A key component of a successful retail arbitrage (RA) trip is making sure you have all the necessary supplies before you head out on your sourcing journey. Having the right gear can free up your time and energy to make better sourcing decisions and find more profitable inventory for your Amazon FBA business.
You may choose to use all or none of the tools we cover in this blog post. Our main purpose is to get you thinking ahead of time of items you don’t want to forget when you hit the road. If you use different types of tools for your usual RA sourcing, be sure to take those tools — don’t feel like you have to go out and buy the things we’re mentioning in this blog post if you already know what you’re comfortable with for sourcing.
Unless otherwise noted, all of the tools and supplies we cover in this post are items that we personally use on a regular basis for our RA trips and wouldn’t want to leave home without them.
So without further ado, here are our essential picks for RA gear:
- Smartphone — A smartphone with good wireless service is the number one essential piece of gear for your RA sourcing success. Some folks choose to use a tablet instead, but I find them to be too bulky and cumbersome for scanning inventory in stores. Rebecca and I personally use iPhones, but others swear by Android phones. Whichever type of phone you choose, be sure that all the apps you like to use while sourcing are available on that operating system. I recommend using the Scoutify app for sourcing, along with the Amazon Seller app for other FBA-related tasks.
- Car charger and back-up battery power for your phone — I try to make it a habit to plug my phone into the car charger between every stop while I’m driving on an RA trip. Sometimes, though, I still need more battery power while I’m scanning in a store. I always carry with me a back-up battery power source that I charge up the night before and can easily use to charge my phone in the store while I continue to scan. I’ve been in a store in the past and watched my battery drain from 90% to 30% after only one or two aisles because there was just so much great clearance inventory to scan. Sometimes I even carry a back-up for my back-up!
- Water bottle for hydration — Your health is an important component of your success in an RA trip, particularly on a long-distance RA trip. You have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and getting enough food and water to keep your energy up during the trip. If you don’t drink enough water, in particular, you could end up getting dehydrated and getting a headache, which could bring your RA trip to a halt. We always bring along reusable water bottles for the car, and if we need to refill them we buy a gallon water jug for $1 at a grocery store or gas station along the way — depending on where you’re sourcing, the store you’re at may even sell water jugs. Our family loves the Contigo brand of water bottles, and we each have our own color bottle to keep them separate. Stephen prefers the 20-ounce stainless steel bottle, while Rebecca and the boys like the 24-ounce plastic bottles.
- Scotty peeler— You’ve probably got a few Scotty peelers around your office space to use when you’re removing price stickers during the prepping process, but I also like to carry one in my pocket to use in the store when I’m sourcing. Sometimes a store will put a sticker over the UPC barcode of items, and I like to have a Scotty peeler handy to partially peel back that sticker so I can more easily scan the barcode. “Whaaaaat? You partially peel off a sticker in the store?” Yep. I’m not shy about. I’m not destroying anything, I’m not stealing anything, I’m not trying to switch stickers. I’ve never had anyone confront me about it. If someone told me to stop, I would, but there’s really nothing wrong with peeling back a sticker a bit — so why not bring along a Scotty peeler to make it easier?
- Gift cards — Gift cards can be a great way to increase your ROI on your FBA inventory, if you get those gift cards for a good deal. You can buy discounted gift cards on websites like Raise, and then use those gift cards to make your RA or OA purchases for your business. Be sure to check out Raise or other websites well in advance of your RA trip so that if you need to wait for a physical gift card to be mailed to you, you have enough time to receive it before your departure.
- Sharpie— Going along with the gift cards, you need to keep a Sharpie or other permanent marker in the glove box of your vehicle so you can mark the current balance on your gift cards as you use them throughout the trip.
- Earbuds with a built-in microphone— I like to source in stores with my earbuds hooked up to my phone for a couple of reasons. One, I can use this time to listen to a podcast or audiobook while I’m sourcing, if I’m in a store where I’m not having to do a lot of mental calculations. Two, if I have my earbuds in, I’m able to answer phone calls and use the built-in mic to talk, but I still have the use of both hands to keep scanning inventory or pushing the cart while I’m on the call.
- Envelope for receipts — I recommend bringing along an envelope to keep your receipts safe while you’re on the road. You will need to keep the receipts for your inventory, as well as any other business-related purchases you make along the way (food, gas, lodging, etc — be sure to talk with your CPA about what you can deduct as a business expense from your RA trips). Almost all of the receipts used by stores today do not use ink, but instead use a thermal printer. These printers use heat to make the imprints on the receipts. Over time, the text on thermal receipts fade away. The more time a receipt spends in any light, the faster the print fades away. If you can immediately file these receipts in an envelope while you’re out sourcing (rather than putting them on the dashboard or the car seat in the sunlight), the print will last longer.
Notice that I didn’t put a bluetooth scanner on my list. I know lots of RA folks swear by using a bluetooth scanner when they’re out sourcing, but I’ve never used one and feel like it’s an unnecessary expense. I’m perfectly happy with the results I get from my iPhone by itself. To each his own, right?
Did I leave anything off this list that you would consider essential? Let me know in the comments below!
Retail arbitrage can be a lot of fun, but it’s even more fun when you get outside of your normal sourcing radius and take an arbitrage road trip! In fact, some of my most profitable sourcing times were day-long trips where I sourced all day in a new location. The results were awesome with more inventory and more profits than usual.
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