Don't Be a Bitter Bidder

Experts share their eBay tips: Look for luxury goods, have fun browsing, and don't be shy about sniping

By Amey Stone

There's nothing like writing a story about never having participated in an online auction to bring the eBay experts out of the woodwork. I received dozens of e-mails in response to my Aug. 27 BW Online story (see BW Online, 08/27/04, "eBay, Who Needs It?").

While some people were a tad nasty, many were thoughtful and encouraging. Most simply wanted to encourage me to give eBay a try and offered helpful advice. One eBay (EBAY ) seller even initiated a discussion thread inviting other eBay sellers to try to convert me, which attracted many long, advice-filled posts.

How could I resist? Try it I did (see BW Online, 10/01/04, "eBay Wins a Convert"). The following are 10 of the most helpful hints -- in no particular order -- offered by eBay sellers and buyers to get me started:

Take a good, hard look at the seller's rating. A 95% approval rating sounds good, but in fact it's rather mediocre. When there are a handful of negative comments, read through them and watch out for nightmare scenarios like a pattern of nondelivery of items. For real confidence, stick with sellers with 99% approval or better.

Get eBay to notify you if a rare item you want comes up for sale. The way to do that is to save your search (look for the link on the search page). Then you can manage the saved searches from your "My eBay" page. EBay will run the search daily for up to six months and e-mail you when items appear that match your criteria.

Snipe away. In auction argot, a "sniper" is a bidder who suddenly shows up in the last few seconds of an auction and offers the highest bid. Power buyers on eBay believe that bidding early drives up the price of the item unnecessarily and that it's best not to show your hand until the last few minutes of the auction.

Learn the fine art of sniping. Sniping is easier said than done. Joseph Peck suggests keeping two windows open, one loaded with your "max bid"and the other with the auction page. Then you just hit "submit"on the bid page when there are about 10 seconds left in the auction. Other respondents are fans of software that does this work for you, such as Auction Sniper and Auction Stealer.

Shop by luxury brand. Want to find a really good deal on eBay? Then shop for items that are almost never discounted at retail, such as top brand-name goods. One respondent said he had bought Bose speakers, Serengeti sunglasses, and Tumi luggage for great prices on eBay.

Search for items locally. Narrow down your search to within 10 miles of your location. That way you can check out an item in person. If it's within five miles, you can probably avoid paying shipping charges.

Use eBay stores. Don't want to take a chance on new sellers all the time? Search eBay stores to find and form a relationship with a knowledgeable, reputable seller of the specific kinds of items you're looking for.

Try browsing. You miss out on the fun if you only hunt for specific items you need or want. Try browsing just to see what's there. You might find a treasure you never even knew existed. One proponent of this style of shopping is now the proud owner of an "Elvis for President" button as a result of browsing.

The more expensive your purchase, the more you'll probably save. Sure, the market for trinkets sold on eBay can be volatile depending on who shows up for the auction. If there are two bidders who want an item badly enough, the price can quickly get out of whack with economics (see BW Online, 10/1/04, "An Obsessed Bride's eBay Adventure"). But Nabil Al-Khowaiter, who is starting a new business in Istanbul, says he has bought second-hand routers and servers on eBay for 50% less than he would have to pay distributors for similar equipment. "That gives smaller, privately held IT companies a small but significant edge over the big boys," he wrote.

Take part in the community. Part of the fun is connecting with other people around the country who share your love of, let's say, World War II-era Japanese ceramic spice sets (one reader's passion). Particular areas of eBay, another reader attests, foster such strong bonds between users that the wild world of online auctions can be as cozy and comfortable as a small-town shop.

Stone is a senior writer for BusinessWeek Online in New York

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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