Martha e-mailed me this question:
You have so many wonderful handbags, and your posts often note that they are from eBay. Do you have any tips for hunting for bags on eBay? Do you search for a particular bag, or do you search bags generally to see what turns up? How do you know you are getting an authentic bag and not a knock-off?
I posted a while back about my own handbag shopping practices and choices, but Martha’s question reminded me that this post on how to shop on eBay is due for an overhaul and refresh. I have nabbed some incredible deals on eBay. Deals so good they make me blush. Gorgeous designer boots at a fifth of their retail price, vintage coats for $10, necklaces that garner dozens of comments every time they’re worn, many lovely handbags … and the list goes on. Do I have some magical skill set that allows me to ferret out these deals? Nope. Are my methods top secret and difficult to employ? No way. Do I troll eBay on a daily basis looking for deals … well, sort of, but we’ll get to that. Bottom line is that my eBay finds are equal parts persistence, patience, and luck. And I’d be happy to tell you exactly how I utilize this amazing shopping resource so that you, too, can score deals so amazing they’ll make you blush.
But first, a quick summary – because I believe that much of the fear that surrounds bidding and buying on eBay is based in a misunderstanding of how the site functions. eBay is a community of buyers and sellers loosely governed by the rules of the site. When you are looking at a product entry, you may be buying from a company or a collective, but in many cases you will be buying from an individual. Someone just like you. Sellers can be as detailed or vague as they want when they list a product for sale, and set their own prices. You can always contact a seller if you have a question, want to see more photos, or need more information about an item, but they may or may not respond in a timely manner.
Some products can be bought immediately at a set price – look for the “Buy it Now” label if you prefer this route – but most products are sold in auction format. You enter a price you’re willing to pay and, if no one enters a higher price that THEY’RE willing to pay, the item is sold to you. (I won’t bore you with more nitty-gritty details of pricing, buying, or consumer protection as eBay has fantastic resources on all of these topics. Check their eBay University Learning Center for great tutorials.)
But before we dig into buying on eBay – and a few guidelines for buying safely and avoiding fakery – let’s take a look at techniques for FINDING stuff you want on eBay.
This is my primary eBaying tool. If you go to the search bar and type in “Frye Veronica Slouch boot,” pick the “Clothing, shoes, and accessories” category from the drop-down, and hit enter, you’ll get a whole bunch of listings.
Right next to where it says “355 results found” you’ll see a tiny green link that says “Follow this search.” When you hover over it, a dialog appears telling you that you can elect to have eBay perform this search for you automatically. So long as you’re already signed into your eBay account, you can click that little link and have that exact same search dumped into your e-mail inbox every day.
You can edit your saved searches by hovering over “My eBay” at the top right corner of your screen and selecting “Followed searches.” (Click the image below to enlarge)
Once you’re looking at your list of saved searches, you can view the items currently encompassed by each search or edit your search parameters. Under “More actions” you can opt to unfollow a search, or just stop receiving the daily e-mail roundups in your inbox but keep the saved search in your queue.
Saved searches work best for VERY specific searches that include product names, brand names, and detailed descriptors. They’re ideal if you lusted after a particular pair of shoes, missed out, and are hoping to find them six months later. Creating general saved searches can be beneficial, too, because they’ll give you a starting point.
Refine your searches
To keep yourself from getting incredibly overwhelmed, I always recommend refining by broad category at the very least. If you’re starting your search from the eBay homepage, enter your search terms and then select your category from the drop-down to narrow the field a bit. (Refer to the first screen cap under “Saved searches” to see where to enter your terms and find this drop-down.) Let’s use “Banana Republic skirt” as an example. Type that into the search bar, then select “Clothing, shoes, and accessories” as your category. At time of writing, this search returns 7,199 results. So, ya know, DANG. But don’t decide you’ll never find that specific BR skirt you seek! Start refining. Begin with category at the top right, in this case “Women’s Clothing” which brings you down to a mere 7,190. Picking “Skirts” under “Women’s Clothing” gets you down to a very manageable 6,943. (Ha ha.)
From there, the real fun begins. Work your way down that left column until you’ve got exactly what you want. Size type, skirt style, length, color material, condition … enter as many as you can. If a search criterion is collapsed, click “see all” to the right of it and a dialog will pop up with more options. If you select size 8 but also want to include size 10, click “see all” and you’ll have the options to add more.
So if you want to keep your saved searches broad and end up with hundreds of new options in your inbox each day, you can click through to them, sort by “Time: newly listed” so that you’re seeing the newest entries first, and then refine using the criteria in that left column. And, of course, you can refine your searches anytime you shop on eBay – just punch your search terms into the bar, scan the results, and start adding parameters from the left rail.
Watch items of interest
If you find an item that you are interested in but not quite prepared to bid upon, you can “watch” it. Right below the blue “Add to cart” button is a little drop-down that says “Add to watch list.” Click it, and the listing will get saved to your My eBay area.
Access your watch list by going to My eBay (top right) and choosing “Watch list.” You have to manually visit your watch list, but keeping items in this area allows you to observe them from afar, see if other folks are bidding, and contemplate your decision to bid.
Decide on a bidding strategy
Now that you’ve found what you’re looking for, you need to decide how you’re going to approach bidding. Buying on eBay can mean not knowing until the last second if you’ll get to own something, and that rush of excitement can cause some rash decision-making, so it’s important to settle on a few parameters before you begin bidding. My own bidding strategy is generally to enter the largest dollar amount I’m willing to pay for a particular item, and leave it to the fates. Sometimes that means I get outbid by one cent during the last 10 seconds of an auction, but c’est la vie. You can certainly try to win by hovering at your computer as the clock ticks down, but server speeds, Internet connections, and countless other factors can interfere with you getting that last bid placed in time. There are services like Auction Sniper that will place bids for you at the last minute … but I haven’t found them helpful.
Think before you bid
When you enter that number, you are committing to paying your chosen amount should you win. NEVER bid more than you can afford to pay. Even if you believe you have no chance at winning. You never know what will happen – items that appear in-demand can fall out of favor, listings can fly under the radar, all sorts of factors may end up conspiring to make that vintage necklace unexpectedly yours. So only bid what you can afford to pay.
Investigate your seller
eBay offers its customers a number of different ways to learn about its sellers. The main one is feedback rating. Every seller has a feedback rating next to her/his username, and you can find this information on every eBay listing.
You’ll see the seller’s username (here it is sasuse66) followed by a number in parentheses. This number shows how many eBay transactions this user has completed. If a seller has less than five transactions, most eBayers will be wary – buyers and sellers alike. The colored stars are just shorthand. sasuse66 here has a red star, which means a feedback score between 1,000 and 4,999. Below the number and star is the percentage of positive feedback. As a point of reference, if a seller has less than 95% positive feedback, I am unlikely to bid. This is not a hard and fast rule, though. If you click on the transaction number (3213 here), you’ll see a breakdown of the seller’s feedback with more details. Sometimes negative feedback is given in error, or transactions are still in dispute. From this page, you can see what the seller has to say in response to negative feedback, which can be very enlightening. But be sure to do some digging if you’re looking at a seller with a low feedback rating, as that person or group may be problematic to work with and buy from.
I bought these shoes off eBay about a year and a half after they were sold out in stores. It took that long for them to surface in my size and in a price range that suited me. You MAY be able to find something immediately, but you may not. Wait it out.
Now, this is the one that may make some folks cringe. If you really want to be a successful eBay consumer, look at all of the search results that fit your criteria. All of them. I was on a quest for a cognac leather jacket a couple of months ago and I probably looked at 250 listings every time I searched. There were loads of dupes and I could cruise through quickly, but scanning the lot of them helped me to know I’d seen everything that was available.
Be smart about price and value
Before you bid on a product, put its brand and style name into Google and make sure it’s not being sold elsewhere and/or for less. As a free market model, prices are “all that the traffic will bear,” meaning if someone is willing to pay it, it’s a fair price. Just because it’s on eBay doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bargain. Shop smart and do your homework.
More than that, remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. eBay sellers can be punished for false advertising – claiming that they’re selling genuine Louis Vuitton purses when they’re really peddling fakes – through negative feedback and, eventually, being kicked off the site. Also in eBay disputes dealt with through PayPal, the buyer nearly always wins. But such battles can be long and drawn out, so you’re better to just be cautious. Classic example: Alexander McQueen skull scarves. There are about 10 trillion knockoffs on eBay for around $30. Buy it Now $30, not starting bid. Nowhere on those entries does it say, “guaranteed authentic” or “genuine,” but those sellers seldom say “designer inspired” or “faux” either so it’s up to you to make the call. Seem too good to be true? It probably is. Here are some red flags:
- The item is brand new, not vintage, but incredibly cheap compared to original retail price
- Has no damage or marks that might cause the price to go down, but incredibly cheap
- The item is far, far cheaper than similar or identical items also for sale on eBay
- The item is designer, but vendor offers no proof – receipts, hangtags, photos of labels, etc.
- Vendor uses lots of stock images or product shots from other sites like Zappos or Nordstrom, but includes no actual photos of the item being sold
- The vendor has a low feedback rating
Buying knockoffs might seem like a constant danger, but you wanna know what my own biggest eBaying mistake is? Bidding on stuff and thinking, “Oh, I’ll NEVER win THAT.” I have ignored my own advice more times than I care to admit. And although it has brought me some killer shoes and amazing deals, it has also forced me to scramble for money I wasn’t truly planning to spend. Because eBay has an element of gambling to it, and because luck and randomness figure in, it’s best to impose as much of your own logic and reason on the system as possible. And I struggle with that sometimes.
Also remember that purchasing via eBay is always riskier than buying from a regular online retailer. Always. So if you’re searching for something that needs to fit exactly right, or needs to fit exact specifications, I’d try elsewhere. Shopping on eBay is fun and rewarding, but transactions can and do go wrong in ways that they seldom will with mass retailers.
That said, eBay is also a great place to look for weird, unusual, slightly damaged, past season, or otherwise hard-to-find stuff at great prices. I’ve put everything from “Bohemian garnet” to “badger shirt” into that search bar and had a whale of a time poring over the results! And, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve landed some outrageous deals – specific, lusted-after items that might never have turned up thrifting. So for all its risks, I do adore eBay.
How do you eBay?
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