The Buyer’s Guide to Ebay

Ebay is probably the most common website people think of when they think about online shopping, but I find that when asked, most people don’t use Ebay because they don’t entirely understand what everything is about, and how to know what you’re really getting since you’re dealing with individual sellers instead of companies. Since I started using Ebay in 2001, I’ve learned a lot and wanted to share my experience with everyone, so I created a guide about everything there is to know about buying from Ebay. The first part of this guide is more basic information to get you started, and there will be some advanced tips at the bottom.

I think the biggest concern people have is: what happens if the item doesn’t show up or isn’t what you expected. This does happen on occasion, and when it does, you have 45 days to make a formal complaint through Ebay or PayPal (depending on how you paid.) Ebay offers buyer protection that protects you from exactly these two scenarios, and you will be reimbursed accordingly. I do recommend talking to the seller directly first though, as problems can usually be resolved without the need for formal complaints. Warning: don’t do deals outside Ebay for a cheaper price, you won’t have any protection and it could be part of a larger scam. Also be cautious of sellers that don’t use PayPal and instead ask for cheques or money orders; you won’t have the added protection that PayPal provides and this could also be part of a larger scam.

Here are some tips to follow to minimize your chances of these scenarios happening:

  1. Always go through Ebay and/or PayPal directly, no outside deals.
  2. Always read the whole item description before bidding to make sure the item’s condition is what you’re expecting, any warranties that are in place, and to see shipping prices along with an estimate of how long the item will take to arrive.
  3. If you suspect something is fishy, talk to the seller immediately and follow-up with a formal complaint if things cannot be resolved with the seller.
  4. Get tracking numbers for all items whenever possible to minimize the chance of lost packages.
  5. Have realistic expectations for shipping times. I’ve dealt with buyers who are upset when an item doesn’t arrive within 48 hours, which is extremely unrealistic unless shipping with a courier. Items coming from China to North America can (and often do) take around a month to arrive, so do some research if the shipping times are not listed in the auction.


The second biggest concern people have is: how do I know if a seller is reputable? This one isn’t as straightforward, but your first and best bet is to check their feedback score. As a guideline, look for a seller with more than 98% positive feedback as a seller (click on their username, then the ‘feedback as a seller’ tab), and at least 30 individual scores. Think twice before purchasing items from a seller with zero feedback as you don’t know what to expect from them. Send them a message to try and get a feel for the seller, but either way you will be protected through Ebay if something goes wrong.

Here are some tips to follow:

  1. Don’t buy from sellers with feedback scores below 98%
  2. Read all recent feedback scores from the seller, especially any negative or neutral scores
  3. Beware of sellers listing items at prices too good to be true; they could be fake, counterfeit, broken, or simply very low quality


What about shipping? Shipping can be a big pain, especially when buying internationally, but there are some guidelines to follow to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible. The first is to combine shipping when buying multiple items from the same seller for a possible discount, talk to the seller first to find out their policy on combined shipping if it isn’t mentioned in the description, and make sure you request an invoice before paying for the items. The second is a biggie for us international buyers: if you see an item listed on another country’s Ebay and they state they will not ship internationally, send the seller a message and ask if they will make an exception for you. Many are willing to do this for a slightly higher shipping cost, and often you can find better deals on items this way.

Here are some additional tips for shipping:

  1. It is important to remember that any taxes, fees, and duties incurred at the border are not the responsibility of the seller
  2. Contact sellers for possible cheaper shipping methods as some sellers only list the most expensive shipping option
  3. Try to buy locally if possible to save on shipping fees (you may have to send a message to the seller if they live in your area, otherwise the listing may say ‘local pickup available’)
  4. Try to get tracking whenever possible to minimize the chance of lost packages as well as to get proof that the item was actually shipped
  5. Check your country’s restrictions to ensure your item won’t get held up at the border, especially if you live in a country with strict importing regulations, like Australia


Advanced Tips

  • Contact the seller to negotiate a better price. Sometimes you get lucky and the seller will be willing to make a deal with you through a private listing on Ebay. Just make sure you keep all dealings through Ebay to stay protected.
  • Find out how much the item has been selling for by doing an advanced search using the completed listings option. You can also do a Google search or look at other online marketplaces to see how much the item is worth (remember, Ebay may not be the cheapest option.)
  • If the seller has “Make an Offer” in the item listing, you can find out how low you can go by viewing the seller’s history of prior items sold
  • The best way to win an item is through sniping. Sniping is when buyers swoop in and enter a bid with just seconds to spare. One trick is to bid an off number that will throw off other bids (eg. bid $15.27 rather than $15 or $15.50)
  • If you lose an auction, consider writing a message to the seller letting them know you are still interested in the item if the first buyer falls through or if they have similar items for sale. If the wining bid falls through, the seller may also send you a Second Chance Offer to buy the item, with the price set as your last bid.


That’s all for now, I’ll likely add to this guide as people ask for more tips and tricks.

Happy Shopping!


One comment

Leave a Reply