The Inspired eBayer

The world may be divided into two types of people – those who use and love eBay, and those who don’t. Many of my friends and family swear by eBay. It’s fun to sift through the many categories, never knowing what treasure you might unearth. But it is an online auction and auctions can be addictive, because of the high you get just from bidding on an item and the even greater high if you’re successful. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from online auctions like eBay and avoid overspending.

* Use a debit card rather than a credit card to purchase goods. If you must use a credit card, use one that has a very low limit, for example $500. Alternatively, if you're concerned about buying too many goods on eBay that aren't on your Priority List, create an eBay ‘fund’, only using money you make selling your unwanted goods on eBay to buy any eBay items that aren't on your List.

* Before you start bidding, gauge the suitability of items you're planning to buy. For example, a three-seater couch in club lounge style could be much longer than the couch that you would like it to replace, even if your couch is also a three-seater. You therefore need to get as much information as you can from the seller, including detailed measurements and any other specifications that will help you decide. Write out a list of your questions in advance so you don't need to send multiple emails. To help you decide on how the colour of a decor or furniture item will look in the relevant room,  find a big piece of material in a similar colour and drape it around the room.

* Given that you can’t see and touch the goods you buy on eBay (unless you’re able to inspect the item beforehand), your intuition is more vital than ever when deciding whether to purchase something, and how much you’re willing to pay. Setting a limit in advance on the amount you’re willing to pay for an item you’re interested in will help you avoid being swayed by other bidders’ agendas and the excitement of the bidding process – a technique for doing this is given below. If you’d rather be spontaneous, stay aware of how your intuition is responding in the bidding process.

* Remember that a bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you truly want and need. Sociologist Sharon Zukin suggests that much of the excitement we get from searching for goods on eBay is the feeling that we’re on ‘a heroic quest’, searching for hidden treasure and asserting our individuality – the more amateurish the presentation of the item listing, the more we feel we’ve found something authentic. She suggests that, in our minds, the objects we find ‘have histories and are therefore no longer just commodities’. We need to be careful about our assumptions when searching for such ‘treasure’, ensuring that our excitement doesn’t override our awareness of what is right for us.

* Be a trustworthy eBayer. The feedback system, which is a hallmark of eBay, certainly has its drawbacks, but it does encourage people to be on their best behaviour, and it’s amazing how easily problems can be ironed out when both parties are committed to finding a solution. Make the most of this aspect of eBay – be reasonably accommodating and chances are the other person will be too. And don’t be afraid to jump in first to provide positive feedback if you think the situation warrants it. Of course you may run into more serious problems with the buyer or the seller, and the discussion boards can provide helpful advice in this case.
Don’t overlook other auction websites. For Australians, sites like OZtion are growing in popularity, and their fees are cheaper than those of eBay.

* To save money, try to arrange with the seller to organise your own postage - but do this before the bidding is finalised. According to myParcelDelivery.com, organising your own postage can reduce postage costs and protect you from unscrupulous sellers. If you'd like to do this, you need to drop a note to the seller before the bidding is complete to ask if this is possible. In your note, request the postcode and the likely dimensions of the parcel. If the seller agrees, arrange a quote.  If you're the successful bidder, you can then ask the seller for an invoice, minus the postage costs, and arrange the postage.

Setting your limit
The amount you’re willing to spend on any listed item on an auction site represents a combination of what you think the item is worth and what you’re able and willing to pay – if the item ends up being overpriced, you may be better off trying to find a similar item somewhere else. Here’s my suggestion for working out your limit:

Firstly, get an idea of how much the item is worth – to you, and more generally. Ask yourself how much you want the item, but also how rare it is and how likely you are to find something similar, at a cheaper price, in a reasonable time period. Next, look at your budget if you’ve developed one and get a rough idea of how much you can afford. If you don’t have a budget, you should still have a rough idea of your economic situation, including other spending commitments.

Then, on a blank piece of paper, slowly write down a list of numbers representing dollar values. When writing make the numerals as big as possible, as this will make it easier for your unconscious. The numbers need to increase in increments, eg 40, 45, 50, 55, 60 … or 50, 75, 100 … Do this quite slowly, staying aware of how you’re feeling. Experiment with stopping the list at particular points that ‘feel right’. Is $100 all you’re willing to pay for that interesting walnut art deco bedhead? Is $80 your absolute limit for those rare Honda Prelude taillights?

This may be the end of the exercise if you feel you’ve made your decision. If not, keep going with the numbers, reaching an amount that’s a bit higher than you’d expect to have to pay, and draw square tick boxes to the left-hand side of them. Now, take your time ticking the box that you feel most comfortable with. Let the pen hover for a while. Which box do you feel drawn to? And how does it feel when you tick that box? If it doesn’t feel right, tick another, and so on, until you’ve settled on an amount.

There may well be a discrepancy at this point between what you’re willing and able to pay – your limit – and what you think the seller will obtain. In my experience, this is okay. Being outbidded is not the end of the world. The important thing is to be fairly confident early on that you’re comfortable with your limit.

This is a suggestion only, and you may well find your limit goes ‘up’ as you bid. If you prefer to decide 'on the fly' the final amount you’re willing to spend , simply take note of your intuition and respond accordingly as you type the amount in and before you hit the ‘Confirm Bid’ button. But be aware that it may be harder to know whether this decision is based on intuition or panic when, for example, you only have five minutes left to bid. Taking your time at the outset to find out what your true limit is could help you decide when to let go gracefully.

Do you have any tips on staying centred, and/or using intuition, while shopping on eBay? If so, I'd love to hear from you!

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