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40 eBay buying tips

Tricks & tools to hunt hidden bargains
40+ eBay tricks and second-hand bargain tips

eBay is a mammoth marketplace with millions of goods. Most people just bid, but there's a range of hidden tools and tricks to help you track down uber-bargains.

This guide offers 40 eBay and second-hand buying tips, with tools to find underpriced goods, exploit spelling mistakes and auto-bid to seal deals, plus police auction sites and more.

eBay is a mammoth marketplace with millions of goods. Most people just bid, but there's a range of hidden tools and tricks to help you track down uber-bargains.

This guide offers 40 eBay and second-hand buying tips, with tools to find underpriced goods, exploit spelling mistakes and auto-bid to seal deals, plus police auction sites and more.

Find super-cheap local bargains

eBay Bargain FinderWhether they're offering designer sofas, dishwashers, Wiis or children's books, sellers on eBay often specify items must be collected in person. As this often means fewer bids, there are bargains to be had.

Use spelling mistayke spotters

Many people can't spell, so they mistype their eBay entries. This English teacher's nightmare is a bargain hunter's dream.

Use tools to bag overlooked items

Often sellers start auctions at 99p or less, hoping a bidding war will erupt. Many items go unspotted, staying at this super-low price.

Set alerts to track rare items

Set alerts

If you want something very specific or hard to track down, you can 'follow' the search, so eBay sends an email each time a seller lists your desired item.

Don't assume eBay's cheapest

Many people assume that if it's on eBay*, it's automatically cheap, but this isn't always the case. With a few basic checks, it's easy to spot if you're really getting a bargain.

Check the eBay going rate for similar items

There's a quick way to glean an eBay product's market value and make sure you're getting a good deal.

Use the 'best offers' tool to see if a seller will do a deal

Some sellers say they'll consider 'best offers' on buy-it-now items. This is where you propose a figure, then they mull it over and tell you if it's a goer.

Don't pay for info

eBay bans the sale of intangible items, including recipes, dieting advice and, bizarrely, spells and spirits. Yet some Del Boy types still sell web addresses as "exclusive info/tools of great interest".

Win auctions with sniping tools

Sniping tools for eBaySpotted something you want to buy? The last thing you should do is bid on it. Bid early and competing buyers will bid back, forcing the price upwards. Instead, sneakily win auctions by swooping in and delivering a killer bid about 10 seconds before the deadline, leaving no time for others to fight back.

Haggling on eBay pays off

There's nothing wrong with asking for a discount, even if the listing doesn't show the 'make offer' logo. Haggling works best on buy-it-now listings, or auctions with a high start price and no bids.

Include delivery charges in the total costs

Delivery costs

For a true picture of the total cost, it is important to include the cost of delivery to make sure you really are getting a bargain.

Sneaky tricks to exploit sellers' slip-ups

Exploit eBay sellers slip upsSome sellers make basic mistakes, leaving goods going for bargain money (read the eBay Selling Tricks guide to avoid these blunders).

Find auctions closing in the dead of night

Listings that finish at anti-social times often get fewer bids, so sell for less.

New to eBay? Buy some small items to learn the ropes

In its essence, eBay's just a marketplace. While it's easy to snap up a scorcher, it's just as easy to get burnt.

Search items' titles and descriptions

Search item's titles & descriptions

eBay automatically searches for results with your specified words in their title. If you're not getting the results you want, try searching the item's description too.

Take feedback with a dose of scepticism

eBay sellers have a feedback rating that acts as a useful guide to whether they've dealt fairly in the past. As a guideline, look for a seller with more than 98% positive feedback, and a high feedback score of at least 30.

Bid a few extra pence to boost your bid's chances

When bidding, you enter a “maximum bid”, and eBay makes automatic bids on your behalf up to your limit.

Check you're bidding on the actual item

Big on the actual item!

Always read the whole description in detail before bidding, to help avoid any hidden catches and make sure you are buying what you think you are.

What if it's got a reserve?

Sellers occasionally list goods at a rock-bottom figure, but set a reserve, a hidden minimum price. These listings say "reserve not yet met". The seller hopes the low price will attract bidders, but don't want to part with it for that amount.

Sneakily find underpriced 'buy it nows'

Nowadays, bidding wars break out over many auctions thanks to eBay's size. So try hunting for buy-it-now bargains instead.

Got a top eBay buying tip that we haven't listed? Feed back in the eBay Buying Tips discussion.

Know your consumer rights

Know your consumer rights Buy from a trader – a person who makes or sells goods bought with the intention of resale – and you have the same statutory rights as when buying from a shop. This means your goods must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described. See the Consumer Rights guide for more info.

Always complain within 30 days

We want to sear a number onto your brain... 30. This is the number of days after the delivery date (or estimated delivery date if it doesn't turn up) you have to to open a case if you're unhappy with your purchase.

Pay by Paypal

Pay by Paypal

Avoid sending cheques and never use money orders. It's much harder for scammers to vanish with your cash when you use eBay's online payment system, PayPal and means you're covered by eBay's Buyer Protection scheme. If an item is faulty, counterfeit or non-existent, you'll be far more likely to see a refund.

Outbid? Don't write it off

Missed out on a desired item by pennies? Don't give up hope. As every seller knows, sales sometimes fall through when buyers change their minds.

Don't be duped by fakes

While eBay has a 'flag and remove' policy to help identify fakes, it's hard for it to stay on top of all knock-offs.

Think before you 'neg' a seller

Of course, much negative feedback is justified. Yet don't leave negative and neutral feedback - to 'neg' someone in eBay parlance - without trying to sort the issue with the seller first.

Use eBay's 'watch list' to track auctions

Want to keep track of an item without bidding on it? eBay lets you add items to a “watch list”, so you can relax knowing you'll get an email reminder before the auction ends.

Don't do private deals

Sellers may suggest you do a deal outside eBay for a cheaper price. But buy this way and you'll have less protection if things go pear-shaped.

Stay safe when picking up

If you're picking up in person, there are simple precautions you can take to make sure the transaction is a safe one.

Go global for a better chance of bagging a bargain

Go global when looking for eBay tipsThere are bargains to be had on overseas eBay sites, particularly the USA for clothes and gadgets.

Paypal purchases aren't covered by section 75

Pay even partly on a credit card for something more than £100, and Section 75 laws mean the card company's jointly liable for the whole amount - but this doesn't apply to purchases via Paypal.

Try your luck on classified sites

With local classified sites, you usually collect in person and pay cash on collection.

Keep track of auctions on the go

If you're bidding on a rare Beatles album you've always wanted, or have finally tracked down that limited edition film poster you've been struggling to find, you can keep track of your auctions when you're out and about.

Check out other auction sites

While eBay is massively dominant, eBid and CQout* are also sizeable auction sites. They charge sellers less than eBay, which means some prefer it. A useful shopbot for online auctions, Auction LotWatch lets you search items, and it trawls the big auction sites for you.

Alternative second-hand marketplaces

Holding a candle to eBay's size, Amazon* and Play.com have second-hand marketplaces for most of the products they sell new. When you search for an item the secondhand price is listed, where it's available, They offer a fixed price rather than an auction, making it an easy alternative.

Sell to fund your purchases

Got the eBay bug? Our 40+ eBay Selling Tricks guide offers a crash course in getting the most out of eBay as a seller.

Free sofas, beds, TVs, bikes and more

Hundreds of top-quality goodies are available daily for free. It's all about web communities, and the big names are Freecycle and Freegle.

Buy stolen goods... legally

Pssst... wanna buy some stolen goods? Don't worry, it's all legit. Many police forces in England and Wales use eBay-style site Bumblebee Auctions to sell lost property or goods seized from criminals when they are unable to find the rightful owners.

Airport lost baggage auctions

It’s a huge headache when your suitcase goes missing. Yet it happens so often, it’s generated a hidden mini-industry of auction houses selling airlines’ unclaimed suitcases.

Use Martin's Money Mantras

Before spending on anything, even on items found using the eBay Local Deals Mapper, use Martin's Money Mantras.

If you're skint, ask

Do I need it?

Can I afford it?

Can I find it cheaper anywhere else?

If you aren't skint, ask

Will I use it?

Is it worth it?

Can I find it cheaper anywhere else?