40 Tips For Winning Bids on eBay

In: Tips

3 Mar 2009

Whether you snipe or not, you can do many other things to increase your chances of winning an auction without overpaying for the item in question. Here are my top tips that can help anyone be a more successful eBay bidder.

Tip #1: Bid in the Off Season

You already know that the final minute of the auction is the best time to place your bid. But are there specific times of the year that offer better bargains for bidders?

The answer, of course, is yes. Although there is some category-specific seasonality, the best overall time of the year to pick up eBay bargains is during the summer months. Summer is the slowest period on eBay, which means fewer people biddingand lower prices for you.

Tip #2: Look for Off-Peak Auctions

Believe it or not, some auctions are set to end in the wee hours of the morningwhen there aren’t a lot of bidders awake to make last-minute snipes. Look for auctions ending between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Pacific time if you want some competition-free sniping.

Tip #3: Do Your Research

Don’t bid blind; make sure you know the true value of an item before you offer a bid. Look around at auctions of similar items; what prices are they going for? And don’t neglect researching outside of eBay; sometimes, you can find what you’re looking for at a discount store or in a catalog or at another online sitewhere you’ll probably get a real warranty and a better return policy. Shop around, and don’t assume that the price you see at an auction is always the best deal available.

Be informed, and you won’t bid too highor too low.

Tip #4: Don’t Bid on the First Item You See

Probably several other items on the same auction site are similar to the first item you saw. Look at the entire list of items before you choose which one to bid on. Seldom is the first item you see the one you really want or the best deal.

Tip #5: Know When to Say No

Be disciplined. Set a maximum price you’re willing to pay for an item, and don’t exceed it! It’s okay to lose an auction.

Don’t automatically rebid just because you’ve been outbid. It’s too easy to get caught up in the excitement of a fast-paced auction. Learn how to keep your cool; know when to say no.

Tip #6: Don’t Let the Proxy Bid Things Up

If two or more people are bidding on the same item, eBay’s proxy bidding software can automatically (and quickly) rocket up the price until the bidder with the lower maximum bid maxes out. It’s kind of an automated bidding frenzy conducted by two mindless robots.

Some bidders refuse to participate in proxy bidding. If the price is to increase, they want to do it manually. If you want to hold total control over the entire bidding process, how do you defeat the automatic bidding software? Simple: Make sure that your maximum bid is the same price as the next incremental bid and no higher. It might take a bit more workand it’s not the way I like to do things, personallybut it does put you in total control of the bidding process.

Tip #7: There Are Other Fish in the Sea

In 99.9% of eBay’s auctions, that “one of a kind” item really isn’t one of a kind. In fact, some sellers (especially merchant sellers) will have multiple quantities of an item, which they release to auction in dribs and drabs over time. In addition, some collectibles are bought and sold and bought and sold by multiple buyers and sellers over time, continually changing hands via new auctions. If you don’t get this particular item, there’s a good chance you’ll get to bid on something similar soon.

Tip #8: If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

A rare copy of Action Comics #1 for only $25? A brand-new laptop computer for only $100? There has to be a catch. That Action Comics is probably a facsimile reprint, and the brand-new laptop PC is actually a remanufactured unit missing some key parts. Be suspicious of improbable or impossible deals; always ask questions that confirm or reject your suspicions.

Tip #9: Ask Questions

If you’re unclear about any aspect of an item you’re interested in, ask the seller questions via email. In addition to answering your specific questions, some sellers have additional information or pictures they can send you one-on-one. There’s no excuse for ignorance; if you’re not sure, ask!

Tip #10: Check the Feedback

Check out the seller’s feedback rating. Make sure that the seller of the item you want has a good feedback ratingand avoid any sellers who don’t. You should also click the seller’s numerical feedback rating to display actual comments from other users who have dealt with this user before. The best way to avoid bad sellers is to find out that they’re bad sellers beforehand.

Tip #11: Check the Seller’s Past Auctions

While you’re checking up on the seller, use eBay’s search function to display all the seller’s completed auctions. See whether the seller has sold multiples of this particular item in the past. There’s no need to get into a bidding war if the same item will come up for auction again next week.

Tip #12: Check the Seller’s Other Current Auctions

You’d be surprised how many times a seller has more than one item you’re interested in. Click the View Seller’s Other Auctions link to see everything else the seller has for auctionand bid accordingly!

Tip #13: Search; Don’t Browse

If you know what you’re looking for, don’t go through the time-consuming hassle of clicking and loading and clicking and loading to access a particular item category. Using an auction’s search function will find what you want a lot quicker.

Tip #14: Search Smart

Searching for an item on eBay is easy; finding what you really want is hard. You’re more likely to find what you’re looking for if you can use the auction site’s advanced search capabilities to fine-tune your query. Some specific search tips can help you perform more effectiveand efficientsearches:

  • Narrow your search. Some of the more popular categories on eBay will list thousands of items. If you do a search on nba, for example, you’ll be overwhelmed by the results; narrow your search within these large categories (to nba jerseys or nba tickets) to better describe the specific item you’re looking for.

  • Make your queries precisebut not too precise. When you’re deciding which keywords to use, pick words that are precise, but not overly restrictive. If you must use a very general word, modify it with a more specific wordor you’re apt to generate a huge number of results that have little relevance to the specific information you’re searching for. As an example, model is a pretty general keyword; Star Wars Death Star model is a much more precise query. On the other hand, if you search for an old Star Wars Death Star model partially assembled without instructions not painted, you probably won’t return any matching results. If you get few if any results, take some of the parameters out of your query to broaden your search.

  • Use wildcards. If you’re not sure of spelling, use a wildcard to replace the letters in question. Also, wildcards help you find variations on a keyword. For example, if you want Superman, Supergirl, and Superdog, enter super* to find all “super” words.

  • Vary your vocabularyand your spelling. Don’t assume that everyone spells a given word the same wayor knows how to spell it properly. Also, don’t forget about synonyms. What you call pink, someone else might call mauve. What’s big to you might be large to someone else. Think of all the ways the item you’re looking for can be described, and include as many of the words as possible in your query.

  • Fine-tune your results. Did eBay’s search engine return an overwhelming number of matching items? If so, you need to fine-tune your search to be more specific. Look at the results generated from your initial search. Think about the good matches and the bad matches and why they ended up in the results list. Then, enter a new query that uses additional or different keywords and modifiers. Your goal is to make the next list of results a higher quality than the last.

  • Different day, different results. Remember that new items are constantly added to any given auction site, and closed auctions are constantly removed from the listings. If you didn’t find anything that matched your query today, try again tomorrow; you’ll probably find a different list of items for sale. (Another good reason to save your favorite searches and use eBay’s email notification service.)

Tip #15: Search for Misspellings

Here’s a good way to take advantage of other users’ mistakes. Some eBay sellers aren’t great spellersor are just prone to typing errors. This means you’ll find some items listed for auction under misspelled titles. It’s not hard to find the occasional Dell personal commuter, Apple ipud, or jewel neklace.

The problem for these sellersand the opportunity for youis that when you’re searching for an item (correctly), listings with misspellings won’t appear in the search results. If potential bidders can’t find the listings, they can’t bid on them, eitherleaving these misspelled listings with few if any bidders. If you can locate these misspelled listings, you can often snap up a real deal without competition from other bidders.

The key, of course, is figuring out how an item might be misspelled. Let’s say you’re looking for a bargain on a toaster. Instead of searching for toaster, you might search for toster, toastter, toastor, and toester. Give it a tryyou’ll be surprised what you find!

Tip #16: Search for Last-Minute Bargains

When you search the eBay listings, be sure to display the results with auctions ending today listed first. Scan the list for soon-to-end items with no bids or few bids, and pick off some bargains that have slipped others’ attention.

Tip #17: Don’t Show Your Hand

Part and parcel of the sniping strategy: Don’t place an early bid on an item. That just signals your interest and attracts other bidderswhich results in a higher price.

Tip #18: Watch, Don’t Bid

Expanding on the previous tip, use eBay’s Watch This Item feature to watch auctions in process without first placing a bid. (Just click the Watch This Item link on the item listing page, and then watch the items on your My eBay page.)

Tip #19: Use the eBay Toolbar

eBay offers a neat little add-on for your Web browser that makes it easy to track auctions you’ve bid on, or that are on your watch list. When you install the eBay Toolbar, it appears as part of your Web browser, under all your normal toolbars.

Tip #20: Watch the Finish

Don’t forget the downside to snipingthat you can be sniped, too. Don’t get outbid at the last minute. Because most auction activity occurs at the very end of the auction, track the last hour of your most important auctions, and be prepared to react quickly to last-second snipers.

Tip #21: Get in Sync

Make sure that you’re in sync with eBay’s official clock. If you’re a few seconds slow, you could lose a sniping contest!

Tip #22: Put Your Best Foot Forward

When you do bid, don’t weasel around. Make your bid the maximum amount the item is worth to you, and be done with it.

Tip #23: Bid in Odd Numbers

When you bid, don’t bid an even amount. Instead, bid a few pennies more than an even buck; for example, if you want to bid $10, bid $10.03 instead. That way, your bid will beat any bids at the same approximate amount$10.03 beats $10 any daywithout your having to place a new bid at the next whole bid increment.

Tip #24: Don’t Be a Deadbeat

Don’t bid unless you really intend to buy. Nobody likes a deadbeatand if you do it often enough, you’ll get kicked off the auction site, permanently.

Tip #25: Use My eBay to Track Your Auctions

Don’t let your auction activity get away from you. If you’re a regular eBay user, the best way to track all your auction activity on a single page is by using My eBay. My eBay can also track your favorite auction categories, as well as your account statusand let you access the pages you use most often, without having to click through useless parts of the site. Personalize My eBay the way you like and then bookmark it; it’s a great home page for the heavy auction trader.

Tip #26: Read the Fine Print

What methods of payment can you use? What about shipping? Any other details that might impact your decision to bid? Read the entire item listing before you place your bidso you aren’t surprised by the fine print in any auction.

Tip #27: Don’t Forget Shipping Costs…

When you’re placing your bid, remember that you’ll actually have to pay more than you bid; you have to pay shipping and handling to put the item in your hands. If s&h costs aren’t detailed in the item listing, figure them out yourself, or email the seller to get a reasonable estimate. That ultra-cheap $2 item looks pretty expensive if you have to add $5 shipping and handling to the base price.

Tip #28: …But Don’t Overpay for Shipping

Not only should you not get taken by surprise by shipping costs, but you also shouldn’t be taken advantage of by unrealistic shipping and handling charges. Get a ballpark feel for shipping on a specific item from the seller’s location to where you live. Expect a little overage on the seller’s part (she has to buy packing materials, labels, and such), but not too much. If you know that shipping should be in the $2 range, accept a $3 chargebut question a $5 charge.

Tip #29: Pay Quickly

Don’t delaypay! Look, the seller needs the money, and the sooner you pay, the sooner you’ll get what you paid for.

Tip #30: Pay by Credit Card

Now that most auctions are credit card enabled (via PayPal), use that option. Paying via credit card is relatively safe and leaves a good paper trailand ensures that your item will be shipped quickly.

Tip #31: Money Orders Cost Money

The seller says that money orders or cashier’s checks speed shipment. Depending on your bank, it might cost a few dollars to cut a money order or cashier’s check. Be sure to factor these costs into your total expenditureand question whether you really want to pay to cut a money order for a $5 item.

Tip #32: Provide All the Information Necessary

When you send your payment, be sure to include your name, shipping address, email address, and item name and description. Even better, enclose a copy of the item’s Checkout or listing page, with additional information written on it. (I can’t tell you how many envelopes I’ve opened with only a check or money order inside; you gotta tell ’em who the payment is from and what it’s for!)

Tip #33: Use a Middleman for Expensive Items

If you buy a high-priced item through a person-to-person auction, consider using an escrow service. Although you’ll pay for the service (in the neighborhood of 5%, typically paid by you, the buyer), it’s a good safety net in case the seller doesn’t ship or the item isn’t what was described. In addition, you can use escrow services to accept credit card payments when the seller doesn’t or can’t accept credit cards directly.

Tip #34: Insure It

If you bought a rare or high-priced item, ask the seller to insure the item for shipping. Pay the extra cost; it’s worth it in peace of mind alone.

Tip #35: Document Everything

In case something goes south, it helps to have good records of all aspects of your transaction. Print copies of the confirmation email, plus all email between you and the seller. Be sure to write down the seller’s user ID, email address, and physical address. If the transaction is ever disputed, you’ll have all the backup you need to plead your case.

Tip #36: Keep a Log

Not only should you document all the correspondence for an individual auction, but you also should keep a log of all the auctions you’ve won. If you do a lot of bidding, it’s all too easy to lose track of which items you’ve paid for and which you’ve received. You don’t want to let weeks (or months!) go by before you notice that you haven’t received an item you paid for!

Tip #37: If You Win It, Inspect It

When you receive the item you paid for, open it up and inspect itimmediately! Don’t wait a month before you look at it and then expect the seller to rectify a situation that was long considered closed. Okay the item, and then send the seller an email saying you got it and it’s okay. If you sit on it too long, it’s yoursno matter what.

Tip #38: If You Get Ripped Off, Tell eBay About It

If you have a problem with a seller, first try working it out between the two of you. If things don’t get resolved, contact eBay with your grievance; you can use eBay’s Purchase Protection Program to register your complaint and (hopefully) get reimbursed for your loss. (And don’t forget to leave negative feedback on the snake who did you wrong!)

Tip #39: Communicate!

Don’t assume anything; communicate what you think you know. If you have questions during an auction, ask them. When the auction is over, email the seller. When the seller emails you, email him or her back to confirm. Email the seller when you send payment and again to confirm receipt of the item. The more everyone knows, the fewer surprises there are.

Also, remember that not everyone reads his email daily, so don’t expect immediate response. Still, if you don’t receive a response, send another email. If you’re at all concerned at any point, get the seller’s phone number or physical address from the auction site and call or write her. A good phone conversation can clear up a wealth of misunderstandings.

Tip #40: Be Nice

You’re dealing with another human being, someone who has feelings that can be hurt. A little bit of common courtesy goes a long way. Say please and thank you, be understanding and tolerant, and treat your trading partner in the same way you’d like to be treated. Follow the golden rule; do unto other auction traders as you would have them do unto you.

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