Shop Like a Ninja on eBay

by Kentin Waits on 5 July 2011 2 comments

In June, I wrote an article for current and would-be eBay sellers, entitled How I Still Make Money with eBay. Well, fair is fair, and it’s time to explore a few strategies for scoring the best deals as a buyer. In a tight economy with gas prices hovering somewhere between crazy and obscene, it’s more important than ever to score bargains when and where we can.

Over the past 12 years as an active eBayer, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade for selling effectively and for the highest price. But inexperienced or rushed sellers make mistakes — and mistakes create opportunities for buyers who are willing to shop like a ninja.

Misspell what you’re looking for.

Most searches on eBay are driven by keywords either within or outside of a product category. If you want a Calvin Klein queen sized bedspread, you type in a combination of relevant terms, right? Well, try misspelling a few of those key terms. Variations like Calvin Klien or Cavlin Klein will produce far fewer search results, but they will also produce fewer potential buyers that you then have to compete with. A seller who’s managing dozens or even hundreds of items at a time can’t list everything perfectly — think of logical spelling mistakes and capitalize on the reduced customer base the seller is reaching. Then pounce.

One note on this method: eBay has introduced a spell correct feature on the site that corrects the most obvious errors, but it’s not always consistent and doesn’t catch every mistake or mistakes that still produce valid terms (think “pie safe” vs. “pie sale”).

Bid last minute.

Auction psychology is a fascinating topic. Inexperienced bidders get excited and start bidding on an item immediately. Experienced bidders take a more measured and stealthy approach, not letting their intentions be known until the last few minutes — or even seconds — of an auction. This lulls the other potential buyers into a false sense of comfort and sometimes leaves them clicking in vain and cursing the keyboard as an item slips through their virtual fingers.

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Look for auctions ending at inopportune times.

Each time a seller initiates an auction, an end time is scheduled automatically (typically, three, five, seven, or ten days in the future). Inexperienced sellers fail to realize that an auction starting at 5:30pm will also end at 5:30pm days later — during most people’s busy commute. Even worse, any auction ending at 3am on a Monday will probably be a ‘sleeper.’ As buyers, we can use this ‘scheduling fail’ to our advantage — set the alarm clock for 2:55am and let’s score a great deal while the rest of the world hits the snooze button.

Buy off-season.

There’s no nice way to put it — most buyers are fickle, highly prone to suggestion, and don’t plan very well. We buy summer clothes when the weather gets hot, we buy winter coats when the leaves start to fall, and we never start shopping for holiday gifts before October. Sidestep the high-prices by avoiding high demand. Buy off-season! When the mercury hits 110 degrees, check the eBay listings for wool suits and flannel sheets. Predictably, most of your competition will be shopping for margarita glasses, flip-flops, and patio furniture.

Experiment with alternate keywords.

Just like misspelled keywords, incorrect or incomplete keywords can reveal a treasure-trove of little-noticed items. This approach takes a bit of practice and creative thinking, but can pay off. You may know that specific pattern of expensive dinnerware is called Intaglio, but a novice might simply describe it as “blue flowers.” Break down the description of an item into its most basic elements, then massage the results and see what bargains you find.

Shopping in the rarefied atmosphere of eBay takes patience and skill — but there are amazing bargains to be had if you think creatively, do your research, and — when the time is right — channel your inner ninja.

Tagged: Shopping, bidding, eBay
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Susan

I sell stuff on ebay from time to time. It always amuses me when snipers wait until the last few seconds to place a bid. In a way, it does not seem very fair, but I guess that's the nature of the game.

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Lindsey

I love shopping on eBay, I've been using the website http://www.bargainchecker.com recently which helps search for misspellings and also has a last minute section which you mention, plus a local bargain finder which is sometimes handy :)