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Buying Tips
8 min read

4 Clever Shopping Moves for the Aspiring eBay Ninja

You like shopping on auction sites like eBay? Here are the latest tips and tricks for any smart shopper.
Written by
Annie Button
Published on
November 24, 2023

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If you routinely shop online, you’re part of a growing trend. According to the latest UK figures, ecommerce sales account for around 17% of total retail sales and rising. Most of us have never been happier to click and shop, taking full advantage of a virtually unlimited availability of the goods we want, and often with fast and free home delivery thrown in for good measure. All the indications are that shopping behaviors may well be changing for good.

But even online, there are hunters and there are gatherers, along with plenty of savvy online shopping tips and tricks for anyone interested in saving a bit of cash. eBay, of course, is the king of online auction sites with over 182 million active buyers worldwide, and arguably the world’s biggest and never ending car boot sale.

But just like in real life, it helps to know how to ‘play’ the online auction ‘game’. Perhaps you would appreciate a bit of insider knowledge from an old pro to help you get that bargain you’re after, and at the best possible price too? OK, here goes.

Seek out odd auction times

Every seasoned eBay seller knows that the best time to end an auction is on a Sunday evening around 9pm, the absolute highest time of bidding activity, which is when best prices are achieved, but there are other popular times too, as the table below shows:

As a savvy eBay buyer, these are exactly the times you want to avoid. Inexperienced sellers may not realise that scheduling sales to end on different days, and different times of day, can significantly affect the final sale price. Take advantage of their lack of knowledge and go for auctions that end at unpopular hours when eBay activity is low.

Daytime hours are usually slower than evenings, especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Serious eBay ninjas have been known to set their alarm for a middle-of-the night bargain that’s just too good to pass up!

Bid in the last few seconds

This is where eBay separates the novice from the veteran. Less experienced bidders see an item they like and make a bid immediately without any forethought of what is likely to happen next. Chances are they will be outbid by someone who has a more cunning auction strategy and their eye fixed firmly on the prize.

Seasoned eBay shoppers are like Poker players; they wouldn’t dream of declaring their hand straight away. The first step is to identify an item of interest and watch it, then set up notifications by going to My eBay / Account / Communication Preferences and edit the ‘Buying activity’ section. That way you’ll know exactly what bidding activity is occurring without having to get involved.

To strike like a ninja to secure the item, you have to hold your nerve and delay bidding until the absolute last possible moment – less than a minute and ideally seconds before the auction ends. For a belt-and-braces approach, make sure there’s a sizeable gap between the current highest bid and your maximum bid amount. Since most auction participants are looking for the lowest price, they’ll bid in small increments, meaning a near zero chance of any comeback to outbid you in the dying moments, and the auction is yours.

Of course, the most hardened eBay warriors don’t spend their time staring down every individual auction; they use auto-bid ‘sniping’ tools such as Gixen, Goofbid and Auction Raptor to cut to the chase.

Benefit from sellers’ mistakes

Another way to outsmart the eBay competition is to deliberately misspell the title description of the item you’re looking for and see what the search brings up. Most searches on eBay are brand or keyword driven. Take a cross section of items from different categories – Chanel No. 5 perfume, Calvin Klein boxer shorts, Sennheiser headphones, oak dining table, chest of drawers etc – and you will find that they are not always listed with the correct spelling.

Typos are commonplace, either as a result of ignorance or oversight, and eBay will only autocorrect some of them. Type in Channel No. 5, Calvin Kline or Sennheisser and you might be amazed by the results.

If you can anticipate how an item could have been mistyped – chest of draws, dinning table, anyone? – with any luck, you will find an item that no-one else is looking for. And there’s professional help available too. Specialist sites including  FatFingers, BayCrazy and BargainChecker will trawl eBay for all possible spelling mistake combinations and help you uncover hidden gems.

Fewer buyers to compete with means a better outcome for you. Chi-ching.

Buy out-of-season items

This one takes a bit of forward planning but makes total sense when you think about it. When does everyone buy their summer clothes? When the weather gets warmer. Christmas presents? From November onwards. Are you beginning to see the pattern, and the problem? If you go with mainstream shopping behaviour, you’ll be competing when demand is at its greatest, which drives up prices.

Instead, it literally pays to think outside the proverbial box. Look for winter coats and ski equipment in May, or bikinis in November, when no-one in their right mind will be looking for these items. Timing your next purchase so that it coincides with low demand means competition for the things you’re after is on the floor, and bargain basement prices for you!

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