Holiday Shopping the Ebay Way

I’ve been a member of the Ebay community since December, 1998. Two years ago, I did 90% of my holiday shopping online using strictly Ebay’s services and products. Would I do it again? Perhaps. Have I learned anything from my experience? Absolutely!

If you’re thinking of shopping on Ebay, the world’s leading online auction site, more power – and more savings – to you! Like everything in life, however, there are certain guidelines which you should follow to maximize your holiday bargain shopping experience.

1. Have a written list of the SPECIFIC items you are hoping to buy – a Kate Spade purse, a Prada wallet, a set of dishtowels, a down comforter, an expresso machine – and for whom you’re purchasing these gifts. Above all, be certain that these gifts are what your gift recipients truly, really want. Return policies vary from seller to seller on Ebay; the seller’s policy should be listed in the auction body itself, and they strictly adhere to it. If you order an item in early December, and the seller’s return policy states ‘all returns must be made within 7 days after receipt’, or even worse, ‘all purchases final, no returns’, you are truly up the proverbial creek if the giftee doesn’t want the item, the item can’t be returned within 7 days of purchase because it’s a Christmas gift weeks away, or there’s a problem with the item that won’t be detected until it’s been opened and/or used. Stick to the list! Make certain that your list has had a good deal of thought put into it before you start bidding away.

2. You find that Kate Spade purse you want to buy – good for you! But before you bid, check the seller’s feedback! This is extremely, extremely important. Ebay sellers (and buyers) live and die by their feedback. If the seller is an international seller, checking their feedback is even more important. Bear in mind that the ‘power sellers’, those who have sold literally thousands of items on Ebay during the past, have a higher chance of getting negative feedback because of sheer volume. A seller who has a 98% positive feedback rating or better is certainly worth risking your bid. Do yourself a favor and read the feedback comments left for the seller; they are ranked by date of feedback left, so the most recent comments will be the first. Sometimes a seller (especially one who has been with Ebay a long time) will have started on rocky footing, but improved their service and quality of goods sold significantly since.

3. If you’re buying a name brand item, check the listing thoroughly for authenticity verification. Sellers are no longer allowed to sell ‘replicas’ on Ebay, i.e., Louis Vuitton knockoffs, etc. Sometimes you will run across a seller who honestly states in their listing that they believe the item to be authentic – it has engraved, embossed or initialed markings on the item attesting to its authenticity. Your best bet in buying what will most likely be the ‘real deal’? Buy the item NWT – ‘new with tags’. If the original manufacturers’ tags are still attached, you have some degree of comfort that the item is indeed authentic.

4. Speaking of buying ‘NWT’, this really is the best way to go when you’re buying a gift for someone other than yourself or your immediate (and forgiving!) family members. Sometimes you will even get the original box with the item, which is a huge plus. Any item that comes with its original tag is frankly worth more than one that does not. A number of sellers will remove not only the original tag but also the sewn-in label of an item (Victoria’s Secret items are usually sold this way) so that the buyer cannot return the item to a company store for any sort of refund. If you’re buying lingerie for yourself or your daughter, having the items arrive in this condition may not be a problem; if it’s a gift for your Aunt Susan, however, she may be aghast at receiving a bathrobe with no tags or even a brand label inside it.

5. Check the seller’s shipping policy. Some shippers will only use the USPS, others will only use a commercial carrier. You may think you’re getting a real steal on an item that is extremely well priced – all the more reason to see if you’ll be paying $15, $20 or maybe more in shipping costs, most likely three times the cost of the actual item purchased. Also read the auction listing carefully to see how the seller handles ‘DOA’ items (‘dead on arrival’). These are items that arrive to you (or the person to whom you’re having it sent) in damaged or destroyed condition. You may end up having to go through the hassle of filing out claim forms, etc. if this happens. If the seller offers shipping insurance (which is usually a nominal fee and offered through the USPS), take the insurance; it’s worth it in the long run.

6. Your best bet to quickly find what you’re looking for is to do a ‘search’ on Ebay’s home page. This will take you directly to the auctions for that item. However, the temptation to browse through Ebay is very, very great! The home page itself is designed to entice you with dozens and dozens of specials, top-selling gift ideas, ‘hot’ items, etc. Should you go browsing through Ebay, or even if you’ve found exactly the item for which you’re looking, be wary of the impulse to place a bid immediately. Often, you’ll find the exact same item listed further down the page at a better price. Items are displayed in order of the time the auction is ending. One’s natural inclination is to bid immediately and snatch up the item – this impulse buying can really cost you if you haven’t done your due diligence and the auction is ending in minutes.

If you do find exactly what you’re hoping to buy, the price is right, the shipping costs are reasonable, the item is brand new with tags, etc., you might even have the option to ‘buy it now’. This feature means that for a (higher) price, you can purchase the item immediately without having to go through the hassle of waiting for hours – or days – for the auction to end. If the ‘buy it now’ price is reasonable, you’ve checked out the seller and the terms of the auction, quite often it really is worth it to spend an extra $10, $20 or so to lock in your purchase. But again, use caution! Check out the item and details specifically before hitting that ‘buy it now’ button!

7. One more precaution: you will truly be tempted to go browsing through auction items which you had not considered, ones that were not on your written gift list. Sometimes, the price may seem to good to be true, from a very reputable buyer. While being a free-spirited soul is generally a delightful quality, it can also be quite costly. You will end up spending your hard-earned dollars on something that a) you don’t really need and could live without, and b) no one on your gift list would ever use! That impulse buy has taken a bit of a chunk now out of your holiday budget.

8. Most of all, know in advance the retail price of the items you’re hoping to buy on Ebay in advance of making your search. Check the newspaper and mail fliers, check the prices at the merchant’s online web site itself, even do a ‘google’ search to find that item on the web and compare prices from the various sites offering it for sale. Only then will you know what is – and what isn’t – a really good buy.

Shopping the Ebay way can be a really fun way to shop for bargains any time of the day or night. If you want to step it up a bit gift-wise, you can go the ultimate Ebay route – purchase an Ebay gift card for those lucky folks on your holiday list!

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