My Top 5 Tips for eBay Buyers

Simple strategies every buyer should have in their bag of tricks

by Julia Wilkinson
- Apr 03, 2008

Buying on eBay has become something of an art form. My casual eBaying friends complain to me that someone else usually wins the auctions they bid on, for example. When I suggest sniping software, they give me a blank look. But without sniping, it's become very tough to get those in-demand items that attract multiple bidders.

And sniping is just one bidding strategy you should know about. Here are five tools I think every eBay shopper should have in their arsenal to buy wisely:

1. Watch an item before you bid on it

More and more, I see eBay users watching my items before they bid on them. Why? No doubt it's because as soon as an item gets even one bid, it's much more likely to get more attention and other bids, driving up the price. So they simply add it to their watch list until they're ready to place a bid.

Of course, watching is also a nice way to keep an item in your sights if you haven't yet made up your mind whether to buy it or not, and eBay will send you a nice little reminder when someone else bids on it.

In some cases, this means placing a bid at the last moment, which brings us to…

2. One word: Snipe

I think it's almost essential to snipe nowadays if you're bidding on an item with more than one bidder. Take your pick of automatic sniping software programs, such as Auction Sniper; just choose one, and make sure your bid is as high as you are willing to pay, without overpaying. Of course, even sniping won't guarantee you will win an auction. But I find that when I use sniping software and reasonably high bids, I win about 90 percent of the time.

3. Ask the seller a question

I always try to sound cheerful in my responses to prospective bidders

As a buyer I often have questions about items, and I like to use eBay's "Ask Seller a Question" feature. I've found that even if I don't have burning queries about an item, using this feature to ask something general is an excellent way to get a feel for the seller anyway. Do they respond quickly and politely? If they are a day or two late responding, do they apologize? Do they use reasonably good English (assuming they are in the U.S.)?

These kinds of things can give you an idea of the type of person you are dealing with, which is especially important on a big-ticket purchase. I always try to sound cheerful in my responses to prospective bidders, thank them for their interest, and apologize if I am getting to their query a day or so late.

4. Use both browse and search, and eBay's visual shopping tools

eBay is so vast that knowing how to sift through the site takes real skill. Many eBayers just use search queries to shop. But if you only do that, you may be missing out on some real gems that weren't blessed with appropriate title words.

So don't forget to browse too. And while you're at it, if you're in the mood for a treasure hunt, try to look sometimes at big lots and identify great stuff lurking within them.

Use eBay's picture gallery and new "snapshot view" feature to give you lots of visuals on one page and speed up your "window shopping."

And eBay's "saved search" feature is a real boon for shoppers who don't want to remember to keep submitting the same query over and over.

5. Be careful with feedback

This may seem like something for sellers to worry about more than buyers, but I think buyers should still be very careful about leaving bad feedback, and only do so after exhausting all other possibilities. Not only will your eBay feedback karma be better, you lessen the risk of some other unforeseen retaliatory behavior that may lurk on the eBay horizon-whether it's the seller buying something from you in the future and purposefully leaving bad feedback, or something else.

Oh yes, and don't forget to pay for your items on time! Happy shopping.

Reprinted with permission from Julia's Blog, "bidbits."

About the Author

Julia Wilkinson is the author of The eBay Price Guide (No Starch Press, 2006) and eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks (Wiley, 2004-6). Her ebooks, including What $ells on eBay for What are available here, and her free newsletter, "Yard Salers," is available at

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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