BOOT CAMP 383 (28/06/05)

ebay Top Tips part 2, Buying


Many people’s first encounters with ebay are as buyers and this is a good way to get a feel for how it all works. Once you have registered (see last week’s Boot Camp) you can jump straight in and bid on anything that takes your fancy but as with any auction have a good idea of the value of the item you are bidding on and set yourself a firm spending limit.


It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and end up paying over the odds for something that you might be able to buy cheaper or more easily elsewhere and don’t forget to factor in the cost of postage. Remember also that in a private auction you do not have the normal safeguards of buying from a retailer, so caveat emptor! I suggest that you start small, items costing less than £20, say, to gain some experience and reduce the chances of making a costly mistake.


When looking for items choose your search keywords carefully. For example, a search for Art Deco ceramics would return several thousand hits but this can be trimmed to a more manageable number by specifying a manufacturer, pattern or date, e.g. ‘clarice cliff bizarre’ (ebay searches are not case sensitive, by the way).


This will give you plenty to look at and you may well find several items of interest, however, for popular categories thousands of other buyers may be looking for exactly the same thing and competition could be fierce, so here’s a trick to unearth some real bargains. Take advantage of some ebay seller’s inability to spell by trying common mis-spellings. For example searching for ‘clarice cliffe’ or ‘clarace cliff’ might well return several hits; these items will be viewed by significantly fewer people, they won’t attract so many bids and the final selling price could be a lot lower; you might even be the only one!


By default ebay searches for goods from UK sellers. To widen the net change the Location parameter in the left hand Search Options panel to Europe or Worldwide. You will also find options for ‘filtering’, by sale type (auction or Buy It Now), condition, price and location.


Once you have found something of interest review the seller’s Feedback (click on the number after their ebay username); avoid anyone with a poor sales record. Check the photographs and read the auction write-up very carefully, especially payment and postage options, which may be expensive or contain extra charges. If you have a query click the ‘Ask the Seller a Question’ link and if you don’t receive a speedy or satisfactory reply give it a wide berth. 


Unless the auction is about to end resist the temptation to place a bid straight away. Bidding usually hots up in the last few minutes so jumping in early can drive up the price. You can judge the interest in an item by checking the number of times it has been viewed. Add the lot (or lots) to your ‘Watchlist’ by clicking the ‘Watch this item’ link and ebay will automatically remind you by email 24 hours before the auction ends.


To bid simply enter the maximum amount you are willing to pay. This is known as a Proxy bid and ebay automatically bids on your behalf up to your limit every time you are outbid. If you just enter the next suggested bid amount you will be easily outbid. Avoid using ‘round’ numbers (i.e. £10.00) as you could loose an item for the sake of a few pence to someone with a Proxy bid of £10.51, say.


Bidding in the last few moments of an auction is known as ‘sniping’. This practice is frowned up by some ebayers but it is perfectly legitimate and within the rules; the highest bid always wins, no matter how late it is entered. The downside is that sniping requires split-second timing, strong nerves and you risk being outbid in the last few seconds, leaving you no time to raise your bid.


One way to improve your sniping chances is to open two browser windows displaying your chosen lot. A few minutes before the auction ends select the second browser window, click the place bid button, enter your highest bid amount, click OK but do not click the Confirm button. Switch back to the first browser window and use the F5 key to update the page every 30 seconds or so, to monitor the time remaining and the current price. One minute before the auction ends switch to the second window and click the Confirm button as close to the end of the auction as you dare (a stopwatch is handy), but no later than 10 to 15 seconds before the end as it can take this long for the system to register your bid (longer if you are using a dial-up connection).  


If you don’t like the idea of manual sniping there are numerous programs and web-based services that will do it for you (see Top Tip). These are also useful if you are unable to place a late bid yourself.


Finally, if you win your auction pay promptly and if you are satisfied with the goods leave Positive feedback for the Seller and they should do the same for you. If there’s a problem contact the seller as soon as possible, most ebayers are fair-minded and strive to avoid Negative feedback or tangling with ebay’s tortuous dispute resolution process.


Next Week -- ebay Top Tips -- part 2 Selling


Part 1 3 4 5





Let the buyer beware!



Displays distance, in miles, of the seller from where you live



Page refresh function, pressing F5 updates the currently displayed page




There are numerous auction sniping programs and websites that automatically bid on your behalf. A freeware program called Bidsage ( is a good example and it can be set to enter your bid seconds before the auction closes, however, your PC has to be left on and connected to the Internet so you really need a broadband connection. Other sniping tools worth investigating include:

BidNiP (



Auction Stealer:

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