How to Fail at eBay

Where eBay Beginners Tragically Go Wrong...

We would like to describe the following information as "common sense", but sadly, thousands of new eBayers commit these mistakes every day. What's even worse: dishonest sellers profit from new eBayers committing these simple mistakes. If you're new to the eBay universe, definitely heed these important warnings. Here are the Top 10 Mistakes Made by eBay Beginners...

Engage in bidding wars

Father and child looking at computer screen with credit card handy
Purestock / Getty

This is the biggest beginner mistake of new eBayers: repeatedly bidding on the same item in a misguided frenzy to stay a few pennies ahead of the other bidders. While real-life auctions may work this way, this is the opposite of how eBay auctions work. You see, real-life auctions are ended by a live auctioneer who is trying to create a bidding frenzy. eBay auctions, instead, are ended by a timer. eBayers who successfully win auctions are those people who time their first or second bid to be the last bid before the timer expires. For more information on how to time your winning bids, read more about auction sniping below.

Fail to carefully read the auction details

Always read the "fine print" or you will get burned by an unexpected detail. You shouldn't sign any contract before thoroughly reading and understanding all of the details. This same good sense applies to eBay auctions. While the majority of sellers are honest people who offer good deals, there will always be predators and opportunists who will gladly take you for a ride by deceiving you with fine print. The biggest culprit is shipping and handling costs, where the sellers will charge outlandish S&H fees for a 3 dollar item. See the next mistake for details.

Fail to check shipping/handling cost

"Shipping" is the cost of parcel freight. "Handling" is any related cost that the seller can choose to tack on, like overcharging you for a box or even charging you ten dollars to "inspect" the item prior to shipping. This S & H umbrella is what predatory sellers will often use to gouge buyers. Beware if the shipping cost of the item is not listed for your country, or listed at all for that matter. Check if the S&H is listed anywhere in the auction description. If not, ask the seller how much such cost will be. You don't want any nasty surprises such as winning a 99-cent tiny little item, and paying 19 dollars to have it shipped to you in a plain envelope with 1-dollar worth of actual postage.

Bid "over your head"

This common mistake will cost you more than you think. Be honest with yourself, and always choose your personal price limit before you bid. Then: discipline yourself to stay under that limit. This is especially important for auctions with low starting bids: those auctions always attract frenzied and undisciplined bidders. Many experienced sellers like to incite bidding frenzies as a way to inflate their profits- "start them low and see what happens". Once a bidding war starts, and it goes over your spending limit, you must learn to walk away decisively. Do NOT let undisciplined money management and excitement control you. If you decide to bid, be sure to know what the item is worth (listing price vs. retail price, shipping and handling costs, etc.), and then discipline yourself to bid only what you can truly afford to spend.

Fail to check the seller's feedback before bidding

Most of the sellers on eBay are fine and honest folk, and you will not experience any issues with most of your transactions. But once in a while, you will run into a bad apple...that is the law of statistics and human nature. With every new seller, it is always a good investment of your time to read several pages of the seller's feedback. This is especially true if the feedback is less than 100% positive, and if the item is worth more than $25.00. Reading the seller's feedback is a good "sniff test" indicator if the person is shady and dishonest. We prefer to buy from sellers who have more than 99% positive feedback, but we always scan the feedback pages to get a sense of their customer service history.

Use poor online search skills

The more detailed your search criteria are, the higher the possibility of finding precisely what you are looking for. Think of it like this: if you went to a shoe store and asked for "red shoes", what are the chances the salesperson would bring you exactly what you need? But if you asked for "red heels Manolo Blahnik size 9", the salesperson would have a pretty good idea what you want. The same works in eBay search - the more details you give, the better the chances that you will find it. Be patient, use 3 to 5 keywords in your search phrases, and consider using multiple browser tabs to do multiple simultaneous searches.

Fail to truly "know thy item" before bidding

Amateur buyers will sometimes buy an eBay item that could easily be purchased at a local department store or elsewhere online for less. Yes, eBay sells almost everything, but do your homework by googling the item before bidding. Can you find it elsewhere for cheaper? How much is retail price? Can you get it in your country without custom fees? Is it available for pickup (no shipping delays)? Ask yourself these logical questions and see if the answers will still point you to eBay. If you still want to buy on eBay, then check the quality of the auction item: is it authentic/genuine/certified, or "like" something? Carefully read the fine print of every auction, especially for purchases worth more than $25.

Fall for fraud and phishing attacks

There are many people out there that would just love to take your money and leave you with nothing. Sadly, eBay is a target for online predators and con men: fake "second chance" offers, sellers with no feedback selling stolen, broken or outright non-existent items, bad guys hijacking legitimate eBay IDs and using them to sell phantom products. Phishing (deception) emails are also common attacks for people trying to steal your eBay credentials. Just like anywhere else, bad things could happen if you're not careful. Definitely research what eBay phishing and other scams look like, so you can recognize those emails and auctions when you see them.

Attempt to save on an item by resorting to shady deals away from eBay

You found your item and there are no bids on it. The auction still has 3 days left. Since there are no bids, you might think that you could avoid possible bidding wars if you contact the seller and ask them to end the auction early and sell you the item off eBay. While this might save you and seller a few dollars, this is a bad idea! Not only do you lose the guarantor protection of eBay, but the seller could also report your innocent question to eBay, and your eBay privileges and account could be canceled. Making any offers to deal off-eBay is considered illegal and violates your eBay end user agreement. Don't lose your eBay privileges and history over the possibility of saving six the items through regular channels.

Leave bad feedback before contacting the seller first

It is a major faux pas to shout before trying to amicably resolve a misunderstanding. Sadly, new eBay buyers and even some high-feedback veterans do this, especially while upset. Remember: Nobody wins if you get hasty and nasty. Always contact the seller first and give them the opportunity to fix it. They may allow you to return the item or provide another solution. Never leave a neutral or negative feedback before all the options are exhausted and there is no resolution. Even if the situation is bad, but the seller helps you resolve it, acknowledge seller's efforts in your feedback. Think of it as "good eBay karma".