Most of us come to Iconic Alternatives to find quality, affordable alternatives that let us capture Bond’s look without destroying our bank accounts. But MAN! It sure would be nice if we could get our hands on some Cucinelli, Ford or a pair C & Js of our own. So why not try ebay? You can always find great deals on ebay, right?
Well, one reason we don’t try ebay is because, for us novices, it’s kind of a scary place. Fakes are everywhere. Prices are moving targets. We’re supposed to have some kind of complex bidding strategy if we want to win auctions. And if we do buy a used Tom Ford, we can never feel 100% sure the suit won’t show up with a big hole in it. We’re bound to get screwed one way or another!
So we have a choice. Pretend all those great deals on ebay don’t exist and keep our shopping confined to Amazon. Or get some expert help.
We went the “ask an expert for help” route.
Matthew, the owner of LuxeSwap, kindly offered to assist us first time ebay buyers. LuxeSwap specializes in selling new and pre-worn high-end luxury clothing on ebay: Edward Green and John Lobb shoes, Canali and Zegna suits, Brioni sport coats, Tom Ford and Turnbull and Asser ties. More impressive is the fact that LuxeSwap currently has a 100% Positive Feedback rating after completing close to 23,000 transactions over the last 16 years. Matthew’s gotten so good at this that he’s known as the man who “thrifted” a Ferrari.
Yeah, when it comes to learning how to find great deals on ebay, Matthew is our guy. Now let’s get started!
The General Overview
Is that $1500 Tom Ford suit a fake?
First, let’s deal with one of the big questions: Can you really save 50% to 70% on a brand new, genuine, $5000 Tom Ford suit on ebay?
Yes, you can.
How is this possible? “Clothing is meant to be worn, so it rarely holds its original value,” Matthew explains. “Unlike a precious metals, people don’t consider clothing an ‘investment’ and it depreciates pretty quickly.” Basically, clothing designers are committed to producing new styles each season and stores are expected to buy X number of units of these new styles. Which means unsold inventory from the past season needs to be cleared out to make space. And, thanks to the marketing efforts to promote the new offerings, this old inventory has significantly less perceived value. Professional sellers buy this old stock and sell it on ebay at discounted prices.
What about used clothes?
You can find even more value when you start looking at pre-owned clothing. “That’s like a new car. As soon as you drive it off the lot, the re-sale value drops dramatically,” Matthew explains. “It’s a ‘used’ car now, even if you only drove it a couple of miles. It’s the same with some pre-worn clothing.” And that’s why a Brunello Cucinelli linen blazer can go from approximately $3000 full retail to $700 “new with tags” on ebay to around $400 if it’s pre-owned, even if it still looks brand new.
Of course there’s a greater risk when you buy pre-worn clothes. The truth is most used clothing is sold “as is” and the seller hasn’t done much to clean it up or repair it for re-sale. “But a good seller is going to be very honest about the condition of the garment,” says Matthew. “They’ll include lots of pictures in the listing, including close-up shots of any flaws, rips or stains, so the buyers know exactly what they’re getting. We want to make sure the customer is happy because our reputation on ebay is key for our business. But buyers also have to be realistic. ‘Used’ is never going to be the same as ‘new’.”
As long as the damage isn’t too major, clean ups and fixes can be pretty inexpensive for the buyer. “I’ve seen buyers pay $100 for a pair of used high end shoes that haven’t been cared for,” Matthew continues. “They give them a good clean and polish and then re-sell them for $300.”
What types of clothing offer the best deals on ebay?
There are different market forces at play when it comes to determining the “best deals”. A specific brand’s current popularity and how much of their product is out there both play important roles in setting a price.
But in general, clothing (suits, shirts, ties, sport coats) tend to offer the biggest savings for the reasons discussed above. Shoes, belts and other leather goods tend to hold their value more, even the used ones. According to Matthew, “Unlike suits and ties that change from season to season, men’s shoe styles remain relatively consistent. High-end brands will offer almost the same models year after year. So it’s easier for sellers to get closer to current market value for a pair of used shoes or last season’s model because they don’t look that different from this season’s.”
How can I spot a fake?
If there’s one mistake Matthew sees first time buyers making again and again it’s this: “They don’t do their due diligence. You can definitely find great deals on ebay, but you really need to do your research so you don’t get ripped off. And always remember: if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably fake.”
So before you even log onto ebay, you need to go to reputable sources to ascertain what the real item looks like and its retail price. If you can, inspect the item in person. If you can’t, then check out the brand’s own website and the websites of the stores that carry it’s products. Ask questions on men’s style forums. When you’re buying a suit, be sure you know who makes the suit for the brand and where. What’s the right fabric composition for the model you want? Focus on the details (buttons used, the lining color and pattern, stitching around the lapels and button holes). And, if possible, check out the labels and tags. Has the brand’s label changed over the years? What version do they use on the suit you’re looking at? What information is on the tag? And in what languages? Even if everything else is perfect, many fakes will miss these details.
The first step to getting a great deal (and protecting yourself from fakes) is knowing everything you can about the real thing. Educate yourself so you can compare your knowledge with the information in the listings. Once you’ve done that, then you can move onto the next steps.
Step 1: Finding what you want on ebay
You can search for listings on ebay two ways. The first option is to use ebay’s pre-set Categories and Filters. The second is to use keywords and the Search box. Both options have advantages and disadvantages.
Search using eBay’s Categories and Filters
With this option, you start with the Categories and then use ebay’s pre-established filters to keep narrowing down the results until you’ve found what you want. For example, you would use the Categories and Sub-categories “Men’s Clothing/Blazers and Sport Coats” to get to the first page of results. From here, you would use the filters, such as Jacket Size, Color, Style, Material, Condition, Price Range, etc. to get more specific results. The problem with this method? Some of the ebay filters can be either very long lists (I’m looking at you “Brand”!) or extremely limited (all blues are “Blue”). This can make it difficult to find an item with specific characteristics.
Using keywords and the Search box
According to Matthew, when it comes to searching for specific items on ebay, keywords are king. If you know what you want, he recommends entering a simple query into the Search box (for example, “Tom Ford blue suit” = 72 listings) and then adding more and more keywords to narrow down the results (“Tom Ford navy blue suit peak lapel 50” = 2 listings). According to Matthew, “Good sellers with experience know how to create their listings so they’re easy to find.” That means a good seller will have gone through the same thought processes as you to create their listing’s titles and descriptions.
The hard part about using keywords is finding the right balance between the general and the specific. Search for “distressed leather jacket” and the Search delivers close to 6000 results. Search for “men’s brown distressed leather jacket action back side adjusters large” and you get zero results.
So what option should I use?
The best approach is to try a mix of the two Search strategies. If you’re a little more flexible (you’re just looking for a “brown linen blazer”), start with some basic keywords (“men’s linen blazer”) and then try adding more keywords and using the eBay filters to narrow down the results. If you want something very specific, focus more on the exact keywords (brand name, model number, color, fabric pattern, size) and play around with different combinations (try both “40” and “50” in your search to cover U.S. and European sizing or try using “blazer” and “sport coat”). Using our earlier example of the leather jacket, searching for “men’s brown distressed leather jacket” and then using the filters for size, price and condition gets me down to 46 results.
- If you’re on a computer and using ebay’s filters, click on “see all” to open the multi-select lightbox. This will allow you to chose multiple filters (Color, Size, Price , etc.) without the results refreshing after each selection. It’s much more efficient, especially if you are looking for options from a variety of brands.
- If you use keywords, think about variations of a brand name or the ways it could be misspelled. Sellers are adding thousands of new listings to ebay every week, so a few mistakes or variations are bound to slip through. ebay’s search engine is actually pretty good at catching these errors or accounting for different spellings (especially for more popular brands) and will usually auto-correct for you. But sometimes you can find a deal because a seller didn’t use “and” in the brand name and listing has been difficult to find.
- If you’re using the “Price” filter, set the lowest price at $0.01. Some sellers start their auctions with a low asking price to generate interest. LuxeSwap, for example, starts all their auctions at $10, even for items they end up selling for hundreds of dollars.
- Some ebay buyers like to sort the Search results by “Time: ending soonest”, thinking this will help them find better deals. Basically, they’re looking for a) auctions that have less than 10 minutes left and a low number of bids and b) “Or Best Offers” where the seller might be getting desperate because the listing hasn’t seen much action and it’s about to expire. Some buyers swear by this strategy. Others aren’t too sure it works.
Step 2: Analyze the Listing
Once you’ve narrowed down your search results to a manageable number, the next step is look at the different listings and put your research to work!
Research the Seller
First, take a look at the seller. If you’re about to spend two thousand dollars on a suit, you want to be buying from someone with a solid reputation. So check out the number of completed transactions. Look at the positive feedback percentage. Obviously, more transactions and a higher percentage are better.
Also look at the seller’s profile page. How long have they been selling on ebay? Are there any negative comments from buyers? Read them. Buyers often have legitimate complaints, but sometimes they’re just being unreasonable; you should be able to tell what’s what from the comment. And finally, does the seller offer any type of guarantee or refunds if you have a problem with the item?
Look at the Pictures
If you’re happy with the seller, next take a look at the pictures in the listing. “If you’ve done your research about the product,” says Matthew, “the pictures are going to tell you most of what you need to know.” Are the photographs original? Or are they using pictures from the brand’s own website product page? Do the pictures show the item from multiple angles? Are there clear pictures of tags and labels? Are there pictures of product boxes and associated documentation? If you’re looking at a used item, are there closeups of any damage or wear and tear?
Some sellers include more detailed pictures in the item “Description” section of the listing. So make sure you scroll all the way down the page to see everything.
Read the Description
If the pictures look good, move on to the listing’s Description. Here again, your research about the product will pay off. Does the description accurately describe the item you see in the pictures? Does the seller offer complete information? At the very least, the seller should list the actual measurements of the garment along with the tagged size and information about the fabric or material. Some sellers will also offer information about construction (full canvas, Goodyear welted), features (number of pockets, side tab adjusters, vents, etc.), and fit. Do these details line up with what you know about the real product?
“You’re trying to determine if the seller knows what he or she is talking about,” Matthew explains. “Do they share enough detail? Are they the right details? Do they use the right terminology to describe construction, fits and fabrics? If they don’t, then it’s a definite warning sign.”
Is the price fair?
We’ll go into actual buying strategies a little later. Right now you need to decide if the price the seller is asking is reasonable or not. Time to do more research! “You need to use comparables, just like in real estate,” Matthew advises. “Start looking for Completed Listings similar to what you want to buy. These will give you an idea of the average price past buyers have paid. And this will let you establish a ‘fair price’ range for the item you’re looking at.”
If we look at our earlier example of the Brunello Cucinelli linen blazer, the seller was asking $425.00/Or Best Offer (OBO).
If we look at recent Completed Listings for Brunello Cucinelli linen blazers, we get the following:
Even though the “Auction” example we have is for a wool sport coat, it still gives us an idea of what buyers are willing to pay for Cucinelli jackets. Same with the “Best offer accepted” listing: we don’t know the final price paid, but we do know it was less than $350.
So is the seller asking a fair price? Of course, the condition of the jacket and how much you want it are important factors. But, in general, $425 seems high, considering similar jackets have sold for between $200 to $350 in the recent past. Now, how can you use this information to your advantage to get a great deal?
In our next post, we’ll look at the questions you need to ask a seller, buying strategies for “Or Best Offers” and auctions, and what do to if you have a problem with your purchase! Click here to go to Part 2.
LuxeSwap did not compensate or remunerate the author or Iconic Alternatives in any way for their inclusion in this article.