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Tips for Getting a Good Deal on eBay

Penny "Psyche" Skinner is an avid tech user who provides advice with functionality with frugality in mind.

eBay is an online auction site that can be useful for finding all kinds of rare and unusual objects. Many years ago, it was quite easy to find a bargain there, but as more and more people began to shop there, prices are now generally around market value. However, as an avid collector with a limited budget, I have picked up a few tricks for finding lower prices, and now I am passing them on to you.

eBay Office Sign

eBay Office Sign


I will begin with a few very straightforward strategies.

  • Firstly decide the highest price you are willing to pay before you start browsing. Don't let seeing a nice example of what you are looking for stretch your budget.
  • Always sort your search results from cheapest to most expensive and when you reach your cut off price, stop scrolling down.
  • Be patient. Instead of buying the cheapest option you can find that day, give yourself a period of time (like 6 months) to monitor a saved search and see if lower-priced options become available.
  • Listen to your instincts; if a deal seems too good to be true, only gamble on it if you can afford to end up with a fake or otherwise incorrect item.

Use Lay Descriptions

When you search using precise and correct terms, you will tend to find listings by sellers who know exactly what they have and what to charge for it. So while a collector might refer be seeking a vintage chalkware figurine, you might find cheaper listings if you search instead for an old plaster lady. It may also be worth trying misspellings or synonyms, you will be amazed at how many more relevant listings you find.

A junk drawer lot may contain hidden treasures.

A junk drawer lot may contain hidden treasures.

Look for Mixed Lots of Items

Often people are trying to move large lots of mixed items, either excess stock, a sudden inheritance, or a charity thrift store clearing the shelves. Try using keywords like "junk drawer," "mixed lot," or "estate sale."

It is often worth looking through these unsorted lots for items of value. It can be a little time-consuming, but a mixed lot of clothing, even with shipping, may cost a lot less than that one designer shirt you really wanted if it was being listed on its own.

Use Saved Searches and Saved Sellers

If you are after an item that is very popular with people who have plenty of money, sometimes the only answer is patience. At certain times of the year, you will find fewer people are browsing and desirable lots slide by without the price going into the stratosphere. Whenever you carry out a search there is a green link near the top called "follow this search." This alerts eBay to email you about items of this type and shows them on your front page. This search can include a price limit, again to avoid temptation and over-budget spending. If you find a lower-priced seller of a specialist item be sure to save them and recheck their store regularly.

If you are seeking a very rare item, it may be easier to scan for it visually. One way to do this is to use Google image search with the tools menu set to one week, and "" included as a keyword. You can scan hundred of listings very quickly and most of them will be for active eBay listings. An example is shown below of an image search for antique anatomy models.

Use Google image search to find things faster.

Use Google image search to find things faster.

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Things to Be Careful of

When you start buying from cheaper listings you need to be wary of frauds, counterfeits, less competent sellers, and hidden costs.

Only buy items where the exact item being sold is shown and the photographs are clear and show all the angles needed to do an assessment. Make sure the item is exactly the make, model, and type you are seeking. If necessary, ask for extra photos of important details or maker's marks.

Do not buy from new sellers if it can be avoided, and do not buy from any seller with a satisfaction rating below 95%. It's normal to see a few dissatisfied customers, but check the written feedback comments for the seller and look at how many complaints there are and whether they have common themes (e.g., item not as described, returns not accepted, poor packaging leading to damaged items).

Ensure that you have checked the packing and postage fees. Look also at where the seller is posting from: this could involve cost and delay as well as potential legal problems. Many eBay sellers post items that they know are not legal to ship from their country to your country by using a fraudulent import description (e.g., describing live plants as jewelry). It is not wise to be part of that kind of transaction.

These are the tricks i have developed over the years building my collections of collectibles and picking up some cut-price fashion along the way. If you have your own secret methods for finding affordable items on eBay, please share them below!

Photographs: Provided by Mike Knell and Jem Yoshioka

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Virginia Kearney from United States on November 07, 2017:

Very good and clear information. I don't buy on eBay often, but I will keep this in mind.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 08, 2017:

There's some good advice there. I sometimes sell on Ebay, but not very often.

Mamerto Adan from Cabuyao on June 26, 2017:

I shop in ebay and I review the product and the seller before jumping in. This could be a useful article for us shoppers.

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