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Online auctions - help, advice and buyer's tips

Online auctions at ebay - questions and answers

What is ebay? is an online auction house where you can buy and sell virtually all new and second hand items.

How do I buy at ebay?

  1. Search on the site for the item you are interested in buying using the search box, or browse the categories to narrow down your search. Look at a number of items similar or the same as the item you are wanting to purchase to help you make your decision. Once you are a registered user (it is free to register) you can browse closed auctions, so you can see what previously listed items have sold for.
  2. Check the seller's feedback. Do they seem trustworthy and reliable? Even the best of sellers may have the old piece of negative feedback due to misunderstandings, and the fact that you can't please all the people all the time, but is in excess of 1% of the feedback negative? What are the reasons for negative feedback? There is a difference between "I never received the item, the seller kept my money and is now in Brazil" and "the skirt arrived but didn't fit me properly".
  3. On some auctions there is the opportunity to "buy it now", where you can (usually) bid a higher amount than the minimum bid, and end the auction early so you are guaranteed to win the item. In fact, some auctions are only "buy it now".
  4. Once you have bought an item, you will need to pay for it. Many sellers will accept a personal cheque, but often prefer an electronic payment method such as Paypal. Paypal is a way of paying money from your credit card or bank account directly into the seller's paypal account. The seller has to pay a charge for this service, but Paypal payments are free for buyers. You may also be offered a certain amount of protection by Paypal in the unlikely event that you don't receive the item you have paid for, or it is grossly not as described.
  5. Remember that if you make the winning bid, you are contractually obligated to fulfil the transaction.
  6. Many seasoned bidders prefer to place their bid in the last few seconds of an auction, so that there is no time for them to be outbid. This is known as "sniping" and can be quite a good way to buy the item at the best possible price. However, problems with this approach include:
    • The previous high bidder putting a higher maximum bid on the auction so that your last minute bid isn't in excess of their maximum (always bid the maximum you are prepared to pay when sniping - you will not get the chance to make another bid).
    • Bidding too early and being sniped yourself, or bidding too late and missing the close of your auction. Keen ebayers may wish to consider purchasing Sniping Software, which will bid for you in the last few seconds of an auction. This can also be useful if you are going out and don't want to sit by the computer all night waiting for the auction to close.

How do I sell at ebay?

  1. It is useful to spend some time on ebay researching the prices of items similar to the one you are wanting to sell. This will give you a rough guide to the price you are likely to obtain and can most easily be done by searching the completed items.
  2. When listing the item give a clear description. Is the item new or used? Is there any damage or flaws? Remember, potential bidders cannot view the item so you must detail anything that is wrong with it. Listings accompanied by photos are more likely to sell - if you do not have a digital camera or webcam it might be an idea to borrow one. Certain items, such as clothing, are very unlikely to sell no matter how good your description is, unless they are accompanied by a photo.
  3. You can choose how long your auction is to last (anything from one to ten days or longer), what the minimum bid will be, whether or not you want to set a reserve (not always a good idea - it may be better to set a higher minimum bid as buyers may be reluctant to bid if they don't know what the minimum you will accept is) and whether or not you are going to list a "buy it now" price.
  4. You will need to detail in your listing what the postal costs will be and perhaps give options for insured postage such as recorded and special delivery on higher value items. You will also need to detail what payment methods you will accept - many buyers like to be able to pay by Paypal - if you are likely to sell a lot of items you may wish to consider accepting Paypal payments.