eBay Shopping Tips, According to a Power User

She buys 80 percent of her wardrobe, home furnishings and shoes secondhand on eBay

01.10.17
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Confession: I check eBay everyday. I’m not talking a blithe scroll — I have a proper system in place. I “follow” searches, which means when I log into the app each morning, it notifies me of all the items I’m looking for that have just become available. I check the most important ones first (Bella Freud jumper, Acne boots, Caroline Constas shirt), then the ones of middling importance (Helmut Lang blazer, Joseph Jagger trousers, Beni Ourain Moroccan rug), then the ones I really don’t need, say an ostrich feather skirt, a gold sequin maxi dress or a crepe Ossie Clark suit. You get the idea.

I started buying clothes on eBay in 2011 and, insidiously, my hobby turned into an obsession. I now buy 80 percent of my wardrobe, home furnishings and shoes secondhand on eBay. I knew I had a problem when I was recently notified that I had “exceeded” my followed searches (100). Then, a friend who was on the hunt for a green mid-century chair and a red cashmere turtleneck gave eBay a go; it soon transpired that I had been bidding against her without even realizing on two entirely separate, very specific items. Realizing that I am the old guy propping up the bar from 9am until closing time, while everyone else just occasionally visits for fun, was a low moment.

But I just love it as a retail experience, the hunting and gathering of an eBay purchase. Sure, as survival exercises go, waiting for a secondhand Burberry mac to come up in your size is fairly un-punishing. But when you have been sitting, watching and waiting for year upon year, it does feel a little like hooking a prize trout when you get a notification that one is being sold by an elderly woman in the provinces who doesn’t know its value.

Take this tale of serendipity: In 2011, I went out in east London, drank too much and took off my platform ankle boots to enable me to dance into the night. At 2 A.M., I realized someone had walked off with them. And why wouldn’t they? They were the perfect high-heeled boots — black, easy to walk in, made your legs look as long and slender as Bambi’s. They cost $50 from Zara, but were one of those irreplaceable, unlikely wardrobe miracles. No other boots were quite as flattering. I grieved for them afresh every time I got dressed.

Shortly after I lost them, having rung the bar every day for a month to see if they were handed in and even attempting to register the incident with the local police station, I decided to set an alert for “Zara platform boots” on eBay and did a daily trawl of newly listed items. They came up only once in five years and were three sizes too small for me.

In autumn of 2016, half a decade since that fateful night, a pair came up in my size. I bought them instantly for $10 dollars and they arrived good as new — a fable to rival the blind man whose sight returned.

It certainly has made me more consumed with consumerism, but eBay has also enabled me to have a wardrobe and home in my 20s I otherwise would never have been able to afford had I bought stuff brand-new. It’s been a bittersweet codependency (having to hide under my seat in the theater to make a final bid on a West Elm lamp was not my finest hour), but I’ve learned some lessons along the way. The wisdom of which I will impart to you now:

1. When a genuine Self Portrait dress for $50 seems to good to be true, it probably is. Check who the seller is. If this is the first item they’re selling or they reply to you saying: “Hello yes hi sweet miss,” it means the dress doesn’t exist.

2. Always opt for tracked post if you’re selling, otherwise there’s a risk the buyer will say it never arrived and you’ll have to pay a full refund even if you posted it.

3. If there’s something you really want, make a friend your eBay comrade. They can bid against you near the end of the auction, so you double your chance of getting the last highest bid.

4. Similarly, if there’s something you’re selling and you want to up the price, ask a friend to outbid other hopefuls to up the ante.

5. There are some things that will never come up. Loewe luggage, for example. The people who own Loewe luggage do not have an eBay app. When they’re done with their luggage, they’ll throw it into their unused items trashcan along with their dusty diamonds. Millennial mid-salaried Mulberry bag purchasers, on the other hand, certainly do sell stuff.

6. When you find something you love, particularly a vintage piece, check if the seller has an eBay store. They’ll likely have other great items on sale.

7. If something is priced too high and it gets no bids, message the seller privately and negotiate the price down. (Don’t get too back-and-forth-y with the messages; keep it short and sweet. A seller once accused me of “leading him on.”)

8. Don’t obsess if something is too expensive or you lose out. Another one will come up. It may be months, it may be years, but it will certainly return again. That’s the joy of the eBay ecosystem.

Illustration by Emily Zirimis.

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  • In 2014, I found a pair of high heels on a London street, first thing in the morning. 🙂 So shoes have adventures there, too.
    As much as I loved eBay they won’t see me any time soon: am still smarting after that damn buyer’s trick that cost me. Their rules tend to neglect honest sellers to make buyers happy…

    • Jen

      I wholeheartedly agree. Buyers can falsely claim that the items they receive are “not as advertised,” in order to bypass a no-return policy or to avoid return shipping fees if they’ve just changed their minds. More often than not EBay takes their side and offers a refund to the buyer. I had a nightmarish experience years ago with a buyer who falsely claimed damage on an expensive bag—EBay immediately withdrew the funds from my account and it took months to resolve 🙁

  • Lacey

    #4 is bid shilling and against eBay policy. Your account will be suspended.

    • I was just going to say this! The eBay Gods will frown upon you as will actual bidders.

    • Lacey

      Also, #3 isn’t great advice. That will just drive up the actual cost of the item. If you really want something, bid the most you are willing to pay in the last minutes of the auction. You may win the item for much less than your maximum bid.

      • Emy M

        For buying, there used to be an extension called sniper or something similar, that automated your final bid at the last moment so you didn’t have to do it manually (if say, you were at the movie theater!)

      • I’m having doubts about #7 also haha. I was under the impression that contacting a buyer about a negotiation was only ok if the item was listed as ‘Or Best Offer’.

        • Jen

          I think it’s fine if the item is just sitting in limbo with no bids. The worst they can say is no.

  • Emy M

    Love this! From one ebay obsessive to another…

    On a related note, I endlessly quoted this Abbi / Elana Broad City exchange for a week: “You should be honored. I’m wasting my time with a yellow star user? **I’m a turquoise power seller, bitch.**”

  • Emy M

    When selling, I like to list items as a fixed price and allow buyers to make an offer.

  • chouette

    A perusal of my saved searches turns up “margiela daisy boots 40” “balenciaga lego” “prada vela backpack green”… I just scored a vintage 70’s Balenciaga blouse for $20 because they thought the boutique label added on top of the designer label meant it was the cheap diffusion stuff from the 80s. It was not, I love my new silk blouse.

  • bb222

    All due respect, but these are pretty basic tips (except for the unethical or ebay-illegal ones).

    What I want to know is what things people look for… of course, a true list would screw up the chances you’d find them because a fellow manrepeller commenter is on the same path. Naturally the best things to get are things you 100% know your size for – I got some great aqua Frye boots that way. Then designer things that are more mid-market than super high – so there are a lot of them out there (like the example of Mulberry bags) but they aren’t too crappy like the hordes of JCrew/Banana out there. I look for Sonia Rykiel sweaters, older coach bags. Been looking for Jil Sander stuff for a long time with only minimal success though.

    • KK

      *whispers* yaaas Frye boots!
      Some beloved brands with longevity (like Frye) have an excellent resale market. I actually MADE money re-selling a used pair of boots I bought on eBay just weeks before because two users got into a bidding war.

  • Jill

    I use eBay regularly and have for years, same thing – followed searches, sometimes I have exceeded my maximum searches…but I have never shilled ( I don’t sell, just buy) and I find some of the tactics in this article a bit off-putting. That said, many, many things can come your way if you are patient. It took nearly ten years for a pair of amazing pumps to show up in my size, and new to boot. It took even longer for a pair of nearly-vanished cowboy boots to show up in my size (apparently ALL the people with size 10s either threw ’em out eventually or didn’t list them on eBay!) but they did..and barely worn. I have had some amazing, amazing scores over the years. And yes, the thrill of the hunt cannot be denied. And there is perhaps no victory as sweet as that of being the victor in a bidding war. 🙂

  • Mary

    #4 is called Shill bidding and is against the law and against ebay policy.

  • Hannah Cole

    At one point I had to delete my eBay app because I spent way too much time and money on it, but oh so much fun.
    Dolly – you’ve inspired me to get it again <3

  • Yue

    Am I the only one who uses Gixen or another automatic sniper?

  • Alexia

    I am 90% certain #3,4 are not legal. There are laws regarding sites like eBay, so keep that in mind before trying stuff like #3 and 4 suggest. Plus, it’s just not cool to screw people over like that.

  • sin_plomo

    When I was at school I used to live way out in the countryside with no means of getting to the ‘cool’ shops let alone affording anything – we weren’t very well off. Buying and selling on ebay was a great way for me to keep up with trends and have nice things that I wouldn’t normally be able to access or afford. I haven’t used it in years as back then it required a lot of time and commitment but maybe I should give it another go today – it is better for the environment to shop second hand.