“Your profit is made when you buy, not when you sell”
I’m not sure who said it, but I often think about this saying when I’m considering an investment. It took a little while for this to sink it, but it does make pretty good sense really. Paying a premium for something just because you want it. or because you think it might make money in the future is never a good idea. Paying a high price for something that is likely to decrease in value over time is even worse.
In this post I’m going to show you how to bid on eBay and buy the things you want for well below retail cost.
How to bid on eBay
I have to confess that I was seriously addicted to watching stuff on eBay for a while. I didn’t buy a lot, but I spent a huge amount of time watching items, reading descriptions, following the last stages of auctions and analysing the results. Honestly, it was better than television!
After a couple of weeks watching different items I decided to jump in and buy those things that I had been so eagerly following. Turns out my research addiction paid off and I made a tidy saving by putting some of my observations to work. Here are 8 eBay buying tips that really helped me out.
Do your research
There can be a lot of price variation on eBay, so check the going rate of the item you are looking to buy by filling in the search box, clicking on the advanced search feature and checking completed items. You should get a list of prices from past auctions featuring your item. Make sure you are very specific about the item you search for, you need to be able to compare apples with apples. The alternative is to ‘watch’ auctions featuring the exact item you want to see what happens. This is slower, but I found it a lot more fun!
If you are planning to buy something from a seller that offers the same thing regularly (as an auction, not as a ‘Buy it Now’ item) you can also use the advanced search feature to help you determine your maximum bid. Type exactly what you want into the search bar, then click on advanced search and look for completed sales by that seller. Whatever the lowest price paid for the item was in the past is your maximum bid, all you need is a little patience and you should snag your item for a good price.
Incorrectly described items
It is really interesting to watch the difference in price an item will fetch on eBay simply because of the description given. Personally, I’ve found that items that are well described tend to do a lot better than those that are not. Fewer photos can also have this effect and cause people to bid low. It really doen’t take much effort to message a seller to get a few extra details, but people don’t like doing it much. If you can take this extra step and get the details you need for peace of mind, it can really help with successfully buying on eBay.
A tactic that can work quite well, but requires more effort on your part is to look for items that are miss-spelt or are assigned to the wrong categories. Again, you best friend here is the search bar, so try a few variations in spelling of the item that you want and see what turns up.
Look for odd finishing times
The funny thing about eBay is that the time you list your item will also be the same time the auction ends. The trick here is to identify days and times when least amount of people will be browsing ebay.
- Did you know that eBay traffic in the USA peaks on Sunday evening? More specifically, the time the highest number of people are browsing and buying on eBay is between 8:00 PM eastern time and 10:00 PM pacific time (that is a spread of 8 hours, over 5 time zones).
If you are bidding on an item during this time, you are already playing against a lot of competition. Try looking for items that are listed at times outside this range, for example items ending late at night or early in the morning. Times when people are often in transit between work and home are also good to target, as are times when prime time shows are airing on television. It is pretty easy to see this effect when you look at past auctions, so investigate ideal buying times for yourself as well.
Another handy tip is to find items that are finishing very close together, often the first will see a lot of action while the second (literally finishing only minutes later) won’t see as much as the focus wasn’t on it and buyers generally can’t afford to bid on multiple items at once.
This can work well for sellers as it can create the feeling of scarcity and start a bidding war. If the item gets missed, it can work very well for buyers as there isn’t a lot of time for people to find it.
Unfortunately on a seller can see how many people are watching their item, it is possible to get an idea of how many people you are bidding against. The best way I have found to check if a lot of people are watching an item is to look at the number of bids to date and see how many different people have placed a bid. If you want to check a little further, you can also bid with a price that is lower than what you would expect the item to sell for (and are willing to pay yourself), them see if the price is beaten by others. If there are a lot of people watching, you should see at least a few bids occur above your own, if not it could be a quite sale.
Bidding early seems logical and makes buying on eBay very simple, but doing this generally just drives up the price. Late bidding is a pretty basic tactic and one that is probably implemented by many people that have used eBay more than a couple of times, in fact there are websites around that will even help you do it. When you’ve found an auction you want to bid on, select it as one you want to ‘watch’ and it will appear on your watch list. If you have a smart phone, get the eBay app and use this to keep an eye on things (warning: you will likely find yourself glued to your phone).
Make a note of the finishing time in your computer and/or phone calendar so you don’t miss it and determine your final bid price well ahead of time. All you really need to do then is check into eBay a few minutes before the auction ends and place your bid (the later the better). This is a pretty common tactic, so don’t be surprised if you are still beaten at the end. It really comes down to the number of bidders and how late you can get your bid in without it going past your final price.
The difference in price for items that are listed as pickup only is often very obvious to see, unfortunately they also tend to be located where you are not. When looking for an item, try filtering for this postage option first as it can save you big dollars on large items. If there are great items available, but none near you, you might be lucky enough to know someone located close by. If so, you could ask if they will collect it and then forward to you.
Alternatively, you can try contacting the seller to see if they will allow a courier to collect it from them. If they agree, it is then just a simple matter of getting the courier to take it to a post office, or a transport service that can get it to you.
This can also work where people are quoting large amounts to send you an item. Sometimes they do it to increase the overall sale price, but other times it is just because they hate the hassle of sending stuff. Try offering to arrange postage yourself to cut down on cost.
Newer sellers and those with poor feedback
Ok, this is not always the best option as there are some dodgy people on the net, but it is worth remembering that a sellers feedback rating is not always a perfect reflection of the items they sell. Sometimes there is just no pleasing some people and they take it out on a seller, the least you can do to help them out is take advantage of this (ha!).
eBay Sellers with poor feedback often get fewer bids and lower sale prices, which is why most people bend over backwards to help you out and keep a perfect score. Don’t discount someone with very few sales, or a feedback score that is not 100% (but then it it probably worth drawing the line at the low to mid 90’s as well). Take a couple of minutes to check the feedback and see why the seller got the poor feedback, it may put your mind at ease. if it does, you could be in for a better deal, if not just move on to the next seller.
Things you can easily improve on that others won’t
People are lazy. They don’t generally like to go to extra effort, which is why a fully loaded item will generally sell very well, where a basic item may not. Often, the difference is just a simple matter of adding these items yourself (and it is likely you will find them on eBay as well). If you don’t mind getting numerous items in the mail instead of one and can handle a bit of assembly, then it is possible to save money by buying an item in pieces or upgrading in this manner. It doesn’t work in all cases, but it can be a viable option so keep it in mind.
I really hope that this short guide has helped you learn a little more about how to bid on eBay. If you have any other successful tips that you would like to share, please let me know in the comments.
Image by Sam Howzit