How to Win Auctions Efficiently on eBay

I don’t quite know how it happened, but I somehow got sucked back into eBay. There are plenty of reasons why eBay sucks, and it can be easy to pile on, but there honestly is NO OTHER place quite like eBay on the internet. From a buyer’s perspective it is normally one of the cheapest, safest, easiest ways of buying goods you can’t find anywhere else.

What about Craigslist? Where should I start…Craigslist is a niche place in my opinion. I don’t feel safe on Craigslist, and I don’t trust people using Craigslist. There are a LOT of scammers, people aren’t friendly, don’t bother getting back to you, flake out on you constantly… I’ve just had bad experiences with Craigslist. Granted it’s probably the ONLY place you can legitimately sell TVs, washers/driers, refrigerators, etc…but I digress…

For SELLERS, it is not ideal (and I think there are some better alternatives), but for BUYERS, you can find some really cheap, really unique things. Take for example, my latest fixation: NINTENDO POWER magazines. They just recently went out of print after being in circulation since 1988. I now own every single issue. It took me three months, and I got (what I believe) really good prices on them.

Check out the haul, 285 issues (well, about half were mine) of POWER:





So what did I take away from the experience? After winning dozens of auctions (and having won numerous items throughout the years), I’ve compiled the following list of things you should do / look out for when bidding.

Don’t Bid Early! (With some exceptions)

Ironically, even though eBay is an “auction” website, these couldn’t be further from being true auctions. In a real auction, the auctioneer calls it when there are no more bids. eBay “auctions” simply end in a specified time. This completely changes the dynamics of how to bid efficiently – and is actually a plus for the buyer. Therefore, given this…you should almost NEVER bid early! Take it from this guy who exhaustively outlines why you shouldn’t do this. Main reason why you shouldn’t? You leave yourself open for counterbids. That simple. You should always bid at the LAST SECOND. There are even “bid sniping” websites that let you do this automatically!

So when should you bid early? Well, I think there are “some” legitimate reasons to do so. I normally bid early if I’m trying to cherry pick and “get lucky” on an item. Hey it happens! I’ve won my fair share of 99 cent auctions (that were worth way more). If you do this, do not set a high bid, just the initial asking price. Then follow it up with one more bid slightly over the asking price. If one were to go into the bid history, they can clearly see that I have bid higher than my original bid. Sometimes this is enough to “scare” bidders and have them find another auction.

Another reason to bid early would be to eliminate the “Buy It Now!” option. If anyone bids, the BIN option disappears. Sometimes this is advantageous if the BIN is in range enough where someone might buy it, but you think you might be able to get it for cheaper, bid early. Otherwise, stick to bidding at the last second.

Supply and Demand

This is just common sense regardless of whether or not you’re bidding on an auction…if you want to get good deals on things, don’t buy them when they’re in high demand or in low supply, because you’re going to pay for it. In the case of NINTENDO POWER, this was an extremely BAD time to try and obtain these items. They were just recently out of print, many auctions ended up going 10x retail; lots of grenades to avoid and much higher competition.

Buy seasonal items out of season. Buy things when they’re not in favor. Of course, this is just a suggestion, and as long as you heed the next advice you should be fine.

Be Patient

Don’t overpay for your item. Don’t let the emotions involved with “bidding” cloud your judgment. There will ALWAYS be another item. Bid the maximum you’d be willing to pay (unless you’re just trying to get lucky), and if you lose, move onto the next one. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse from believing you paid too much because you let your emotions get involved. But there is that great feeling when you win an item that’s under market value! Be patient and you can get the cheapass RUSH…instead of the buyer’s remorse DOWNER!

Leverage Tracking Tools

So what can you do to make sure you “bid at the last second” (that doesn’t involve 3rd party websites)? Well, eBay makes a whole bunch of options available to you. One of my favorites is “Saved Search”, which will email you with matching newly listed items from a search phrase of your choosing (and any options like condition, price, Buy It Now!, etc). There doesn’t seem to be an arbitrary limit either. Simply search a phrase and then hit the “Save” button (near the search box).

Another easy thing you can do is go into the item itself and hit “Add to Watch List”. You can then return to your “My eBay -> Watch list” later and track items you’re interested in. If you toggle email settings to do so, you’ll be reminded a couple hours before the auctions end.

One thing you can do while you’re searching is to sort by “price + shipping: lowest first”. Don’t be fooled by $0.99 cent listings with $15 shipping fees! I would also recommend sorting by “US Only” (but that’s just me; lots of Chinese junk on eBay…).

Finally, the eBay mobile app even gives you a 15-minute heads up when an item is about to end. You’ll get an alert sent straight to your phone. This is incredibly handy and useful!

Check Previous Auctions

So how do you know how much you should bid? Well, eBay admittedly does a pretty crappy job at keeping a robust history around, but you can check the last few weeks of listings by hitting “sold listings” (near the search box). Find the highest and lowest, then gauge market sentiment. If you’re a pro, aim to beat the lowest sold auction by 10-20%!

An aside: It is astounding to me just how many stupid / unrealistic sellers there are out there. Sellers don’t understand the dynamics of certain items and shotgun blanket all of their goods with insane values. Ugh…getting off-topic, but crazy sellers irritate me. I mean, come on, obviously their goal should be to sell me all of their stuff for a loss! I would expect nothing less! I kid…sort of…

Don’t Forget to Use Your eBay Bucks!

eBay has just recently started giving you rebates in the form of eBay Bucks. They accumulate from all purchases you make for 3 months, and then you can use them for a very limited period of time (two or three weeks?) to apply them toward other items you purchase. I think it’s about 1% (but only toward purchase price, NOT shipping). Better than nothing!

eBay used to partner with “cashback” sites so if you bought items through their referral links, you could earn up to 1%. eBay has since suspended this program and is indefinitely cancelled. I’ve never understood how retailers make money through these referral links if customers were going to buy the items anyway, but yet again, I digress…little bit of history I suppose. The fact that eBay gives you a portion of this “rebate” through their own eBay Bucks is kind of amazing. If there’s one bad rap that eBay gets, it’s that they’re a greedy soulless company. This helps go against that!

Use Coupons If You Got ‘Em!

eBay is notoriously stingy when it comes to being able to use coupons. But, it has happened. Although it’s normally through email invitation only, I’m afraid. But it is possible…Paypal too. Just very, very rare. I think I’ve used two coupons in ten years.

Cross Reference with Other Websites

Check the same item on Amazon or any other website. Make sure the deal you think you’re getting is really a deal. (and their family of sites) is a great website I’d recommend for this.

Buy LOTS – even if you don’t want the extra items

This could very well be the best advice if you’re simply looking to maximize cheapness. Say you’re interested in a doodad, but the seller is selling a doodad and five other widgets. You might say, “Well screw that! I don’t want five widgets!”. Yes, perhaps. But what if the unit cost of buying everything in bulk allowed you to get the doodad for cheap? Lots tend to sell for 1/2 the price (or more) than it would be if you tried to buy everything individually. Consider taking the upfront cost of buying those widgets and then selling them individually later. You might even make a profit! This was the BIGGEST way I was able to buy all my magazines and not break the bank. I bought a TON of lots, and sold the duplicates off individually (or in smaller lots).

Of course, if you can find lots with everything you want in them, that is preferred!

Look for Lazy Auctions

This is one of my secret weapons. The lazy seller. Not the BAD seller, but the lazy one. You know…the one that offers no details on his item, but one sentence that says something: “good condition; tested, working”. Oh, well…how about some additional pictures from multiple angles? How about some more background on the item? Is it a personal item? Is it from a smoke-free environment? Is it damaged in any way? Is there anything unique about it? My favorite is the lack of info, followed by a lack of a return policy. That’s called a death sentence! But, I’ll bite! You want to know why? 95% of these sellers mean no harm, there’s nothing wrong with their item, in fact it’s probably even in better condition than what they let on (at least this is the case with magazines). I HUNT for these lazy auctions and roll the dice hoping I get something good because many other buyers STAY AWAY from these types of auctions.

To be honest, most of my “deals” have come from the sheer laziness of the sellers I buy from. Couple this with a “LOT auction” and you have a potential gold mine. I will say I have had a couple of BAD auctions where, using magazines as an example again, I got some pretty damaged items (one particularly smelled like mildew…). But considering the amount of times I underpaid for items, I think it’s worth the risk.


Well, that’s all I can think of right now, but using these tips should let you get really great stuff on eBay for really, really cheap!

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