Get a Great Deal on Ebay




Ebay can be a fascinating and wonderful place to shop, however there are many tips and tricks that you should know before delving into this online market. Learn searching and bidding methods that make sure that you get the best deal when buying things on Ebay.

This instructable will show you how to:
1. Research your item
2. Set a benchmark for your price
3. Characterize listings that sell on the cheap
4. Find fluke listings
5. Determine scam listings from real listings
6. Bid aggressively

Step 1: Research

Research is the foundation of your shopping experience, and is probably the most important part of the buying process. Without research, your decisions tend to be more based on intuition rather than hard facts, and when you're trying to get the best possible deal, hard facts are crucial. Read on to see how to break down your research into manageable steps.

1. Know what you want to buy

I am an amateur audiophile - I loooove speakers. Before I had acquired what I now know about speakers, the following event took place:

One day I was browsing around Ebay, and came across this intriguing pair of speakers made by this company "DaVinci". They looked incredible, were being sold at around $1000 each, and if the technical specifications were right, would have made a fantastic, bargain home theater component. So what was the problem with this scenario? Simple: DaVinci speakers do not exist.

Sure, they exist materially, and by that I mean that somewhere, someone owns the speakers that are pictured in the Ebay listing, and that person is willing to sell me those speakers for the price shown. However, the branding, DaVinci, that does NOT exist. No major retailers sell DaVinci branded products, nor does DaVinci have a website telling you about their speakers. As a matter of fact, there are only three places you can actually purchase these speakers: Ebay, direct from China through an import/export website like, or out of a white van (get on Google and search for "white van scam"). In short, the listing was a hoax, the speakers were fake, and if I hadn't done my research, I could have gotten sucker-punched into buying a bunch of overpriced crap from some dude who lives in Malaysia.

What was the point of this vignette? In most instances (this excludes things like antiques or collectibles), Ebay is absolutely the last place that you want to be searching for that hard-to-find, diamond-in-the-rough type deal. For something like speakers or mainstream technology, if you can't buy it in the store, you probably shouldn't buy it on Ebay either. By knowing what you want to buy up-front, you'll preclude yourself from being influenced by the extravagance found in most listings and will be able to discriminate between fact and fiction.

2. Know the market price and set a comfortable budget

Once you have decided what you are going to buy, it is important to know the market price. By knowing the market price, you will be able to more accurately characterize your budget for the purchase, which will ultimately lead you to get a better price. Knowing the market price can be a little tricky for things that are rare, but for most things, determining a good base-line is very easy, and it doesn't start on Ebay.

One of the biggest mistakes many people make is assuming that Ebay will always have the best price, and this is not always true. Ebay will often have the best price, but sometimes you can buy the same item from an online retailer or even a physical retailer for as much or less than you could buy it on Ebay, and if this option is available, there is no reason to go with an Ebay seller. For this reason, it is important to exhaust all your other options before turning to Ebay as a retailer. Some of my favorite sites are,, and, just to name a few. Don't forget to incorporate your local listings as well.

If you do find that Ebay can offer you the lowest price, the best way to find the market price is to search in Ebay history. You need to be a registered user, but that shouldn't be a problem if you're considering buying something anyway. Just do a search for whatever you want to buy, and then on the left under "Search Options" and "Show only", select "Completed Listings" and click "Show Items". This will show you every item, sold and unsold, that was listed on Ebay in the last 90 days. Items with a price in green were sold, items with a price in red were not sold. (If you're red/green colorblind, then... you're kind of out of luck on this one.) Now sort your data by price, and get ready for some reading.

Now that you have all your data, we want to get a good feel for what an average price would be. How would we do this? Just look through all the pricing data and find a big chunk of listings that all sold for around the same price (if you're a statistics person, we're looking for the peak of the bell curve). Okay - this should be your benchmark and your budget, but remember: we're not trying to get the average price, we're trying to get the best price. If you can't beat the average, then you need to try again, and if the average is out of your ballpark, you need to be shopping for a different item (refer back to step 1).

3. Characterize a cheap listing

Now that we have set a budget for ourselves, it is time to start searching for deals. Remember, we don't want to be average, we want to be BETTER than average. A good way to beat the average is to look at the sale history and find the listings that sold for 15%-30% below average (much lower than that and you're looking at anomalies). Look at these listings and try to determine what they have in common; what made them sell for less than the average price? That way, when you start looking at regular listings, you'll be able to identify which listings may never reach the average. Read on to find out what I think are some of the biggest indicators of listings that will never reach maximum value.

Step 2: Find Fluke Listings

4. Find a fluke listing

People screw up - it happens all the time. Fortunately, their mistakes will work to your advantage when it comes to buying on Ebay. I will illustrate my point with another short story.

The very first thing I sold on Ebay was a digital camera. I was pumped: I bought this camera for really cheap (actually I bought three of them and sold two), it was a good camera, and I felt that I could sell it for almost $70 more than I had bought it for. I was 18, still in high school, so $140 was exciting stuff.

The title of my listing read something like this:
"Nikon Coolpix 5400 6.3MP 3x optical zoom - brand new in box"

I started my listing at $0.99, and waited. After three days, I only had one bidder... at $0.99. And then it hit me: I had forgot a crucial portion. I forgot to put the words "digital camera" in the title of my listing. What did this mean for me? It meant that every person that got on to Ebay and searched for "digital camera" saw thousands of other listings besides mine. It meant that the only people that ever saw my listing either searched specifically for "Nikon" or even more specifically for "Coolpix 5400", or went through the arduous Ebay buying menu. In short, nobody saw my listing, so I ended it early and let Ebay eat my $4 or whatever listing fee.

In retrospect, this taught me a valuable lesson that I will pass on to you: the world is full of morons, and you, the savvy investor, can capitalize off of them. Think of it as keeping score, except with money instead of points. Here are some things to look for:

a. High Opening Price - This is very common among new sellers. Oftentimes sellers will list an item with a starting price close to or equal what they want the final price to be, so many times, these items get no bids until minutes or hours before the auction is over. Listings like these are by no means scarce, and they can make for great deals because they get very little traffic until the auction is almost over.

b. Obscure Ending Time - This is another common mistake among new sellers. People get home from work in the evening, they're tired, and they don't end up listing something until 12 or 1 in the morning. Well, if you live in California, that means 3 or 4 in the morning for people in New York. An obscure ending time will definitely get you less traffic than a listing that ends at 6 or 7 in the evening, so look for those and you'll be sure to find listings that won't reach peak values.

c. Misspelled Item Names - Canon makes cameras; a cannon is a giant gun. Intentionally search for misspelled words and you'll find listings that most people won't.

d. Incomplete Titles - In just the same way that I listed a digital camera without actually putting the words "digital camera" in the title, so will others list everything else. If you're looking for speakers, narrow the search down using the category listings on the left, and then do a search like "-speakers -home -theater". This will give you everything listed in speakers that doesn't have the words "speakers" or "home theater in the title. Since these are things that many people search for, you will be able to find some hidden listings using this technique.

Step 3: Determine Real Listings From Fake Listings

5. Determine real listings from fake listings

This is very easy. Reputable sellers have a good history, others do not. If the person you are thinking of buying from exhibits any of the following characteristics, you should NOT buy from them - there are better, less risky deals out there:

a. Claims to live in the United States, but cannot speak/type/spell check in English - this person probably lives in Nigeria and will exhibit qualities (d) as well as (b) or (c)

b. Just joined Ebay yesterday and is selling a brand new $3000 Trek bicycle for only $500 as his first item

c. Is actually selling eight or nine $3000 Trek bicycles for $500 each, but you have to email him to arrange a "special payment agreement" - this is most definitely crap

d. Will not accept PayPal as a payment vehicle, only Western Union - there is no reason to not accept PayPal over any other payment vehicle unless you're trying to scam people or you don't have a bank account, in which case I still don't want to do business with you. Furthermore, Western Union is the red flag of all red flags. Many many internet scams are facilitated via Western Union, so never ever use them to pay for anything that you buy, or more importantly, sell, online.

e. Has "0" feedback - probably not a scam per say, but definitely not your best bet

Step 4: Bid Aggressively

6. Bid aggressively

Here is the most fun part, and everybody has their own style. I personally like to open two windows side-by-side for the same listing, one so that I can monitor the price, and one so that I can actually bid. If it's your first time bidding on Ebay, you might not know this, but when you click "Bid" on the listing page, it actually requires two more clicks to officially register your bid. First you go through a page where you enter your price, and then you go through another page where you confirm your price. In my two-window strategy, I have one window focused on the listing itself, and the other window on the "Confirm Bid" page, so that I can place my bid at the best time with the least amount of clicks.

Here is another trick-of-the-trade: never bid in whole or half-dollar increments. Always bid obscure prices, like $27.82 or $107.13. Bidding like this really throws people through a loop if you do it at the last second, and many times, what would have been good bids turn out to be invalid because they don't meet the bid increment criteria required by Ebay. Less competition for you!

Step 5: Conclusion

That's about it! Do your research, know what you want before you get there, and be an aggressive bidder. If you can master these steps, you will definitely find that Ebay has a wealth of goodies to offer you at very good prices.

It is important to remember, however, that there will always be good deals on Ebay. Never delude yourself into thinking that what you are looking at is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity. If you slip into this mindset, it's easy to overbid and get stuck with an item that you don't really want at a price that really sucks.

The great thing about Ebay is that the longer you wait to buy something, the cheaper it will probably get, so be patient, practice the steps listed here, and have fun in the world of Ebay.



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    26 Discussions


    11 years ago on Step 3

    Here's another thing scammers have been doing: They'll make up several accounts (or have their friends make accounts) and set up fake BIN (Buy It Now) auctions in which they "buy" the items from each other. Then they leave feedback for each other on the same day (or sometimes same hour) that they "bought/sold" the item. Even if the person has good feedback (I've seen them to have up to 15 feedbacks for scams like this), I suggest checking out at least 3 or 4 of them and compare the dates/times of item sold/bought and when the feedback was received (especially if the item in question is relatively expensive). If you suspect them to be scamming, contact eBay with the user name and auction number. Also I suggest reading the whole auction cause some people will hide the fact that they add on a certain amount of $ (sometimes a pretty penny) and claim it to be a handling fee (though they should have it included in the S/H calculator, some will not and you'll get hit with it when you go to pay). They'll also hide other facts that they like to leave out of the main print/auction (ex.: Taxes for certain/all states, you won't receive everything pictured or item received may be of different brand/look, Claim to have a warranty but then in their "template" say that it only applies to new items/still sealed when returned)... Just a few things I've seen (and avoided) and thought it would be wise to let you all know :)

    4 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent point. Getting screwed is most certainly not part of getting a good deal. Looks can be deceiving, so go by the old saying: if it looks too good to be true, it's probably a Nigerian scam.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    why does it have to be a Nigerian scam? did some one from there scam YOU? and are now psst at them for falling for it?.....

    Doctor Freemanhoffie125

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

    No offence to any one, but in the phillipenes (did i spell that right?) they have the highest rate of crime in anything, espiecally (did i spell that right?) on the internet.


    9 years ago on Step 2

    Fluke listenings are great!! I almost got a 360 used for $80 with 2 games! but sadly, I wasn't home when the listing ended, and missed it :(. It was listed as and XBX360, lol


    11 years ago on Introduction

    You can also find free auction sniper sites instead of waiting around for the last few seconds of the auction. This how I've been doing it for the past year or so (I used to be one of the people sitting around waiting for the last few seconds to tick before bidding... and it worked great until you realized you wouldn't be home at the time the auctions ended) Always put the absolute max amount you're willing to bid in if you go this road, that way if someone else outbids you, you know that it wouldn't have made a difference if you had bid yourself. Some of these sites have features that allow you to make a list of different auctions (say that they end one after the other and they are of similar items) and you want to win at least one of them. The site will bid on them as the end of each draws near until you win one of the auctions (or are outbid on them). Once you've won one, it'll terminate the rest of the list so you won't be buying a ton of similar items.

    5 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I personally use AuctionStealer when I need to. It works nice too, but you only get 3 free snipes a week (which is enough for me... usually) and have to buy more if you want to snipe again in that week.


    Sniping is where it's at! Only newbs get wrapped up in bidding wars and sitting up at 3 am in the morning to get their swag. ;)

    The eBay part doesn't seem to be working right now, but when you're trying to find a deal on an eBay item & compare to, Amazon, etc... use


    11 years ago on Introduction

    You've got some nice tips in the writeup.

    I'm no expert, but one thing I've found: Use the bid history to learn about your competition.

    If someone else has made early bid, I make an exploratory bid a couple days before the auction end, maybe up to 65% of what I want to pay. If the other bidder responds, check the history as to how they respond:

    Do they post one large bid? --they'll likely bid a large amount at the close.

    Or do they just chip away at the bid several times? --they want a bargain, and will likely try the minimum they can bid and still win.

    (of course, you can still check the history without bidding yourself.)

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm so happy you mentioned that - it's great advise, and related to a strategy that I use occasionally: Sometimes if I've spotted a new listing that is still at a low price, I bid the price up to about 75% of what I want to pay for it. This will GREATLY reduce traffic to that listing, which will ultimately result in a lower ending price.


    11 years ago on Step 2

    you should sell this as an ebook on ebay :) jk, jk


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great guide! Ebay isn't as good for deals like it used to be. I notice it's very difficult to get your item noticed when there are about 100+ of the same thing. So if selling something like old RAM (Around $15 maximum sale price I think), would buying those fancy colored borders and stuff be worth it? My first Ebay sale, 512MB of DDR2 RAM ended with no sale :'(

    2 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    My first Ebay sale, 512MB of DDR2 RAM ended with no sale :'(

    You need to not want it for it to sell ;) I tend to start all my stuff at $0.01 for a few reasons.

    1. It's almost always the cheapest item
    2. It engages bidders. The first person bids because it's the cheapest, and may continue to bid because they're now attached to the idea that it is cheap :)

    And stuff that I sell, I obviously have no use for otherwise. So if it sells, it's now gone to somewhere else - regardless of the price sold. Someone else can pay for storage of an item they, at some point, won't use :p


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Trebuchet makes a good point, and I think it applies to most of us. Selling on Ebay is probably not where you're going to make any big money. According to a recent study, 50,000 individuals in the United States earn a living by selling on Ebay. That may sound like a lot, but keep in mind the population of the U.S. - 50,000 individuals really comes down to 1 in every 6,000 people. Making a profit on Ebay (and this is probably a whole separate instructable) is all about dealing in economies of scale - I buy 5,000 of something all at once and sell each one individually. As a seller, if you bought whatever you're intending to sell outside of an economy of scale, you should not expect to earn a huge amount of profit, if any. Selling should really be a way to cut your losses and get rid of all that crap laying around your house that you never use. I like to view Ebay as the world's biggest garage sale. It's fun to go and check things out, and if you're lucky, you might find a diamond for $5. Just don't count on it.