Small fish, big pond
Starting out your empire on a rather large server can be a difficult endeavor. Typically, an established server already has several gigantic players in the market, many with millions of gold on hand. They've seem pretenders to their throne rise, and they've outlasted them all.
These big fish represent a significant roadblock for you on the road to financial success. There's no tool you have that they don't. But don't give up hope. I know their secrets.
Most notably, remember this: Very few people -- even your top gold makers -- will participate in every market. It's a numbers game. There are literally thousands of places to make money in WoW, and these auctioneers are only interested in playing in the most profitable fields -- typically, those markets they're most familiar with. When I was aggressively making money on my server (on my single-minded grind to 1 million gold), I'd run up against heavy competition from two specific individuals in the Darkmoon Card market. When I expanded my business to some of the most profitable enchants, I ran into different competition. And meanwhile, while I was making gold hand over fist selling Darkmoon trinkets, I was passing up the opportunity to make money by prospecting ore or buying and reselling BOEs.
Success on a larger server depends on a number of factors, but the most important will always be your own creativity. The obvious markets will often be saturated with players. You should try to think outside the box. An alchemist on Server A might find that most flasks and potions sell at cost because of heavy competition. With a little research, however, they might find that there's an opening selling fun items like Elixir of Giant Growth or Deepstone Oil. Similarly, a scribe on Server B might find that they can't catch a break in the glyph market at all but that people will actually buy their preassembled, low-level Darkmoon Decks. [Note: With a new-for-4.3 Darkmoon Faire coming, it might be safe to assume that people will have a new way to grind Darkmoon rep, tanking the market for low-level decks. Stockpilers beware!] The take-away here: Do a little bit of research, and find that rare opening.
Start with the untapped or low-competition markets ... if you can find them. Obviously, these are the best places to focus your efforts. If you're used to selling a finished product -- say, you sell a lot of Mysterious Fortune Cards or glyphs -- see if you can make a solid profit selling another product in that same value chain for a similar (or even lesser) profit, such as the individual Blackfallow Inks or even Ashen Pigment.
Remember, a lot of people approach crafting from a different angle than you do. Person A will never buy a single scrap of Embersilk Cloth in his life, preferring the convenience of premade bolts; person B will never even bother to check the price of a Bolt of Embersilk Cloth because he assumes it will always be cheaper to buy the individual pieces. Both are potential customers, but you have to be smart and agile enough to know both exist and then cater to their needs.
What do you know about your competition? This is a hard question to answer until you spend a little time in a given market yourself. If you're listing your items seven days a week, is your competition listing these items on a reliable basis as well? Are they listing once a day? Or are they listing at numerous, seemingly random points during the day? (Danger! Danger! That's a tell-tale sign of someone who has the Mobile Auction House app and a lot of time on their hands!) If you list a glyph at a 20g undercut, how long does it take for the competition to come in and undercut at 20g 1c?
By simply asking these questions and taking the time to answer them, you can get a lot of solid ideas about how to play a particular economy. Once you identify your top competition, add that person to your friends list so you know when he's actively posting and monitoring markets. If your server's glyph maven logs off at 9 p.m. most nights, why not try logging on at 10 p.m. and undercutting him across the board? Does your competition only post auctions on weekdays? Jump into those markets on the weekend and scoop up his missed sales at a higher price point.
I've even gone as far as to check out my competition in the Armory. Doing so, you can find out what their primary professions are. More importantly, though, you can find out whether or not that character is a simple banker alt, a toon created to do nothing but list auctions. Generally, I find that people who list auctions on their main are far easier competition; you might discover that to be true as well. Then again, I frequently list auctions on my main and only use my banker alt for sabotage missions.
How serious is your competition about staying in the market? Knowing that there's a lot of competition in a given market isn't necessarily a reason to avoid it completely. After all, when I was selling PVP gear and enchants, there were a lot of different people coming and going from those markets all the time. If these folks are willing to stand put and defend their turf, then you're in for a rough time.
Thankfully, though, most folks aren't the stay-and-fight type. Participants in markets are often surprisingly transitory. A person might make a quick buck in a market when it's easy to do so and then move on to the next when they have to fight over territory or settle for lower margins. When the going gets tough, some people just raise the white flag.
Come at a new market hard. Try to price the competition out of the market by listing as much as you can at or just about the break even point. (I never recommend listing items at a loss -- that merely gives your competition the ability to buy out your stock.) And do it for several days at a time. Apply serious pressure, and keep it up. When the competition sees that you're serious, they'll start dropping like flies. Maybe not all the competition, but each person you drive out increases your ability to find customers and boost your bottom line.
Be warned, though: If you're up against a tough competitor, he might not blink easily -- if he even blinks at all. This kind of thing is part of the game, and he's betting that you'll blink before he will. With perseverance, you can best even the most stubborn mogul by convincing him that you're dumb enough to stick around and list items at a 0% profit.
That said, there's no shame in giving up on your market coup if the competition doesn't budge quickly enough for your liking. After all, that's part of the strategy -- to find a market where you can crowd people out to gain the maximum possible profit with the least amount of effort. I could never crowd folks out of my server's jewelcrafting market, but I found it easy to dominate the alchemy market. Why bother wasting time?
Can you create your own niche by offering different quantities? I've talked about this before in Gold Capped, but it's really a great tip that few people follow up on. If everyone is listing potions in quantities of one, create a few stacks of five, 10, and 20. If the competition posts a seeming infinite number of stacks of Mysterious Fortune Cards in quantities of 10, try listing your own in quantities of 20 or even 200. By making a very simple change to the quantity you list, you can open yourself to an entirely different set of (lazy and/or highly specific) customers. You don't even need to undercut with this strategy -- there will always be people willing to pay a premium for convenience, especially for items that carry a lower price point.
When it comes to playing in big markets, I'm sure that having a degree in economics is very useful. Much more useful, however, is having a degree in (or at least common-sense knowledge of) human psychology. Find out what makes the competition tick, prove that you can outthink them ... and you'll easily take their position of market dominance.
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped. Do you have questions about selling, reselling, and building your financial empire on the auction house? Fox and Basil are taking your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.