41 eBay and second-hand buying tips
Tricks and tools to hunt hidden bargains
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 has 41 tips, from auto-bidding to seal deals to more top ways to buy second-hand.
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. Wrongly spelled products attract fewer bids because many people miss them.
As @buttababes tweeted:
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.
Double-check delivery charges, as some sellers try to recoup costs by charging a little extra (though eBay's now set maximum delivery charges for many categories).
Get alerts on favourite items
If you want something very specific or hard to track down, you can 'save' the search, so eBay sends an email each time a seller lists your desired item.
This is brill if you like buying on eBay, but don't want to spend your life hunched over the site.
Simply type a product in eBay's search bar, such as "Star Wars Lego Millennium Falcon", click 'search', and then click the 'Save this search' next to the blue heart. Be as specific as possible for the most accurate results. Then, when someone clears out the loft and lists one, an email pops into your inbox.
This works for MSE Jenny:
I saw a pair of ankle boots I liked for £110. Set up an eBay alert, a month later someone listed them and I got them virtually new for £20.
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 it's really a bargain.
Use comparison sites that whizz to scores of internet retailers to find the cheapest price.
For tips on how to slash the cost of buying anything and everything online, see the Cheap Online Shopping guide.
Find super-cheap local bargains
Whether 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.
Yet you can't search for "pick up only" on eBay, so we built the free Local eBay Deals Mapper tool to speedily track and map gems near you.
The results can be powerful, such as this from MoneySaver Jen_Jen1985: "Had been looking for a double buggy – most ended up selling for around £40. I found one via the Local Deals Finder and ended up winning it for £1.24."
Plus this from Kernow666: "I got a guy’s huge £1,000+ Lego Technic collection, which he was forced to sell as he was moving in with his girlfriend, for £175."
Turn your phone's camera into a fun 'Is it cheaper on eBay?' checker
Spotted a pricey skirt, sideboard or scooter and want to know if you can find similar on eBay for a bargain price? Whether you've seen clothes in a shop or spotted furniture on a blog, we've an easy trick to track down similar items available on the site.
Download and open the free eBay app, then tap the search bar followed by the camera symbol, point your phone's camera at the item and snap a photo – the app will search eBay for matching objects and list lookalike items for sale.
When we tested this, the items listed were not always identical, but many were along the same lines. For example, we took a photo of a £4,040 sofa, and it produced a dead ringer for sale, new, at £297 buy-it-now. Though we can't attest to its quality.
Remember, this is a fun checker. While it may suggest items that are visually similar to a posher brand, we can't guarantee the quality or materials will match up. You'll need to do your own checks.
If an item has a clear brand or title, such as a book or DVD, it's easier to search in the traditional way, using that. We searched for a book with a bird on the cover with the photo checker, and it suggested hundreds of different books about birds.
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.
Fill in the search box and tick 'sold items' on the left-hand bar. It'll come up with a list of prices similar auctions have fetched. Sort by "Lowest price" and don't pay more than the average.
Use 'best offers' to see if they'll 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.
You can filter to see items where sellers will consider offers by ticking 'Accepts Offers' on the left hand bar.
If it's an auction listing, putting in a low offer before anyone else bids can be a great way to pick something up for less without getting into a bidding war.
You get three chances to make an offer per item. As a rule of thumb, starting at a 50% off asking price and working your way up is often a good strategy – as long as the asking price is reasonable, of course.
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 with names like "exclusive info" or "tools of great interest".
Other sellers flog mobile phone Sim unlocking codes for as much as £10, when you can do this for nowt (see Mobile Phone Unlocking).
To our great distaste, links to this site have been sold to the highest bidder. In the past, people have sold bank charge reclaiming template letters, as well as links to tools from the site.
Use Google to check exactly what you're bidding for. If it's just "information", you'll usually find the same elsewhere for free.
Win auctions with a free sniping tool
Spotted 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.
For a free auction sniper, try Gixen, which is rated by forumites.
During sign up you'll have to authorise Gixen to place bids for you on eBay (you can remove this at any time via your eBay account settings). You won't need to give Gixen your eBay password, and it says to use different passwords for each site.
To use it, once signed up, you simply enter an eBay* item number and the maximum price you're willing to pay. This also stops you getting carried away in a last minute bidding war.
Think twice about using a sniping site to bid on items you've got your heart set on, as sometimes they can play up.
A BIG warning. Some sniping sites ask for your eBay password, which is a serious security concern and there's little protection from eBay if things do go wrong, as you willingly gave your password to a third party.
If you do sign up, never use the same password for eBay as you do for other accounts, such as banks or email.
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.
To contact the seller, click 'ask a question'. If you're polite and charming, you'll get further. Blunt requests such as "will u take 50p" are usually a mistake. They annoy the seller, and a discount is at their discretion.
Once you've clinched the deal, keep the transaction within eBay – just ask the seller to add (or change) a buy-it-now price. For 20 tips on haggling beyond the web, see the High Street Haggling guide.
Include delivery charges in the total 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.
Do a search, then sort items by 'Lowest price + P&P'. Of course, auction listings' prices could still rise, but on buy-it-now items this instantly shows the cheapest.
Always double-check postage charges before bidding. Some sellers try to supplement their income by charging higher rates, though eBay is cracking down on this by specifying a maximum postage amount for many categories.
Sneaky tricks to exploit sellers' slip-ups
Some sellers make basic mistakes, leaving goods going for bargain money (read the eBay Selling Tricks guide to avoid these blunders).
As well as spelling howlers, another rookie error is leaving out key details (brand, shoe size, dimensions) or getting them wrong (saying a console's an Xbox when the photo shows a PS2, for example). At this point, many buyers give up as it's too much hassle.
So contact the seller to fill in gaps. They might not bother with the extra faff of adding it to the listing, so you might be the only one in the know.
Spotted a Fabergé egg listed as a "nice metal egg decorated with enamel"? It's worth knowing eBay only lets sellers do major edits to their listings before the first bid is received.
Once bidding starts, they can only add small updates. So if the start price is low, say 99p, bid before the seller cottons on. Then it will be too late to properly fix it.
Find auctions closing in the dead of night
Listings that finish at anti-social times often get fewer bids, so sell for less.
To locate auctions that finish in the dead of night, use BidKit's Night Time Auction search.
Don't fancy burning the midnight oil? Combine this trick with auto-bidding tools that bid on your behalf while you're deep in the land of nod.
New to eBay? Buy some small items to start learning 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.
So it's a good idea for newbies to learn the ropes by bidding on a few small items, such as books or pants. This way, you can learn how the bidding system works before graduating to more costly wares.
Want to check if an item's legit? Why not post it on the MSE Forum's eBay board? Experts in there will tell you whether it looks dodgy.
Search items' titles and 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.
Just tick 'include description' under the search button.
For example, imagine you were searching for a North Face jacket. The seller may have just put 'ski jacket' in the title, but mentioned North Face in the description.
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 score of at least 30.
Think twice before purchasing expensive items from a seller with zero feedback. Also ensure you read their feedback from selling, not just buying (click on their username, then 'see all feedback').
Remember feedback's useful, but not infallible. One thing to watch for is traders flogging a few things for 10p each to build feedback, and suddenly listing iPhones at £500 a pop.
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.
Don't enter a round number. For example, if a bycycle is currently selling for £7, and the most you are willing to pay is about £40, consider entering a maximum bid of something like £41.54. If someone else bids £40, eBay will favour your bid.
It's worth being aware of bid increments, the steps by which prices rise. They vary from 5p to £100, depending on the current price. For a list, see eBay's Bid Increments guide.
Check you're bidding 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.
Often the catch is hidden in the text at the end – an attempt to protect the seller from any comeback.
In an extreme example, in the past some people have bid on eBay to win a £200 laptop, and then inspection of the small print revealed they were actually buying a box.
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.
Avoid wasting your time by asking the seller what the reserve is. They may tell you where to go, but it's always worth a shot.
If you bid and don't meet the item's reserve price, you can bid again – without waiting for anyone else to bid against you. If you submit a bid over the reserve price and no one else bids higher, you'll only pay the reserve.
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.
Often sellers don't realise they're sitting on treasure, and list goods at a fixed price below market value.
These steals are snapped up quickly. The trick's to select a category you're clued up on, filter it to show buy-it-now items only and sort the results by "newly listed". Scan through until you spot underpriced goodies, then swoop in.
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.
This applies to both new and second-hand items. It should be easy to tell if someone's a trader – look for "registered as a business seller" on their profile.
With private sellers it's caveat emptor, or 'let the buyer beware'. Buyers' only rights under law are that the product is fairly described and the owner has the right to sell it. There's little legal comeback.
It's also worth noting that under eBay's Money Back Guarantee buyers are eligible for a refund if the item's not as described, ie, if it doesn't match the seller's description of it.
Your right to change your mind within 14 days
Buy from a business seller using an auction or the buy-it-now button, and Consumer Contracts Regulations also apply.
Under the regulations, buyers who want to return something they've bought online – even if they've just changed their mind – have 14 working days after the date of delivery to notify the seller. You'll be able to get a refund for the item plus the cost of the least expensive delivery option. If you chose a more expensive delivery, you'll have to cover the difference.
After cancelling your order you'll then have 14 days to send the item back, and may have to pay to do so. Read eBay's returns guide for more help.
Always complain within 30 days of delivery
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.
The full details are in eBay's Money Back Guarantee.
Pay by card or Paypal
Avoid sending cheques and never use money orders. It's much harder for scammers to vanish with your cash when you use a card or PayPal and it means you're covered by eBay's Money Back Guarantee scheme. If an item is faulty, counterfeit or non-existent, you'll be far more likely to see a refund.
Paypal purchases aren't covered by Section 75
Usually if you pay on a credit card – for items that cost £100+ – you get valuable extra protection. This is because Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 says if you pay for something costing between £100 and £30,000, specifically on a credit card, the card company is jointly liable with the retailer.
However, using PayPal scuppers these Section 75 rights. This isn’t so much of an issue on eBay, as there’s no option to pay directly a seller directly anyway. Yet as an ever-growing number of retailers now encourage customers to pay via PayPal, it’s worth being aware. Read Martin’s full Warning! Don’t use PayPal to pay on a credit card guide for more.
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.
Send a friendly message such as: "Hi, I'm interested in your cappuccino machine. Please let me know if the sale falls through."
They may send a second-chance offer, which are sent out by sellers to unsuccessful bidders if the winner fails to pay up. If you forgot to bid and the item didn't sell, ask them to relist it at an agreed buy-it-now price.
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.
Some of the most commonly faked goods include Tiffany jewellery, GHD hair stylers, designer handbags, Ray-Ban sunglasses, branded golf clubs, celebrity autographs, Ugg boots and Montblanc pens.
If you're buying these or other big-name brands, do your research first. Carefully check sellers' feedback and post on the forum's eBay board to garner others' opinions. Be especially wary of overseas sellers or branded items that seem especially cheap.
The more unprofessional the photos, the better. Scammers often lift professional photos from brands' sites – legit sellers usually take photos of the item at home.
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. Most are decent people who will try to help.
Bear in mind that eBay users can view the feedback you've left for others, and some sellers even go so far as blocking buyers who repeatedly leave cranky comments.
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. Just hit 'watch this item' on the top right.
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.
Another ploy is for a seller to say "before bidding, contact me" and ask for a money transfer. Some scammers hijack bona fide eBay accounts often use this tactic.
Alarm bells should ring if you're asked to pay by an instant money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Instant money transfer payments cannot be traced at all in cases of fraud, and are highly popular with scammers.
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 with a friend, or failing that, tell someone exactly where you are going and arrange to contact them afterwards.
Take a mobile phone, and stay on the doorstep if possible. If a listing or email looks dodgy, trust your gut and walk away.
Go global for a better chance of bagging a bargain – but factor in postage and customs
There are bargains to be had on overseas eBay sites, eg, MoneySavers rate eBay USA for cheap plus-size clothes. (Of course, depending on currency fluctuations, the price in pounds might rise or fall.)
To include overseas auctions in search results, click 'worldwide' for location in the left-hand bar.
Can't find what you want? Another option is buying direct from international eBay sites. The main ones are USA, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain. Though check that it says "shipping to: worldwide" before bidding – some sellers only do business with local buyers.
Always factor in postage fees. If a seller hasn't listed shipping charges to the UK, get them to confirm them via the 'ask seller a question' button before bidding. Otherwise you could be subjected to to sky-high charges.
Plus remember that if the item's not for you, return postage fees could be hefty.
Factor in customs bills
Overseas goodies can look cheap, until you add postage, VAT and customs duty. It makes it easier if the seller is using eBay's Global Shipping Programme. This is where eBay manages the international postage and customs process for the seller.
When you buy via the Global Shipping Programme, all 'Import Charges' are clearly listed under the postage fees, so you know what you'll pay before you check out. Look for auctions labelled 'No additional import charges on delivery'. This means you shouldn't have to pay any extra fees on arrival.
For help on buying from the EU, see the Beware extra charges on online EU orders MSE News story.
Try your luck on classified sites
With local classified sites, you usually collect in person and pay cash on collection.
The king of local classified sites is Gumtree, which covers the whole of the UK and sells everything from bikes to beds. Interestingly, Gumtree is owned by eBay. It was bought in May 2005, probably as eBay started to identify it as competition. Thankfully this hasn't affected its free community-based operations.
Many MoneySavers rate second-hand site Preloved*. It's free to join, but to get first dibs on bargains and contact sellers within 10 days of ads going live, you need its 'full' membership, which costs £5/year.
Also worth a look is smartphone app Shpock, which bills itself as a virtual car boot sale. Sellers set an asking price, then buyers make offers, by hitting the ‘private offers’ tab.
Check out online forums, Loot and your local paper too.
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.
Instead of being chained to your computer to check how your auction bid is getting on, eBay's mobile app lets you keep tabs on items you're interested in, alerts you when auctions are about to close and allows you to place bids.
The app even has a barcode scanner to let you check the price of new purchases in store against its listings.
Check out Amazon Marketplace
Holding a candle to eBay's size, Amazon* has a second-hand marketplace for most of the products it sells new. When you search for an item, the secondhand price is listed, when available. It offers 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.
Why not make it a rule that you'll never spend more on eBay each month than you've earned through the site? eBay profiles list a history of your recent purchases and sales, so it's easy to keep track.
Free sofas, beds, TVs, bikes and more
Instead of dumping goods or eBaying them, people harness the web's power to offer them to their local communities. For a full step-by-step guide, see Freecycle & Freegle Tips.
Buy stolen goods... legally
Pssst... wanna buy some stolen goods? Don't worry, it's all legal. Many police forces in England and Wales sell lost property or goods seized from criminals online when they can't find the rightful owners.
Unsurprisingly, the most common categories are those most likely to be stolen – bicycles, cameras, jewellery and TVs. Read the Buying Stolen Goods guide for a full how-to.
Play real-life Storage Hunters
Ever watched Storage Hunters, the US show where people bid for the mystery contents of storage units? Now you can do it yourself, with lost luggage.
When airlines are unable to reunite lost bags with their rightful owners, they often sell them off via specialist auction houses, usually for £10-£75.
The catch is you don’t always know what's inside the cases. But pick a winner and profits are possible from selling it on. There's a full how-to in the Lost Luggage Auctions guide.
Buy on local Facebook groups
Also try local Facebook selling groups, where instead of eBaying second-hand goods, people harness the social network's power to sell to others in their area.
See Facebook Buying Tips for a crash course on finding local groups, using Facebook Marketplace, closing deals and staying safe when collecting.
Buy vintage clothes by the kilo
'Buy by the kilo' clothes events are well worth a look if you love a rummage, as they are essentially large-scale pop-up vintage sales. The idea is you browse through tons of retro clothes, then pay by weight, typically at around £15 per kilo.
The big name doing this is Preloved Kilo. It usually runs events in several different cities each weekend – it changes each week, but events take place across England, Scotland and Wales. You can find a full list of events on the Preloved Kilo Facebook pages.
There are changing rooms and mirrors, plus scales dotted around, so you can see how much you can expect to pay. There are also bags and accessories sections.
MSE Laura H enjoyed an event in Bournemouth:
I bagged a gorgeous dress and three blouses for just £13 at a kilo sale, plus the £1.50 entry fee [see small pic above]. My favourite thing about it is I know no one else will have these items too, so they're totally unique.
Here's how it works:
- You pay an entry fee on the door or in advance. Preloved Kilo usually charges £1.50. Under-12s are free. It's worth following its Facebook page, as it releases a limited number of free tickets for every event as it's announced.
- You usually pay by weight – and it's c.£15 a kilo. If you buy more or less than a kilo, you're only charged for the exact weight, eg, half a kilo is £7.50. There's no min or max spend.
At Preloved Kilo sales, with certain items there's a maximum price no matter how much they weigh. For example, you could pay a max of £15 for a leather jacket or a max of £10 for a handbag – even if the item weighs more than a kilo. Shoes are usually a flat £5 per pair.
- Small accessories are priced individually. At events there are accessories sections run by separate companies, selling items such as sunglasses and jewellery starting from £1 or £2. These aren't priced by weight.
This is a new concept and we don't have much feedback on it yet, so if you attend an event, we'd love to hear how you got on.
Of course, don't forget a worthy alternative to this is looking for vintage bargains in your local charity shop. See MSE Jenny's Charity shop bargain-hunting tricks blog for help.
- You pay an entry fee on the door or in advance. Preloved Kilo usually charges £1.50. Under-12s are free. It's worth following its Facebook page, as it releases a limited number of free tickets for every event as it's announced.
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