Difference Between Retail & Online Arbitrage | Business Upturn

Difference Between Retail & Online Arbitrage

If you’ve ever thought about starting a business on Amazon, you’ve probably come across the terms “online arbitrage” and “retail arbitrage.” These two methods are highly popular for sourcing products and reselling them at a profit, but they differ in some aspects.

Online arbitrage involves finding products from online retailers or e-commerce platforms, while retail arbitrage requires sellers to source products from physical stores, allowing for a more hands-on approach. Both methods have their advantages and challenges. In this article, we will discuss the difference between retail arbitrage and online arbitrage to determine which works better in 2023.


What is Online Arbitrage or OA?

Online arbitrage is a clever way of making money by finding great deals online and selling those products for a higher price. It’s like being a savvy shopper who knows where to get the best discounts and reselling those items for a profit.

Imagine browsing online and coming across a popular smartphone accessory, like a phone case, on sale for $5 at an online store. You notice that the same phone case is sold for $15 on a popular e-commerce platform like Amazon. This is where online arbitrage comes into play. You decide to buy the phone case and list it for sale on Amazon. When someone buys the phone case from your Amazon listing, you make a profit of $10 (minus the fees and other expenses).

The beauty of online arbitrage is that you can do it from the comfort of your home with just a computer and an internet connection. It’s a flexible way to make extra income, especially for those who enjoy finding good deals and want to turn their bargain-hunting skills into a money-making venture.

Pros & Cons of Online Arbitrage

Like any business strategy, online arbitrage has its own advantages and challenges. Let’s explore its pros and cons:


  • Flexibility: Can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Wide Product Range: Access to various online retailers’ diverse range of products.
  • Lower Startup Costs: Requires relatively low initial investment and overhead expenses.
  • Minimal Physical Storage: No need to handle physical inventory; products can be sent to fulfillment centers using Amazon FBA.
  • Scalability: Easy to expand and increase profit potential.


  • Increased Competition: Higher competition for profitable deals.
  • Requires Research and Analysis: Requires thorough research to find lucrative opportunities.
  • Fluctuating Margins: Prices may change frequently, affecting profit margins.

What is Retail Arbitrage?

Retail arbitrage is a similar business strategy where sellers source products from physical retail stores at a lower price and then resell them for a profit through online marketplaces. The concept revolves around finding products with significant price discrepancies between different retail locations and leveraging these opportunities to buy low and sell high.

Imagine you visit a local discount store known for its clearance sales. While browsing through their inventory, you come across a set of branded kitchen utensils on sale for just $5. These utensils are of good quality and typically retail for $15 at regular kitchen supply stores. Recognizing the opportunity for retail arbitrage, you purchase and list the product online through a popular e-commerce platform like Amazon. When someone buys the product, you make a profit of $10 (minus fees and other expenses).

Retail arbitrage often requires a keen eye for spotting undervalued products and effective management of inventory and pricing to maximize profitability.

Pros & Cons of Retail Arbitrage

Retail arbitrage offers an accessible entry point for beginners with lower startup costs. However, it has its own advantages and challenges:


  • Immediate Product Inspection: The ability to physically examine products before purchasing reduces the risk of receiving low-quality items.
  • Unique Item Potential: Possibility of finding rare or exclusive products not readily available online, offering niche market opportunities.
  • Personal Connections: Building relationships with local store owners may lead to special deals or discounts, boosting profit potential.


  • Time-consuming: Requires visiting physical stores, which can be a time-consuming task.
  • Limited inventory: Selection in physical stores may be more limited than in online marketplaces.
  • Storage and logistics: As inventory grows, managing storage and shipping logistics becomes more challenging. You can solve this by using Amazon FBA and shipping your inventory directly to a fulfillment center.

Key Differences Between Online & Retail Arbitrage 

Although similar in concept, online and retail arbitrage have differences that might help you determine the ideal business model. Here are the main differences between OA and RA:

1. Sourcing Locations

Online arbitrage relies on the vastness of the internet, allowing sellers to find deals from multiple online stores, while retail arbitrage requires physically visiting brick-and-mortar stores to discover opportunities in person.

2. Location Independence

Online arbitrage offers flexibility, allowing sellers to work from home or while traveling, but retail arbitrage requires being physically present at store locations.

3. Product Range

Online arbitrage provides a broader selection of products for sourcing, increasing the potential for finding profitable deals in various niches.

4. Product Inspection

With online arbitrage, sellers rely on product descriptions and images provided by online retailers, whereas retail arbitrage enables them to examine the quality and condition of products firsthand.

5. Time and Effort

Online arbitrage demands time for online research and analysis of price discrepancies, while retail arbitrage necessitates effort spent visiting multiple stores in search of profitable opportunities.

6. Shipping and Logistics

Online arbitrage sellers must consider shipping logistics when sourcing products from various online retailers. In contrast, retail arbitrage sellers avoid this concern since they can carry purchased items directly from physical stores. Both OA and RA sellers can use Amazon FBA, which frees them of many daunting tasks like picking, packing, shipping, handling returns, customer service, etc.

7. Competitiveness

The growing popularity of online selling platforms has increased competition in online arbitrage. In contrast, the level of competition in retail arbitrage can vary depending on the stores’ locations and the products available in those areas.

8. Tools Used by Sellers

Online arbitrage relies on digital tools like product research software, price trackers, and inventory management systems. On the other hand, retail arbitrage sellers use tools like smartphone apps for barcode scanning and notebooks for manual record-keeping.

Which One is Better in 2023? OA or Retail Arbitrage?

Online arbitrage is favored by those who appreciate the flexibility of working from anywhere with an internet connection, the access to a wide range of products available from online retailers, and the convenience of managing the whole business digitally. It also allows for automated processes and data-driven decision-making through various online tools.

On the other hand, retail arbitrage is preferred by individuals who enjoy the excitement of physically searching for deals in stores, the ability to inspect products before purchasing, and the possibility of finding unique or rare items not readily available online.

Ultimately, the choice between retail and online arbitrage comes down to personal preferences, resources, and the individual’s specific goals.


Both online and retail arbitrage offer excellent opportunities to make profits. Each method has its strengths and challenges, and there’s no clear winner. Success comes from adapting to the chosen method and being willing to learn and grow. So, whether you prefer digital deals or exciting store hunts, both paths can lead to financial success.