Do you ebay?

A few years ago I discovered ebay.

In case any readers live under a virtual rock, ebay is the huge online auction site where you can buy anything from clothes to a car to a peanut butter sandwich with the face of Jesus Christ in it. (I’m not making that up, though I might not remember the details correctly.  Some crazy thing like that was up on ebay for auction.) What some people may not know is how extensive it is.  It pretty much has changed the way I shop.

At first I thought of ebay only as a way to get what I wanted for much cheaper than I could get it in the store–which doesn’t always work; you have to pay attention, not lose your head, and do a lot of research about whatever you are buying.  And it’s a lot more work than walking into a store and going, “Okay, I’ll take that” and plunking down the plastic, or logging onto a retail website and doing the same. 

But after I saw “The Story of Stuff” and began thinking about how “carbon footprint” is about a lot more than how much garbage I generate or how many miles per gallon my car gets, I began to realize that my plan of buying cheap clothing for myself and my kids from big box stores and such, clothing that would wear out in a season and get tossed or sent to Goodwill (and probably get tossed) wasn’t even remotely carbon-savvy–and in the long run, probably not all that cost-savvy either.  So I started paying attention.

Now I buy almost all of my children’s clothes from other moms who make a few extra dollars for their families by selling their own kids’ gently used outgrown things.  Holiday dresses for my daughter especially are easy to find, since those kinds of things tend to be worn only once or twice and then outgrown, but it’s also a huge relief to spend just a few dollars per piece on already slightly worn play clothes and not have to worry if she spills allegedly-washable-but-we-moms-know-the-truth blue paint onto her new pink top.  My son’s knees and the ground seem to be great friends, so it’s better when the holes in the jeans happen in the used ones I paid $3 for than the brand-new ones I spent $14.99 on.

I occasionally find good stuff for myself, too–once you know what brand names and sizes fit well, you can just search for those.  It’s thrift store shopping from your living room, but a really big thrift store and you need to pay attention.

In my experience, most ebay sellers are good honest folks who just want to run a business and recognize the value of good customer service.  With a little experience, it’s not too hard to find the pitfalls and know what deals and sellers to avoid.

A few tips:

  1. Read ALL the small print. Assume nothing.
  2. If you are buying something to wear and the listing includes measurements, don’t assume it will fit just because you wear a Medium. Measure yourself and be sure.
  3. If the listing doesn’t provide enough information, ask.  And be wary–sellers who don’t know enough to include all the info in the listing are probably less experienced and might make mistakes.  You could get a great deal–or you could get burned.
  4. Check the return policy.  Every seller is different, so every seller sets his or her own policy. Also realize that unless your reason for return is entirely the seller’s fault, you will get back the purchase price but probably not the shipping costs. (See tips #6 and #7 regarding shipping costs!)
  5. Check your seller’s feedback rating.  Every transaction leaves the buyer with the option of leaving a feedback rating of positive, neutral, or negative for the seller. I personally never buy from a seller with less than a 99% positive feedback rating, and I always check the ratings to see where the negatives come from and if there’s a pattern. (Some sellers, you should understand, also get burned by dishonest buyers who leave negative feedback that’s not really deserved.)
  6. Ask questions about the item, if you have any at all.  Good sellers will respond quickly; a seller who doesn’t get back to me after maybe 48 ours at the latest is probably not someone I want to do business with anyway.
  7. Beware shipping fees–they can be huge, because they can include “handling fees” from the seller.  Remember that a $3 shirt you have to pay $14.95 in shipping for is essentially a $17.95 shirt.
  8. Check the item location and how long it will take to get to you. Increasingly, people in Hong Kong are selling on ebay, and these take a long time to arrive and usually cost a lot to ship.
  9. Don’t get caught up in the “OMG I might lose it!” thrill of the auction.  Rarely is there an item, at least in my world, that will never come up again or that is such a good deal that you can’t afford to miss it, and also such a hidden treasure that no one else will recognize it’s such a good deal and thus drive up the price till it’s not such a good deal after all.
  10. Obviously, increase your research/care/diligence as the cost of what you’re buying increases.  It’s one thing to get burned on a $15 coat, another to get jerked around on a $1200 computer.  On the other hand, I am typing this on a laptop computer I got for a really good price on ebay.
  11. Don’t assume that the “buy it now” price on any item is cheaper than you could get it retail.  Research, research, research!
  12. Consider using a sniping site, like or several others (do a Google search!).  There are mixed opinions about the ethics of sniping, but I personally think it’s a great field-leveller.  It sort of turns things into a closed-envelope auction.  When bidding on ebay, you put in the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for an item, and the actual bid only goes to the lowest necessary to top the next highest bid.  So if you say you’ll go to $15 and the previous bidder only put in up to $10, your bid will stand at $11 or so unless someone else says they’ll go to, say, $13, in which case you’ll still be winning but your bid will automatically go up to $14. And so on.  If you just place a bid on an item and someone else wants it, they may place another bid and keep inching up to see how far your bid will go, and that’s how bidding wars happen and folks end up paying much more than they should.  What happens when you sign on with a sniping site is that you put in your maximum bid amount there, and the site automatically places your bid during the last 7 seconds or so of the auction.  That way you decide in advance what you’re willing to pay, and you take away both your and the other bidders ability to hem and haw and inch up your amount.  I just think it’s smart.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  But a lot of people snipe these days, so it’s at least important that you know how it works.

I think that’s most of it–happy bidding!




Posted on August 26, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I feel the same way about ebay. Good point though re the shipping fees. That often kills the deal for me.

    In any event, please shoot me an email when you have a chance. I wanted to talk to you about guest posting over at our site. Thanks!

    • greenmomintheburbs

      Seriously? Wow, thanks! I love the Phone Booth, it’s probably the single blog I check every day…I just got back from another out of town convention, but I’ll get caught up shortly!

  2. Those are some good tips, thanks.

    Another 1, maybe just send the seller an offer and ask them to end the listing immediately and sell to you. All they can do is say no, and you can then still bid on the item if they turn you down.

    1 more, save searches that you’re interested in, so that you’ll receive emails when an item is listed matching your criteria.

    You can do this on ebay itself, but they send out only 1 email per day for a particular saved search.

    With a site like, ebay can be checked as often as every 5 minutes for newly listed matching items, and an email would be sent to you each time a matching new listing is detected.

    • greenmomintheburbs

      I personally don’t like to do the “go outside of the system” thing for buying, and I know ebay frowns on it highly…for one thing, you have no protections if the deal goes bad, and for another, I like supporting a system like ebay with my patronage, rather than going around it.

      On the other hand, an in-between way to go is to email someone, negotiate price, and ask them to put a “buy it now” option on the item. It’s effectively the same thing, but it stays in the system, maintains the ebay safeguards, and gives both you and the seller the opportunity to build more good feedback.

      Thanks for the other tips!

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