How To Find The Best Deals On Ebay And Other Online Auctions

Finding the best deals on ebay and other online auctions is a breeze with some initial research and smart bidding strategies.

The phrase "caveat emptor" - let the buyer beware - is never more meaningful than when applied to online auctions. Because the sale is an auction, you can't be certain what the final price will be. Because it's online, you cannot examine the merchandise firsthand and must rely entirely on the seller's integrity to strike a good deal. With the proper preparation and savvy bidding skills, however, finding the best deals can be a breeze.

Is An Online Auction Right For You?

Online auctions differ greatly from traditional auctions where only rare, collectible, and generally valuable merchandise is offered. In an online auction, new and used contemporary products are sold as well as vintage pieces, and the condition of merchandise can vary widely. Online sellers are usually not experts, therefore the buyer must be even more cautious. Many great deals can be found, however, with some preliminary research and a sly bidding strategy.

Finding Just What You're Looking For

Because you cannot see or touch an online auction item before purchasing it, you need to be careful to find exactly what you're looking for. Online auction sites such as Ebay, Yahoo, and Amazon have several methods of searching for items, but a direct search doesn't always deliver the best deals. For example, if you are interested in vintage Christmas ornaments, a search for "Shiny Brite" will yield the most results, but those results also have higher prices. Using the search term "Shiney Brite" will yield additional auctions that are typically overlooked by collectors who don't consider the misspelling when searching for items. Choosing to search in both title and description will also yield a greater number of auctions, since not every seller uses the same keywords.

Once you have found an item you are interested in, carefully read its description. If anything is unclear, contact the seller to ask detailed questions or, if possible, request additional photographs of the item. Be sure to contact a seller several days before the auction ends so that they have time to respond, and be wary of the seller who never gets back to you; this may be a sign that they're unwilling to answer your questions. Because a winning bid is a legal contract, you must be certain to resolve any potential problems before bidding - you don't want to find out after you've won that you should have read the description more closely!

To be absolutely certain that you are getting the best deal, investigate the seller's feedback. On Ebay, you can do this directly from the specific auction's page. A large number of positive comments indicates that the seller is trustworthy and reliable. If you do find a negative comment that seems suspicious, it would be prudent to investigate the feedback of the person who left that comment to judge which person may be more trustworthy.

Finding the Best Price

Before bidding on any auction, you need to be aware of the value of the item you're interested in. If you are shopping for a contemporary item - for example, a computer game or new toaster - you should first determine its store price in your area. Compare that price with online stores to get a general estimate. When researching prices online, include any shipping and handling costs to determine an accurate quote.

If you are interested in antique or vintage items, you should first examine any similar items at local antique stores as well as browse current price guides. This will give you an approximate value for the item and usually includes a range of prices depending on the condition of the piece. Note, however, that each seller may define "mint" or "good" differently, and you should always ask questions if the details are unclear.

With your initial ballpark figure in mind, it's time browse online auctions. First, investigate recently completed auctions to learn what the winning bids have been. Ebay will allow you to search recent auctions, typically those that have ended within the past two weeks. By doing this you can determine right away if you could get a better deal simply by buying the item from a store rather than getting caught up in an auction.

Next, determine the maximum amount that you're willing to spend, including shipping and handling charges, insurance for fragile items, and any other possible costs, such as sales tax or purchasing a money order for the payment. If you are interested in a new item, it is prudent to wait a few weeks before buying it, which will generally lower auction prices and offer better deals for the patient bidder. If you are considering buying multiple items from the same seller, ask if they are willing to combine shipping costs, and factor that savings into your maximum bid(s). Depending on where the seller is located, you may even be able to arrange to pick up the item yourself, therefore saving all shipping charges.

Bidding Strategies

You've found your item and decided the maximum you're willing to pay, so it's time to bid, right? Not quite yet, if you want to engineer the best deal.

Ebay allows sellers to set a Buy It Now price, usually a higher amount than the initial bid. By choosing to Buy It Now, a bidder buys the item outright rather than bidding on it over several days. This is a great option if you need to close a deal quickly, but if you're interested in the lowest price patience can save a lot of pennies. You could place a low initial bid, which would cancel the Buy It Now option and force the auction to run out the time period, hopefully resulting in a lower selling price than if you'd bought the item right away.

All three major online auction sites (Ebay, Yahoo, and Amazon) offer automatic proxy bidding. This allows you to bid on an item in small increments without revealing how much you're willing to spend. You simply enter your maximum bid, and the auction's server will continually update your bid to keep you as the high bidder until someone outbids your maximum. This is an ideal option if you cannot monitor the auction regularly.

When entering your maximum bid, be sure to deduct the cost of shipping, handling, applicable taxes, insurance, and even purchasing a money order or cashier's check (if necessary) from the maximum amount you wish to spend. Unless the seller states otherwise, the bid cost only covers the cost of the item, not additional costs involved in actually receiving the item.

A savvy bidder will often enter an odd maximum bid, because most bidders use whole numbers. For example, if you're willing to bid a maximum of $25 for that vintage mink muff, entering a bid of $25.03 insures that you beat anyone else's $25 bid. Pennies can count!

When entering a bid, be careful of errors. Forgetting a decimal point may mean that you're suddenly the high bidder with a maximum of $2503 for the same mink muff. Major auction sites do allow you to retract your bid in the case of an obvious typographical error, but a notation is made on your bidding history that could label you as less reliable.

The majority of bidders prefer to personally monitor the end of auctions they're interested in. Because of this, many of the best deals can be found in the early morning hours of the Eastern Time Zone (just before midnight, Pacific Time). Many east coast bidders are fast asleep, while west coast bidders are just retiring. To a deal-conscious bidder, losing a bit of sleep could mean gaining a great deal.

One of the most common bidding strategies is sniping - waiting until the final seconds (usually less than twenty) of an auction before entering a high maximum bid. By doing this, other bidders do not have the time to drive up your bid, and unless someone else is sniping the same auction (resulting in a bidding war in the final moments), you have a very good chance at winning the auction. If you choose this strategy, be careful of your internet connection speed - an untimely pause or browser freeze could mean those final seconds tick away without your bid.

Closing the Deal

Congratulations, you've won! But the deal isn't finished until you have the promised item in hand. To expedite delivery, contact the seller right away with your shipping address, and ask for a final price calculation (including the winning bid and any other costs). Once you know the final price, be sure to send the payment immediately. Payment methods vary, and are listed in the item description.

As a winning bidder, do not leave feedback for the seller until you have received the item. Be sure to examine it thoroughly and compare it to the advertised description, especially noting any flaws. If it is an electronic item, test it first. Many sellers willingly refund the cost of the item (minus shipping costs) if it was misrepresented in the auction, but they are not required to do so. If a dispute arises, be sure to carefully read the terms of service of the auction site to see if they can assist you in resolving the situation. With thorough investigation and savvy bidding, however, the majority of problems can be avoided entirely.

Once you are satisfied with the item, leave appropriate feedback, and remind the seller to do the same for you. It never hurts to put in a good word, and that can help you make even better deals in the future.

With more than ten million online auctions running at any given time, finding a great deal can be a daunting task. But with some initial investigation and a carefully planned bidding strategy, you can snare incredible deals before they're going, going, gone!

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