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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Daniel
Daniel
13 years ago

Good tips! I have used GavelSnipe (www.gavelsnipe.com) 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… Read more »

Matthew
Matthew
13 years ago

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.

MoneyChangesThings
MoneyChangesThings
13 years ago

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

OneYearGoal.com - $100,000 in one year
OneYearGoal.com - $100,000 in one year
13 years ago

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.
http://www.oneyeargoal.com

derty
derty
13 years ago

Auction sniping is dirty and unfriendly to the seller.

Luke
Luke
13 years ago

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 astromart.com for astronomy gear, you get great deals,… Read more »

Jerry Hung
Jerry Hung
13 years ago

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

Anya
Anya
13 years ago

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).

Anya
Anya
13 years ago

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

Dave
Dave
13 years ago

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… Read more »

David Hunter
David Hunter
13 years ago

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.

Adam
Adam
13 years ago

eBay used to be fun.

Giania
Giania
13 years ago

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.

Ribonucleic
Ribonucleic
13 years ago

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.

Gary
Gary
13 years ago

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

Tim
Tim
13 years ago

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… Read more »

KMull
KMull
13 years ago

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.

Grace
Grace
13 years ago

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.

John Walker
John Walker
13 years ago

Whenever i shop on ebay, i used the firefox extension ShortShip: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2949

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

Sara
Sara
13 years ago

Hello,

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:/www.mahalo.com/How_to_Shop_on_eBay).

Mahalo!

Lily
Lily
12 years ago

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 🙂

Richard
Richard
12 years ago

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:

https://addons.update.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5497

tim jordan
tim jordan
7 years ago

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?

Tom
Tom
7 years ago

Roth,

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

Thanks
Tom

Charlie@Seattle Trekker
7 years ago

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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