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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There are 25 comments to "How to Find Great Deals on eBay".

  1. Daniel says 02 August 2007 at 06:44

    Good tips! I have used GavelSnipe ( to win my Ebay actions for quite a while. It is totally free and has a great interface. I have tried a lot of the other software out there. This one is way better because you don’t have to leave your computer on, nor are you limited to 3 free snipes per week, month or another arbitrary time period.

    I agree very much with the point that it is also important to have a set price before the auction gets close to closing. There is nothing worse than getting caught up in a bidding frenzy for something you didn’t really want that bad.

  2. Matthew says 02 August 2007 at 07:13

    Sometimes you can take a gamble but do some risk analysis first. I recently bought a “Returned” DVD/VCR combo for $17 + $10 shipping. The auction specifically said that the item had not been tested and was being sold as is, no warranty, no returns. I determined that $30 was the max I would risk for such an item. Fortunately, the player worked perfectly, no problems. I gambled and won. Not everyone will be so lucky.

  3. Betsy Teutsch says 02 August 2007 at 07:54

    If you’re not in a hurry, before you buy an item on ebay, you can check on your local group. Odds are someone may have the item you’re seeking – for free. can’t beat free. Some people nickname is Freebay.

  4. - $100,000 in one year says 02 August 2007 at 08:34

    Thanks for the great tips. I haven’t shopped on eBay much but I guess I should.

    One Man. One Year. $100,000 online. Another way to get rich.

  5. derty says 02 August 2007 at 09:20

    Auction sniping is dirty and unfriendly to the seller.

  6. Luke says 02 August 2007 at 09:32

    Personally I don’t really like ebay that much anymore. It used to be a big garage sale, people trying to get rid of extra stuff and you could find great deals. Now there is so much “auction spam” you have to sort through the price gougers, the stores that list 50 auctions of the same item, people who charge inflated shipping and scammers. I have started finding sites that cater specifically to my interests that have forums and auctions sites. For example, I am an astrophysics grad student, so I go to for astronomy gear, you get great deals, in depth reviews of equipment and everyone is generally out to help everyone else. I have never had a bad experience and you don’t have to sort through so much garbage. For my motorcycle I go to It is specific to my motorcycle, I can buy used parts, get advice for fixing things etc. Using this site I was able to completely overhaul the engine on my motorcycle without having to pay for a mechanic to do it for me. So I would say, if you find yourself buying a lot of the same type of item, see if you can find an online community that supports it. Craigslist is also a favorite, the element of dealing locally means you don’t have to deal with shipping and scams are much more unlikely as you can usually go to see the item before you pay for it.

  7. Jerry Hung says 02 August 2007 at 10:28

    Actually I stay away from eBay now, unless I know what I’m looking for.

    Yes, it’s great tool to find bargains, but sometimes you buy more than you need, and it’s no way to save money 🙂

    It’s like buying sales, I might get a $100 product for $50, but do I really need the product? and I could’ve saved $50 too

  8. Anya says 02 August 2007 at 10:30

    Good tips as always. I’m concerned to see all those people’s names, unobscured, in your Excel file. When people look to you for financial advice, it’s important to also set a good example when it comes to privacy and security. All those purchases you list may seem innocuous, but it’s really non-standard to put up something like that without using the blur tool on the names (unless those names were made up).

  9. Anya says 02 August 2007 at 10:33

    Now I notice this was a guest post — my comment still stands though. That graphic shouldn’t have gotten through the cracks…

  10. Dave says 02 August 2007 at 11:53

    Can someone explain to me the utility of the various sniping programs? I always just figure out the maximum amount I want to spend, and put in my bid with that (minus shipping) as my limit. If someone is willing to go over my limit, it really doesn’t matter to me if they do it 3 days before the end of the auction, or 3 minutes before. So, what does a sniping program gain me?

    There was an out of print book that I wanted for several years. It would come up on auction fairly regularly. I decided I’d be willing to pay up to $100 for it. There were several times I thought I had it, when a frenzy of last-minute bidding would drive the price up to $150 or often even higher. Since I wasn’t willing to pay that price, what good would a sniping system have done for me? On a frugal note, the book was eventually reprinted in a 2nd edition with an update added and is still available for $39.95. I got mine that way.

  11. David Hunter says 02 August 2007 at 12:10

    The main advantage of sniping is psychology, namely that people will bid higher on items which are in demand. They also may in response to competition end up being willing to pay more than they would have otherwise. Bidding at the last minute minimises this.

  12. Adam says 02 August 2007 at 12:26

    eBay used to be fun.

  13. Giania says 02 August 2007 at 15:49

    I used to be somewhat of an ebay fiend. Then I taught myself to avoid it because I was spending too much money on silly little things.

    However, today’s article reminded me that ebay is sometimes ridiculously useful. I just bought a pair of pants for my beau for $17 (with shipping) that I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to find for under $40 new at the stores. NICE.

  14. Ribonucleic says 02 August 2007 at 16:55

    Sniping programs are for suckers. Enter the most you’ll be satisfied spending for the item and then let the system automatically bid for you.

    eBay is teeming with screaming bargains on a wide variety of magazine subscriptions. The deals look too good to be true – but they’re not. Just make sure the seller has a good feedback history.

  15. Gary says 02 August 2007 at 18:26

    I wonder if theres a program to weed out power sellers i like to buy from sellers with low feedback
    there the one that made e-bay e-bay, not the ones with feedback in the thousands
    The low feddbackers(as i call them) are the one just trying to git rid of something they no longer need
    i rather buy used, i don’t come to e-bay to buy new things i can get anywere

  16. Tim says 03 August 2007 at 00:03

    what worries me about this post is that i know people like Lisa: they scour ebay and buy stuff, lots of stuff, stuff they don’t need. I’m not in the habit of question what people buy and the reasons for buying them, but it seems that Lisa has bought a lot of want stuff, and perhaps more want stuff out of the sake of “a good deal.” although there are good points in the post, the post reads as a guide on how to buy and make buying stuff easier for the sake of buying stuff.

    Second, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SNIPING. if you put the max amount you are willing to spend on an item, the ebay function automatically bids up to your maximum. if you use a sniping program you invariably paid more than what you intended. if not, then why didn’t you simply put a higher amount in the maximum bid in the first place? it doesn’t matter if you get out bid by 1cent versus $1million. You cannot be “sniped” if you didn’t want to pay more for the item in the first place. Of course people put the rationale that they would have paid 3 cents more to prevent being outbid, but then you need to think about why you put a maximum limit on your bid in the first place–that is, you didn’t want to spend 3 cents more for the item.

    the most important suggestion omitted in Lisa’s suggestion is buy the seller not the item. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Use a payment method that is retractable and gives you an out in a bad purchase. Ensure lots of communication with email threads.

  17. KMull says 03 August 2007 at 07:10

    Everyone makes fun of me at work for buying and selling on eBay. I just shrug and say, hey, if I made $10 (+shipping) off of this item I was going to donate or throw away… it is worth it to me.

  18. Grace says 03 August 2007 at 08:11

    I like ebay and have amazed people with smart purchases from it.

    It can be hard to dig through all of the scammers on there, though, and sometimes that’s not worth the trouble.

    The advice about using sniping programs disappointed me. I consider it an undermining of the intent of auctions, and I particularly dislike that part of the point is to keep other people from bidding. That’s part of the deal in an auction – other people bid. If you can’t handle that, maybe auctions aren’t for you.

  19. John Walker says 07 August 2007 at 15:48

    Whenever i shop on ebay, i used the firefox extension ShortShip:

    It allows you to see the shipping costs in the search listing and sort by the total cost of the item.

  20. Sara says 26 September 2007 at 15:41


    I work for Mahalo, and I wanted to thank you for this post; it was very helpful and I linked to it when I wrote a How To called “How to Shop on eBay” (http:/


  21. Lily says 27 January 2008 at 13:58

    It can be really great if you know what you’re looking for. This winter I only bought sweaters on eBay – brand new, lovely cashmere or merino sweaters for 20-30 euros each! I can’t stand acrylic or scratchy wool on my skin but of course I won’t spend a fortune on sweaters alone 🙂

  22. Richard says 27 January 2008 at 20:50

    If you use firefox, there’s a free extension called “myTimeZone for eBay” that adds a TON of features and conveniences to eBay. If you use eBay this is a must-have tool:

  23. tim jordan says 03 December 2012 at 18:25

    Hey do you have a copy of the spreadsheet you use for download anywhere? I have been searching for a good spreadsheet for my ebay sales. Anyone?

  24. Tom says 28 February 2013 at 10:08


    let me know as a reseller in ebay are there any websites that offer reseller deals listed on their website.


  25. Charlie@Seattle Trekker says 10 September 2013 at 20:11

    I am always looking for a way to continue my lifestyle on a budget that keeps getting smaller so I am turning to things like eBay and I need to know how it works so your information is really appreciated.

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