Though years have passed since eBay's rise to prominence as an online trading platform, new eBay shoppers continue to struggle with many of the same mistakes that have haunted previous generations of first-time-eBayers.
Though the "basics of not getting a raw deal" in the world of buying and selling are often common sense rules that are valid beyond eBay, eBay's unique website, rules, and format can often create unique wrinkles on old fashioned common sense that can be ironed out with a few eBay-specific pointers.
Here are some of the most common mistakes made by new eBay shoppers and the best ways to avoid them.
- Buying the first item in search results. For several years now,
eBay's search system has been configured to show you the item(s) or seller(s)
eBay would like you to
patronize, rather than those that
may offer the widest variety of options or those that might have the best
prices. Most of the time this means that you're seeing the sellers that move
the most goods, which can be a good sign. But it also means that you may be
paying more than you need to pay, since there may be other item(s) or
seller(s) buried deeply in search results that are both perfectly good in
their own right and that meet your needs more closely, on price or
Avoid this mistake by: Using advanced search options and/or sorting your search results by price and/or other criteria after you click the "Search" button for the first time.
- Bidding on the lowest-priced auction-format item. There are a lot
of auction items on eBay whose "current price" is just pennies on the dollar
in relation to the item's real value. This state of affairs doesn't last. These kinds of items
are actually auctions, and while they may be priced low now, by the
time the auction is over they won't be. Too many beginners spend a lot of
time on eBay trying to get a car, a guitar, a laptop, or anything else for
just a dollar or twothen get frustrated and give up on eBay because
they imagine it to be
dishonest or always end up
Avoid this mistake by: Bidding what you think the item is actually worth and/or what you are actually willing to pay for it in the real world using eBay's proxy bid system, or buying only items that do not involve bidding.
- Buying without checking seller feedback. eBay's
remains much more critical to shopping safety on eBay than seller ratings
systems on other buying and selling sites like Amazon.com. eBay sellers
offer a much wider variety of goods and are subject to much more lax
controls than are sellers on many other sites. Buying from a seller whose
feedback isn't particularly good is a sure recipe for dissatisfaction and
Avoid this mistake by: Always checking seller feedback and detailed seller ratings before placing a bid or making a purchase.
- Getting caught in bidding wars and/or overbid for an item. eBay's
proxy bidding system and the anonymity of eBay bidding can conspire to cause
many new eBay shoppers to develop a bad case of
auction brain, bidding much
more for items than they otherwise would in the heat of the moment. Don't do
this. There's no point in dealing with the extra complexity and risk of eBay
buying (versus traditional retail) if you're going to pay just as much
thanks to a
Don't imagine that because eBay is "just a website auction," you're not
obligated to honor your winning bid or can just
retract it easily. You are
obligated to complete the transaction if you've wonand too many buyers
have discovered this only afterward.
Avoid this mistake by: Setting a limit on your purchase price before placing any bids, preferably in writing on a pad of paper or post-it note by your desk, to remind you that the sky is NOT the limit, even if a competing bidder is Really Making You Angry.
- Failing to read item descriptions thoroughly. Unlike other retail
sites like Amazon.com, every single item on eBay has its very own
description page for that particular item (i.e. not one description that
gives information on all of the iPhone 4s sold on eBay, but an individual
description for every single, individual iPhone 4 that is for sale on eBay).
eBay allows sellers to sell incomplete, broken, modified, and other
non-retail-condition items, so failing to read all the information that a
seller has given about the item being sold can easily lead to surprises and
dissatisfaction once your purchase arrives.
Avoid this mistake by: Carefully reading the description of the item entered by the seller, looking for details about item condition, functionality, included parts and accessories, legal constraints/conditions that attach to it, and anything else related to its value.
- Paying by e-check or instant bank transfer. Yes, nearly every
transaction that you complete on eBay will use
PayPal as its payment
processor, but many new eBay shoppers don't realize that PayPal enables you
to pay in several different waysand that the default way is much less
safe than some of the others. PayPal encourages you to pay using an instant
funds transfer, but if a deal goes sour and eBay's
buyer protection doesn't
cover you (something that happens in a small but important percentage of
cases), you're out of luck if you've paid this way.
Avoid this mistake by: Always using plastic on PayPalany credit card or debit card on the Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover networks, for examplesince any item(s) that you purchase this way will also be covered by your card issuer.
- Ignoring shipping costs or shipping and handling times. Changes in eBay policy have made what
used to be a problem with massive overcharging for shipping on eBay into a
mere annoyancebut far too many new buyers continue to make the mistake
of failing to account for shipping costs in their bidding or purchasing
decisions, then complaining about
high shipping costs or disputing purchases later once the shipping costs
become apparent. Just as many new buyers fail to note the handling times
(delay before shipment) and shipping times (duration of shipment) specified
by sellerstimes that can stretch into weeks (yes, weeks) for
many international sellers.
Avoid this mistake by: Reading the item listing carefully to understand the costs that the seller charges for shipping, in addition to the actual fixed price or winning bid for the item, and the shipping method, distance, and estimated time for the item to be delivered to your location.
- Avoiding overseas item(s) or seller(s) simply because they're
overseas. This is the era of
globalization, and of the biggest benefits to shopping on eBay is that you
can often buy many kinds of consumer goods in small quantities (even
quantities of one) direct from manufacturers overseas, often for pennies on
the dollar relative to retail prices in the U.S. Still, many consumers
refuse to do business with overseas sellers, simply because they are
foreign. In most cases, however, the "Proudly American" eBay sellers are
selling the same goods, having simply imported them and marked them up,
leaving you to pay 50-500 percent more for what amounts to a few days less
in shipping time.
Avoid this mistake by: Judging international sellers on their feedback record and item listings, rather than on the fact of their being overseas.
- Handling disputes or dissatisfaction poorly. Every eBay shopper
will likely have a negative buying experience at some point, and too many
handle their first negative experience in ways that don't help them to
maximize their chances of becoming satisfied. eBay feedback is a useful
system, but shouldn't be your first thought if you haven't received the deal
you thought you were getting. Your goal isn't to make someone else look bad,
but to get what you paid for. There are specific ways of trying to get what
you paid for after all, but very few of them involve
contacting eBay, something that often surprises new eBay shoppers. And
finally, when all is said and done, buyers that haven't been made whole and
are left completely unsatisfied too often fail to leave appropriate feedback
that might help other buyers in the future.
Avoid this mistake by: Contacting your seller if you're not satisfied, then filing a dispute using eBay's dispute system, disputing with a credit card company if necessary, and ultimately leaving appropriate feedback at the end, rather than at the beginning, of your search for satisfaction.
- Falling prey to eBay scams. Unfortunately, eBay is an online
company and like the rest of the online world, has its share of nefarious
activity going on. eBay scams run the gamut from
and spoofs to
gimmick listings to too-good-to-be-true pricing on
big-ticket items that don't exist to requests for
wire transfers from sellers that belong to organized crime.
Avoid this mistake by: Keeping basics in mind. Never pay by wire transfer, always pay by credit card, never click on a link in an email message (even if it appears to be from eBay), and anything that appears too good to be true probably is too good to be true.
If you've already made one or more of these mistakes, take heartthe most hardened eBay veterans were once also beginners. More to the point, take a look at those that you haven't yet made and resolve never to make them so that your eBay shopping experiences will always be positive ones.