Successful ebay Buying Strategies

In our first article, we discussed how to find great deals on ebay: how to avoid fakes, what research you need to do, and how to analyze a listing. In this post we’ll look more closely at successful ebay buying strategies to help you get the best price possible. And once again, we have Matthew from LuxeSwap to help us out.

Step 3: Ask Questions about the Item

When we asked Matthew whether potential buyers should contact a seller, his response was pretty definitive. “PLEASE ask! A well informed buyer means less trouble for both parties after the purchase.”

There are basically two categories of questions you should ask the seller.

Questions about the item: These questions focus on the specifics in the listing. Requests for additional measurements or photographs, asking about a detail in the item Description, and questions about the item’s provenance all fall into this category.

Questions about the seller: These questions are a little trickier. “Sellers of high-end merchandise are really selling themselves,” Matthew says. “So you need to ask questions that give them an opportunity to prove their expertise. The goal is to compare their answers and advice to what you know from your research.” Obviously the specific questions will be different for each item, but in general they should focus on the kind of information only an expert would know. And there are some key indicators you can always look for. How long does it take the seller to respond to your message? Did the seller answer all your questions? Does the response sound professional? Does the seller sound friendly? If you’re not feeling comfortable with seller’s response to any of the above, dig deeper. Remember the world of ecommerce can get complicated so it’s worth checking out for some guidance if things aren’t going to plan.

Pro Tips for Questions
  • Make your questions as specific as possible. “Does this fit big?” is not a specific question. “How do these shoes fit compared to a size 8.5 Crockett and Jones?” is a specific question.
  • If you’re asking for additional measurements, again, be specific about the information you want. Chest: circumference 1″ under the armpit or armpit to armpit across the front; sleeve length: from the top of the shoulder to the cuff or from the armpit to the cuff; waist: laying flat across the front. You get the idea.
  • And the same goes for photographs. Ask for pics of the suit’s care tags if they’re not offered in the listing. For shoes, ask for photos of the manufacturer’s logo, the serial number and the sizing information normally found inside the shoe.
successful ebay buying strategies
Example of a shoe’s serial number from a typical LuxeSwap listing.
Step 4: Buy the Item

You’ve done your research, established the maximum price you’re willing to pay, analyzed the listing, and you feel comfortable with the seller’s answers to your questions. Time to put down your hard earned cash and buy the item. What’s your strategy now?

It’s going to depend on the type of listing. Ebay has three different ways to purchase products: “Buy It Now”, “Or Best Offer”, and Auctions.

Buy It Now (BIN)

Buying an item in a BIN listing is basically the same as buying from any other e-commerce site, so it’s the easiest way for a novice to make a purchase. The price is fixed and there’s no negotiating with the seller.

successful ebay buying strategies
Typcial BIN listing for a Tom Ford suit

Many “New with tags” items are sold using BIN listings, so your main objective is to determine if the BIN price is reasonable. Start by looking at Completed Listings for similar items and compare prices. If the item’s popular or common (for example a current model of sunglasses or watch), compare the BIN price with prices from other e-commerce sites (Amazon, department stores websites, specialty websites) and even your local dealers. You may find the same item on sale for less somewhere else.

successful ebay buying strategies
Price comparison for Tom Ford Snowdons on ebay and Amazon

BIN prices are also sometimes included in “Or Best Offer” listings and, more rarely, auctions. So if you’re willing to pay the price the seller is asking, you can skip all the negotiations and bidding.

Or Best Offer (OBO)

Buying from an OBO listing means you need to know at least the basics of negotiating. An OBO listing will give a “Buy It Now” price and then have the option for you to enter your best price. Once they’ve agreed on a Best Offer, both the buyer and the seller are committed to completing the transaction at that price and the listing ends.

successful ebay buying strategies
Example of an OBO listing from LuxeSwap

Of course the key to getting a great deal is offering the right price at the start. So how do you do you know where to begin? “It really depends on the item and the amount of time it’s been listed. But in general I would start with a price that’s 40% to 45% of the BIN price,” Matthew suggests. “Any lower and you may insult the seller, which isn’t good. Normally, after some negotiating, a Best Offer of 20% to 30% off the BIN is accepted by a typical seller.”

So why not just start with an offer of 20% to 30% off the BIN price and be done with it? Well, if the item has been re-listed a few times (i.e. it hasn’t sold), then you may get more of a discount. The same may be true if the listing is close to ending. Remember that sellers are human beings, and circumstances we’re unaware of may motivate them to sell quickly at a lower price. It doesn’t hurt to start with a lower offer. The worst that can happen is the seller says no.

Pro Tips for OBO Listings
  • Always keep your maximum final price in mind. This is the price (item price plus shipping costs) you will absolutely not go above. Your research into the item and Completed Listings is going to give you a good idea of what that final price should be.
  • When you make your Best Offer, you’ll have the option of adding a message to the seller. Matthew (and many others) recommend doing this. Let the seller know you’re interested in the item and open to negotiation. Also tell the seller that you pay immediately. If you’ve already asked the seller questions about the item (Step 3), then this will also help re-establish communication.
successful ebay buying strategies
The Make an Offer lightbox.
  • Normally, you can make up to three Best Offers on an item, so use those opportunities wisely.
  • Sellers can either straight out reject your Best Offer or they can counter offer. If the seller does send a counter offer, then you know they’re also serious about negotiating with you. You have the option of accepting the counter offer, rejecting their counter offer or making a counter offer of your own. Remember, you have three chances to submit your Best Offer before you either have to accept the seller’s counter offer or walk away.
  • If the seller does reject your initial Best Offer, try increasing your price by 5% with the next Best Offer. The goal is to get to a price that is equal to or (even better) under the maximum price you’re willing to pay. Again, on average, that magic number should come close to 20% to 30% off the BIN price.

Two things. First, you can get some AMAZING deals when you use auctions. Second, auctions are not for beginners, especially when it comes to high end or luxury items. So we’re just going to cover the basics here.

There are three factors that make auctions difficult: knowing how much to bid, knowing when to bid, and having the discipline to stop when the bidding exceeds your maximum price. There are definitely strategies for the first two. The third one is mostly up to your own self-control (although there are some tools that can help; see below).

successful ebay buying strategies
Typical ebay Auction listing for a Tom Ford suit.

Let’s start with how much to bid. Auction listings will display a starting price. So, if you’re the first bidder (and you should never be the first bidder!) you know your bid needs to be equal to or higher than that price. Again, looking at recently Completed Listings will give us a good idea of the bidding increments that were used in past auctions.

How to find bidding increments in Completed Listings.

First, run a search for the item you’re interested in. On the search results page, go to the ebay filters and select “Auctions” under Format and “Sold listings” under Show Only.

successful ebay buying strategies successful ebay buying strategies

Click on one of the listings from the filtered search results. On the next screen, you will see the following information about the listing. Click on the number of bids next to the “Winning Bid” price.

successful ebay buying strategies

The next screen will show you the bidding history for this listing. You’re looking for two things on the Bid History screen: the increments between each bid amount and the time between each bid.

successful ebay buying strategies
Bidding history for a LuxeSwap completed auction. This listing had an opening price of $9.99 and was live for 10 days.

Let’s talk bid amounts. Some people swear that bidding weird numbers, like $243.57, are the key to winning auctions. “In my experience those odd numbers don’t hurt, but they don’t really help as much as people think,” Matthew says. “It always comes down to who has the highest bid at the end, and a couple of pennies don’t usually matter in auctions for luxury goods.” So unless you really know how to work the system, it’s better to just bid your maximum amount at the right time. And, as we’ve said repeatedly, your maximum amount should be based on your research. But if you’re still interested in learning more about using the odd number strategy, this article gives a good overview.

Knowing When to Bid

If the maximum price you’re willing to pay basically controls the amount of your bid, then timing must be the key to winning an auction, right? “It’s all about the last five minutes,” Matthew explains. “And if bidding on an item is really active, then the last few seconds matter the most.” Looking again at the Bidding History example above, we see that 28 of the 43 bids were made on the last day of the auction. And of those 28 bids, four were made in the last 25 seconds when the price jumped from $240.00 to $345.00. If you wanted to win this auction, you definitely needed to be active in the last 3 to 5 seconds.

Conclusions: The best bidding strategy for a novice isn’t complicated. Know your maximum bid price and place your bid seconds before the auction ends. And if the current bid is already higher than your maximum, walk away. That’s it. Need proof this is true? Look one last time at our Bidding History example:

successful ebay buying strategies

The bidder who came in second bid 27 times over the 10 days of the auction, tried using odd number bidding a few times, and placed his last bid a second after the winning bid.

And the winner? Well, he only bid once during the entire auction. But it was the right bid at the right time.

Okay, so maybe the intensity and stress that come with live bidding in an auction aren’t for you. There are a couple of tools you can use to help.

Automatic Bidding

The first tool is ebay’s own Automatic Bidding.

You don’t need to set anything up to use Automatic Bidding. Simply enter the absolute highest price you’re willing to pay as your Bid on the listing page, click the “Place Bid” button, and confirm the amount. Ebay takes over from there. The automated system will keep placing bids on your behalf, based on predetermined increments, until the current bid exceeds your maximum amount (ebay never reveals your maximum bid amount to other users). If you have the highest maximum bid, and the bidding never reaches your maximum bid amount, then you pay the amount of the second highest bid plus the bid increment.

For example, if you had a maximum bid amount of $400, and the second highest bid at the end of the auction was $350.00, you would win and pay $350.00 + $5.00 Bid Increment = $355.00. You can learn more about automatic bidding and the bid increments ebay uses in this article.

successful ebay buying strategies
Bidding history showing automatic bids (light grey text). We can see that each automatic bids increase by $2.50 increments over the previous bid, until the price crosses $250.00. At that point, the automatic bids increase by $5.00 increments.
When should I enter my maximum bid?

Why don’t we just enter our maximum bid amount as early as possible? There’s one main reason not do this. When other users see that you’ve started bidding on an item, they’re more likely to get involved. And the participation of other bidders that early quickly increases the price of the item. Remember that every time another user submits a bid, ebay will automatically submit a bid on your behalf to beat it. Which means, even if the final price is lower than your maximum bid amount, you’re still paying more than you needed to. This is especially true for auctions where the price is $500.00 and up. At that threshold, the automatic bidding increment is $10.00, so each bid effectively raises the price by that amount. And if the auction price is over $1000? The bidding increment increases to $25.00. It can add up fast!

So entering your maximum bid amount as close as possible to the end of the auction is still the best strategy.

Sniping Software

The second tool is sniping software. “Sniping” basically means entering your maximum bid amount as close as possible to the end of the auction. Yep, the novice strategy we’ve been talking about is sniping. Sniping software just automates this process for you.

successful ebay buying strategies
There are many different sniping services and apps available. Gixen is one that frequently gets mentioned. Click on the image above to go their page.

Like ebay’s automatic bidding system, you tell the sniping software the maximum amount you are willing to pay for an item. However, unlike ebay’s automatic bidding, sniping software does NOT automatically raise your bid in response to every other bid. Instead it waits until the last few seconds of the auction to submit your maximum bid.

The good? You won’t attract other users with your early bidding activity, thereby raising the price. By waiting until the last few seconds to bid, other users have very little time to try and beat your final bid. And since you bid only once at the very end of the auction, you avoid the temptation to raise your maximum price if the bidding exceeds that amount (unless this happens earlier than the last minute of the auction, when you still have time to change your max bid in the software).

The bad? You only get one shot at winning. Either your max amount tops everyone else’s or it doesn’t. But, if you’ve done your research, then your maximum bid amount will be both a number you’re comfortable with and a number you think is a fair price for the item. And anytime you can pay that amount or less, you’ve won.


Step 5: Communicating with the Seller

Congratulations! The seller accepted your Best Offer or you won your auction! You’ve received your item and it’s everything you dreamed it would be. Now sign in to ebay and give the seller a positive rating. It’s good karma. If you don’t know how to leave feedback for the seller, check out this article.

But what if the item has a flaw?

If the item arrives damaged or there’s a problem with it that the seller didn’t disclose, the first thing to know is you have options. Both ebay and Paypal offer buyers a certain level of protection, and if the seller really did try to cheat you, you can use either or both of those services to help you get your money back.

But before you escalate any claims to that level, you should first contact the seller directly. “Sellers are only human,” Matthew says. “Mistakes will happen. But reputable sellers will do their best to resolve any issues. That’s an important part of our reputation and we take it seriously.”

There are a few things you as a buyer can do to help this process. First, keep the communication friendly. Yes, you’re disappointed with your purchase, maybe even angry. But don’t automatically assume the seller was trying to scam you. The fact is, sometimes flaws get missed. And if the seller communicated with you professionally before the sale, there’s no reason to think that will change now. So give them the benefit of the doubt at first.

Second, be specific about the problem and what you want from the seller. If the problem is minor (for example, a torn pant pocket), it’s not unreasonable to ask the seller to refund you the cost of fixing it. If the problem is major (the soles fell off the shoes when you took them out the box), it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a refund. Just be clear about it.

Third (and this one is hard), be patient. When you first write the seller, don’t expect a response within 5 minutes. Again, it’s understandable that you’re upset and want answers NOW! But the seller has a business to run and may not even see your email until the end of the day. At the very least, consider how long it took him or her to reply to your messages before the sale.

Okay, I did all that and the seller STILL won’t respond. Now what?

If you’ve given the seller a reasonable amount of time to respond to your complaint, and you still haven’t heard anything, it’s time to take things to the next level. Gather up all your communications and records and take your case to ebay or Paypal. They’ll know what to do next.


Final Thoughts

Okay, so these were loooonnnnng posts packed with information. Main takeaways? Like most things in life, success on ebay is a combination of preparation, timing and experience. The five steps we’ve discussed won’t guarantee you a win every time. But if you follow them, you should start winning more than you lose. One of the keys to finding great deals is feeling confident about your own knowledge, your own skills, and the people you’re dealing with. I hope these articles help you gain that confidence. Happy hunting!

To read Part 1, click here.

Neither LuxeSwap nor Gixen compensated or remunerated the author or Iconic Alternatives in any way for their inclusion in this article.

Iconic Alternatives

The search for classic and affordable menswear, inspired by the style icons of today and yesterday.

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