Exploiting inefficiencies in the secondary BTFE market

Could there be a more boring post title?

But yet, read on, gentle reader, and I think that you will be intrigued by what I have to say. For awhile, I have been interested in some of the ineffeciences in the second-hand Box Tops for Education (BTFE) market.

For those of you without school-aged children, BTFE are found on various food products (typically your General Mills / Betty Crocker products but some others). You clip them out and send them in to your kids’ (or any participating) school and then the school turns them in for 10 cents a box top. So far, so good.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If you do a search on ebay for BTFE, you will see that many times they sell for more than 10 cents a box top. In some cases, MUCH more than 10 cents – I’ve seen them go for over 20 cents per box top.

Why do people pay that much? Here’s the only thing I can think of: many times schools will have a pizza party for the class that brings in the msot box tops. So Mommy and Daddy don’t want to take the time to actually clip these, and little Janie or Junior simply MUST have their class party. So they buy them off eBay and send them in.

Recently my co-worker Kerry (again, not to be confused with my sister Kerry) and I noticed that there seemed to be a spike in the raw cost per BTFE on eBay. And we found that twice a year (I believe on 10/31 and 3/30), the schools have to send in their box tops to the Box Tops folks. So many times, schools will send out reminders to parents to send them in. Which in turn reminds them to check eBay and buy them.

A few times, my local Meijer has run promotions where if you buy a certain number of products, you get certificates for 100 or 120 box tops. You can read some of my reports here or here. On the last one, we decided we would hold off on selling our box tops on eBay until October, when we thought the prices would be at their peak. Our coupons for 120 box tops each ($12 face value) sold for about $17 each, though counting Paypal and eBay fees, it wasn’t as great of a deal. But still not bad given for the most part, we paid about $6 for the certificates (not to mention all the food that we picked up alongside)

But even though the October date just passed, I am still seeing pretty good rates for box tops. I have set up an RSS feed that I subscribe to with my handy Google Reader. It searches for only BTFE that are Buy it Nows. So I periodically look for good deals. A few weeks ago, I bought 75 BTFE for $5 shipped (6.67 cents per box top).

Then today I was alerted to a certificate for 1000 box tops selling for $89.99. eBay has sent me a 10% off coupon, so I decided to take the plunge. So it cost me $80.99. I think that I can turn around and sell it Buy it Now for $119.99, which, after fees (handy eBay fee calculator), will net a handy profit of $27.46

I’ll keep you posted!