First-Time Shopper On eBay? 5 Important Things You Need To Know


Welcome to eBay Shopping 101. You are the select few, chosen to be trained as sharp-shooting eBay bidders, capable of finding the best deals and winning every auction. So pull up a chair and let’s get started.

Shopping on eBay isn’t really like shopping on Amazon or any other shopping site. On most sites, you search for the product you like, find it, and if there are enough left, you buy it at the best fixed price you can find and then wait for it to arrive in the mail. On eBay, not so much.

There are a few important things you need to know when you decide to buy something on eBay. These things involve doing your research about the timing of the end of the auction, details about the seller, and of course details about the product that’s actually being sold. eBay is a great place to buy some really cool stuff at amazing prices, but you’ve got to be a little more careful, because in most cases you aren’t dealing with a major business with a reputation and a brand to protect. Often you’re dealing with someone selling that “really cool” stuff right out of their own home. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means that you have to go about doing business a little more carefully.

Searching for Things to Buy

Lesson number one is this – you really shouldn’t bid on just anything on eBay. If you do, you’re far more likely to lose your money and not get the product that you want. On the other hand, if you follow the rules outlined here, you’ll have a pretty good success rate, and very low odds of ever losing your money or getting a bad deal.

When you’re searching for what you want, listings have options at the top to switch between “Buy It Now” sales, or just “Auction” sales. Most people prefer straight auction sales because you can get much better deals. Of course, if you’re in a hurry and want more of an Amazon experience, then you can go with a “Buy It Now” sale – but the need to research the seller is no less important.

Pro-tip #1; if you are a collector and find yourself searching for the same sorts of items on eBay over and over, you can click on “Follow this search” as a convenient way to quickly see new items that show up.

Pro-tip #2; if you’re new to eBay, sorting by “Time: ending soonest” is one of the best ways to get the lowest price on anything at all on eBay. Of course, this also depends on the time of day that you’re able to do the search. There are prime hours to be a buyer when prices are lowest, and there are prime hours to be a seller when prices are highest. Your best bet as a buyer is to bet on the sellers that don’t realize this, and have posted their auctions to end during the prime time for buyers.

Aibek actually explained this best when he wrote that searching eBay during major events or TV specials when most people won’t be online, is the smartest way to get a great eBay deal. The idea here is to shop when competition is the lowest. Some people shop on Friday nights during mid-summer, during major holidays, during very early morning hours in the U.S. – just be creative.

Once you sort the items by when they are ending, it’s time to scroll down the list and find the item you want that’s about to end in just a few minutes – or up to 30 minutes from now. Waiting 30 minutes to bid on something isn’t such a bad thing if you get a smoking deal out of the wait.

Once you find the item that you want, then it’s time to move on to the next phase of your research.

Researching the Seller

Pro-tip #3; when you buy the item that looks perfect, don’t just bid on it immediately. First, you need to do your homework or else you’ll end up in a bad situation, and with a really bad taste in your mouth whenever you think of eBay. To keep every experience you have buying on eBay on a positive note, you need to make sure you know everything there is to know about the seller. You can see the seller information just off to the right of the “Time left:” area of the auction. Make sure you pick an item with at least 15 minutes or so remaining so you have the time to do your seller and item research. First click on the number next to the seller name, and that’ll take you to the seller feedback page.

I know a lot of people who only buy from sellers that have 100% feedback rating for the last 12 months. That might give you nearly perfect odds to never have any issues with anything you purchase on eBay, but it can also really limit what you can bid on. The truth is, there are a whole lot of fantastic sellers who, through no fault on their part, ended up getting negative feedback from bad buyers.

You can identify patterns like this pretty quickly when you examine the feedback ratings for buyers, which are broken up into 1 month, 6 month and 12 month sections. For example, this buyer only had one piece of negative feedback within 12 months, but zero negative feedback as far back as 6 months ago.

Of course, there were two neutral feedback ranks, so you’ll want to scroll down and see what those were all about. In this case, the buyer said that the seller was a “bad communicator”. The other neutral feedback was unintelligible. It looks to me like the feedback ranking for this particular seller is pretty stellar despite the fact that the overall rank score is 98.6%.

Of course, you will want to scroll down and find that negative rating just to make sure it wasn’t something completely horrible on the part of the seller. In this case, the buyer only wrote that the “Seller refused to complete transaction”.

Given the overwhelming number of positive feedback rankings, I think it’s safe to say that this particular negative score – and the failure to complete the transaction – was probably the fault of the buyer, not the seller.

Researching the Item

Once you’re satisfied with the seller, it’s time to research the item. Pro-tip #4; take the time to research the item. Don’t just scan, because there may be some details about the item that you want to know about before you buy it. Remember, like I said above, this is likely someone selling a used item right from their home – so it’s probably not going to be perfect. Make sure you know about every imperfection there is.

Most good sellers will make sure to note any imperfection whatsoever – so don’t just skim the item description. Read it.

Another important factor to check is the shipping. Different sellers have different methods of shipping – and sometimes they might actually overcharge for shipping, so you need to know about this before you bid and end up facing a surprise with the final bill. Beyond the shipping cost, check out where the item location is so you have some realistic idea how long it’ll take to get to you.

You’ll also want to be sure the seller accepts the form of payment you want to use. In most cases that’s PayPal, so make sure PayPal is accepted before you bid!

How to Snipe and Win Every Time

Pro-tip #5; the best deals come from everything above, but the most important advice of all is taking the time to bid in such a way that you’re nearly guaranteed to win the option. This is especially important if the item is being closely followed by a lot of interested people, like the one shown here.

With 13 minutes, you’ve researched the item and the buyer and you’ve decided you want the item. The first thing to do is make sure you’re properly logged into eBay. The last thing you want is a login-request at the last second when you want to bid. Then, right click on the “Place bid” button and open it in a new window.

Move that window over to the side – or even better, to a different screen, so you can watch the timer countdown on the item page itself. Type in your maximum bid in the “Your max bid:” field.

Don’t mess around here. Stretch yourself as far as you’re willing to go. For example, in the case above, I only wanted to bid $160 at the most. Now, sure I could bid exactly $160, but if there’s anyone else looking for the laptop at the same price, they’re likely going to bid $160, $160.01, or $160.50 – the most common techniques to win at a certain price. To outbid all of those folks, I’ve bid $160.97.

Now that you’re on the “Confirm Bid” page, it’s just time to wait for the countdown.

This is the the important part, and it’s where most people freak out and bid too early. Since you’re on the very last confirmation page – just one step away from officially placing your bid, wait until the very last moment, providing only enough time for computer and Internet lag – about 15 to 20 seconds.

Breathe slowly, don’t panic, and keep your cool. When the clock clicks down under 15 seconds or less, just go ahead and click the “Confirm Bid” button, and wait for the confirmation page that you’re the winner of the auction. Congratulations!

Which Goods Are Safe to Buy on eBay?

eBay is a great place to buy almost anything imaginable, but there are some things you might want to think twice about buying there--for safety reasons. Sure, this goes for goods with a high rate of counterfeiting or goods with similar attached issues, but there are a group of things that may not be eBay-friendly even if they're not illegal in any way or forbidden by eBay, and you find sellers happy to sell them to you.

Don't think of a list like this one as a series of hard and fast rules, but as a risk-benefit calculation. Yes, you can buy them on eBay in many cases, and you'll probably get a fabulous deal (which is often the very reason for seeking them out on eBay). But before you purchase items from one of these general categories on eBay, you should ask yourself whether it's really worth the risk.

Food Items, Spices or Other Consumables

Yes, you can buy things like bulk coffee, artificial sweeteners, spices, candy, food coloring and other things that you regularly put into your body on eBay, but on eBay they're often sold in bulk from sellers whose backgrounds you don't really know, even if they have great feedback and nice About Me pages. Maybe the products are great, but maybe they're seconds, salvage or imports of lower quality or diluted or cut down in some way. Do you really want to risk putting unknowns into your body?

Supplements or Medications of Any Kind

The same goes double for anything with medicinal or health care purposes or uses. Here it's not just danger or contamination but also quality and need that's an issue. When your health is depending on the goods that you buy, you want to be very sure they're top-shelf and not "settle for it" goods in some way.

Equipment to Be Used for Health or Medical Care

Medical equipment is expensive and hard to find, but eBay probably isn't the best place to buy it. Sure, you might get a fabulous deal, but you're also unlikely to be coverable by warranties or liability protections, even though in many cases you'd be getting used gear of unknown remaining lifespan. Even if cost is an issue and you're determined to buy used, you're probably better off sticking with local suppliers for medical equipment of most kinds.

Anything That Needs to Be Sterile

Lots of different sorts of things, from eye and face care products to baby care goods are typically sold as sterile at retail—for good reason—and most of their consumers would generally prefer that they are sterile. Because goods on eBay are often sourced through alternative channels or from alternative suppliers, their sterility may be less certain than that of items found at your local chain drugstore and the limits of their liability far lower.

Care or Maintenance Products for Expensive Items

Sure, it's great to buy tools, consumables or other care items for jewelry, collectibles, antiques, technology items or even cars to avoid expensive cleaning or maintenance costs when done by third parties.

But only you can decide whether it's a good idea to make a tens-of-thousands-of-dollars item vulnerable to tools, supplies or goods bought on eBay at discount rates. For very valuable items, it might just be a good idea to invest in very high-end care.

Critical Parts or Components for Expensive Items

It's also true that you can buy parts for many kinds of expensive mechanical, technological or other kinds of goods on eBay, but if the item you're repairing needs to work reliably and predictably and/or its value is very high, it's generally good to return to manufacturers or specialists for parts and components rather than sourcing them from quarters unknown.

Non-Branded or Used Goods for Important Needs

There's a lot of off-brand, white-box, generic and used stock on eBay. Most of the time that's fine, but in some cases you ought to think twice before going the "cheap route," even if it's not a life-and-death situation.

Do you really want a generic import box holding backups of your critical data?

Do you really want to pay the labor costs to replace the expensive catalytic converter in your car if you don't know that the replacement will last just as long and perform just as well? Only you can decide whether an item that may be from someone cleaning out their house is right for your important need.

Items That Have Been Recalled

Yes, it's true that some people are loyal to goods that later get recalled, suspecting at times that the recalls display an overabundance of caution or that the recalled items "aren't dangerous for someone like me" for whatever reason. It's also true that many of these make their way onto eBay.

Used Items That Will Be Dangerous if Kept in Bad Repair

Power tools, infant and baby toys and furniture, scientific equipment and other kinds of goods that grow increasingly dangerous as they descend into bad repair or approach the ends of their lifespans are probably not a good choice for eBay purchases since in most cases you won't have an authoritative history for the item or its true (i.e. internal or structural, rather than superficial) condition.

But in general, when something has been recalled by a manufacturer working in tandem with government agencies, it's because someone, somewhere thinks that safety and/or liability are a problem. This ought to make you think twice before going to eBay to get that item that "can't be had anywhere else any longer."

Status Items or Critical Gifts

Items whose origins, quality and/or expense are a big part of their value and function are probably not best purchased on eBay. If you're buying something mostly for status and prestige purposes or to impress someone (whether we're talking jewelry items like a high-end luxury watch or engagement rings or something else), saying that "I got it on eBay" probably just isn't going to do the job.

Even though eBay is a perfectly good place to buy a great many great things, there's still a bit of a cultural assumption out there that eBay is a place for saving money and buying goods that are either "alternative" to name/mainstream brands or that come from "alternative" suppliers or manufacturers. "Saving money" on a gift or status item probably defeats the purpose of giving or acquiring it in the first place.

Should I Shop eBay or Amazon?

Once upon a time, eBay was the 800-pound gorilla of e-commerce. But it's not the only game on the internet anymore, and in some ways has been overshadowed by competitor Amazon.

eBay Versus Amazon

one way to decide whether to buy on one platform or on the other is simply by looking at price, but is there more to the picture than that? After all, the prices between the two often vary by just a few dollars; if there's a significant advantage to shopping one marketplace over the other, maybe price shouldn't be the final deciding factor.

The answer to this question is a matter of personal choice, but here are some common ways to make the decision.

When to Shop Amazon

Amazon offers advantages to shoppers making frequent purchases of common items, or of items that must be returned. Comparison shopping on Amazon is much easier because it has a much cleaner, easier to use interface than eBay. This makes brand-vs-brand or product-vs-related-product comparison shopping on Amazon much easier. Throw in reviews and if you're shopping in product areas where the price differences are minimal, Amazon is a no-brainer.

If you're buying commodity goods, Amazon also comes out ahead. With services like Amazon Prime (which offers free second-day shipping on many of Amazon's products, Amazon subscriptions, and other similar perks), Amazon is a good place to go if you're basically looking to replace a trip to your local department store with a trip to an online store.

The future perks of Amazon look like they'll include things like drone shipments, which, as of 2017, are not widely available yet, ​but are on the company's to-do list. The company's focus on getting purchases to its members quickly and its focus on innovation shouldn't be overlooked.

When to Shop eBay

Even though Amazon may be much larger at this point than eBay, there are still times when eBay may be a better option.

For instance, when buying imported goods, eBay might give more seller choices. It's also where seekers of one-of-a-kind, boutique, and craft goods may have more luck.

eBay is also still the leader for online auctions, and if you're looking to auction goods or participate in an auction, it's probably your best bet.

For this reason, antiques, collectibles, and vintage items are probably more up eBay's alley. The eBay marketplace continues to reign supreme for memorabilia and collectibles of all kinds.

Plenty of Reasons to Shop Both

At the end of the day, eBay and Amazon don't have to be mutually exclusive options. In most cases, they're actually complementary. Amazon is a great choice for diapers, coffee, batteries, and new products that you might otherwise find in a retail store. For these kinds of goods, Amazon can save you both legwork and money.

eBay, on the other hand, is still unmatched for providing access to goods and deals that can't be had anywhere else—a full selection of products from around the world, unique or vintage goods, used items at a significant discount over new, and so on.

Most of the savviest shoppers use both and know when to choose each one.

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