How to Fail at eBay

Where eBay beginners often go wrong

eBay on iPad

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eBay has a few unwritten rules that experienced users have learned through trial, error, and, expense. If you're new to eBay, learn from the experiences of others and save time, aggravation, and cost. Here's how to avoid these 10 common eBay mistakes.

Engaging in Bidding Wars

The biggest beginner mistake of new eBayers is repeatedly bidding on the same item in a misguided frenzy to stay a few pennies ahead of other bidders. While real-life auctions might work this way, this is the opposite of how eBay auctions work.

Auctioneer with Large Crowd of Buyers
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Real-life auctions are ended by a live auctioneer who creates a bidding frenzy. eBay auctions, instead, are ended by a timer. eBayers who successfully win auctions time their first or second bid to be the last bid before the timer expires. For information on how to time winning bids, read more about auction sniping below.

Failure to Read the Auction Details

Always read the fine print to avoid getting burned by an unexpected detail. Read and understand all the details about the eBay auction. Although most sellers are honest and offer good deals, there are predators and opportunists who try to deceive bidders with fine print. The biggest culprit is shipping and handling costs; such bad-acting sellers charge high fees for a $3 item. See the next mistake for details.

Not Checking Shipping and Handling Costs

Shipping is the cost of parcel freight. Handling is any related cost that the seller chooses to add, such as charging for a box or a pre-shipping inspection of the item. Predatory sellers often use these shipping and handling fees to gouge buyers.

Be wary if the shipping cost of the item is not listed for your country (or isn't listed at all). Check if these fees are listed anywhere in the auction description. If not, ask the seller how much such cost will be. You don't want any surprises, such as winning a $2 item and paying $19 to have it shipped in a plain envelope with $1 in postage.

Bidding Over Your Head

This common mistake could cost 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 important for auctions with low starting bids. These auctions attract frenzied, undisciplined bidders. Many experienced sellers like to incite bidding frenzies as a way to inflate their profits. Their mantra is, "Start low and see what happens." Once a bidding war starts and then pushes past your spending limit, walk away.

Don't let undisciplined money management and excitement control you. Before you bid, know what the item is worth (listing price vs. retail price, shipping and handling costs, and other charges), then bid only what you can afford to spend.

Failing to Check Seller Feedback Before Bidding

Most eBay sellers are fine and honest folk, and you won't experience issues with most transactions. Once in a while, though, there's an exception. That's the law of statistics and human nature. Your best resource is seller feedback.

eBay screenshot

Invest some time to read several pages of the seller feedback; especially if the feedback is less than 100% positive and the item is worth more than $25. This feedback is a good indicator of the person's integrity as a seller.

Whenever possible, buy from sellers with more than 99% positive feedback — but do scan the feedback pages. Sometimes, negative feedback comes from buyers who are dishonest, too. Check into any negative feedback to see if the seller remediated the issue. Mistakes happen, and a reputable seller will fix a mistake.

Poor Online Search Skills

The more detailed the search criteria, the higher the possibility of finding precisely what you're looking for. If you go to a shoe store and ask for red shoes, the sales associate may not bring you exactly what you need. If you ask for red heels Manolo Blahnik size 9, the sales associate knows exactly what you want. The same works in eBay search. The more details you give, the better the chances are that you'll find what you want.

Be patient, use three to five keywords in search phrases, and use multiple browser tabs to do multiple simultaneous searches.

Not Researching the Item Before Bidding

An amateur buyer might buy an eBay item that's available from a local department store or elsewhere online for less. eBay sells almost everything, but do your homework and research the item before bidding. Know these answers:

  • Can the item be found elsewhere for cheaper?
  • How much is the retail price?
  • Can you get it in your country without custom fees?
  • Is it available for pickup (no shipping delays)?

If you still want to buy on eBay, then check the quality of the auction item:

  • Is it authentic, genuine, or certified?
  • Is it similar to something?

Carefully read the fine print of every auction, especially for purchases of more than $25.

Falling for Fraud and Phishing Attacks

eBay is a target for online predators and cons. Be on the lookout for:

  • Fake second chance offers.
  • Sellers with no feedback selling stolen, broken, or non-existent items.
  • Bad guys hijacking legitimate eBay IDs and using them to sell phantom products.
  • Phishing (deception) emails from people trying to steal your eBay credentials.

Research what eBay phishing and other scams look like, so you can recognize those emails and auctions when you see them.

Resorting to Deals Outside of eBay to Save on an Item

You found your item, and there are no bids on it. The auction still has three days left. There are no bids, so you might think that you could avoid possible bidding wars if you contact the seller and ask to end the auction early with your purchase. Although this might save you and seller a few dollars, it's a bad idea.

Not only do you lose the guarantor protection of eBay, but the seller might report your innocent question to eBay, and your eBay privileges and account could be canceled. Making offers to deal outside of the site violates the eBay user agreement.

Don't lose your eBay privileges and history over the possibility of saving a few dollars. Buy the items through regular channels.

Leaving Bad Feedback Before Contacting the Seller

Shouting before trying to amicably resolve a misunderstanding is a major mistake on eBay. Many new eBay buyers and some high-feedback veterans do this, especially while upset. Always contact the seller and give them the opportunity to fix a problem. A good seller will allow you to return the item or will provide another solution.

Never leave neutral or negative feedback before you've exhausted all the options without resolution. Even if the situation is bad but the seller resolves it, acknowledge the seller's efforts in your feedback. Think of it as good eBay karma.