1. Know Your Seller: This is the most important thing any buyer has to remember, and it’s a good idea to spend time learning about eBay’s feedback reputation system before you begin shopping. Keep in mind that a high total doesn’t necessarily mean a high satisfaction rating. Check the percentages, and read the actual comments. If the seller has negative feedback comments in his/her profile, click through the numbered pages to find out why they got those red marks. Don’t automatically give up on the seller until you read the reasons for the negatives.Thorough research is the best way to avoid getting burned. It might be worth taking a chance on a newly registered seller who has a zero rating for a low cost item, but don’t try to order a plasma television from someone who created their account yesterday. Where does your seller host her images? Does she have her own web site and online storefront? How long has she been doing business on eBay? What kind of items does she usually sell? The more you can find out about your seller, the easier it will be for you to feel comfortable in making a purchase. When in doubt, ask your fellow collectors on various message board forums to offer opinions and advice.
  2. Using “Title And Description” Search: Below the search field on eBay, you’ll see “Search title and description” with a box next to it. If you check that box, your results will include listings that contain your query in both the title and – you guessed it – the auction descriptions. Let’s say I want a Batmobile to go with my animated Batman figures. Not every seller who has one is going to use the word “animated” in the title, so checking this option can help me get more results that could potentially match my intent. The downside is that you will certainly encounter more listings that don’t match what you wanted, but if you’re having trouble finding what you desire, this can be an essential tool.
  3. Search By Category: Sometimes there is no accounting for the titles and descriptions that sellers choose when listing their auctions. You can search by category to hit matches on items you want that might not be properly labeled. This option can also help you to narrow your search results. If you want a G1 Optimus Prime, you can search for “Optimus Prime” in the Toys & Hobbies> Action Figures> Transformers> Generation 1 category, omitting the Beast Wars and Armada results that won’t interest you.You can also just browse the specific categories without entering a search query. Just click on one of the main categories from the menu on the left side of the eBay homepage, and select a subcategory from the next menu. If you select Toys & Hobbies, the first subcategory is Action Figures. From there, you can select the “Show more categories…” link, Lord of the Rings, and then Ringwraith to browse all the listings in that category. This is a great way to find items with misspelled titles, and get a deal on something that will escape the notice of most collectors.UPDATE: Many categories on eBay have since been eliminated, making this feature far less useful than it once was. For example, the most specific category for Transformers is now Toys & Hobbies> Action Figures> Transformers & Robots. There are, however, checkboxes along the left side of the page that will allow you to narrow down your search to more specific criteria. Brand, type, size, era, packaging, and year are some of the options I see for a quick Optimus Prime search.
  4. Search For Misspellings: Now here’s a tricky one, an idea to which there really is no science. Misspellings are another reason to do category searches, as you’re honestly more likely to just stumble across something than you are to find it by getting lucky with a deliberately misspelled search. Knowing the habits of the human fingers, however, can help. For example, the “r” and “e” keys are often accidentally subsituted for one another, so if you’re hoping to get that elusive animated Padmé maquette, you could try searching for “padmr”. *Please note this is just an example, as I don’t realistically expect you to find the Padmé maquette using this method.* The best way to locate misspelled titles, though, will always be the category searches.
  5. Vagueness Can Be Rewarding: A little bit of ambiguity can go a long way. One of my favorite searches, which I perform at least every other day, is simply Harley Quinn. I’m always looking for new Harley stuff to add to my collection, and the vagueness of this search allows me to discover things like fan art, production cels, and items I didn’t even know existed. The best part about being vague, though, is the opportunity to find sought after collectibles that haven’t been clearly identified. For example, I noticed a DC Direct Harley Quinn statue that normally sells in the $100-$140 range go for less than $60 a few months ago. It had several pictures, was in mint condition, and came with the original box and COA. So what made the difference? The title’s only text was: Harley Quinn On Cards. Now that was enough for me to notice it in the search results, but not to find it by looking for that specific item. The seller never even used the word “statue” in the description.
  6. Snipe Exclusively: If knowing your seller is the most important key to having a safe and successful eBay experience, then sniping is without a doubt the most vital ingredient for getting a good deal. What is sniping? It’s when you place your bid in the auction’s final seconds, just before it comes to a close. What’s the benefit? You don’t give other bidders an opportunity to beat your offer. What’s the downside? If your bid isn’t high enough, you don’t get another chance. The way to overcome that is to forget about beating the current price, and go as high as you are willing to go with this one bid in the eleventh hour. Let’s take a look at how this works.You see an auction for an item you want, and as so many people will advise you to do, you place your bid right away, entering the maximum amount you are willing to pay. When someone else comes along and places a new bid, eBay will then bid on your behalf. This is called proxy bidding, and the system will continue to place incremental bids for you until the maximum you chose is exhausted (learn about bid increments here). Sounds simple enough, right? And it is, except for one minor detail.If you hadn’t set a maximum so early in the auction, the other nibblers wouldn’t have had competition, meaning you just helped to unnecessarily inflate the price of this item. Think about it. You come across an item with an opening price of $5, and decide that you must have it at any cost, so long as that cost isn’t a penny more than $25. You enter that proxy with four days left in the auction, and thanks to the incremental bidding system, the price sits still at $5. Before you know it, along comes Bob The Nibbler, and he bids $6. Then $7. Then $8. Before you know it, Bob The Nibbler has entered eight bids, finally deciding your pockets are too deep for him with a $17.50 bid. Now the auction is at $18, when Bob The Nibbler never would have gone higher than the opening bid if your proxy hadn’t been there to compete with him. That’s where early bidding hurts you, as it invites nibblers like Bob to participate in what’s commonly called a bidding war. If Bob The Nibbler’s $5 bid is allowed to stand for a few days, and someone else comes along with a $12 bid, Bob The Nibbler is just going to return with $13. That leaves the auction open for you to snipe in the final seconds with your $25 bid, but unless another sniper enters the fray, your $25 will win the auction for $13.50.Executing the snipe is easy. Viewing the auction a few minutes prior to its close, right-click on the “bid history” link, and click “Open In New Window”. The bid history page will have fewer image files to load, meaning you can refresh the document as the clock counts down, without having to wait forever on your net connection. It really helps to have broadband here. Back to the browser window with the item description, it’s time to enter your bid. Enter your bid amount at the bottom of the page, and click the “place bid” button. This will bring you to the confirmation page, but you won’t click the “confirm bid” until it’s time for the snipe. Once you see the auction get down to seven or eight seconds by refreshing the bid history page, it will be time to quickly switch windows again and click that confirm button. If you’re on a dial-up connection, you might need to have twice that amount of time remaining, or even more. You’ll need to test it out to see how quickly you can get your bid placed, but once you start getting them entered with three or four seconds remaining, you’ll start winning auctions for less money.UPDATE: Since I first published this page, some changes have made sniping even easier than it had been in the past. First, let’s discuss an eBay change. On the auction page itself, a “refresh” link will appear to the right of the “Place Bid” button near the top of the auction listing. This will refresh the information at the top without reloading all the graphics on the page, which means you no longer need to use the Bid History page. That’s a great change for those of us who love to bid in the last seconds!

    The next change is the release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7. With the tabbed browser feature (this was previously available with Firefox, but I’m not a big fan of that browser, so I didn’t bother going into it previously), you can simply open a new tab, rather than a new window. View the listing in two tabs, click the “Place Bid” button to get your bid ready for confirmation, and use the new “refresh” link in the other. Once you get down to the final seconds, switch tabs and confirm your bid. These features make sniping easier than ever before.

    If you’re on a dial-up connection, or you won’t have access to a computer when your auction is scheduled to end (sleeping, working, etc.), there are online services that do the sniping for you. Auction Sniper is the most well-known. For a nominal fee, you can provide this site with your account information and the auction itself, and your snipe bid will be placed for you while you do whatever else it is you have to do. I haven’t used it myself, so I can’t personally vouch for its reliability, but I have heard positive things about it from other people.

    UPDATE II: Even more improvements on eBay have made sniping easier than ever. When you enter your bid amount, a small window will open over the auction page with the same countdown timer that appear on the listing page for the last hour of the auction. No more opening separate windows or tabs to watch the clock, as you can now do it all in one convenient place. Actually getting the timer opened, however, does seem to be a bit buggy. Sometimes it will open over and over again with no problems, while other times I may have to click on the bidding button ten times or more to get it to work.

  7. Bankers’ Hours: This is my secret weapon of buying tips, and it’s something I don’t typically share with people I know to be active in the same categories in which I tend to buy. I’m going to make an exception for you, though, because I like you. As discussed on my tips for selling on eBay page, most people are trapped in a cell – er, office – during business hours on weekdays. Sure, many people have internet access from work, but that’s not the case for most people. For those of us with assignments that keep us in front of a PC most of the day, it’s easy to forget just how many people go the entire week without job-related computer time. Uh, don’t look now, but your boss is standing right behind you. Of the people who do have net access, many work for employers who have blocked eBay, or they simply don’t have time to keep up with when auctions are ending while they do their job. What does that mean for you? Less competition in the final seconds, of course! And we all remember that the final seconds are the best time for your bid, right?Now I’m not encouraging you to neglect your responsibilities at your place of employment. If you have a watch or cell phone with an alarm clock on it, all you need to do is remind your busy self just as the auction is set to end. That doesn’t mean you should spend all day searching for stuff to buy. You can do that on your own time, from home or on your break, and click “watch this item” to save it your My eBay profile. Getting fired would definitely put a drain on your collecting budget. If your job will allow you to take a couple of minutes to participate at the end of auctions, it won’t take you long to notice you’re paying less than others for most of your purchases. Remember, your time will be best spent with auctions that didn’t attract early bidding wars.
  8. Up The Ante: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone describe being outbid by less than a buck. Why? How could that happen? Well, you know that whole thing about bid as high as you’re willing to go? I have a different philosophy, and it goes like this: decide how high you’re willing to go, and then bid higher. Honestly, if you thought $50 was the absolute most you could possibly pay for something, bid $56.56. If you miss out for less than a dollar this time, you can’t really kick yourself, because the person who won just overpaid by $7. If something is worth $15, then it’s worth $17. If it’s worth $100, then it’s worth $112. See how that works?
  9. Always Ask Questions First: Every eBay buyer needs to understand that a bid is a legal binding contract between you and your seller. If no shipping & handling charge is listed in the item description, click the “Ask seller a question” link on the right side of the page, and ask about the shipping. If you’re confused about the condition, size, color, edition, or relative mass of the item, ask about it before you bid. If you win, you are obligated to pay for it, and once time expires with you as the high bidder, there is no further negotiation. If you think the shipping should only cost $6, but the seller instructs you to pay $12, it’s too late. Get in the habit of asking for clarity as early in the duration as possible, and give the seller time to respond to your e-mail.UPDATE: Now that eBay requires sellers to state shipping and handling charges in the auction itself, that is no longer an issue. Too many eBay buyers are still complaining about shipping charges after the fact, though. Look, you knew what it would cost before you placed a bid. There were no surprises, and you believed it was a good enough deal to make a purchase. Don’t complain that the seller charged you a $1.00 handling fee once you receive your package. It’s bad form, and stuff like that will only drive more sellers to abandon the auction format completely, building everything into the cost of fixed-price items. If you got a good deal, and you’re happy with the product, give your seller five stars across the board on his/her DSRs. Shipping materials, time to properly pack and ship your item, and even gas to drive to the post office aren’t free. If you demand that all of this be built into the price of the item, that means the seller will have to charge even more, because eBay gets their cut. That means higher prices for us as buyers. Don’t whine and cry about what you thought was a good deal until you saw the postage label. You’ll just end up ruining our chances of getting good deals in the future.
  10. Be Factual In Feedback: If you have the unfortunate experience of being forced to leave negative feedback for a seller over a transaction gone wrong, keep it appropriate and professional. This would be an example of how to leave proper feedback:
    Comment
    Negative feedback rating Four weeks, never received item. No response to e-mails; initiated chargeback.

    This, on the other hand, would be an example of how to leave improper feedback:

    Negative feedback rating LIAR! THIEF! SCAMMER! CON! RIPOFF! STOLE MY MONEY!

    Not only will all-caps and name-calling make you look immature and a little crazy, but it’s less likely to be taken seriously by future shoppers when they see the seller’s rating. Calm, factual feedback that gets to the point and explains the situation will better serve you and the rest of the buying community.