Expert Ebaying: 5 Secrets To Saving Big On Auction Sites
In more than two years of selling on Ebay there's one frustration I hear from shoppers more than anything else: "I got outbid at the last second!" If you're relatively new to the online auction world you're probably sick of bidding wars, sketchy sellers, and wading through illegible blocks of tiny print to find an item description. Before you give up and go back to paying retail prices at Amazon, consider that with the right tools and techniques you can often reduce the price you pay for an item by over 50% by buying from online auction sellers. This article will equip you with the secret techniques Ebay doesn't want you to know.
Why So Cheap?
Many people think that anything you can buy for half the retail price must be counterfeit or stolen. But consider that most of what you pay a large retail or web store is for overhead: renting commercial space, web site maintenance and design, employees, advertising, and so on. Many products are sold for more than double their cost and still barely cover these expenses!
In contrast, Ebay sellers operate small businesses with few or no employees and many sellers work out of a home office with no overhead at all. This means they can sell to you for less and still make money. Major retail stores build a reputation through expensive advertising and charge you higher prices to pay for it. Ebay's feedback system provides the same security by letting you gauge the seller's reliability with no extra cost.
The deals are out there, so how to you find them?
Tip #1: Don't Bid, Snipe!
Bidding at the last second is called "sniping." This is why you got outbid 2 seconds from the end that time you stayed up until 1 AM to babysit an auction you really wanted to win. Many people will check a listing periodically, rely on Ebay's smart bidding, or wait for Ebay's outbid-notices and then enter a new bid. Usually these people lose to last-minute bidders or get into bidding wars and pay too much.
Planning your schedule around an auction can be tedious and impractical. That's why most experienced "Ebayers" use sniping tools like Auction Stealer to place bids for them. These tools let you schedule a bid to be placed 1-20 seconds before the auction's end, greatly increasing your chances of winning and removing the risk that you'll forget or be otherwise occupied (or asleep) when the auction ends.
Set up your snipe 12-24 hours before the auction ends so you have some idea what the current price is. Remember that prices sometimes double in the last 12 hours because the auction is at the top of search results. For items you really want, be sure to set your snipe at the absolute maximum you're willing to pay - you won't have time to react to other people's bids! Remember that Ebay bidding rules still apply - Ebay will place bids up to your competitor's maximum even if your bid is entered in the last second of the auction, so make sure your maximum is higher.
Sniping tools do require access to your Ebay ID and password in order to place your bid, so be sure to thoroughly research a tool before creating an account. Many tools let you do a few snipes a week for free but place your bids in the last 10-30 seconds, instead of 1-10. This means that a paying subscriber would get the chance to outbid you. If you do a lot of shopping or bid on highly competitive items, a subscription will quickly pay for itself.
Tip #2: Timing Matters
Even if you use a sniping tool, it still matters when the auction ends. Since the majority of bidders don't snipe, you'll have less competition on the late-night, early-morning, and weekday auctions. Less competition means lower final price and a better chance of winning. Sort your search results by "Time Left" or "End Date." You can customize your display to show the actual ending date and time rather than the time remaining. This makes it easier to identify listings that are ending during off-peak hours.
Focus on sellers that only ship to your home country, or others in similar time zones. If you're competing with people from all over the world, it doesn't matter when the auction ends because it's always peak shopping somewhere.
Tip #3: Sorting is Your Friend
Sometimes it's better to buy than to bid. Unless you change your settings, all your searches will be sorted to show the items ending soonest. Most of these have bids already so the "Buy-It-Now" ("BIN") option is no longer displayed. These are the items everyone else is looking at too, so you're not interested in them. Force yourself to look away! You want to find the item that was just posted with a low "Buy-It-Now" by a seller who doesn't know what the item will sell for and made the BIN price too low.
First get rid of the auction listings. At the top left of the page, under Ebay's usually-irrelevant advertisements, you'll see three tabs. Clicking "Buy-It-Now" shows only fixed price listings and auctions that have no bids yet. Now sort by "Price: Lowest First" or "Time: Newly Listed" to see if there are any good deals that were recently added.
Now instead of fighting for the last minute items that everyone else is bidding on, you got a great deal immediately by being the first to find it!
Tip #4: Find the Hidden Store Items
"Ebay Stores" are like hidden storefronts within Ebay where medium and high-volume sellers can cheaply list their complete inventory. Sellers pay almost nothing to list items in their Ebay stores but there's a catch: Ebay will usually not include these items in search results (store items only show up if there aren't enough regular auctions to display). Ebay wants shoppers to bid on auctions that have higher listing fees.
Because the fees are cheaper and the items are harder to find, Ebay Stores will often have lower prices and less competition. But to find these items you have to dig a little.
If you're searching for something general like "Playstation Games" or want to find a seller with a good selection, check the "Shop Ebay Stores" box in the left-hand column of your search results page. You'll have to scroll down a ways and it will only show a few stores. Click the "See All Matching Stores" link for a list of stores you can browse.
If you're looking for something specific, you'll need to do an advanced search for Store Items only. Click the "Advanced Search" link in the top-right and ignore the resulting page. You want the "Items in Stores" link in the box at the left of the page. Believe it or not, if you do a search on this page it will still only show auction items. You have to check the box that says "Search Store Inventory items only"! Now that you've jumped through all of Ebay's fee-maximizing hoops, you're ready to view actual store inventory items.
Tip #5: It Pays to Save on Shipping
Most Ebay sellers have great prices, but shipping can be expensive. Ebay search results show the shipping column by default so be sure to factor that in when making bids.
If you're looking for multiple items it's often worthwhile to find a seller that has all of them and will give you a combined shipping discount. Consider that if you bought 3 DVDs at $10 each and $4 shipping from 3 different sellers you'd pay more than if you paid one seller $11 per DVD and $2 shipping on the second and third DVD. And it's a lot less work for you to pay one seller and get one package.
Plan your shopping ahead of time. When you're making a purchase, see if the seller has any other items you may want to give as a gift or add to your collection. You'll save in the long run and won't have to spend as much time managing auctions and tracking packages.
When to Avoid Ebay
Ebay usually has the best prices. Usually. There are times when an item is so popular that people are flocking to Ebay to get one and the prices skyrocket. The day the x-box 360 was released units sold on Ebay for up to $6000 each. In cases like this the prices soar because every other store is sold out, but there are some people that do all their shopping on Ebay and just assume that they're getting a good deal. Before you bid for that PSP or Ipod, make sure you know what the retail price is and how much you'd have to pay from an independent online retailer. Don't bid higher than the suggested retail price unless you can't find a site with the item in stock and you know your local retail store isn't getting their next shipment anytime soon.
Don't fall into the shipping fee trap either. You may be able to buy a new release DVD for $14.99 but if the seller charges $5 for shipping, you're better off buying from an independent online DVD store for $18 and paying $1.50 shipping. Remember that most Ebay sellers include an extra handling fee with the shipping to help cover the many fees they pay Ebay and PayPal. Because independent retail sites have almost no fees, they often have more reasonable shipping prices.
The stores with the best prices spend very little on advertising. Try using tools like Froogle that offer sellers free listings or find out if your favorite Ebay seller has their own web store. Ebay doesn't let sellers advertise off-Ebay sales in their listings so try doing a web search for the store's name or look at the domain name of the contact's email address. These sellers would rather have you buy from their web store and you can still refer to their Ebay feedback to determine their reliability.
Finding the best prices can be time consuming but the money you save makes it well worth it. Remember your favorite sellers and stores and online shopping will be faster and easier than ever the next time around.
About the Author: Jonathan Crowe is the Owner & Manager of Spotlight Entertainment (http://www.spotlightdvd.com), an Ebay Silver Level Powerseller and web retailer of DVDs and entertainment products for over 2 years. He publishes a monthly newsletter with DVD-related articles and special offers, available at http://www.spotlightdvd.com/signup.asp.