I have a love-hate relationship with eBay. I’m a big fan of ebay shopping, which is a great way to track down that elusive item that sold out as soon as I decided to buy it, but I stopped trying to sell there long ago – back when I realised that people on eBay are all after something for (close to) nothing, and it was almost impossible to get a fair price for the items I tried to sell. (The items I try to BUY, meanwhile, always seem to go for way more than they’re worth: go figure.)
(Don’t even get me started on all of the sellers who steal my images, and who eBay refuse to deal with: grrr!)
Anyway, back on topic, I’ve been eBay shopping for many years now, but I know quite a few people who still worry about buying something there, so here’s my guide to eBay shopping, for anyone who needs it!
First things first: before I get onto the tips, I’m going to assume that you already know how the basics of how to use eBay (if you don’t, check out their own buying guide), and are here looking for tips on how to track down a bargain, as opposed to a tutorial on how to actually use the site. With that said, here are my tips on how to find great clothing on eBay…
Know your brands
One of the downsides of buying on eBay, as opposed to a regular store, is that if the item isn’t suitable, you normally can’t return it. There are some exceptions to this, of course, and some sellers do accept returns, but most don’t, so if you don’t like your item, too bad. To minimise the chances of this happening, I’d recommend sticking mostly to brands that you’re familiar with, and which you shop from regularly, so you’ll know more or less what to expect in terms of sizing and quality. It’s not a bargain if you can’t wear it, and you’ll have a much better chance of being happy with your purchase if you’re shopping from brands you have confidence in. It can be tempting to take a gamble on an amazing-looking item from a brand you’ve never heard of, but I’d only recommend doing that as long as you understand that it IS a gamble, and the price is low-enough that you don’t mind losing it if it doesn’t work out.
Never pay more than retail
In recent years, there’s been an ongoing trend of high-street clothing becoming super-popular and selling for WAY more than the item’s original retail price. Of course, something is only worth whatever people are willing to pay for it, and how much YOU’RE willing to pay for something is totally up to you. Speaking for myself, however, I never pay more than RRP for an eBay item – and even then, I’ll only pay that if the item is brand new with tags. Bidding significantly more than the ticket price may get you the item, but you’ll probably feel like you’ve been ripped off, so before you get into a bidding war, take a deep breath, be totally honest and ask yourself whether you want the item because you genuinely love it, or because it’s suddenly become the latest “must have” item.
Bid late, and bid your maximum
Have you ever had something on your Watch List, and witnessed the price slowly inch up and up and newbie bidders (and sometimes established ones, too) turn up and keep increasing their bid by another £1, and then another, and then another? Infuriating, huh? This kind of behaviour is how bidding wars start, and while that’s great news for the seller, it’s not great news for the buyer, because it means that whoever wins the auction ends up paying more than they really needed to. It also means that the need to beat the person you’re bidding against sometimes becomes greater than the need to actually buy the item, so you end up paying far more than you intended to: a hollow victory, for sure. The best way to avoid this is to always bid late, and bid your maximum. In other words, decide what you’re willing to pay for the item (don’t forget to factor in the shipping costs) and bid that amount, as late as possible in the auction. If everyone did this, eBay items would sell for lower prices, and even if your bid wasn’t the winning one, at least you’d know you hadn’t been goaded into going over-budget.
Use a sniping tool
That’s all very well, of course, but what if you CAN’T bid late? What if you’re not online when the auction ends, or your internet connection drops out at the crucial moment? What if you just get an attack of the butterfingers, and someone sneaks in and steals your item while you’re still fumbling with your keyboard? These things happen, and, in the world of online auctions, there are few things more frustrating than being pipped at the post purely because of a technical glitch. Trust me on this. There is an easy answer to this, however, and it comes in the form of sniping tools: websites such as Auction Stealer or JustSnipe which automatically place your bid for you, in the last few seconds of the auction. On these sites, you simply register for an account, type in the details of the auction you’re bidding on, plus the maximum amount you’re willing to pay, then sit back and let the site place your bid for you. The advantage of these sites is that you can totally forget about the auction: no more constant refreshing of the page, no more bidding wars, no more frustrated attempts to get in your bid before the auction ends. Sniping, however, can be a controversial subject, and some people feel it’s a very unfair way to win an auction. It’s up to you to decide where you stand on that, obviously: personally my feeling is that as many of the sniping sites are free to use (or have free options), everyone has the same opportunity to use them if they wish. As I say, though, it’s up to you to decide where you stand on that one…
Make sure there are photos of the actual item you’re bidding on
Rather than taking their own photos of the item they’re selling, some sellers will simply use a stock photo from the retailer’s website, or a photo stolen from someone’s blog. Bidding on these auctions MIGHT work out just fine, but to minimise your risk, ask the seller for photos of the ACTUAL item they’re selling, so you know what you’re getting. Sure, that dress might look fantastic on Random Blogger Girl, but her dress isn’t the one you’re bidding on, and nor is the one in the product shot from the Zara website. When you’re buying from an online store, you can generally trust that they’ll send you an item which looks exactly like the one pictured. When you’re buying second hand clothing on eBay, however, you just don’t know what you’ll get: it could be stained, or torn, or have some other defect, and you won’t know until it lands on your doorstep. If all the seller has to offer, then, is stock photography taken from someone else’s website, it could be a good idea to avoid them, and place your bid with someone who’s taken the time to photograph the actual item you’re bidding on.
Ask for further evidence
Buying designer clothing on eBay is a subject that really deserves a post of its own because some designer items are notorious for being easily and frequently faked. Spotting fakes is a complicated subject, and there are entire websites and articles devoted to helping you do it, so all I’ll say here is that unless you’re very sure the item you’re interested in is genuine, DON’T BID. There are lots of ways to verify the authenticity of an item. Some people spend hours and hours researching the brand they’re interesting in, until they can spot a fake a mile off. Others rely on looking at the seller’s feedback or asking questions to find out where they acquired the item and how they can prove it’s genuine. If you’re considering spending a lot of money (or even a little bit of money) on something, don’t be afraid to ask the seller to give you some proof that’s it’s real. The proof could take the form of a till receipt, a serial number, or something else, but if they have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t be offended you’ve asked, and should be able to give you some idea of the item’s provenance. Any reluctance to do this should be taken as a red flag, and I can’t say this often enough, but if you’re in any doubt at all, DON’T bid. Remember, till receipts and other so-called evidence CAN be faked, sand if you want to be 100% sure your item is genuine, sometimes the only way to get that peace of mind is to buy it from a source you can trust.
Check the seller’s feedback
This one is so obvious that it almost goes without saying, but you all know to check your seller’s feedback before making a bid, right? Right?!