17 eBay shopping tips
Whether you're new eBay buying or fancy yourself an auction pro, follow these useful tips and tricks to buy eBay items at the lowest price.
When it comes to buying and selling pre-owned stuff online, eBay remains in a league of its own. Imagine pretty much anything you could ever want – there will be someone selling it on eBay.
But of their 170 million users, a large percentage of eBay buyers pay more than necessary on items just because they're not aware of the tricks (of which there are many).
It really pays off to take your time and know your stuff in this game – and we're here to tell you how it's done!
How to save money shopping on eBay
Don't fall for joke listings
First thing's first! It's worth knowing that eBay sometimes has a tendency to make things look more valuable than they actually are.
If people start bidding furiously on something for the wrong reasons, it can mislead you into thinking it's worth shelling out big bucks for when it's not.
For example, you may remember that when the new plastic fivers were first released, they were going for £500+ on eBay if they had the first issue serial numbers printed on them.
However, early-print fivers are pretty common now, meaning some unlucky people wasted a fair bit of cash on something worth... well, a fiver.
Use automatic bidding
eBay is kind enough to have a function that lets you arrange for their system to bid on your behalf, saving you the arduous task of watching items like a hawk.
All you have to do is enter a maximum bid (instead of constantly bidding higher each time someone overtakes your bid), and eBay will automatically outbid anyone that puts cash down by just a penny or two.
This way you remain the highest bidder (up to your maximum amount) without spending even a second of your precious time bidding!
Search for typos on eBay
Weirdly, typos and misspellings can really work in your favour if you're looking to bag a bargain.
The unfortunate thing (for sellers) is that once an item is listed, you can only make edits before someone bids. This means they might not be able to change it once the listing is up – warts and all.
So if a seller accidentally types one too many 's's in their PlayStation listing (i.e. 'PlaysStation'), it'll show up in fewer searches – and will therefore have fewer bidders.
Check the price of sold items
If you're feeling totally stumped trying to work out how high to make your highest bid, have a look at the sort of price the same item has sold for recently on eBay.
Do this by typing the item name into the search bar, choose 'Advanced options' and click the 'Sold listings' under the 'Search including' header.
This will show you a whole list of similar items that were recently sold on eBay and what they went for. Give it a go now!
Search locally if you'll need to collect
When it comes to larger items like furniture, cars and bikes, a lot of eBay sellers will only allow their items to appear in searches for people based locally. For them, this eliminates the hassle of organising an expensive delivery.
But it isn't just the seller who benefits from this. For you, it also narrows the number of bidders, thus boosting your chances of getting the item at a lower price.
To do this, just scroll down on the search filters on the left-hand side and filter the search results by the distance from your postcode.
Alternatively, use Baycrazy's local item search. Just enter your postcode and it'll throw up everything nearing the end of an auction in your local area.
Don't bid on eBay auctions too early
It’s easy to get carried away and want to place a bid on something your heart desires as soon as you see it.
However, this can actually work against you – all it will do is result in a bidding war that will end with the item going for a much higher price than if everyone had waited until the end of the auction.
Instead, select ‘add to watch list’ so the item will be saved on your account for quick reference. Then set a reminder on your phone to come back to it in the last 10 minutes or so of the auction.
Aim for last-minute bidding
With that in mind, instead of bidding early, bid as late as possible to give other bidders less time to trump you.
But how about searching exclusively for auctions that are on the brink of closing, so you can jump in at the last minute without all the waiting around and hope nobody beats you to it?
Lastminute Auction is a handy site that searches for all auctions that are about to close – you can even search by category to find exactly what you're looking for.
Become an eBay sniper
Sure, nobody likes that guy who comes in and beats you to the crunch at the very last minute. But let’s face it – if you can’t beat 'em, you might as well join 'em!
These people are known as eBay 'snipers', and it's become so common nowadays that it's not even seen as cheating anymore.
There are plenty of tools out there for this, but just note that they're not always 100% reliable (after all, if two bidders are sniping, someone's got to miss out!) so don't assume it's a done deal.
They also aren't totally secure, and as they'll need your eBay login deets, make sure you go with a reputable site like Goofbid.
Also, note that whilst sniper tools are usually free, some take a 1% fee if you win your auction... so they're not really free, are they?
Benefit from sellers' mistakes
As well as being able to cash in on sellers' typos, you can also find some serious bargains if they've missed out a vital bit of info that would otherwise have drawn in the punters.
For example, if someone is selling a Barbour jacket, and post it on eBay as a 'Waterproof waxed jacket in navy blue', it won't show up in anyone's searches looking for a Barbour.
No Bids is a handy tool to check for auctions that are minutes away from ending but still have no bidders (normally due to forgetting a keyword or something similar). Give it a bash!
Create eBay search alerts
A simple but effective time-saving trick! You can choose to follow searches by clicking ‘Save this search’ at the top of the listings (it's got a little heart next to it).
This will obviously work better for slightly more niche products, so the more specific you can be about the item you have in mind, the better.
Otherwise, you'll get bombarded with notifications every single time someone lists a copy of FIFA (which is a lot more often than you think).
Contact eBay sellers to haggle
As eBay is an auctioning service, you wouldn't think there'd be any haggling involved. But you'd be wrong.
A lot of sellers include a ‘make offer’ option as well as bidding, and similarly, a lot of sellers who use the 'buy it now' label will also consider best offers. This is the perfect opportunity to jump in there and show off your best haggling skills.
Of course, you don't want to go too low and put the seller off you entirely, so do some research into how they've negotiated in the past.
To do this, copy and paste the username of the seller into Goofbid's best offers history tool. This will show the history of best offer items they've sold and the price they settled on. Sneaky!
Watch out for postage price hikes
Often sellers will try to be sly and make a bit extra cash by bumping up the postage costs.
There are no official guidelines for sellers on what to charge for postage, so it's worth doing your homework to see what sort of cost you should be looking at – Royal Mail's price finder is the best place to start.
Don’t be scared to challenge a seller if you think their postage prices are too high.
Look for night-time auction endings
If a seller accidentally sets an auction to end in the middle of the night, this will normally result in the item going for less as it will have fewer last-minute bidders (as fewer people are willing to sit up through the night with their finger hovering over the button!).
BayCrazy has a night-time search tool that can look specifically for auctions that are due to end in the middle of the night. The best part is, you don't even need to pull yourself out of bed, as you'll already have your sniper tools at the ready (see tip 8)!
Don't bid in whole numbers
Say you're watching an item, and somebody else places a bid of £5. Instinctively you might want to bid £6 to trump them, but why bother with the whole pound? Why not just bid £5.50?Unfortunately you can't just bid 1p over your rival, as eBay has set minimum bid increments for different prices.
eBay has a handy guide to its bidding increments here, meaning no matter how high the leading bid is, you can see how much (or, more accurately, how little) you need to up the bidding by to take the lead, without overpaying.
Bear in mind that the bid increments only restrict the minimum amount extra you must bid. While the bid increment could be 50p, you're perfectly entitled to bid 51p extra.
This is especially handy for outbidding other people's maximum bids. People tend to set their maximum bid as a whole number, so by bidding just over a whole number (like £20.01), you could be knocking someone out of the auction and winning by just a single penny!
Watch out for reserve prices
If a seller is worried about not getting enough for their item, they’ll whack what’s called a ‘reserve price’ on it. This means that if the bids don’t meet that price, there won’t be a sale.
The difficulty is that you’ll only find out if there’s a reserve price if you make a bid and are told the reserve hasn’t been met.
If there’s still time before the auction ends, it’s worth reaching out and asking the seller what the reserve price is. Then, if you’re the only person bidding above the reserve, you’ll get it for the reserve price instead of what you bid. Fingers crossed!
Look at global eBay sellers
Although UK sellers will usually be your cheapest option, it's always worth double-checking to see if you can snag a super-cheap deal with an international eBay seller.
It might sound crazy, but sometimes even when the international postage costs are included, you can still buy an item cheaper across the water.
This is particularly the case for smaller items coming from Asia. If they're small, light and can be delivered in an envelope through a letterbox, you're not likely to have to pay customs charges either!
Know your rights as a buyer!
The issue of consumer rights gets a bit complicated on eBay, as sometimes you'll be buying from a business and other times from a personal seller.
In the case of buying from a business with an eBay account, your full CCR (Consumer Contracts Regulations) will apply. This is the Consumer Rights Act equivalent for online purchases, which we explain in more details here.
If you’re buying from a person, you won’t be protected by the Consumer Rights Act. But eBay does tend to favour buyers over sellers in disputes, so if you’re not happy, try reaching out to customer services.
Now you've mastered eBay shopping, are you getting the best price on your Amazon hauls? We've got a few tricks up our sleeve on that one, too!