So You Want to Buy on Ebay?


Where do you start? How do you get a good deal? Can you get a good deal? How do you avoid being caught-up in "auction fever"?

I have been buying on Ebay for quite some time. I have contemplated a full-out boycott due to their policies regarding teacher's manuals for even homeschooling-only products, but have had to compromise. I no longer sell on Ebay, but do still buy. (You can read more about the boycott and my thoughts regarding it here.)

Where do you begin if you're planning buying on Ebay? First, have an idea of what you're looking for. I never go blindly looking for something on Ebay. I always know exactly what I'm looking for. I have also done research into this item so that I know I'm getting a good deal should I find it on Ebay. What types of things do I research?

  1. I always know exactly what it would cost me to purchase that item "regularly" (from a brick & mortar or online store.) I don't just figure what the regular price would be, though. I take into account what I can buy that item for when taking factoring in all discounts and shipping. For example, Alpha Omega (AOP) has a yearly sale giving 20% off all their products. You can also get free shipping combined with this 20% off if you buy it at a homeschool convention. Therefore, my lowest starting price for an Alpha Omega price would be 20% off the retail price plus free shipping. If there is something they sell through AOP that I can get cheaper elsewhere, then THAT becomes my lower price. For example, I can count on getting their Horizon's math books for $10.95 locally with no shipping. Be careful here, though, make SURE you are taking shipping into account if buying online. The price may LOOK better, but is actually higher when you factor in shipping.
  2. Next, I determine how much I am willing to pay for the item. The amount I am willing to pay always includes the purchase (or bid) price PLUS shipping. Shipping is NOT an should ALWAYS be included in the total price you are willing to pay. If it's an item I don't need for a year, then I never pay more than 50% of the lowest retail value. If it's an item I am not going to need for 6mths, then I'm willing to pay up to 75% of the lowest retail value. If I need the item NOW, then I'm just looking for a deal and anything lower than the lowest retail value is up for consideration. (I'm in that position now with Math-U-See.)
  3. Is there anything I need to consider with this product? For example, Teaching Textbook programs can only be downloaded a certain number of times. Therefore, I run a HUGE risk by buying these items used. I might get someone who is honest and gives me an item I can still download. Or I might not. I will be willing to bid MUCH lower (and sometimes not at all) if this is the case. You need to know something like this.
  4. Is this something I can easily fill-in later if I only get a portion of the item now on Ebay? For example, you can only buy the Teacher's Manual (TM) and the DVD for Math-U-See (MUS) together. You cannot buy them separately from the company. Therefore, I should only consider auctions where these two are listed together (or the TM is thrown in as a "bonus" as is often done now with IG's). Otherwise, I will have purchased a DVD or TM on Ebay and will have to buy it AGAIN to get the other item. I've just wasted my money.
  5. What condition am I willing to take the item in? For example, are you willing to take a workbook that has writing? If so, how much? Just a little that's in pencil and can be erased? A LOT that's in pencil and can be erased? The whole book in pencil that can be erased? Writing in pen? much? You'd have to use white-out to cover the answers. Is this okay? Make SURE you are willing to live with a LOT of writing if you take one that has ANY writing. There are unscrupulous sellers out there who will tell you there's a little writing and you'll get a book with all but 3 pages filled in. I will only take workbooks without writing. In many cases, I will often write the seller before-hand to confirm that there is no writing in the book. This way, I have a second layer of protection should the seller not send me what they have listed.
Once I have my item in mind and know what it would cost me in the "regular" market, taken everything into consideration, and have determined MY target price; I then start a search on Ebay. I'll sort the items by "price+shipping, low-high". I then will look at every (yes every) item that falls within my price range. This is where I begin eliminating what I won't consider buying and put items I will consider buying in my "watched items". I will NEVER bid at this stage. Ever. Not bidding until I have eliminated everything and have what I will consider in my "watched items" ensures that I am really ready to buy that item before I place my bid. Plus, it ensures I have my bidding strategy in place. (e.g.-What will I do if the one I really wanted goes too high? Is there another one I've saved that I'll start looking at? Do I start the search process again? There are certain things I look at when I'm starting my search and eliminating/saving items:
  1. What is the feedback number for the seller? I used to bid with pretty much anyone, but would make an extra confirmation with those who had less than 10. Then, I would only bid with those who had OVER 10. Now, my minimum is 20. And I'm very selective with those who are still in their 20's. No. I have nothing against those just starting out on Ebay. However, after having NO PROBLEMS EVER for YEARS on Ebay, I had 3 problems in the past year. ALL of them were with people who had 100% feedback...but only 10-20 of them. Shortly after MY transaction with ALL of them, their feedback rating fell...and this before I left my feedback. Only 1 of those people offered to resolve the problem. (And I thanked them profusely and noted in feedback that they had offered to do so.) I had to file claims on the other 2 getting my money back in one case and just throwing away $6 in the other. (In both of those cases, they claimed there was no writing in the book and there WAS...a LOT.) I changed my policy and have had no problems since. Bottom line? If they have a feedback rating of less than 20, I immediately eliminate the item regardless of how "perfect" it looks.
  2. What is their feedback score? If the feedback NUMBER (not rating) is okay, then I check out their feedback SCORE (this is the percentage number such as 100% that they will have beside their name). Here again, I used to bid with anyone who had over 90%, then raised it to 95% & over. Now, if they don't have a feedback rating of 98% or better, then I don't bid with them. Bottom line? If they have a feedback SCORE of less than 98%, then I immediately eliminate the item regardless of how "perfect" it looks.
  3. Is there a picture for this item? This may seem absolutely menial, but my experience has shown that if the seller can't be bothered to post a picture then they likely also couldn't be bothered to accurately describe the item. I know this isn't the case with every seller who doesn't have a picture. However, my experience as well as those of others HAS proven this to be true. And I don't have money to throw around on a chance. Bottom line? No picture, eliminate the item; regardless of how "perfect" it looks.
  4. Does the item meet my specifications? If the item has passed my first 3 screenings, then I actually look at the description now. This would be the first time I actually do this since the first 2 qualifiers don't take into account the item itself at all and the 3rd only takes into account the presence of a picture. This is where I would eliminate any workbooks with writing, incomplete sets that can't easily be filled later or without duplication, generally unacceptable condition (the book is falling apart, etc despite not having any writing), etc. Remember, those qualifications were set for a reason. Now is NOT the time to waver! Bottom line? If the item doesn't meet my pre-determined qualifications then it gets eliminated; regardless of how cheap it may be or how "perfect" it may look otherwise.
At this point, anything left has been saved to my "watched items" list. This is where I go BACK to those items to confirm that they meet my qualifications and try and determine what I will bid on and when.
One major thing I do at this point is to go BACK to the feedback score (the percentage) to read the negatives. This typically only takes me a minute for each item. Keep in mind that the feedback percentage is only figured on the last 12mths. As a result, someone may have a 100% feedback rating for the last year, but had TONS of negatives in the past. Again, I can't throw my money away on a chance. As a result, if I see this pattern, then I delete the item from my "watched items" list. I know people can change, but I can't spare my money on their chance. Someone else will have to do that for a couple of years before I'll feel confident enough to bid with them.
After I have re-reviewed feedback, I will take a look at shipping to ensure they are charging a fair price. (Many people will attempt to gouge on shipping. I like to steer clear from them because if they're not honest there, then where else will they not be honest?) Sometimes, it's simply a matter of a seller not knowing how to work the system so that they can list multiple shipping items and sometimes they don't know about media mail. This can happen with an experienced seller of non-media items who has moved into selling media items. I have seen this with moms who have sold clothes for years and are now reselling homeschooling curriculum or old books.
I always give the benefit of the doubt here first and simply shoot the seller an e-mail asking if they'll consider media mail shipping and if so, what will the cost be for their item. Media mail is not dependent on your location, but on the weight of the item so your information isn't necessary. I've had a few offer to send something media mail but say that they don't know how to figure the cost. I forward them to the USPS site which lists the prices in detail according to weight. I'll also ask them to confirm back with the price for their package after checking out the site so that I can properly plan my bid. Once I have confirmation of a cheaper shipping rate, then I know how to accurately bid for that item.
Next, I will enter a note under each item stating the max amount I can bid (excluding shipping). This allows me to see at a glance what I'll pay for each item without having to stop and re-figure it over and over again on each item. Here's an example: There's an item for which I'm willing to pay $20. Shipping for this item is $5. I'll put in my note the following, "Max bid: $15 + S/H"
After all of the above steps are done, then I am essentially ready to bid. But I don't bid yet. I'm one of those people who bids at the last minute. I find that I can get a much better deal by waiting until the last minute (or less) to bid. (I'm on a high speed connection.) I know some of you out there hate people like me, but the bottom line is that you will get the best deals by bidding this way. I'm paying Ebay and the seller...NOT the other way around!
However, BECAUSE I am bidding at the last minute, I will put in my max bid the FIRST (and only) time I place my bid. I either win or I don't. I set a price before hand and stick to it. This is essential if you plan to find good deals on Ebay.
I have a friend who tells how she gets "auction fever". She starts bidding with the intention of spending $100 for something, but then as she starts bidding (usually several days before auction end) she gets into a bidding war with someone. They outbid her $100...which she put in as her first bid several days before auction ending. But she doesn't want to lose so she bids again. And again. And again. On one such occasion, she set out to spend $100 on a toy set and ended up spending $360. And she's not alone. There are a LOT of people like her. I don't have $360 to throw away. Truth is, neither did she...but she got into a bidding war and got "auction fever". Then, she ended up making a commitment she had to the detriment of her family.
IF you are going to bid anytime before the end of the auction, you should NEVER bid your max right away. It will lead into the above-described bidding war.
My friend said, "Well there's someone else on the other end selling it. They deserve to get a good price." Your job is NOT to ensure THEY get the best price. It's to ensure YOU get the best deal for YOUR family. For all you know, THEY got it at rock bottom prices themselves so you're paying market-value is simply cheating your family NOT giving them back a supposed full-price that you think they paid.
My friend also says, "Well, if that's the max I'm willing to pay I might as well find out if that price can win as soon as possible." No. Not really. That's the strategy to use if you're bidding with 20seconds left in the auction. That's NOT the strategy to use if you are bidding several days before auction end. I simply don't find it beneficial for someone with a high-speed connection to bid before the end of the auction. You're costing yourself money by raising the price sooner than it needs to be raised.
On that note, if something I'm interested in goes above my target price before the end of the auction then I delete it from my "watched items" list. There's no reason to have something in there that has already exceeded what I'm willing to pay.
Here are a couple more notes to consider:
  1. If you have saved multiple items from the same seller, you should ask if they combine shipping. Even if they mention that they do, you should e-mail them to obtain an exact quote of the cost if you win more than one of their auctions. (Most sellers will tell you it's full-price shipping for the item with the highest shipping and anywhere from $.25 to $1 for each subsequent item if you're dealing with books.) You'll need this info, though, to adjust what you can pay should you win one of their auctions and plan on bidding on a second.
  2. I always pay immediately after auction end unless I am watching another auction right after that or am waiting on another auction from that same seller. In those cases, I ALWAYS e-mail the seller to let them know when I'll be paying...or ask if it's okay to wait until the other auction ends.
  3. If you have had a seller agree to media mail shipping or a lesser shipping than is listed in the auction, you'll need to request an invoice from the seller before paying. The same holds true if you have won more than one auction by the same seller. Again, I will send that out immediately after auction end. Basically, treat other Ebayers as you would want to be treated.
It may seem like this is a lot of work. However, the steps I take allow me to simplify my Ebaying process. It ensures that I don't waste money, that I know what to bid when the time comes and that I'm bidding with good Ebayers. Simplicity makes life so much easier!
If you have any questions about buying on Ebay or want to add anything feel free to comment below or shoot me an e-mail.
Happy Bidding!

1 comment:

Haasiegirl said...

great tutorial for newbies on ebay!