How to Win at eBay

8 Tips to Scoring the Fill-in-the-Blank of your dreams

I accidentally bought a watch on eBay last week. It’s a cool watch and all, but the immediate pop-up message informing me of my winnings was a bit of a surprise. I had only heard of the marble-faced Tissot Rock Watch one day prior when a friend’s wrist caught my eye. I had to have it, so off I went: eBay.

The eBay hunt can be daunting to an amateur. You need to have your wits about you and keep your eyes on the prize. I lost a bidding war on my dream watch in the last 10 seconds of the first listing. My competitive side was unleashed, however, and when I finally snagged my time keeper I created a set of future eBay rules to live by:

1) Don’t let your emotions get the better of you

The “Best Offer” button seems like a good idea — this is where you name your price. But make sure you can actually afford the price you’re offering, or that you really want the item. It’s easy to get blinded by the label.

2) Do be prepared to “Buy It Now”

Every once in a while, some sucker will put up a Jil Sander seafoam green leather coat for $26. This is when emotion should take over. Close your eyes and click “Buy It Now” like it’s the difference between life or death.

However, it’s smart to set a limit beforehand. I have an under-$30 rule for instances exactly like this.

3) Be specific

It seems obvious, but include brand names in your search. Because I’m on a continual hunt for Prada and Jil Sander (that previously-mentioned $26 coat was not folklore, my friends), I make sure to tell eBay exactly what I’m looking for. It’s like dating!

Pay attention to the recommendations eBay gives you based on your brand-related searches, too. They’re fairly accurate and could lead to your newest purse acquisition.

4) Play detective

Pretend this is like an episode of Catfish: if there aren’t a lot of pictures, assume it’s for a (bad) reason. If an item seems too good to be true (a $50 pair of “Brand New” Céline shoes, for example) ask for more photos and information.

However, remember that some of the best vintage will have light stains. Try to accept minor flaws — everyone has a past, right?

5) Face the realities of pricing

If the listing is super low and there’s still a few days left, remember that the price will likely rise. I always forget that the starting price is just that: a start. Avoid sticker-shock and heartbreak by preparing yourself to spend more than the first listing.

6) Be obsessive and aggressive

Get the eBay phone app and turn on notifications. Track searches so that each time there’s a new listing for, say, Alexa Chung x AG Jeans, you’ll get a little ping from eBay.

Check in for new listings every day. It takes a few seconds, but you never know when the perfect price will pop up.

7) Know your market

If it’s not on eBay, it might be on Etsy. There’s a greater chance of finding newer-used items (like jeans and purses) on eBay, while Etsy tends to be better for handmade goods and true vintage.

8) Most importantly, know your measurements!

Get a measuring tape and a good friend. Have her measure your waist, hips, thighs, chest, and legs.

Now tell me, am I missing any crucial rules you fellow eBay-ers live by? And what have you guys recently scored?

If reading this made you hungry, allow me to point you in the direction of cool desk snacks. If reading this made you want to shop but you don’t know what for, let SZA’s style inspire your hunt.

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  • Kasia DirtyFashion

    Useful post! 🙂

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  • Ellen

    Don’t buy it just cause it’s cheap. This is how you end up with a knee length APC sailor-stripe sack (that gets you mistaken for a Hasidic woman) just cause it was 30$.
    Also, if you’re from anywhere outside the US ask about shipping before you bid. The proprietary eBay global shipping program is overpriced, slow and makes you pay duties up front when you would normally never pay any through USPS/whatever domestic carrier. I live in Canada and the biggest misconception about shipping is that USPS won’t track your package once it leaves the country, which is just not true.

    • How do you track USPS outside the US??? I used to order fulfill for an online biz and we told this to our customers all the time, because that’s what the policy was, at least at the time. I would love it if the USPS actually did allow you to track stuff outside the US!

      • Ellen

        In Canada the USPS tracking number works with Canada Post. You still have to ship with a trackable option with USPS obviously but they recently(2-3 years maybe?) made it so you can track your package into Canada(and get delivery confirmation, v important for PayPal) on either the USPS website or on the Canada post website.
        No one seems to get this as US sellers are still trying to charge me 40$ to ship a featherweight Equipment shirt because Canada is sooo far and sketchy.

  • I recently started getting into eBay and all the points mentioned above are all good tips to keep in my when searching/shopping on eBay!
    One of the most important thing is don’t overdo yourself and place a bid higher than you can comfortably afford, if you see something that you really want but is super out of your price range, give it time, one in your price range might just pop up in a few weeks (though sometime it takes months).


    I’m an old hand at buying from ebay.
    1: Google the product and description where you will find the exact thing your are looing for. Get the model numbers and write them down with the best price from Amazon or another seller. Make notes on your research.
    2: Go to ebay and search the manufacturer and model. Choose USA sellers only.
    3: Look at every offering starting with most expensive first then work your way down the list. If there are a lot of entries for your item check those with free shipping and compare that price to the ones that don’t include the shipping. Sometime it’s cheaper to pay the freight but sometimes not.
    4: If there is a bidding war going on that is a problem. The cheap starting price can go up quickly when emotions in the peanut gallery start to rise. You’ll soon see that the one that started out a little higher with free shipping is the best deal.
    5: Always look at the score of the seller and read the comments from people who have bought before. High volume sellers got there for a reason.
    When I started trading with ebay I was looking for deals and bidding. I hardly ever do that any more unless the item is unique and not found anywhere else. Normally I find what I want at a decent price from a good seller and I hit the button. I save the time of shopping and the sales tax and it comes to my office via UPS or USPS and I take it home.

    • Krista Anna Lewis

      I agree! Although I’ve found, if the extra shipping doesn’t hike the price up too much, a lot of great stuff (especially old film cameras) can be found in Japan.

      • I-RIGHT-I

        I have a slightly used 30 year old Cannon A1 w/lenses I’ll let go pretty cheap!
        I might take a chance on overseas if it didn’t break the bank if I got screwed.

  • Elizabeth Tamkin

    This is VERY useful. I find eBay best for very specific things. Honestly though, when buying used, I’d prefer the bUsHwIcK thrift store or something…I know Krista feels me on this.

  • Emma Peach

    I sometimes put a deliberate spelling mistake in a search for something (eg “Riess” instead of “Reiss” because sellers do make typos and consequently those listings get fewer watchers which can result in a bargain!


  • Any time I’m looking for a unicorn item on eBay, I search completed listings to find how often similar items have been posted. Then I like to use the historic pricing to set a limit on how much I’ll spend before I set up my saved search.

    I also am loving for designer pieces. So far I’ve found my new Marchesa wedding dress and two pairs of gently loved Louboutins there!

    • Krista Anna Lewis

      You may have just saved my bank account from myself.

  • BK

    Always pay with PayPal! That way if something goes wrong and you want your money back, you know you’ll be covered by their very sturdy buyer protection program. I’ve had real douchebags flatly refuse to give me my money back for before – despite it being illegal to refuse refunds in many countries – and opening a dispute in PayPal means that they can step in and advocate on your behalf and get your money back. And it’s all free!

  • loulee

    The “follow search” and “watch item” buttons! When you follow a search and go to the Ebay homepage, all of the listings for the search are there in a Pinterest-esque board ready to browse. Watch items to keep an eye on bidding activity and avoid disappointment when a war breaks. They’ll send an email to notify you when a listing is ending soon, too. I know too much.

  • María Majón Diéguez

    Thanks for the infooooooooooo!!


  • Nicole L.

    yasss just read this, hopped on ebay for the first time and scored a pair of vintage levis. I’mma be on ’em like nicki on bey