BOOT CAMP 297 (21/10/03)


Online Auctions part 2 – Buying Tips


There is a small element of risk in buying goods in an ebay auction ( but don’t let that put you off hunting for bargains or a sought after addition to a collection. You can greatly reduce the chances of a transaction going wrong with a few simple precautions and as you gain experience you will be able to spot scams and charlatans. Just keep in mind the old adage that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and you won’t go far wrong.


We’ll begin with some basic search tips, to help you find what you are looking for. You can window-shop on ebay without registering but it’s a good idea to sign up as soon as possible; it’s free and you might stumble across something in an auction that’s about to end, leaving you no time to fill out the forms.


Ebay has a sophisticated search engine and if the item you’re looking for is reasonably straightforward -- Clarice Cliff pottery for example -- simply click the ‘Browse’ button on the ebay home page and tap in ‘clarice cliff’. This will return several hundred ‘hits’ but if you are interested in a specific piece, era or style (e.g. Bizarre, tureen, etc.), jus add that to the search string. Alternatively click on the Search button, to include or exclude terms to refine your search.


It’s surprising how often sellers make mistakes so try some simple misspellings, like ‘clarice cliffe’; this can unearth items that rival buyers may have missed, reducing the number of bids and possibly resulting in a lower selling price. If you find something of interest but the auction isn’t due to end for a few days click ‘Watch this item’; it will be tracked in ‘My Ebay’ and you’ll be sent a reminder email the day before the auction ends.


One of the best indicators of a seller’s reliability is their Feedback. You should always check by clicking on the ‘Read Feedback’ link or the number next to the seller’s name in ‘Seller Information’. This will display a list of their transactions to date. The higher the feedback rating the better but be cautious of anyone with more than a couple of ‘negatives’, especially if their feedback total is less than 100. Always read negative or neutral feedback; if it is for relatively minor issues that the seller has tried to resolve then it may not be a problem but if the seller has responded with insults or jibes then take that as a warning.


Look at some of the seller’s recent sales; if they’re mostly for similar products to the one you’re interested in and they have a lot of satisfied customers that’s a good sign. You may even find the item they’re currently selling, and how much they paid for it. If you have any questions ask, (click the ‘Ask seller a question’ link on an auction page) most legitimate sellers are usually only too happy to oblige. If you don’t receive a satisfactory reply within 24 hours or so your alarm bells should start ringing.


Start small with a few low cost items to get a feel of how ebay works and hopefully earn some positive feedback. To begin with you should avoid high-value technology items such as laptops, digital cameras, plasma screen televisions and so on, especially from overseas sellers, even if they have a high feedback rating as there have been cases of identity theft. Steer clear of any seller requesting payment only by Western Union or direct money transfer; these may be for non-existent goods and it will be virtually impossible to get your money back.


When bidding enter an odd amount. For example if the item you are interested in is currently selling for £9.00 and the most you are willing to pay is £10, enter a Proxy bid of £10.05. Bid increments will be 50 pence and ebay automatically enters your bid as £9.50. If someone tries to outbid you by entering £10 they will receive an outbid notice, which may discourage them from further bidding but they won’t know that your higher bid is only 5 pence above theirs. Set your limit and stick to it and never bid without a good idea of how much an item is worth – goods sometimes sell on ebay for more than they can be purchased in shops…


Check the ‘Bid History’ of any item you are following and be suspicious of auctions with bid withdrawal notices. This could be a sign of ‘shill’ bidding, an illegal practice where the seller or an accomplice bids for their own item to artificially boost the price and generate interest, then withdraws the bid at the last minute.


Bidding in the last moments of an auction is known as ‘sniping’ and is frowned on in some quarters but it’s not against the rules, however, it takes strong nerves and split-second timing. (see Tip of the Week).


Don’t forget to add on the cost of postage to your bid. If it isn’t shown ask; a few unscrupulous sellers have been known to try and make extra profit with inflated shipping costs.


Auctions that end on weekday mornings or early afternoons usually attract fewer bids and hence lower prices than those in the evenings or at weekends because there are fewer people logged on.


Buying from overseas sellers is not necessarily a problem; click the ‘Items available to UK’ link or drop-down menu on a search page. Prices are shown in Sterling and local currency. Always email the seller well before the sale ends for a quote for shipping. Request both surface and airmail prices, the former is often quite reasonable, though packages can take anything from 4 to 6 weeks to arrive from the US or further afield. Insurance is recommended on overseas items costing more than £20, say. Items purchased outside the EU may be liable to import duty and VAT; buyers have been known to ask sellers to mark the parcel as a ‘gift’ or ‘sample’ to avoid UK Customs duties. International sellers usually want payment by credit card via PayPal, which is a good idea as it costs you nothing and the payment is made instantly.


If you win an auction contact the seller as soon as possible, pay promptly and leave appropriate feedback when your goods arrive. If you are outbid don’t worry, the chances are there’s another one just like it coming up soon.


Next week – Online Auctions part 3 – Selling Tips





Comments left by buyers and sellers for each other at the end of an auction



A personalised page within ebay that keeps track of items you are watching, bidding on or selling



The most you are prepared to pay for an item, leaving ebay to bid automatically on your behalf




If you bid on an item only to find that you’ve been outbid in the last few seconds then you’ve been ‘sniped’. It can be extremely frustrating but it’s perfectly legitimate. Sniping can increase your chances of winning but it does mean that you have to be online at the time the auction finishes, which may not be convenient. However, there are software programs and web sites that will do it for you. For a detailed overview of the practice, and links to sniping sites and programs go to:

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