NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2002
Guerilla Strategies for eBay Buying and Selling
Bass shows you how to take advantage of eBay's loopholes and trapdoors
by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group
(click to email author)

Everyone's heard of eBay, even my Aunt Blossom, my only relative without a PC. I'm guessing many of you buy from eBay but haven't had the nerve to sell.

Well, folks, I've been buying and selling on eBay for about a year, much of the time with great success. Over time, I've accumulated a few iron-clad strategies and a couple of rules, things that have helped me prevent getting burned either as a buyer or seller.

Fair warning: at least two tips might rub you wrong; some of you might call them unethical. I'll let you decide what's right for you.

Do the Diligence
Like everything in life, in order to be successful with eBay, you need to do your home work.

Whether you're buying or selling, spend lots of time examining similar products on eBay.

My rule is to examine the price and condition of at least 20 items from at least five different sellers. If it's a high-ticket item (a set of expensive, custom-made GNP speakers, for instance), I also want to track the day and time of day when other high-end speakers sell. That way I have a good feel both for pricing and when to put my speakers up for sale.

eBay provides flexible - and powerful - searching tools. When searching for an item, use an assortment of spellings. For instance, I was looking for a charcoal barbeque, so I searched on BBQ, barbecue, barbeque, bar-be-que, b-b-q, and grill. To hone in on the right BBQ, I modified the search to ignore things I wasn't interested in seeing. Placing a minus sign in front of each of following words eliminated them completely: gas, propane, indoor, book, tongs, and smokeless.

What may not seem obvious are eBay's tremendous tracking tools. Before I sell a product, I'll watch dozens of items using the Bidding /Watching tab portion of "my eBay." I also have a dozen searches saved within the Favorites tab.

A Seller's Market
Ready for some eBay sacrilege? I think you're better off selling on eBay rather than buying. Sure there are exceptions, lots of them. You might be looking for something unique, an item you just can't get elsewhere (and willing to pay the price). For instance, I really, really, needed a CPU for an old Gateway Destination and I found it on eBay - and at a decent price.

My take? Just because it's up for auction on eBay, it doesn't mean it's going to sell at a bargain price. But overall sellers are having a field day because there's real excitement bidding, something that often pushes up the price.

For instance, not long ago I was looking for a specific Sony DVD player and watched a dozen eBay bids. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: The lowest auction ended at $130 plus $22 shipping; the highest at $140 and $21 shipping. The price at Crutchfield, a big online discounter? $135 with free shipping. (Sorry, you've got to do the math yourself.)

The message? Check outside of eBay for a pricing reality check.

Gimmie Some Feedback!
Everyone knows to check a seller's feedback, right? What's important is you need to do more than just scan the feedback, but pay close attention to the details.

The letter "B" and "S" at the right side of each feedback listing signifies whether the person was a buyer or seller. If you're a buyer, the feedback about the person's buying behavior, while not irrelevant, isn't as critical as his seller feedback.

Make sure to scroll through at least five pages of feedback, especially if you're buying a high-ticket item.

You can also get a better sense of a buyer or seller's attitude by viewing their feedback about others. Head for their feedback page and click on the "Feedback About Others" link.

Ebay Trick One
I discovered these two strategies by accident and now use them regularly.

I was thinking about selling my car, a '95 Volvo, through eBay. I watched dozens of auto sales and the majority were successful. Yet it was a $6000 sale so I was getting cold feet. I decided to contact potential buyers, people listed in the Bid History area of the auction page.

My goal was to find out what motivated them to buy and what dissuaded them from bidding on the car more than once. What I got was an enormous amount of valuable info. For instance, on guy said, "I only will bid on a car that has an eBay warranty on it for major problems." Another explained "Start the bidding at $1500 in order to just get serious buyers. Nothing annoys me more than someone who starts bidding at $1.00 on a 2001 vehicle, especially when they have a buy-it-now price in the $20K range."

What was more exciting were these questions: "BTW - I've gotta ask...what color & how many miles?", "I feel the urge to ask -- what kind of 95 Volvo do you have to sell, color, mileage, options etc.?"

I ended up selling the car locally, from a sign on the car that I parked in the street.

The Second Trick
I built a small pond in the backyard, something to attract birds. I needed a submersible pump and just missed an auction. I wrote to the seller, asked if he had any more, and bought one at about $10 less than the price it sold for at auction. I've tried that twice and both times it's worked out with a successful purchase.

Now reverse the situation. Say you have something you're about to put up for auction. You do your diligence and find a handful of similar items for sale. What's to say that after the auction's ended, you can't contact each of the non-winners (okay, losers - I was trying to be kind) and offer to sell them your item directly.

The truth is I've heard people say these methods are unethical, at least according to eBay's rules. I'm sleeping well but you'll have to make your own decision.

Listen, I've got to go. I just got a page that an auction's about to end and I have to start bidding.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check his Home Office columns at http://snurl.com/homeoffice and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://snurl.com/signup

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