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- This Week's Free Computer Tip -

177 - Shopping (buying) on eBay

Should you be interested in learning about eBay? I know some of you have already tried it and I'm guessing that the rest of you are wondering if you should. I'll let you be the judge, but here are two typical examples of why people are using it.

Pretty impressive savings, wouldn't you say! Still, it's natural to have other questions.

The best way I can put you at ease about these kinds of issues is to explain how Ebay works. That's what this bulletin will try to do. It will also give you a couple of tips about winning the bids you are interested in.

Please note:  In the interest of not making this bulletin any longer than it has to be, I have elected to not cover topics such as reserve price, opening price, and contract terms. There are links on various eBay pages which offer tutorials on most topics, so just click on them if you wish to read more.

For starters, what is eBay?
eBay is an auction site where you can buy and sell virtually anything you can imagine. Until you actually begin looking out on eBay, you simply will not appreciate how many kinds of things can be purchased there. If you need something, you can find it there! All of the mechanisms are in place to describe an item, bid on the item, determine the winning bidder, arrange for delivery, pay for the item, and have a paper trail of all the steps along the way. Even the reputations of buyers and sellers are documented so that you can decide if you want to "trust" the other party. You can put items on a "watch list", to help you learn what the going price should be for your item. eBay even offers some limited buyer protection, should a transaction not deliver.

Let me say this again though; virtually everything is for sale on eBay. There are cars, houses, clothes, tools, cameras, riding tack, quilts, antiques, and on and on. Just when you think you've seen it all, you find something you never imagined might be up for sale. It will amaze you.

Two recommendations before you start using eBay -
First, sign on to eBay and just browse around to see what it looks like and get a quick idea about how it works.

Second, I recommend that you open a "PayPal" account. PayPal is the principal way money is (securely) sent over the Internet. PayPal arranges in advance to deduct the funds you authorize from either your bank account or a charge card of your choice. There is no charge to set up an account and it costs you nothing when you pay using PayPal. eBay itself doesn't mandate the use of PayPal, but many sellers do. Even if they do take other forms of payment, using them will cause you a significant delay in getting your goods. The standard practice is that sellers don't ship goods until the payment clears. The sooner they get their money, the sooner you get your goods.

PayPal transactions are no cost to the buyer and they happen instantaeously. The seller never sees your actual account numbers. You can literally pay for the item you purchased ten minutes after the close of the bidding. It makes the use of eBay absolutley painless.

So here are the six generic steps in bidding on and buying an item -

  1. Do some research on price (optional step).
  2. Decide what you are willing to pay for the item.
  3. Verify that the seller's reputation is acceptable to you.
  4. Decide what your maximum bid will be and place a bid.
  5. Bidding closes. See if you won and at what price.
  6. Send your payment and wait for the delivery.

But don't stop reading here . . . Read on.

Tips and Details on bidding and winning -

My recommended steps in bidding on and buying an item -
You will see that I have added or modified several steps. They are the steps marked with "***".

  1. Do some research on price (optional step).
  2. Decide what you are willing to pay for the item.
  3. Add several possible items to your possible bid watch list.
  4. Verify that the seller's reputations are acceptable to you.
  5. *** Decide what your maximum bid will be, but don't bid yet.
  6. *** (Sometime in the last hour) Set your kitchen timer (as detailed below).
  7. *** (With 5 minutes to go to close) Make your final max bid decision.
            Prepare the bid screen, but don't submit the bid yet.
  8. *** (With 30 seconds to go to close) Submit your bid.
  9. Bidding closes. See if you won and at what price.
  10. Send your payment and wait for the delivery.

Do your research on price (optional step) and decide what you are willing to pay -
Search eBay for the item you are interested in buying. Try several searches if you don't see what you want right away. Usually, you will find several examples of what your are looking for. On each item for sale, you will find a link that says "Add to watch list in My eBay". When you click on that link, the item being sold is added to your personal watch list. Now, each time you sign back in to eBay, click on the "My eBay" link and see how the bidding is progressing on the item(s) you are watching. The watch list will also show the winning price after the bidding closes. Watch a few of these and you'll learn what your item should go for.

Tip #1 - While you are watching your list of items to learn about pricing, I recommend that you think of the items you are tracking as possible items to bid on. For example, you might be watching ten different auctions in progress. Soon you realize that there is little or no activity on one of the items you are watching. Everyone seems to be bidding on the one that closes an hour from now, and no one is bidding on the one that closes two hours after that. There's your chance to get a really good price! Just remember, there is no rush on bidding!

(You will see in a minute what my theory of bidding is, and why you should postpone your actual bidding.)

Verify that the seller's reputation is acceptable to you -
On each item for sale, you will find the seller's screen name and a rating of how others have found doing business with him/her to be. This is really their "reputation" and it is how you can reassure yourself that it's safe to do business with this person. Ebay tells you how many prior transactions the person has had on eBay and how the customers have rated their buying experiences. You will have to decide for yourself what your threshold for risk is, but if I see a seller with 39 prior transactions and a 100% satisfaction rating, I feel pretty comfortable doing business with that person. I sometimes read a few of the customer comments to even further satisfy my curiosity about what to expect.

Track the item you want -
Here's how the bidding works. All bidding is automated. When you want to bid, the bid screen tells you what the current high bid is and asks you what your maximum bid should be. You aren't bidding that amount. You're just saying you don't to exceed that amount.

Let's illustrate what happens next with this example: The current high bid is $25 on the item you want to bid on. The bid screen tells you that your maximum bid must be at least $26. That tells you that eBay will be advancing the bidding in $1 increments, but only as high as you need to go to beat your opponent's maximum bid. If you think this item would be a great buy at any price up to say, $37 (remember that you have to pay shipping over and above this amount), then you enter a maximum bid of $37. Other bidders, including the current leader, have also entered a maximum bid and no one knows what the other bidder's maximum price is. Just so we have a number to work with for the example, assume the competitor who bid the $25 has entered a maximum bid of $30. Your maximum bid is $37 but neither of you can see what the other person's maximum bid is. When your bid was entered, it caused the bid price to go from $25 to $26. Your competition had already said he was willing to go as high as $30, so the eBay automated system bumped his new bid to $27. Your maximum was higher than that so the system bid $28 on your behalf. You can see where this is going. The next bid was $29 for him, then $30 for you. That's as high as he had said he was willing to go, but your maximum was set higher. The system raised your bid to $31 and then stopped. You were now the high bidder at $31. If the bidding had ended at that exact moment, you would have won. If there was more time left, the process would have continued. All of those bids happened in an instant, all triggered by your entering your maximum bid of $37 when the previous high bid was $25. eBay now notifies you that you are the current high bidder at $31.

TIP #2 - The big tip. If you want to win at the lowest possible price, don't bid on any item until the final 30 seconds of an auction. Pick auctions which close at some hour when you will be available to be by your computer, and place your only bid with just 30 seconds to go. If you do bid earlier that that, you will only run the price up and will likely be outbid in the final minute by someone who understands what I have just told you.

When an auction is in its final day, eBay reports the hours and minutes until the close. However, it is important for you to understand that the time shown on your screen as the remaining time, is NOT a live clock. The time shown is the time as of the moment you downloaded that screen. It will not change until you refresh the screen by downloading it again. If you are a casual observer, that doesn't matter. If you are trying to win the bid, it's very important to know exactly when the minute rolls over.

Here's exactly what I do, and trust me on this, other bidders do this as well. I use a kitchen timer to alert me as to when there is about 30 seconds left to bid. Here's an example of how that's done. I bring up the item I want to bid on and I observe that the time remaining says (for this example) 27 minutes. I set the timer to 25 minutes but I don't start the timer yet. Now, I hit my F5 key, causing the screen to "refresh". The remaining time still says, 27 minutes. I immediately hit F5 again. Still showing 27 minutes. Again. Again. Finally, it turns to 26 minutes. Now, I count in my head to 20. Then, I start my kitchen timer. What I have done is to learn (to within a few seconds) when the eBay timer changes minutes. I have then set my kitchen timer to go off with about 30 seconds to go in the auction. Get the idea? I'm going to place the only bid I make, with under 30 seconds left in the bidding. Unlike a real live auction, the other bidders are not going to have enough time to redo their bids.

Understand that the automated bidding will kick in and if a competing bidder has previously set a higher maximum bid than you, you will still lose. However, before I used this strategy, I often lost bids where I was high bidder with 2 minutes to go. In checking back on who bid, it was usually someone who had not participated in the bidding at all until the very end. The smart money waits until the last minute.

Too complicated for your taste?
Okay, it's not for everyone. Normally, this would be too involved for me too. However, I discovered something about my own human nature. I found myself emotionally committed to winning particular bids. Losing bids in the final minute, which happened to me several times, was proving to be very frustrating. I soon realized that I could win pretty much whatever I wanted if I spent just a few minutes getting ready. This preparation takes two or three minutes at most, and saves you lots of disappointment. Yes, it's possible to win some bids by bidding two days ahead of time. It happens, but not often. I believe you will find that this strategy will work much more often. Give it a try, and happy shopping!

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