the size of the venting, etc. Potential buyers always had questions I didn’t understand and I had to take time looking up the answers. Figuring that stuff out takes time.

Furthermore, many selling avenues include significant risk. If I were going to sell an iPhone on Craigslist, I’d want to meet at the police station. It is just far too likely that the phone may attract a scammer / thief interested in robbing me to resell the phone themselves. Perhaps you would instead opt for eBay — that has its own set of similar scammy risks. I have made many successful eBay sales over the years, but I have also had instances where a buyer requested a return and sent me an empty box or where they returned a counterfeit item. When dealing with expensive products, I have often gone so far as to Google the buyer’s name and address to try to determine if they are a legitimate customer. More than once I’ve kind of held my breath and crossed my fingers as the post office clerk took my package. The buyers club eliminates a lot of this risk.

What are the disadvantages of selling to a buyers club?

Hacked Hyatt Gift Card

The first key disadvantage of a buyers club is that you sacrifice some potential profit in exchange for a “sure thing”. The other downside is the risk of the buyers club not holding up their end of the bargain.

Given that buyers clubs exist to earn a profit, the items that they offer to buy from you are obviously things that they expect to sell for more than they are paying you (and enough more to as to make an attractive profit from you). If they are right (and they wouldn’t be in the business if they weren’t good at being right on this), then you are giving up the opportunity to get whatever that higher price is. In cases where the item is only worth a small premium over what they pay you, it may certainly be worth the time savings to you not to have to deal with selling the product on your own. However, in the rare instance where an item skyrockets in value, this could be a huge drawback.

For instance, last year there was a coin that initially sold for about $70 and buyers clubs were offering a couple hundred bucks at first. A family member who did not commit to a buyers club scored a $70 coin without having committed to a buyers club. They ended up selling it for about $1250. I got $300 from the buyers club for my coin as I had committed to sell it for that price in advance. The profit I gave up there was huge. That was an extremely rare situation, but it illustrates the fact that the spread can be significant. Was it worth giving up $900+ in profit in exchange for eliminating the risk of losing some of my initial $70 investment? Probably not in hindsight — but nobody knew it would go up that high and that fast.

The risk of the buyers club not holding up their end of the bargain is multi-faceted. What if the buyer’s club’s customers (the people who pay the club to buy your products) back out? Will the buyers club still have the cash on hand to pay you for the product you purchased for the club? What if the item unexpectedly tanks in value: will the buyers club still have the cash on hand to pay you for the product you purchased for the club / will they be willing to take the big hit financially to make right on the deal? What guarantee do you have that the buyers club owner won’t sell your product and then disappear to a small island in the Caribbean to enjoy drinks with frilly umbrellas in anonymous seclusion for the rest of their time on earth, failing to ever pay you?

That last point, though intentionally hyperbole, is one that you can’t ignore: there is some risk of getting ripped off. You don’t want to jump in the deep end without knowing that there is some risk in this game and that someone else’s positive experience doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have the same.

A final risk associated with buyers clubs is the risk of getting banned by merchants. Stores don’t typically like the idea of people buying their products for resale. In some cases, either buying too much too often and/or having items shipped to a known buyers club warehouse address could be red flags that get you banned from buying at websites. I was banned from Walmart.com for years because of things I was buying to resell (thankfully they seem to have forgiven me at some point). I had a similar issue with Kohls for a while where I could only use my store card or gift cards, none of my personal credit cards.

My experience with PFS Buyers Club

Greg wrote about today’s coin deal noting the payout from PFS Buyers Club (which got updated to $1,005 in profit per coin on the gold coin). He shared the PFS deal likely because he knows that Stephen and I have previously written about PFS Buyers Club deals and that Stephen and I have both sold to PFS Buyers Club without an issue. We’ve also had many readers who have sold items to PFS Buyers Club that have reported positive experiences.

The main reason we’ve listed PFS Buyers Club deals and prices rather than other buyers clubs is because PFS is the one with which we have first-hand experience. I’ve heard about some other buyers clubs, but I haven’t personally tried them and thus don’t have personal experience to share (also: because I’ve sold to PFS before, I receive their emails advertising new deals whereas I don’t receive those emails from buyers clubs I’ve never joined). I have read this time around that another club is paying about $2,000 in profit, but I’ve never done business with them and thus don’t know first-hand what it’s like.

While I can’t speak to the experience with other buys clubs, my experience with PFS has been smooth. I’ve been doing PFS Buyers Club deals since before I worked for Frequent Miler and I’ve sold 5-figures worth of products to PFS without any issue.

For those curious about how the process works, here it is in a nutshell:

  1. PFS finds an opportunity to buy a product and determines what they will pay. They send an email to members outlining the opportunity and commission they will pay. Members must then opt-in if they would like to participate.
  2. After opting in through your account, you receive an email confirmation confirming opt-in along with detailed instructions for how to prepare for the sale and (hopefully) successfully buy the product.
  3. PFS typically sends a reminder the day of the sale.
  4. After successfully purchasing the product, you typically need to enter your order number / email address on the PFS website within a few hours of purchase to confirm that you have bought the product (and so that PFS can track the progress of your order).
  5. PFS then typically emails updates as your order status changes (for example, with US Mint deals, an order may go from “Confirmed” to “Processing” to “Shipped”. PFS tracks your order progress and keeps you updated. At least on US Mint deals, they even email you the tracking number from the Mint after your order ships.
  6. PFS Sends a shipping label and detailed shipping instructions. Follow these instructions to a T. One of the key details on US Mint purchases is that you can not open the box from the Mint (this is obviously to reduce the risk of PFS receiving a counterfeit product). You want to read and follow the directions exactly.
  7. PFS sends another email when they receive your shipment and they have credited the agreed-upon amount to your “payments account”. This is within your PFS account. You then need to request a cash-out/payment fulfillment. PFS has long said that it could take up to 7 business days to receive payment after requesting a cash-out.
  8. A final email comes when payment has been processed (I’ve always been paid via PayPal; I’m not sure if there is an option to receive a paper check instead).

I just went back through old deals and in every case, payment has been received 4, 5, 6, or 7 calendar days from the day that PFS received my shipment and cash out request. In each case, they have provided an estimated payment date and I’ve been paid within the expected timeframe. I actually found one case in 2016 where I forgot to request the cash out (the deal was relatively small) and they followed up emailing me 3 times to remind me to cash out (presumably they didn’t know what email address I wanted to use for PayPal without me choosing to cash out).

It is worth noting that a couple of readers commented on Greg’s post to say that they had read negative things about PFS on other sites, though no specific examples of people not being paid for their products. I know that the aforementioned coin deal last year that skyrocketed in value upset many people who felt like they were being taken advantage of by PFS since the coin went up so much in value so quickly. PFS claimed to have locked in purchase orders with their buyers before the prices skyrocketed and therefore didn’t have room to negotiate wildly higher payouts and they made the argument that members committed before anyone knew where the price would end up. While I understood the disappointment of having committed to a lesser profit than one could have gotten elsewhere, I don’t blame PFS for the fact that the market took off after customers had committed. This is just the way the game works.

PFS has since instituted a written agreement that basically locks you into selling the item to them or face potential legal action and a couple of readers took issue with the terms of the agreement. Personally, I am not concerned with the wording — but I recommend that if you choose to opt in to a buyers club you read the full terms and decide whether or not you are comfortable with those terms.

To be clear, I have written about the PFS deals and this section of this post solely because it is the one with which I have experience. I do not have a personal connection with any buyers club and I recommend buys do their own due diligence in deciding who to do business with.

General warnings about buyers clubs

Many readers will remember a prevalent gift card reselling site called The Plastic Merchant. For those unfamiliar, the Plastic Merchant was a company seemingly created for the frequent flyer community. They would send out alerts to let members know when there was an opportunity to get a deal on merchant gift cards and they would then sometimes be able to pay a small profit or near break-even price for those store gift cards. For example, imagine an Amex Offer came out for $20 back on $100 at Macy’s: The Plastic Merchant would send out a notice that they were paying $81 for a $100 Macy’s Gift Card. If you had the Amex Offer, you could potentially buy a $100 Macy’s gift card for $80 after the offer cash back and sell it to The Plastic Merchant (“TPM” for short) for $81 — netting $1 profit plus the rewards earned on your credit card. In some cases, it was possible to scale deals to buy many, many gift cards at once and resell them for the same amount you paid or even a small profit at times.

Presumably, TPM had large bulk customers placing orders with them for specific merchant cards and TPM was then offering to buy cards for which they already had purchase orders. At least, that’s what I think many of us assumed. And things were great for a while: it seemed to be a long-running gravy train of pajama points. At some point, I wondered what would happen if one of TPM’s customers collapsed: if TPM didn’t get paid for the gift cards, how could they possibly pay all of these miles enthusiasts selling cards? I met the owner at an in-person Frequent Flyer event and I recalled a conversation I had with him about a specific gift card deal where he had said that he had $1.2 million in capacity to buy that merchant’s cards on that single day. That seemed insane: there were dozens of merchants whose cards he was buying at any given time; I couldn’t imagine how much money he must have been floating on gift cards if he had capacity for $1.2mil on a single merchant.

And yet still I got deeper into selling gift cards to TPM. Then one day I asked myself if what I was doing was wise. As is the case with any buyers club, I was essentially buying something of value and handing it over to someone I don’t personally know under the promise that they will pay me for it later. One reader would later note that what I was doing was akin to extending my personal credit line to a stranger.

One day, when I realized that I had a very large sum of outstanding gift cards with TPM — a 5-figure sum that didn’t start with the number one — I asked myself how many friends or family members I knew well enough to loan them that much money under the promise that I’d get paid back in a couple of weeks. When I realized that my short list to answer that question was pretty much empty, I pulled way back and stopped selling gift cards for a while. To this day, I feel grateful beyond description that I had that epiphany because it was less than two months later that the first round of bounced checks went out from TPM. After eventually making good on those and getting back on track for a few months, one day TPM disappeared out of thin air — leaving many people completely unpaid for thousands of dollars worth of gift cards. When I reviewed TPM’s bankruptcy filings sometime in this past year, I saw that one woman was owed more than $98,000 that she will presumably never see. Can you imagine? Gosh, it gives me a pit in my stomach writing about it even though I stopped selling to TPM in the nick of time because I know that a couple months sooner I’d have lost what would have been a devastating sum for my family.

All of that is to reiterate that this can be risky business. I don’t know what went wrong for TPM and I am not at all suggesting that whatever it is that went wrong with TPM will repeat with any buyers club. I certainly hope not to see anything similar happen ever again and indeed most of us have never seen another instance on similar scale to TPM. But it illustrates the point that everything is perfect until the moment when it isn’t and you have to consider how hurt you’ll be if you’re left empty-handed at the moment when it isn’t. Some people can afford to lose a few hundred bucks if things go wrong, others may be willing to risk a few thousand. To each his own in determining their risk tolerance, but you should think about it before dipping your toes in the buyers club realm (or the resale realm in general).

I have opted in for the PFS deal today and I likely would again in the future based on my positive experience with them. I probably wouldn’t opt in for five figures worth of product on a single deal with a single buyers club based on the risk that we know exists.

Bottom line

Buyers clubs can be profitable and they can earn you a lot of points. In general, I recommend starting small and getting experience with a particular club before you dive in head first. This can be where making connections in the game can be helpful as it helps to get first hand experience from other buyers club members so you know what to expect. But don’t assume that the positive experience of others is a guarantee: indeed, a month or two before things went south with TPM you would have found plenty of people in this game who had positive experiences to share. I feel comfortable enough with the buyers club model to participate, but it isn’t for everybody — and just like any other risk/reward proposition, whether it be gambling in Las Vegas or investing in the stock market or reselling products, I recommend not playing with more than you can afford to lose. And just like all of those other risk/reward propositions, there is plenty to be gained from a buyers club – but buyer beware.

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