Friday, April 8, 2011

Ebay Buying Tips

Back when Beth and I first got married we didn’t have much of anything, especially money, so we frequented yard sales and flea markets in search of furniture and other necessary stuff. I would always look for undervalued instruments. I bought an old Silvertone Twin Twelve amp for $140 years ago at one of those yard sales. I remember telling her, “If I could have one superpower it would be the ability to look at an item, know exactly what it is worth and know where to get that much for it.” I know it’s not x-ray vision or the ability to fly, but I was trying to be practical. The problem is is that everyone has that ability now since eBay was launched. Have an old pedal in your closet? Search for it at eBay and watch a similar item sell to determine it’s value. This has made it much more difficult to find good deals around the corner.

eBay benefits the seller by exposing them to millions of potential buyers. Try that at a pawn shop. And eBay benefits the buyers by allowing them to set their maximum price and possibly get it for less than that. Here are some tips for those in the second camp.

1. When searching for something like “Gibson Les Paul” sort list by “Time: newly listed” just in case someone who doesn’t know what they have has listed their item at an unusually low “Buy It Now” price. A good friend of mine listed his Matchless Hot Box (a pre-amp pedal) for a “Buy It Now” price of $200 and it sold within minutes. “I guess I should’ve listed it higher” he later told me. I guess he should’ve called me first.

2. Try misspelling the name of the item. “Marshal amp” or “Gibbon Les Paul” or “Phender Strat”. eBay is a search engine based site, you would not be referred to a typo, so create a typo.

3. Carefully read the item’s description. Look for phrases like “without speakers”, “not original”, “I am selling a photo of a ’59 Les Paul”. E-mail and ask for more pics. It costs to have more than one photo on your listing and many aren’t willing pay the extra price, but it costs them nothing to send you a jpg or two.

4. Start your eBay experience slowly. Start with smaller items like pedals. Bid only what you are comfortable paying. Use PayPal whenever possible. It’s easy to dispute in the PayPal system. Bookmark sellers that treat you right.

5. If you are having trouble finding what you want, click the “Add to Favorite Searches” link and eBay will e-mail you every time one of those items is listed. Be somewhat specific. Don’t just say “amp” or you are liable to get 1500 e-mails everyday! Fool me once...

6. If you have a good experience leave a positive feedback. If your eBay transaction is much less than smooth and you’ve tried to resolve the issue, (and have some grace as many things can go wrong; shipping issues, computer issues, PayPal issues and so forth) then it’s OK to leave a negative feedback. Feedback ratings are the oil in eBay’s machinery.

7. Bid confidently with someone who has a feedback of 100%  and a number of feedbacks as that A+ rating is worth more than gold and most sellers and buyers will make your happiness their priority in order to keep it.

8. Be cautious with bidders or sellers with a feedback score of less than 10. Click on their name and see what items they tend to sell/buy. Look at the dates. Are they all in the last month? This may be a sign of someone reregistering to distance themselves from a too negative rating under an old handle. However, if you are a gambler, and you really want a good deal, there is very little bidding competition for sellers with 80-95% ratings. But remember caveat emptor.

9. When bidding look at who else is buying. Click on the “bids” link. It will list your bidding competition. If you see buyers with hundreds of purchases (especially gear purchases) you are going up against pros. Two conclusions: You are bidding on something worthwhile and you are going to lose.

10. Bid weird amounts. The minimum next bid amount increases with the price; 50 cents to one dollar to $2.50 to $5.00 and so on. If making a late bid, at least double the minimum and add a penny, that someone may try to sneak a last second minimum bid but you will beat them by one penny. It’s been done to me and it’s very humiliating. Try maybe 11 cents or 31 cents or something unpredictable.

11. Sometimes the “Buy It Now” price is better than bidding. Look at what they are willing to give away to have the sale ended. One amp I was looking at threw in free shipping (saving $65), some used but working tubes (?$) and a five switch pedal. All worth the difference between the starting price of $1149 and the BIN price of $1299.

12. On bigger items check out eSnipe!!! It will bid for you in the last 6 seconds (!!!!) so you don’t have to baby sit the auction. And so you are not tempted to drive up the price with price testing bids. It will save you a fortune.

13. Also, again, carefully read the items description. This can be to your advantage. I recently bought a “broken” “as-is” mic pre (I used eSnipe), for less then a fourth of the cost of it’s retail, new value. It was being sold from Cleveland pawn shop. The description said, “doesn’t produce any sound” and “don’t have the ability to test any further”. I speculated that they didn’t know what they had, as mic-pres don’t produce any sound that doesn’t require amplification. I checked their other items for sale. Figurines, flutes, home stereos, but no high end sound gear. They probably didn’t know anything about mic-pres. It didn’t properly work when I received it, but even after repairing it it will cost me less than half retail! Score

I hope these tips help you get some great deals on some new for you gear. Post your eBay successes and failures below in the comment thread so everyone can learn from your... um... successes and failures!


  1. When buying anything on Ebay you want to do everything possible to make sure the item is legit

  2. Very true Swift, that's why I'll rarely bid on anything being sold by anyone with less than 100 transactions and a 100% rating.