How to eBay

Shopping on eBay can save you a fortune over the holiday season. But how do you get started, stay safe and, most importantly, win the items you want?

What is eBay?
eBay is essentially the world’s biggest garage sale. It is a website which allows you to buy or sell new or second-hand goods. Some of the items will have a fixed price, others will go to an auction with a specified end time. You can look at photos of the items, and for bigger acquisitions such as vehicles and collectables the seller will often allow you to look at the item in person, as long as you make an appointment.

What can I buy?
If it exists, it’s probably for sale on eBay. You can purchase electronics, such as computers or cameras, bed linen, furniture, clothing, toys, alcohol, building materials, pin-ball machines, war memorabilia… the list goes on. There have been some very unusual sales over the last ten years, including a toasted cheese sandwich with the Virgin Mary’s face on it, which sold for $28,000, the right to name a mother’s firstborn, which was bought by a casino for $15,500 and an exorcised ghost in a jar (price unknown). The short answer is you can buy almost anything.

I’m inspired. How do I buy it?
Would new pillow cases make your life complete? Perhaps you need a pair of gumboots, or diamond earrings for an anniversary. Whatever it is you are looking for, the purchasing process on eBay is always the same. There are three forms an item sale can take:

  1. Buy it now
    Buy it now means that an item has a fixed, non-negotiable price, and you can choose to pay that (plus postage) or not.
  2. Best offer
    Best offer items will have a Buy it now price, but as long as nobody decides to pay it you can make an offer to the seller, and possibly get the item for a cheaper price.
  3. Auction
    Auctions may or may not have a reserve, but either way you will be bidding on the item until the allocated end time.

Once you have used the ‘buy it now’ function, negotiated a ‘best offer’ with the seller or won the bidding you need to pay for your item. You can either proceed directly to the checkout or if you don’t want to pay directly after agreeing to buy the item, or if you close the page by accident, you will be emailed an invoice which will contain a link to ‘pay for your item’. Either way you can proceed through the checkout at your leisure.

Click NEXT to find out how the secret to winning auctionsSo how do I pay?
When the person selling an item creates their ad they can choose to allow (or not allow) a number of different payment options. Every single auction on eBay must offer PayPal as a payment option. eBay recommends that all buyers use PayPal to complete their transactions, as PayPal is the safest method of transferring money. You may also be allowed to pay by credit card, direct bank transfer, cheque or cash on pickup (for larger items), but not every auction will offer all of these options. We recommend using PayPal, as it is specifically designed to deal with online transactions.

If you would like to set up a PayPal account you can visit the PayPal website. Or if you are still feeling unsure about how secure PayPal is, why not read Drew’s answer to the question “Is PayPal safe?” which was sent in by one of our subscribers.

Tips for winning auctions

  • Try not to get into a bidding war too early
    Resist the temptation to bid on an item the minute you find it (unless the auction is about to end). If you leave your bidding to the last few minutes you will lull anyone who made an early bid into a false sense of security. This also helps to keep the cost of the item as low as possible, as you don’t have days to keep bidding over one another
  • Make sure the bid you place is genuinely the maximum you are willing to pay for the item. eBay uses an automated system whereby it will incrementally make bids for you up to that maximum bid amount, so your maximum bid isn’t necessarily what you will have to pay for an item. Bidding this way will also help you not to get stuck in a bidding war where, in the heat of the moment, you lock yourself into paying much more than you can afford.
  • All eBay ads are placed by regular people like you and me. Which means they can make mistakes. Items with spelling mistakes in the title (e.g. iPPod) will often go off without a single bid being made. To find these erroneously titled ads visit, a site which will search for misspelled variations of the words you search for on eBay.
  • Look for auctions which are finishing early in the morning or late at night, or bid during summer or holiday periods – there are fewer people using eBay at these times, so there will be less competition.
  • Never bid a whole dollar amount. Most people will put $50 on an item, so if you have put $50.90 you are much more likely to win the auction.

Buying on eBay can be a very rewarding experience. Using these tips and tricks you should be able to score yourself a bargain. Just ensure you always know what the postage costs are, as these can drive up the price of an item significantly, and be aware of your online safety. To find out more about staying safe while you shop online, read Drew’s article on Online shopping security. Happy bidding!

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