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The Savvy Bidders Guide to eBay – Plus some tips for sellers who want me to bid higher...

By Cybele Elaine Werts

In the history of collecting, never has there been a tool such as eBay. Just a decade ago I was collecting toy cash registers by visiting antique shops and toy stores, and paying rather exorbitant prices. With the advent of eBay, I have access to a global market and have been able to purchase many one-of-a-kind items dirt cheap.

The process of learning to be a smart bidder is not without it's pitfalls however. It's easy to get caught up in bidders fever and overspend. This article is a series of tips and strategies designed to help you become a truly savvy eBay bidder.

What kind of people can best take advantage of eBay?

People who:

1.         don't like to shop

2.         live in rural areas where shopping is limited

3.         have a specific need

4.         collect something extremely rare or unique

Where are the best buys on eBay?

Just because something is on eBay doesn't make it a great deal. These are the situations you'll want to look for:

  • A "Buy it Now" on an item you know is worth far more, but the seller does not. For example, I purchased a Betty Braun bear cashier toy for $35 from a seller who had no idea that working versions of this item are worth upwards of $400. The one I got is not working, but could be fixed for far less than $400.
  • An item that the Seller doesn't know, or hasn't included information on the Brand name. For example, I first saw a Wells moveable silver charm four years ago and it sold for over $100. When another one came on eBay recently, the seller failed to put the Well's name in the listing, and so all the Well's collectors did not find this item in their search. I won the bid for under $35. In a similar situation, some sellers don't include the brand name in the "Title" field of the listing but rather in the body of the description, so that they lose bidders who are searching only in the Title fields.
  • An item that has a very low starting bid combined with the vagarities of luck where for unknown reasons there are few bidders.

Some Smart Bidding Techniques

The Prime Directive:

  • Beware of "Collector's Fever." Don't buy something because it exists or because it's cool. If you are a collector, write a mission statement for your collection and stick to it. My mission statement includes only toy cash registers which are character oriented (such as Disney or Sesame Street) miniatures, and one of a kinds.

The Very Best Tip

  • Use an auction sniping service like Auction Insights (http://auctioninsights.auctionstealer.com/home.cfm). I recently started using this service because I missed bidding on an auction because my internet connection went down. Auction sniping software bids for you about ten seconds before the end of the auction, effectively preventing auction bidding wars which drive up prices. It also protects you from bidders' fever which can cause a normally rational person to thing some object is worth far more than it is. Auction Insights is FREE and I have found it to be totally dependable.
  • If you don't want to use a service, place your bid in the last ten minutes before the auction ends, a technique that is called "sniping." I highly recommend this tactic, but it only works if you have 24-hour access to a computer, and are organized enough so that you won't forget.

Finding what you really want

  • Create searches that are very specific, and save them. This will save you time in reviewing all kinds of junk that you don't want. If there's something you really want, check the listings every day. Use your Internet Exporer "Favorites" to bookmark the search, or save the search into the Favorites section of "My Ebay." If you search on a regular basis, you will be ready for when the fabulous buys come up.
  • Don't settle for good or poor quality on an item unless it truly is a one-of-a-kind. You'll regret it when a better version comes along and you already spent your money. For example, I purchased the xylophone toy cash register which is missing a key. In the meantime I found another which not only was in mint condition, but which included the songs. What a regret!
  • Most items on eBay come up periodically so don't fret if you lose the bidding on an item. On the other hand, be smart and bid high if you know that it's truly one of a kind.

How much is it worth?

  • Official appraisals of items can be dead wrong due to the fact that the estimates were based on the market before eBay ("BE" in auctioneer's parliance) when the market was a local one, not a global one. Patience and smart bidding can easily outrank estimates of value. I have never paid the estimated value of these items on eBay, and neither should you. For example, I purchased my "Toppie" toy cash register for $15 on eBay a few years back. It is appraised at over $100 which many sellers try to get for it, and sometimes they even find novice buyers who are willing to pay that much. If you are patient you will get a sense of what things are worth on eBay.
  • Always check the postage costs so you can factor that into the final cost. There was one really cool item I wanted, but the postage was $22!
  • Spend wisely. Keep a little savings aside for the day when you find that piece de resistance. You don't want to be caught without funds when that unexpected find comes along.

Bidding Tips

  • If you can't wait until the last minute to bid, then bid at a time when your competition is less likely to be online or have access to their computer. People are less likely to receive and respond to that "outbid" notice if they are at work or asleep (adjusting for time zones of course).
  • Expect more last minute counter bids during primetime 5 PM – Midnight.
  • If there is one bidder who is actively bidding, check out their buying history. If they are a serious collector in the same area you are, you may have to consider bidding much higher. If they are just a casual player, they probably won't bid too high. Know your competition!
  • Most people bid in round numbers like $15, $30 and so on. You will want to place your maximum bid at odd numbers like $37.51 which trumps both $37.00 and $37.50.

Paying for it

  • If you haven't signed up for Paypal, and get to it! It will save you time and hassle and most sellers prefer it. They also offer insurance on eBay items which can come in handy.
  • Always check your seller's feedback. I have not had any bad experiences with eBay sellers, but then I'm purchasing mostly items under $20 which are not worth any seller going to jail for. If you're buying expensive items, use eBay's escrow service or Paypal's insurance option.

My Tips to Sellers

Photos: Take photos that are close up, clear (not out of focus), well lit, and include a ruler on the side so we know the measurements. Please take photos of all sides so we don't have to ask for it. Make your photos no larger than about 6" square and set at 72 dots per inch (dpi) so that they download quickly.

Titles: PLEASE DON'T TYPE IN CAPS. It's hard to read and annoying. Include the brand name and critical information. Titles like "cash register" could be anything from a store cash register to a toy to a bracelet charm to a glass candy dish. Not worth my time to check out.

Descriptions: Include the brand name, measurements, postage, age, color and anything you can think of that I might want to know. You'd think this is obvious but I have to write about half the sellers on items I'm bidding on because they didn't include obvious things like size.

Responsiveness: If you ignore my e-mails I won't bid on your item.

Hope these tips are of help in netting you a bargain or help in selling your prize possession. Good luck and happy collecting.

© Cybele Elaine Werts

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