How to Find Great Deals on eBay

My friend Lisa is something of an eBay addict. I'll be at her house admiring something or other and she'll smile confidentially and whisper, “I got it off eBay.”

She recently showed up at a dinner party wearing a smart cocktail dress. When the other women admired it she smiled confidentially and whispered, “I got it off eBay.” At Christmas she made some crafty little things that amazed and delighted the recipients. When we asked how she came up with the idea she smiled confidentially and whispered, “I got it off eBay.”



I've written before about my technique for making money off eBay, but how does one go about using eBay for frugal fun? When I asked Lisa for some tips, she wrote with the following advice.

When I hit eBay, I tend to shop for bargains and for things that are hard to find. Lately I've also used it a bit for convenience when it's hard to get out with the kids. It probably doesn't take as much time as you think.

  • Snipe your auctions using AuctionStealer or something similar. It (1) helps avoid personal bidding mania at the last minute, when you later realize that you paid more than market value for an item; (2) keeps the price down by preventing others from bidding against you; and (3) manages the bidding timing for you so that you don't miss good auctions. (If you navigate carefully through the site, AuctionStealer offers three free snipes a week — you can just scroll through the offers for upgrades.)
  • Be creative with your searches: common misspellings are great ways to find auctions that aren't being watched by so many potential buyers. For example, Stride Rite children's shoes are sometimes listed under Stride Right by sellers who aren't paying attention. Since most buyers search under the correct spelling, the incorrect spelling is a boon. [Try Fat Fingers to search for misspelled auctions.]
  • Create Favorite Searches for items that you want. You can set it up so that eBay automatically sends an e-mail every time an item is listed with your search terms. This is particularly useful for Buy it Now listings, because it gives you an early chance at an item.
  • Look for unusual items on eBay instead of driving around and browsing stores; it can save time and gas. For example, I needed an antique slip to go with an old baby dress. Instead of hitting all the antique stores in town, I found exactly what I needed on eBay.
  • Know that new items are sold as well as used ones. I recently found a clothing seller who auctions everything new with tags (NWT). If you have favorite brands and know your size, buying clothes on eBay can give you some great discounts.
  • Indulge your taste for high-end name-brand items by buying them lightly used on eBay. A while ago, I bought a used Coach purse for a fraction of the retail cost, and it was in excellent condition. (Personally, I always confirm that items are coming from a smoke-free environment.)
  • If you see a handmade item on eBay that you'd like to recreate, try doing a
    little spying in the seller's feedback to see if you can find their supplier. Go to the Feedback from Sellers tab, and then follow item links to see if they bought supplies from another eBayer. (eBay recently changed its policy about feedback, however, and there are restrictions on what you can view.)
  • If a seller seems to be established with a regular inventory, try checking on the web for a non-eBay store with the seller (search in Google for the store name). I recently watched an item go on eBay for five times the flat price in the seller's website.
  • Do some research before you buy. Watch a few similar items to see what they go for and set your bidding accordingly.
  • Pay attention to return policies and think about where an item is coming from in case of a problem. I bought a watch that didn't work as described; the seller was apparently accommodating about taking the return, but the watch never made it through international mail back to Israel. I still wonder whether the seller received it or if it was intercepted along the way. Regardless, we ate the cost of that item.
  • Keep an eye on the shipping and handling charges. I saw a $15 item listed recently with a $30 shipping and handling charge. That's fine, of course, if it's a total that you're willing to pay…
  • Some sellers are now grouping items and offering a shipping discount. Read the fine print in the listing to see if the seller does that. You usually have to wait to pay until all items are purchased to claim the discount. (In other words, don't pay for each item as you win it if you want to group shipping.) Sellers who do this usually offer some number of days before you have to pay so that you have time to finish other auctions. Again, check the fine print.
  • Ultimately, I often use eBay as a way to safely do transactions with people I wouldn't normally give my credit numbers to. Think of something you might want to purchase? Check on eBay.

And just because I'm obsessive enough to do it, here is a crummy excel spreadsheet with our past year of eBay activity.


Thanks to Lisa for sharing these tips. I've never used eBay as a tool for buying things at a discount — only for collecting. But I'm beginning to think it might be a fun way to shop for Christmas presents, for example.

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