I was sitting down with a friend a few weeks ago — a hip, in-the-know, bargain-loving type of gal — and over a lunch of ahi tuna salad and shrimp and grits I waxed poetic about my latest eBay find and how much money I saved. Much to my chagrin, my hip, cool, and decidedly-younger-than-me friend sheepishly admitted she’s never experienced the pleasure of bargain hunting on the “world’s largest online marketplace,” deeming it overwhelming and frustrating.
I’ve been utilizing eBay since 2000, long before flash sales and coupon sites became all the rage. And while I don’t frequent the site more than a few times a year, like a long lost friend that doesn’t hold a grudge, it’s always there for me with open arms when I decide to visit. My tricks to a successfully frugal purchase? Check your competitive side at the door, and limit your search to help better your odds at finding what you want.
Compare | Not everything on eBay is a screaming deal. Do your research by checking the original price. I’ve seen many of iPods being sold at full MSRP- why bother when you can purchase directly from the source? When I bought a mint condition Rooms To Go sofa on the super cheap (narrow your search to local only) you better damn well believe that I checked the original manufacturer’s site to make sure I was actually getting a deal. I saved about $400- the sofa was less than a year old, and still being sold at Rooms To Go.
Get selective | eBay can be overwhelming. Old Willie Nelson concert tees? Yup. Babe Ruth baseball cards? Which ones do you want? Suddenly, a vintage pineapple cookie jar collection is an absolute necessity. To avoid getting overwrought with choices, limit yourself to what you actually need. I always turn to eBay when I’m purchasing cameras or when I want a decent quality pair of shoes, for example. To avoid the hassle of having to return if something doesn’t fit (and some sellers are final sale only) stick to brands that you’re already familiar with.
Don’t get competitive | The worst decision you can make is getting into a bidding war. If you find yourself yelling “What a *$@#!!” at your computer screen (not that I’ve ever done that) then it’s time to let it go. If you just must, there are programs called auction snipers that will bid on your behalf so you can outbid the bastard at the last minute. As for me, I like to win fair and square. If I get outbid because I forgot to check the auction on my lunch break, so be it. I probably didn’t need that set of marble greyhound bookends anyway.
Beware of fakes and frauds | If getting a Rolex watch for $50 sounds too good to be true- ding ding ding! There are also plenty of people that would love to take your money and run with it. Check the seller’s rating- you want somewhere in the 95-100% range. Read the reviews, especially if you are seeking out luxury goods. And if authenticity is important, go through reviews with a fine tooth comb when purchasing designer goods.
Watch List | If you aren’t sure if you want to bid on something, just add it to your watch list. It’s like digital window shopping. No commitment, and you can always go back to get it when you make up your mind.
Go USA | Narrow down your search under the advanced search option to only pull listings in the United States. I’ve scooped up real bargains, only to find out the item shipped from a small island half way around the globe first on a boat, then a plane, then ground delivery in the states- and suddenly that $15 pineapple cookie jar ended up costing me triple what I thought it would.
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.