Buying on eBay: A Beginner's Guide

Buying on eBay: A Beginner's Guide
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Who wants to pay top dollar every time you need to buy something? Saving a little pocket change on a purchase can feel so good—there’s definitely satisfaction in knowing you’ve just paid far less than you could have, thanks to your excellent sleuthing skills. If you’re someone who loves a good bargain, you may already be shopping on eBay regularly. But if you haven’t tried it, buying on eBay is something you might consider.

eBay is a great place to find all kinds of bargains and steals, from the latest tech gadgets to the most obscure part for your dishwasher that’s just stopped working after 13 months. And the best part? Buying things on eBay is simple. All you need is a little basic knowledge of how the site works, and you’re ready to search for your next big bargain.

How does eBay work?

Since its inception in 1996, Ebay has grown into a massive online marketplace. The site accomplishes its basic goal of successfully moving items from sellers into the hands of buyers through listings that sellers post and buyers browse. Sellers can set their own price for the goods they’re selling or to offer it at auction, a feature unique to eBay’s platform. Buyers can search for any item they’re looking for, then apply sort and filter functions to narrow it down by price and other features.

The best (and worst) things to buy on eBay

Steven Keys, a professional photographer and blogger whose site Trip of a Lifestyle chronicles his relentless search for a good value, insists you can find just about anything on eBay. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around.

“eBay is a great place to buy just about anything, but my main reason for shopping there is to find a lower price than I can elsewhere. If my local store has a better deal, I’ll skip eBay,” he said.

Despite that, he says the following are some of the best items to buy on eBay if you’re a price-conscious consumer:

Smartphones. “Every phone you’ve ever heard of is available on eBay both new and used. I usually get a model that’s about two years old brand new on eBay at a massive discount,” Keys said.

Car parts. Car repairs are a major headache since they almost always cost an arm and a leg. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “eBay also has just about every automotive part ever made, both new and used,” said Keys.

Coupons. “You’ve probably never even considered buying coupons, but on eBay, it’s a big business. You don’t even have to wait for a physical coupon to be mailed to your house. A lot of eBay sellers will send a digital barcode coupon to your phone, saving you money even when shipping costs are accounted for,” he said.

eBay buying for beginners

If you’re thinking about buying on eBay, the good news is that it’s super simple. So simple, in fact, that you can purchase items for immediate sale without a profile (though you won’t be able to take part in auctions). When you search for something you’d like to buy on eBay, you’re much more likely to find items listed by individual sellers than you will on Amazon, the now-ubiquitous online marketplace where you can purchase just about anything. That can mean deep discounts, too.

Step 1: Set up an ebay profile

While you can buy on eBay without an eBay profile, Keys doesn’t advise it. “It’s smart to get an account so that you can earn eBay Bucks (which are like cash-back rewards) over time.”

Step 2: Find your item

So you’ve set up a profile and you’ve got an item in mind that you’d like to buy on eBay. It helps to first know some helpful hints on how to buy something on eBay at the best price in the best possible condition, and with the best possible shipping rates.

And with thousands of listings, sometimes that can seem like a daunting task.

According to Keys, the best way to find what you’re looking for is to conduct a little research using eBay’s built-in search functionality. To narrow your search, the site offers several helpful filters. The “Buy It Now” filter is good to use if you’re not interested in participating in an auction and just want to buy something on the spot.

Searching by price? Keys uses the site’s “Price + shipping, lowest to highest” sort option. “The cool thing,” he said, “is that eBay includes shipping here, so you’re truly sorting by bottom-line price, which is all that really matters.”

And finally, if you’re not sure of an item’s market value, sorting on “Sold listings” can show you similar or identical items and the price for which they’ve recently sold.

Step 3: Decide whether to bid or to buy

When deciding whether to buy something on eBay outright or participate in an auction, one key factor is the item itself.

“I find that auctions are useful for items without well-defined prices. For example, you can use auctions to get great deals on used or hard-to-find items. When I’m buying brand-new stuff with well-defined prices, I skip straight to Buy It Now most of the time,” said Keys.

But for hot items in high demand where the Buy it Now price is set for maximum profit, an auction can be a great way to purchase the item closer to fair market value.

Step 4: Complete the transaction

After you’ve found what you’re looking for on eBay, it’s time to arrange for payment and shipping. As the buyer, eBay requires that you pay all shipping costs, and payment in full must be received prior to the seller shipping your item.

But what about payment? The vast majority of sellers on eBay accept Paypal, which Keys said has become the standard method of payment on the site. Credit and debit cards are fine too, but Keys warns against stepping outside of these payment methods.

“If your seller is insisting on any special payment methods outside of these, just avoid them,” he said.

Step 5: Leave feedback

Don’t forget to leave feedback for the seller after you receive your item. It’s one of the most important aspects of the site. According to eBay’s own language, “Feedback consists of a positive, negative, or neutral rating, along with a short comment. Buyers and sellers build reputations that are based on all the Feedback ratings and comments left by their trading partners.”

Be objective when leaving feedback; if you leave a disparaging remark because you happen to be having a bad day, you could really damage someone’s chances for future transactions.

When you leave feedback on eBay, it translates to a percentage that’s assigned to the person’s profile. In other words, you may see that seller JohnSmith123 has a 99% positive feedback rating, in which case you’ll probably feel comfortable buying from him.

Be aware that this feedback rating system is a bit of an oddity, though. “The feedback system is a little strange. While 99-100% positive feedback is generally a good score, 97% positive feedback is actually considered to be quite bad. I avoid sellers with feedback lower than about 97-98% positive. Reading the negative feedback can inform you a little better, too,” Keys said.

Fast shipping, accurate item descriptions and proper packaging, along with an overall solid customer service experience are all things you’re likely to experience when you buy from someone with a strong seller rating.

Common eBay buying mistakes to avoid

Because eBay has a buyer protection program, you can feel pretty safe purchasing on the site, regardless of whether the listing is from an individual or a business. Perhaps the biggest and most common blunder buyers make, though, is bidding on multiples of the same item to ensure they’re able to get it, and then winning more than one auction.

It’s also smart to avoid eBay scams, and one thing that may help with that is trying to run an online people search on your seller. It may turn up information that makes you feel more comfortable carrying out the transaction.

On eBay, an auction bid represents a binding contract that you’ll actually buy the item if you’re the top bidder, said Keys. “Obviously, you won’t be forced at gunpoint to complete the transaction, but if you back out of multiple deals, you risk being banned from the site altogether. It’s also not a particularly polite thing to do.”

Now that you know how to buy on eBay, it’s time to start searching for your next big bargain. And if you’d like to consider selling on eBay, it’s another great way to add some income on the side.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

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