Making gold with heavy competition is hard. I get comments on my articles all the time about how my ideas don't work on some high-population, high-competition realm. There's an implicit (and sometimes outright stated) disclaimer that any advice you'll find here is general and may not apply to your realm.
It's time to talk about what to do when you're always being redirected back to these weasel words. If your server really is so competitive that you can't make any normal strategies work, what can you do?
How sure are you?
The first thing you need to do is determine whether you're jumping to conclusions. If you dip your toe in the market and it becomes unprofitable overnight, with no sign of decreasing activity from your competition, they may just be flapping their arms at you. As soon as your stock stops being listed, they may just revert to the profitable status quo and expect you to not notice. Seeing a bunch of undercuts and unsold auctions doesn't mean that there's no money in what you're doing; it might simply mean that you have to wait for it.
The best way to decide whether you're looking at a hyper-competitive market rather than being shooed away from a competitive one is to check the prices on AHSpy.com or the Undermine Journal. Also, try keeping your goods continuously listed for two weeks before deciding that it's too competitive to make money.
I'd bet that a large portion of the comments I get are from people who don't do this and are just assuming that since it's not immediately and obviously profitable, it's not ever going to be. Demand in this game is constantly shifting, and you're doing yourself a disservice by not giving a market a real try before writing it off.
No, this is for real
If you play someplace like Mal'Ganis or Earthen Ring, there will be some serious competition, and I believe you when you tell me how hard it is. I've heard stories of real players with a second account who will cancel and relist their inventory every 10 minutes or so, crafting constantly while playing their main in another window.
Then there are the cheaters, people who break the terms of service will eventually get banned -- but until they do, they can farm for way longer than any real player. Unfortunately, these cheaters have an enormous impact on the economy, especially on high-pop servers where they're best able to turn their illicit gold into real money. The best place to ensure that you're fighting real players is in the crafting segment of the market.
Farming is the act of making something out of nothing but time. Spend an hour, and any character with a farming skill will have a bunch of mats needed by crafters. AFK farmers are capable of producing many times the amount of stock that would be needed to satisfy the immediate demand for the crafted goods they make. And this is all added to the stock available from the real farmers.
While you will occasionally find someone cheating in the AH, it's rare. Anyone willing to invest the time and gold needed to get a character to at least level 75 and Cataclysm level crafting typically won't bot for longer than it takes them to realize that Blizzard eventually catches all of them.
Gaining a foothold in a profitable market
The normal strategy for making gold is buying mats, crafting something from them, and then selling that on the AH for more than the cost of the mats. When your competition in profitable market seemingly has the ability and willingness to undercut you almost immediately almost every time you post, though, you may feel frustrated. The money is right there; you're just not getting any of it.
The one thing that people tend to forget, though, is that it's not just about how quickly you undercut, but also about the quantity and price. You can sometimes compete effectively with a stalker by capturing sales that they miss because they're not willing to pay the listing fees for a lot of stock when they know they're just going to be cancelling it in a few minutes. Ignore their undercuts, and make sure that your stock is listed during heavy demand periods.
If this isn't enough for you, you can step it up. Hit them where it hurts: in their gold per hour. Post a large quantity of items at a much smaller margin than they're used to. If it all sells, you've hopefully made up in volume what you lost in profitability per sale, and if it doesn't sell, then you've forced your competitor to spend more time for less money. You don't have to babysit your auctions, and they have to babysit theirs.
Either of you are able to make the other one not make much money, and if you're tenacious enough, you might be able to drive the others out and catch the profits when prices rebound.
What's typical of a hyper-competitive market, though, is walking into the middle of something like this. If multiple stubborn competitors are playing chicken and waiting for someone to blink, the best you can do is throw your time and pressure into the mix.
If the prices are already at or below your cost, there are two possibilities. First, you might not have the same cost as your competitors. This could be as simple as having to pay more for ore. It might be more complex if you're turning raw mats into multiple other types of mats (like through prospecting or milling). If your competitors for gems assign the whole cost of their ore into the red gems and are willing to undercut you down to vendor price on other colors, you'll win business for cut red gems but lose business on the other colors.
Second, the competition might be working with stock that they value for less than they could sell it. This can result when they farm their own or if they purchased before a recent price raise. Either way, they'll only be able to make profits until their cheap stock runs out, at which point they'll have to start buying the same way everyone else does.
The best advice I can give you is to analyze what you're paying for mats. See if there's a way you can get a better deal to put yourself on an even footing with your competitors.
Second, if you really can't conceivably get mats low enough to compete, it's probably worth waiting out the stock. Unless the cost of raw farmed mats goes down before you finish, you might be able to make a bundle by buying out all the goods under cost and waiting until people stop listing them for less than it costs to make.
For example, say Ebonsteel Belt Buckles cost 110g to make (you could sell the mats for 110g on the AH), and they're regularly selling for 90g. Instead of buying mats, buy all the buckles under 110g, and keep doing so until they stop being posted for that. Then you can list the ones you bought competitively and make a decent margin, considering you didn't need to smelt or craft.
There's no way to get around it: The more gold making auctioneers there are in a server, the smaller slice of pie each will get. The reality is, though, that the larger realms with the larger economies will attract more gold makers, because a small slice of a big realm might be worth more than a large slice of a small realm. Carving yourself a small piece of a big pie can be a challenge, but if you get good at it, the potential profits are enormous. The only difference between you and the competitors trying to lock you out is that they are already comfortable.
Maximize your profits with advice from Gold Capped. Want to know the very best ways to earn 10,000 gold? Top gold making strategies for auctioneers? How about how to reach 1 million gold -- or how one player got there and then gave it all away? Fox and Basil are taking your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.