How To Buy Intelligently on eBay

There are wonderful bargains to be found on eBay, but the novice buyer can wind up overpaying, often paying more than retail for an item, especially when shipping costs are added in. So how can you avoid paying too much, or falling victim to a bad seller?

Because eBay is a marketplace, and not a store per se, every seller on eBay is an independent operator. It really is like a flea market, where each stall has its own specialty and you can find wonderful things at one booth and overpriced trash at another.

While browsing a category is one way to find something interesting, most buyers have an idea what they want when they come in, and are looking for something fairly specific.

Are you looking for collectibles, or general merchandise? If you are looking for something currently stocked in retail stores, your process is a little different than if you are looking to match a specific china pattern no longer being made.

General merchandise: Many sellers on eBay buy directly from manufacturers and offer their goods on eBay at less than retail. They can afford to do this because they don't have the expenses a retail store would have such as rent, payroll, utilities and so on. So if you are looking, say, for a complete set of Prismacolor colored pencils, you can find them for much less than at an art supply store.

Collectibles: Almost anything made in the past hundred years appears from time to time on eBay. But here you will be competing against other collectors who want the same item. It's easy to lose your head and overbid on something you find here. Follow the tips below to ensure you don't pay too much.

Tips for bidding:

  1. Check your seller's feedback. That's the number after their eBay ID. Click the number to be taken to their feedback page. The raw number itself is fairly meaningless, although a big number, of course, is better than a small one, and a negative number is poison. The raw number just tells you how many unique positive feedbacks they have received minus the number of negative feedbacks. The percent should be as close to 100% positive as possible, but don't be put off by a few negative feedbacks, unless all recent feedback is negative. Every seller has a buyer or two who is impossible to please, or even dishonest.

  • Mentally add the cost of shipping into the purchase cost before deciding whether or not the item is a bargain. A ten dollar printer that costs sixty dollars to ship is really a seventy dollar printer.


  • Make note of how the seller expects to be paid. Do they accept checks? PayPal? Be wary if they only accept money orders and do not accept PayPal. If they accept both, they're okay. Some fly-by-night operators think they can avoid fraud charges by using money orders. (They're wrong.)
  • Find out what other similar items have sold for in the past. Do a search to bring up all current listings of your item, then go to the left sidebar and check the 'completed items' box and click 'show items.' This will give you a list of items matching your search for the past thirty days, and you can see what the current 'going rate' is for your item.
  • Don't get emotionally wedded to the one item you are currently bidding on. Most people wind up paying too much because they get into a bidding war over a particular item when there are similar items for offer that close that same day. If someone else is overbidding you, let them have it and wait for the next one. The exception to this is, of course, the unique collectible that you may not see again.
  • It's easy to find great deals on eBay. Remember to check shipping costs, investigate the seller, keep your cool when bidding and you can have fun and save money.


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