eBay isn’t like traditional online stores, where you pile up purchases in a virtual shopping cart and then check out. On eBay, the main attraction is its auction format; would-be buyers compete with each other by bidding on an item until everyone’s made his top offer, or until the always-ticking eBay clock brings down the final hammer.
This arrangement may sound about as relaxing as rush-hour traffic when you’re late for your own wedding. But once you get used to it—which isn’t hard—it’s straightforward and amazingly fun.
In addition to auctions, eBay also has fixed-price sales, labeled Buy It Now. Section 1.4.3 tells you all about them.
Whether you want to buy, sell, or both, the best way to get started on eBay is to register and explore the site as a buyer. Learning how to buy smart helps you discover how to use eBay’s search engine efficiently and familiarizes you with auction pages, where you can check out sellers’ wares. Later, when you’re ready to sell (Chapter 5), the skills you learn in this chapter will help you think like a buyer, attracting bidders to your auctions and getting top dollar for your merchandise.
This chapter shows you everything you need to get going on eBay:
How to register.
How to search eBay to find the stuff you want.
How to decipher auction pages to score the best deal.
How to tell the difference between the various types of eBay auctions.
How to shop smarter using your My eBay page.
To get started, simply type www.ebay.com into your Web browser’s address box, and then hit Enter. eBay’s home page appears, as shown in Figure 1-1. You can sign up, as described below, and start shopping in mere minutes.
eBay likes to rearrange things and try out new looks, so its home page design changes frequently. But you can always find prominent links letting you register, search, pay, sell, or find help.
Because you can’t bid if you’re not registered, it’s a good idea to register even before you explore the site. That way, the minute you find that pair of 1970s silver platform shoes or Holley four-barrel carburetor you’ve been searching for, you can place your bid. If the auction is about to end in a couple of minutes, you’ll be glad you registered first.
Just three steps, explained in detail in the sections that follow, get you registered:
Select the name by which the eBay world will know you and create a password to protect your account.
Respond to a confirmation email.
Figure 1-2 shows part of the eBay registration form, which is pretty self-explanatory. Why does eBay need all this information? Your email address gives eBay a way to contact you to complete your registration and, later, to send you notifications about auctions, such as when you’ve won an auction or when another buyer has outbid you.
You can hear from eBay a little or a lot, whichever you prefer. Section 1.5.5 shows how to set your notification preferences.
Plus, eBay keeps your contact information in its massive database and makes this information available to other eBayers when you do business with them. For example, if the person who sold you a pirate head carved from a coconut doesn’t answer your emails, you can request that seller’s contact information and pick up the phone to find out what’s going on.
If your email address is with a free Web-based email provider (like Yahoo! or Hotmail), eBay wants confirmation of your identity. You can prove who you are by providing eBay with a credit card number that confirms your name and mailing address. eBay keeps this number on file but won’t use it for any purpose other than to check that you’re who you say you are. If you don’t want to submit a credit card number, you can enter a second email address if you’ve got one. This address must be through an Internet service provider (such as AOL or EarthLink), business, school, or other organization. In other words, eBay is looking for an address that’s hard to fake. This second address is where eBay sends the confirmation email, described in “Step Two: Who Do You Want to Be (on eBay, Anyway)?”
Your date of birth lets eBay know you’re eligible to use the site. Each eBay transaction is a binding contract, so all eBayers must be of legal age—18 or older—to bid, buy, or sell.
Free to buy, fee to sell. Joining eBay and bidding on items is free—there are no fees to register or to bid. If you want to sell items on eBay, you agree to pay eBay’s fees (Section 5.3), which are, of course, subject to change.
Transactions are between you and the seller. eBay doesn’t participate in auctions; it provides a venue for auctions. That distinction means that sellers and bidders—not eBay—are responsible for their own actions on the site.
Although eBay has some safeguards in place to check information, it can’t verify all the information submitted by every single eBayer. (Remember, there are millions and millions of people registered with eBay, and more sign up every day.) This means it’s up to you to know who you’re dealing with, and the best way to do that is through the Feedback Forum (Section 2.1), where other eBayers sound off on who’s good to trade with—and who’s not.
Making a bid is a binding agreement. If you win an auction, you agree to buy what you bid on.
eBay insists that bids can only be retracted under “exceptional circumstances.” It is possible to take back a bid, but there are good reasons not to overuse the privilege. For more on retracting a bid, see Section 2.4.2.
If you’re a seller, you must be legally able to sell all the items you list. For example, you can’t sell a DVD you recorded of a television program, because you don’t own the rights to that program. You must also agree to sell when you receive an acceptable bid—that means a bid at or above the minimum or the reserve price, if you’ve set one. (For more on reserve prices, flip to Section 1.4.2.)
You agree to play fair. You won’t bid on an item you don’t intend to buy or otherwise interfere in auctions. For example, you’ll violate eBay rules if you email bidders in an ongoing auction and you’re not the seller.
Fraud will get you kicked off the site. Fraud can include, but isn’t limited to, listing items you don’t actually have, selling designer fakes, lying in an item description (such as calling a frayed, stained shirt “like new”), and refusing to pay for an item you won. eBayers call this suspension from eBay being NARU’d (for no longer a registered user).
You can’t sell anything illegal or anything eBay has designated a no-go. To find out which items eBay prohibits, which is worth doing if you’re thinking of selling, go tohttp://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/items-ov.html. You might not realize that some authentic WWII memorabilia or a mousepad featuring a picture of Winona Ryder is taboo, but if eBay finds such auctions, it removes them. For more on prohibited items, see Section 5.3.
Nobody gets to sue eBay. You agree to release eBay from any liability relating to transactions on the site. If you commit fraud or otherwise break the law using eBay (already a violation of the User Agreement), you indemnify eBay against any claims someone else might make. Another reminder that you take responsibility for your actions on eBay.
If you agree to eBay’s policies (and you have to agree if you want to register), click the Continue button to move on to the next registration step.
After you click Continue, a page appears that lets you choose an eBay ID and password (Figure 1-4). eBay suggests some possibilities, based on your first name, that nobody has taken yet. If you don’t like any of these options, select “Create your own ID” and type your preferred moniker into the box. Base your ID on your name, your hobby, your hometown, your personality, what you plan to buy or sell—whatever puts the you in unique.
There are a few things eBay won’t let you use in your ID. It can’t contain the word eBay. (eBay created this policy to avoid confusion about who officially works for the company and who doesn’t.) It can’t contain a Web address (like buy_from_me.com) or a registered trademark. Also, your ID can’t contain a space or any of the following characters:
Ampersand: @ (Which means you can’t use your email address as your eBay ID.)
Angle brackets: <>
If you submit an ID containing any of the above illegal characters, a page appears explaining the error and asking you to try again.
Have fun choosing an ID. But keep in mind your eBay ID is the face you present to the entire eBay community. A name like wont_pay_up or spamlover isn’t going to endear you to the people you’re hoping to do business with.
Don’t use the first part of your email address as your eBay ID. eBay protects your email address: only other registered eBayers involved in an active transaction with you have access to it. You should do what you can to protect it, too.
Recently, some clever scammers who weren’t even registered with eBay looked at the non-winning bidders in high-end auctions for items like computers and cars. They guessed the bidders’ email addresses by putting the eBay ID in front of common email providers, like @yahoo.com, @hotmail.com, @aol.com, and so on, then sent fake emails from the “seller,” saying that the auction had fallen through and offering to sell them the item. Of course, these scammers didn’t have the item to sell—they just planned to take people’s money and disappear.
With millions of registered buyers and sellers on eBay, it might take you a few tries to zero in on an ID nobody’s using. If your chosen ID already belongs to someone else, the page shown in Figure 1-5 opens.
When you’ve settled on an ID, create a password, select and answer your password reminder question, and then click Continue to move on to step 3.
Don’t share your eBay password with anyone else. You’re responsible for your account, so you don’t want anyone making bids or listing items without your knowledge.
You’re not quite registered yet. After you’ve chosen a unique ID and a password, eBay automatically sends you an email to confirm that you’ve visited the page and filled in the registration form. The automatic email also assures eBay that the email address you submitted is valid. In most cases, the email arrives in your inbox in just a few seconds. You must follow the instructions in the email to activate your account.
In case you can’t see the activation link—perhaps your email settings are for plain text only—eBay also gives you a confirmation code. In that case, type http://pages.ebay.com/register into your Web browser’s address bar. In the Web page that comes up, type in your email address and the confirmation code, then click Continue.
The confirmation email contains a link you must click to activate your eBay account. Click it, and eBay congratulates you for completing the registration process. You’re now ready to shop up a storm.
If you don’t get a confirmation email from eBay within 24 hours, check your spam filter. Sometimes an overzealous filter catches an email from eBay and files it away as spam. If that doesn’t solve the problem, odds are you made an error entering your email address. Go back to the registration page and start the process over. You can also get help registering by clicking the Live Help button (Section 11.4) on eBay’s home page. (And no, you don’t have to be registered to use Live Help.)
When you head for the mall, you might be in the mood to window-shop or you might be on a search-and-purchase mission for a specific item. Similarly, you have two options for finding things to buy on eBay: you can browse, or you can use eBay’s search engine to home in on what you want with laser-guided precision.
To start shopping, click the Buy link at the top of any eBay page, as shown in Figure 1-6. That link takes you to the eBay Buy page shown in Figure 1-7. The Buy page is the home of eBay’s search engine.
You don’t have to start on the Buy page when you want to search current auctions. Use the Search box in the upper-right corner of all eBay pages. Where it says “Start new search,” type in your keywords, then click the Search button—and you’re off.
Whether you choose to browse or to search for a particular item, you’ll wind up on a results page with a list of current auctions for your topic. To look at any item in more detail, click the item title to go to its auction page. The auction page is where you can read a description of the specific item, check out other bidders, and, if you want, place your own bid. You can read about the ins and outs of auction pages on Section 1.3.
If you don’t have a specific item in mind, you can browse through eBay’s 30-plus main categories and seemingly infinite subcategories. eBay tweaks its categories frequently, letting you drill down to what you want with ever-more precision.
Browse Categories. Under Browse Categories, if you click any of the links, eBay takes you to the main page for that category. From the category page, you can type in a search term (a keyword that describes the item you’re looking for, like iPod or nutcracker), select a subcategory, or see what others have been searching for. To piggyback on the searches other people have conducted, simply scroll down to Popular Searches (on the left side) and click any of the listed links.
eBay Keywords. If your mind works best in alphabetical order, this option is for you. eBay’s computers keep track of popular searches and list them alphabetically. If you click a letter, eBay shows you terms starting with that letter that others have searched for recently.
Common Searches. This option also uses keywords, organized in a slightly different—and harder to navigate—format. It’s still alphabetical, but it’s less selective; it seems to have every phrase anyone has ever used to search eBay, from a 100 (auction titles containing a standalone letter a and the number 100) to zzzzzz (which seems to be a popular, if not very descriptive, keyword in bedding auctions). Huge and cumbersome, Common Searches is not a helpful way to browse.
Popular Products. This page shows popular items in popular categories. The hottest items related to entertainment and electronics frequently show up here.
eBay Stores. These stores feature fixed-price items that don’t always appear in regular auction searches. Listings in eBay Stores last longer than regular auctions: from 30 days to indefinite (or, of course, until sold). For more on eBay Stores, see Section 7.3.
eBay Pulse. To see what’s hot on eBay, check out eBay Pulse. (You can get there directly by typing pulse.ebay.com into your Web browser’s address bar.) eBay Pulse displays the top searches, the largest stores, and the most-watched auctions.
Searching is one of the primary things people do on eBay: buyers search for items they want to bid on; sellers search to compare prices or check the market for an item they’d like to sell. But searching on eBay is tricky business. Because there are millions of auctions running at any given moment, sifting through all that information to find that one specific item you’re looking for can be trickier than finding an enthusiastic sales clerk at Wal-Mart. This section shows you the basics of searching so you can get up to speed quickly. (Chapter 3 has more info on power searching.)
You can start a search from just about any eBay page by using the Search box in the upper-right corner. Inside the box are the words “Start new search”; click this phrase to clear the text box, then type in what you’re looking for—say, DVD recorder. Click the Search button or press Enter, and you’re off and shopping.
Figure 1-8 shows you a typical Search Results page. The first thing you want to do is scan the item titles listed in the middle of the page. When you see something you’re interested in—say, the Sony DVD Recorder shown in Figure 1-8—slide your eyes to the right to see whether this auction lets you use PayPal, a service for transferring funds from your credit card or bank account directly to the seller. The PayPal icon, a small, blue double P, tells you that a seller will let you pay through this system.
PayPal is usually the easiest way to pay for things, and a lot of buyers bid only in auctions that accept PayPal. You can find out more about PayPal and other popular payment methods on Section 2.3.
Keep sliding your eyes right to see the current bid (the price you need to beat), how many bids have been placed on the item so far (which tells you how hot an item is), and how much time’s left for you to jump into the fray (d means days; m means minutes; s means you’re out of luck unless you’re a really, really fast typist).
If all systems are go and you want to learn more about an item or place a bid, just click the item description to jump to an auction page with details and bidding choices. (For the skinny on auction pages, flip to Section 1.3.)
eBay lets you customize your search results, which can be a good way to home in on an item within a price-range, sold near your home, closing within a day, or many other factors. On the right side above the results list, click Customize Display. On the page that opens, select the options you want (such as shipping cost or distance) and click Save.
Often, a basic search gives you too many results, including a ton of items you’re not even interested in. For example, if you’re looking for a printer, you might get a bunch of listings for related results, like ink cartridges and printer cables. Save your eyes and let eBay winnow out some of those results from you. The following sections show you how.
One way to narrow your search is to click one of the Matching Categories on the left-hand side of the results page. For example, in Figure 1-8, if personal video recorders are what you’re really looking for, you could whittle down the 1,134 matches to only those listed under the category Digital Video Recorders PVR, which has just 20 items.
Some popular items display a Finder on the left-hand side of the results page (shown in Figure 1-8) that lets you specify product type, brand, and other parameters, like size, style, or color. Taking advantage of the Finder is another way to narrow down overwhelming search results.
eBay believes the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you’re looking for something specific—for example, you’ve got a vision dancing in your head of a little black dress with spaghetti straps and a ruffled hem—use gallery view to help you weed out the wrong auctions and zero in on the right ones. Gallery view filters out auctions without a gallery picture, so you won’t wear out your clicking finger (or your patience) clicking those little green cameras to see if maybe, just maybe, an auction has what you’re looking for.
To switch to gallery view, look above the items listed on the Search Results page for a link called Picture Gallery (Figure 1-8). If you click this link, eBay leaves out non-picture-gallery items and reformats your search results to look like a catalog (Figure 1-9).
Searching within a category can save you a lot of time. For example, if you search for the word matrix without selecting a category, eBay shows you thousands and thousands of items, from shampoo to video games to snowboard boots to cars. If you’re looking for memorabilia from the film trilogy, you’ll go nuts sorting through all those irrelevant auctions.
To narrow down your searches to a specific category, such as Entertainment Memorabilia, go to eBay’s navigation bar and click the Buy link. On the Buy page that appears, choose a category as shown in Figure 1-10, click the Search button, and let eBay zero in on what you want.
On the left-hand side of the Search Results page is a list of Matching Categories. Use these categories to narrow your search further. If you click a category, eBay discards all the results that don’t match that category.
Advanced Search gives you even more options for targeting your search. You can search by item number, bidder, or seller; find eBay Stores (Section 7.3) or search their inventory; and find other eBayers. Figure 1-11 shows you how it works.
An auction page (Figure 1-12) is the place where you can read a description of an item, see extra photos, find out a seller’s feedback score, find out the nitty-gritty shipping points, and more. You can also place your bid on the auction page.
At the top of the page is the auction title, written by the seller, and the item number, assigned by eBay. Just below the title and item number are details about the auction, seller information, and usually a picture of the item up for grabs. Here’s a breakdown of the information:
Current bid. Shows the current price of the item—in other words, the price you have to beat if you want to get in the game. In Figure 1-12, there are no bids yet, so the current bid is the same as the starting bid, the price (set by the seller) that the first bidder must meet to participate in the auction.
Place Bid button. Click this button to submit a bid—after you’ve got all the info you need to bid with confidence.
Time left. Shows how much time remains before the auction ends. Although the clock is always ticking, you need to hit the Reload or Refresh button on your browser to update the time left. The situation can change fast in an auction’s final minutes, as more bids come in and the price rises, so you need to reload the auction page frequently when an auction is nearing its end.
Start time. Shows when the auction started, right down to the second the listing became active. Auctions end either three, five, seven, or ten days to the very second after they began.
History. On the auction page, History shows you the number of bids so far (if any) and at what price the bidding started. Click the link to check out the competition—see who bid how much and when. You might be able to find a good deal on a similar item by seeing what else these other bidders are bidding on (Section 3.1.2).
In private auctions (Section 1.4.4), the Bid History page shows the high bids and when they were made but doesn’t reveal bidders’ IDs.
High bidder. Shows the ID and feedback score of the current high bidder. Clicking either the ID or the number takes you to the Member Profile page for that eBayer. See Section 2.1 for more about member profiles and how to read them.
Item location. Shows the city and state or country from which the seller does business. Knowing an item’s location can give you an idea of how long it will take for that item to make its way to your doorstep and what the shipping cost might be (if the seller hasn’t specified one). Sometimes sellers describe the location as a region, such as Northeast or Midwest, or a bit of useless information, like My Garage. If you want more information about where the item ships from (and you probably do, if the item is large or heavy), email the seller to ask.
To email the seller a question about the item, head to the right-hand side of the auction page, and then click “Ask seller a question.” The speed and professionalism with which the seller replies can tell you a lot about the person you’re about to do business with. Keep in mind that eBay is a worldwide market-place, and make allowances for time zones (also weekends and holidays) when awaiting the seller’s response. Be sure that your question is courteous, professional, and not asking about something you can read for yourself in the item description. If a seller is rude, evades your question, or doesn’t answer at all, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches by finding another auction.
Ships to. Indicates regions to which the seller can ship the item. Many auctions ship worldwide; others restrict their auctions to certain areas or countries. For large or bulky items, like sofas or grand pianos, some sellers specify the item must be picked up locally. If you live in Oregon and you want to bid on a 125-gallon aquarium located in Florida, make sure you know in advance if you’ll have to drive across the country to pick it up.
Shipping costs. On eBay, the buyer almost always pays the cost of shipping the item. If the seller doesn’t specify charges for shipping and handling here, check the item description and the “shipping, payment details, and return policy” at the bottom of the auction page, shown in Figure 1-13. It’s also worth knowing what shipping method the seller plans to use. An item shipped by priority mail or UPS, for example, will get to you a lot faster than something coming by media mail or parcel post.
Always check the shipping cost before you bid, and factor it into the amount you’re willing to pay. You don’t want to end up paying $20 for the shipping and handling of a stunt kite that you won with a $1.50 bid.
The upper-right corner of the auction page shows a box with information about the seller: eBay ID, feedback score, how much of that feedback is positive, how long the seller has been an eBayer, and where the seller is registered. You might want to ask the seller a question (click that link to send an email) or view other items this person is selling. You definitely want to check out the seller’s feedback, especially if the seller is someone you’ve never bought from before. For example, run the other way if you see a lot of negative comments—like “This thief took my money and never sent my Beanie Baby!”—which probably means the seller has a history of ripping people off. For more on understanding feedback, see Section 2.1.
A written description of the item. The amount of information here is up to the seller. Some give just the bare bones: size, color, model, condition. Others give an epic-length written description telling you everything the seller can think of about the item. Occasionally, you’ll find the seller’s personal history of the item; a guy who’s selling an old gift from his ex-wife might vent about what went wrong with the marriage, or a grandchild might talk about the history of a family heirloom that’s now on the auction block. Some of these are fun to read, even worthy of a Pulitzer.
More photos. Additional photographs are optional, but smart sellers include several photos of the item in different sizes or from various angles. Click a thumbnail photo to see a larger version of it.
Shipping, payment details, and return policy. Study this section carefully to find hidden costs and limitations, like a no-return policy (common with used items) or shipping restrictions. And check to see whether insurance is optional, required, or not available. (Insurance is a good idea in case your item gets lost or damaged on its way to you. If insurance is available, the buyer pays for it, so don’t forget to add it to your final cost.) Finally, this section often lets you know how soon after the auction the seller expects you to pay. See Figure 1-13.
If shipping costs aren’t mentioned anywhere on the auction page, use the “Ask seller a question” link to find out how much it will cost to ship the item to you. (And save the seller’s response email in case you’re quoted a different shipping price after you’ve won the auction.) Never bid without knowing the shipping cost—or else you have no recourse for complaining if the seller charges excessively high shipping and handling fees.
Payment methods accepted. Shows what it says. Most eBay sellers accept Pay-Pal (Section 22.214.171.124). Many sellers accept a cashier’s check or money order. (Some specify that money orders must be bought at the post office.) Personal checks are iffy—some sellers accept them, some won’t. If a seller accepts personal checks and that’s how you want to pay, be prepared to wait until your check has made it through the mail and cleared at the seller’s bank. Only then will most sellers ship the item. For more on payment methods, see Section 2.3.
eBay advises against using certain payment methods because they’re wide open to fraud or misuse. If the seller insists that you pay with cash or via a wire transfer service like Western Union or Money-Gram, for example, something’s probably fishy. For more on steering clear of scam artists, see Section 4.3.
Ready to bid? Use this section, at the bottom on any auction page, to place a bid on the item. eBay uses proxy bidding, which means the system places bids for you, up to an amount you specify (see Section 2.2 for the gory details on proxy bidding). Figure 1-14 shows you how to place a bid quickly, and Chapter 2 breaks it down for you step by step. (You can also click the Place Bid button at the top of the page under “Starting bid,” as shown in Figure 1-12.)
But don’t bid until you read up on feedback on Section 2.1, which can help you distinguish between reputable sellers and fly-by-night scam artists.
The auction page contains a lot of information, but always take the time to read it carefully before you bid. Sometimes, what looks like a great deal on a plasma TV is really an auction for a list of wholesale suppliers or the address of a Web page that sells televisions—you’ll find that little tidbit of information buried somewhere in a long description. (Such deceptive listings are against eBay policy, but they do appear.) Know exactly what you’re bidding on before you place your bid. If you’re not sure, click “Ask seller a question” and ask. If the seller is evasive or doesn’t respond, find another auction.
eBay has several different kinds of auctions, each with different rules, so it’s important to know which type you’re dealing with before you bid. This section explains the different types of auctions on eBay and how to spot them.
Most eBay auctions are timed auctions. Not only do you have to outbid other bidders, you also have to beat the clock. With timed auctions, one second after an auction closes is no different from a whole year—both are too late. The ticking clock adds to the excitement, because in many auctions, the real action begins in the closing minutes, as bidders vie with each other to make their best bid as near as they can to the auction’s close. This practice of last-moment bidding is called sniping; you can learn about sniping in detail on Section 126.96.36.199.
Most eBay auctions last from three to seven days, although they may be as short as one day or as long as ten. (The seller determines the length of the auction at listing time.) eBay sets the end of the auction, right down to the second, based on the time the auction begins.
Sometimes a seller wants to start with a low opening bid to get buyers’ attention, but doesn’t want to sell at a loss. To help sellers meet these dual desires, eBay lets them set a reserve price on any auction, a secret price that represents the minimum the seller will accept for the item. In other words, in a reserve auction, the seller doesn’t have to sell the item if bidding doesn’t reach the reserve price.
For example, an auction that starts with an opening bid of a penny could have a reserve price of $100 or more—you don’t know what the true selling price is until someone’s bid hits the reserve. If the seller has set a reserve price, the words “Reserve not met” or “Reserve met” appear in the listing, next to the “Current bid,” as shown in Figure 1-15.
So if you’re bidding on a CD player for your car and think you’re getting a great deal because you’re the high bidder at $25.00, check to see whether there’s a reserve. Even if you have the winning bid of $25.00 when the auction closes, you may not get the CD player because of those three little words: “Reserve not met.”
The letters NR appear in many auction titles and stand for no reserve. In other words, the item sells for the highest bid when the auction closes—even if that bid is just one cent. In some NR auctions, the seller sets the opening bid at the desired selling price. In others, though, the seller takes a chance by starting with a very low opening bid, then stands back and watches the fur fly as competing bidders decide what the item is worth.
Reserve auctions make some bidders nervous: why bother trying to buy something if you don’t know the seller’s real asking price? You can bid and bid on an item and still not win it because your bids never get as high as the reserve. It can be frustrating, and many bidders prefer not to have to second-guess the seller on the mystery price.
But before you surf to the next auction, read the description. Some sellers will tell you right there what the reserve price is. These sellers want to protect their investment but realize that a secret reserve will turn off many bidders, so they let you know what they think is a reasonable selling price. (You can agree—by bidding—or disagree and look for another auction.)
Other sellers might clue you in on the reserve if you ask in an email. While you’re on an auction page, click “Ask seller a question” (Figure 1-16) and ask away. You may not get your answer, but it’s worth a try.
A Buy It Now auction (BIN in eBay discussion-group lingo) is the opposite of an auction with a hidden reserve price. Right there, for anyone to see, is the seller’s preferred price—the Buy It Now price. This price can be a little higher than the starting bid, or significantly so.
In many BIN auctions, you have the option of bidding, or you can cut out the competition and buy the item straight out. If you bid, the Buy It Now price disappears and the auction converts to a regular timed auction. If you click the Buy It Now button (Figure 1-17), the auction ends early and you’re the winner. Other BIN auctions are straight, fixed-price sales without the option to bid.
If a BIN auction also has a reserve price, the BIN button stays active until the reserve price is met; it doesn’t disappear after the first bid.
Buy It Now really means “buy it, now.” Some eBay newbies mistakenly think that clicking the Buy It Now button is like putting an item in your online shopping cart and that you can remove it if you change your mind. But eBay doesn’t have shopping carts, and you can’t change your mind with Buy It Now. If you click that Buy It Now button and confirm on the next page, you’re commiting to purchase the item.
If you think you might like to buy a BIN item but you want to give it some thought and come back later, add the item to your Watch list (Section 1.5.1) in My eBay. Someone else might beat you to it, but at least you won’t commit to purchasing something before you’re sure.
In some BIN auctions, the seller is open to a little haggling, inviting you to make your best offer. You can recognize a Best Offer auction by the Submit Best Offer link just below the BIN button. Click the link to name your top price—and to try to convince the seller to sell you those hundred-dollar baseball tickets for 75 bucks. Figure 1-18 shows you the Best Offer form.
Best offers are binding, just like a bid, so if the seller accepts your offer, you’ve made a purchase. And there are limits to the number of best offers you can make—these vary by category, but you get a notification from eBay when you’re about to hit the limit.
A seller can keep bidders’ identities a secret in an auction. Sellers might do this for a couple of reasons. Some items, like certain adults-only products, might otherwise scare easily embarrassed bidders away. Other times, price is the issue. When the auction is for something enormously expensive, like a $120,000 diamond necklace, many bidders would prefer not to let the whole eBay community know that they can afford such things. So to attract bidders, sellers of high-priced goods often make their auctions private.
In a private auction, the identity of anyone who bids remains a secret. During the auction, only the high bid shows, not the ID of the bidder, as shown in Figure 1-19. There’s no way to search specifically for private auctions, so you won’t know whether an auction you’re interested in is private until you look at the auction page. If you bid on a private auction, you can view your bidder status (see whether you’re the high bidder), but you can’t check out who’s bidding against you. When the auction is over, eBay sends contact information to the high bidder and the seller so they can complete the transaction. At that point, anyone can see the bid history on the auction page, but only in terms of what bids were placed and when. You still can’t see bidders’ eBay IDs. Otherwise, private auctions work just like any other.
When you search by bidder, private auctions don’t appear in the search results. And feedback left for private auctions doesn’t show an auction number, so you can’t see the auction the feedback refers to.
eBay allows auctions for adults-only items, called MA (for mature audiences) auctions. Most of these auctions have to do with sex, and eBay takes steps to ensure that children and those who might be offended by MA items won’t view them.
The Mature Audiences category is not “anything goes.” For example, eBay doesn’t allow child pornography, obscenity, or hidden-camera videos—all of which are illegal.
First, eBay makes it hard to stumble across MA auctions by accident. These auctions don’t appear in main areas of the site, such as the Featured Items area of the eBay home page. Second, anyone who wants to view an MA auction must have a credit card number on file; this requirement serves as age verification.
MA auctions have some other restrictions placed on them: sellers can’t set these auctions up as Buy It Now auctions or use PayPal (Section 188.8.131.52) as a payment method.
A seller can create a list of preapproved buyers or bidders and apply it to an auction. If you’re not on the list and you click the Place Bid button, you won’t see the usual page that lets you type in your bid amount. Instead, eBay responds with a notice asking you to contact the seller by email. The seller can then choose to add you to the preapproved list and you can get in on the action.
Sellers sometimes block bidders who live in countries they don’t ship to, who have a negative feedback score, or who’ve been reported as a nonpaying buyer by more than one seller in the past month. If you’re in any of those boats, you won’t have much chance of talking the seller into letting you bid. In addition, many sellers won’t add you to their preapproved list if you have fewer than 10 feedback comments or any recent negative feedback. (For more on feedback, see Section 2.1.)
Be careful if you’re looking at a preapproved bidder auction run by a seller you don’t know. Some scammers take advantage of preapproved bidder auctions to get eBayers’ email addresses and try to sell them something offsite. Only they don’t actually have anything to sell—they just want your money. Never agree to an off-eBay transaction—you lose eBay Buyer Protection (Section 2.4.4), the right to file an Item Not Received report (Section 184.108.40.206), even the right to leave feedback (Section 2.1). For more on this kind of scam, see Section 4.2.4.
Dutch auctions aren’t about windmills and wooden shoes. Also called a multiple-item auction, a Dutch auction is an auction that lists a number of identical items. Several bidders can win this kind of auction, not just the single high bidder. Dutch auctions let you buy items in quantity for a low price—sometimes for even less than you actually bid. You’ll find Dutch auctions for all kinds of items, from tulip bulbs and beads to digital cameras and MP3 players.
How a Dutch auction works is a little confusing until you get the hang of it, but it’s a great way to pick up a bargain or two—or even more, depending on the quantity up for grabs.
In a Dutch auction, you specify how many of the items you want and what you’re willing to pay for each. The highest bidders win, but they pay only the price offered by the lowest successful bidder. Confused? You won’t be after you take a look at Table 1-1. In this example, a seller is offering five disposable cameras for sale; the opening bid is set at $1.50 per camera. Five eBayers bid on the auction.
As in all auctions, those willing to pay the most win. In Table 1-1, the seller has five cameras to sell, so these will be distributed among the highest bidders, starting with whoever bid the most. Working from the highest bidder down the bid ladder, bidder A wins two cameras and bidders B and C win one apiece. Bidder D would like three cameras, but there’s only one left, so that’s all bidder D can buy. Bidder D is the last bidder who qualifies for a camera, so his is the bid that wins—the lowest winning bid. Because in this case $2.00 is the lowest winning bid, bidders A, B, C, and D all get their cameras for that price, no matter what they were willing to pay. Note that $2.00 isn’t the lowest bid, it’s the lowest winning bid. Bidder E, whose bid is below that $2.00 cutoff, is out of luck, because all the cameras were gone before her bid could be considered.
Winning bidders in Dutch auctions can refuse partial quantities. So bidder D in Table 1-1 can buy one camera at $2.00 or none at all—without penalty. If you don’t get the quantity you bid on, you don’t have to complete the transaction.
Sellers sometimes label their Dutch auctions in the item description: Search for "dutch auction" to find one. You can also find Dutch auctions from the Advanced Search page: Enter your search terms, then scroll down to “Multiple item listings” and type in a number. When you’ve found a Dutch auction, look for the word Quantity under “Start time” to find out how many items the seller has up for sale.
For more on Dutch auctions, including strategies on how to win without overpaying, see Section 3.3.4.
Timed auctions are exciting, but for some bidders nothing beats the back-and-forth competition of a live auction. eBay’s live auctions put you right on the floor of auction houses around the world. You bid against other Internet bidders and bidders physically present at the live auction. You can place an absentee bid before the auction begins if it’s happening while you’re at work or asleep, or you can watch the auction and bid in real time. Figure 1-20 shows you the eBay Live Auctions home page (located at http://pages.ebay.com/liveauctions).
During the auction, a window shows a picture of what’s up on the block, as well as its estimated worth and the current high bid. Instead of an auctioneer yelling, “Going, going, gone!” the window displays the words “Fair Warning” when the auction is about to close. The action is fast-paced, with bids flying in from the Internet and the auction floor.
Hours of searching and scrutinizing auction pages can send your head spinning like a special effect in The Exorcist. Once you’ve found two or three possibilities out of four gazillion auctions, how do you find them again? How do you remember which kewpie doll you bid on when there are 300 up for sale? And how do you know if you’re still the high bidder or if someone’s snatched the kewpie from your clutches?
To keep you organized, eBay creates a page for you and you alone (Figure 1-21). Your My eBay page shows you items you’re bidding on, auctions where you’ve been outbid—and auctions you’ve won and have to pay for. And that’s just for starters. You can reach My eBay by heading to the top of any page on the site, finding the navigation bar, and clicking the My eBay Button.
You must be signed in to eBay to see your personal My eBay page. But if you sign out, no problem: just click the My eBay link at the top of the eBay home page. Instead of the My eBay page, you see the Sign In screen. Type in your eBay ID and password, click Sign In Securely, and your My eBay page appears.
Your My eBay page is an invaluable headquarters. It lets you keep track of the specific auctions you’re interested in—whether you’re bidding, selling, or just watching—and do other important stuff, too, like update your account information and save searches for when you’re in the mood to power-shop. With all these goodies, My eBay provides a handy home base for exploring the site.
On the left-hand side of the page is My eBay Views: a menu of all the different parts of your My eBay page. You can customize the way your My eBay page appears by choosing from this menu. The next sections explain your choices.
My Summary is shown in Figure 1-21, and it’s the page that appears whenever you log in and click My eBay. My Summary gives you an overview of your recent searching and trading activity: the items you’re currently bidding on (if any), how many items you’ve won (and lost), how much you’ve spent on eBay so far, and so on. My Summary is a good choice for getting a bird’s-eye view of what you’ve been up to on the site.
If you’d like to set up a different view to greet you whenever you visit My eBay, find the My eBay Views menu on the left-hand side of the page, and then click eBay Preferences. Scroll down the page that opens until you find the section called My eBay Preferences, and then make your selection from the “Default opening page” drop-down list.
Imagine heading for the mall with an assistant whose job it is to keep track of everything you buy, everything you think about buying, and even the sale items you miss out on. You could use that information to fine-tune your shopping list—know the best prices, the best stores, the best times to shop. The All Buying section of My eBay is just such an assistant: it records your activity related to shopping and buying.
Here’s what you’ll find in All Buying:
Watching. If you want to keep track of an interesting item but you’re not quite ready to bid on it—perhaps you’re waiting to see just how high the price gets—you can watch the item, which means that the item, its current high bid, the number of bidders, and the amount of time left in the auction appear in this section of your My eBay page—along with a Bid Now button in case you want to stop watching and get in on the action. To learn how to add an item to your Watch list, click “Watch this item” in the upper right of any auction page.
Bidding. If you’ve jumped into the fray and bid on something, information about the auction shows up here: the current price, whether you’re the high bidder, and how long before the auction ends.
Won. This section records your triumphs—auctions you won as the highest bidder. These auctions appear for up to 60 days or until you decide to remove them.
Didn’t Win. This section shows items you bid on but didn’t win. Viewing this information not only reminds you what you’ve been shopping for, it also shows you what the prevailing bid was, so you can adjust your bidding next time around.
When you first register with eBay, you can bid on items, post on discussion boards, and search the site. If you want to sell, you have to go through another registration process. This link lets you register as a seller. To learn how to sign up to sell on eBay, see Section 5.4.
If you’ve ever had a spam filter swallow an important email, you’ll be glad to know that eBay’s doing something to make sure that your eBay-related emails never suffer that fate. My Messages, shown in Figure 1-22, started as a way for eBayers to receive official eBay announcements about the site.
In mid-2005, eBay enhanced My Messages in three important ways:
Account-related messages. Instead of just general announcements, official communications from eBay related to your individual account (such as invoices, notices of a password change, and so on) now appear in My Messages. Spoof emails, official-looking emails sent by crooks hoping to steal your account information, have become the bane of the Internet (see Section 4.3.3 for more on spoof emails). If you get an email that looks like it’s from eBay but suspect it’s a spoof, check My Messages. All eBay communications about your account appear in your My Messages Inbox. If it’s not in there, it’s not from eBay.
Answers from Customer Support. If you’ve emailed eBay with a question or problem, the response appears here.
eBayer-to-eBayer communications. One of the biggest causes of negative feedback is miscommunication. When you use My Messages to contact another eBayer, eBay sends two copies of your message—one to the person’s My Messages inbox and the other to his registered email address. Now you can be sure that your trading partner gets your emails.
My Messages lets you create and use up to ten personal folders to store your messages, so you can organize your communications in any way that makes sense to you.
Here you can save searches, sellers, and categories that interest you. Saving searches buys you time and effort when, for example, you’re hunting for baseball cards to add to your collection or an out-of-print DVD for a gift. You can run the same search over and over, whenever you want, without having to type in keywords.
You can save searches by keyword, or if you find yourself returning to the same seller’s auctions again and again, you can save that seller as a favorite—and even receive emails when the seller lists new items. (See Search for Items by Seller on Section 3.1.3.)
To save a search, under My Favorite Searches, simply click the “Add new Search” link. A form opens, much like the Advanced Search (Section 1.3), letting you choose search criteria. Fill it out, run the search, and then on the search results page in the upper-right corner, click “Add to Favorites.” Once you’ve saved a search, it appears on your All Favorites page with an “Edit Preferences” link that lets you adjust its search criteria.
Figure 1-23 shows how to save a favorite category search to streamline the time you spend searching, making it easier and faster to find the things you want. For example, if you collect antique Buddha figures, you can save a category search that, with one click, will show you what’s newly listed in the Antiques/Asian Antiques/Statues/Buddha category.
To find a favorite category you’ve saved, go to your My eBay page, scroll way down to the section called Shortcuts to My Favorites, and choose the Select a Category drop-down list. If you prefer, you can get to your favorite categories from the left-hand My eBay Views menu: under All Favorites, click Categories. Finally, your favorite categories also show up on the Advanced Search page under Favorite Searches.
This view contains the nuts and bolts of your eBay account. If you move or change your phone number or email address, you want to make sure that trading partners can still find you. You can also subscribe to eBay services or change your notification preferences—how often you hear from eBay, and about what.
Here’s what you can look at or change under My Account:
Personal Information. View or edit the information you submitted when you registered: your eBay ID, password, email address, mailing address, and any financial information. If you’ve created an About Me page (Section 6.1), you can change that here, too.
Addresses. View or change your eBay registration address, the address where you receive payments, and your shipping address. For most people, these three addresses will be the same.
Manage Subscriptions. This page is where sellers can sign up for and manage various services eBay offers, including eBay Stores (Section 7.3), Selling Manager (Section 9.1.2), eBay Blackthorne (Section 9.1.3), and Picture Manager (Section 220.127.116.11). You must have a seller’s account and, in some cases, a certain amount of feedback to subscribe.
eBay Preferences. Some people like to hear from eBay constantly. Others prefer to keep their inbox relatively email-free. Choose Notification Preferences to customize when and about what eBay can contact you. You can receive an email to let you know when an auction you’re watching is going to end soon, when you’ve been outbid, when you’ve received feedback or need to leave it—or not. It’s up to you. Most notification options are already turned on, so be sure to visit this page and fine-tune your preferences.
If you’d rather not receive telemarketing calls and direct mail from eBay, scroll down to the bottom of the Notification Preferences page and turn off both checkboxes under Other Contacts.
You’ll also find Authorization Settings on the eBay Preferences page. This section reminds you if you’ve OK’d any third parties to perform actions on your behalf on the eBay site. Examples include installing the eBay Toolbar (Section 3.1.13) or signing up to put a counter on your auction page (Section 6.3.1). If you don’t want any third parties messing around with your eBay account, turn on the “Revoke this authorization” checkbox, and then click Apply.
Feedback. For every eBay transaction you participate in, you have an opportunity to give and receive feedback, rating the transaction as positive, negative, or neutral, and leaving a brief comment that’s permanently added to the receiver’s Member Profile. This page reminds you if you haven’t left feedback for a trading partner and shows you any recent feedback others have left for you. Feedback is what makes eBay work—it’s how buyers and sellers who’ve never met know they can trust each other. So when you’ve finished a transaction, leave feedback to let the world know how it went. For more information on how feedback works, see Section 2.1.
If you’re registered with PayPal (Section 18.104.22.168) or if you’re registered as a seller, information about your PayPal account and any selling activity—such as auctions you’re running or fees you owe—also appears on your My Account page.