Adventures on ebay… or how to stay sane on evilbay

Christmas 2002 I got my first digital camera. What I was most excited about was not taking pictures of my friends or family, but that I could now take photos of things I wanted to sell on ebay. Back then, ebay was shiny and new (to me at least) and offered a new world of possibilities. I could sell my surplus thrift and charity shop finds – and acquire other people’s unwanted junk.

So for about 12 months (or maybe it was the whole of 2004 as well it’s hard to remember) ebay virtually became my hobby. I would rationalise purchasing things by thinking that I could sell it on ebay if I grew tired of it (a practice known as ‘flipping’). At the same time, I became what I called a ‘swooper’ which means I very rarely ‘lost’ an item once I had my eye on it.

And then the fall-out came… I can’t remember whether it was too many dumb-ass sellers (one guy once sold me an art deco mirror then wrapped it in a bin bag to send it to me… you can guess how many pieces it arrived in) or too many people ‘flipping’ Topshop exclusives or the couple of buyers who never paid up. Maybe it was all of these things but almost as suddenly as it had begun my love affair with ebay had soured. It had turned into evilbay. Perhaps that was a harsh moniker, but you know how it can be when a relationship goes wrong.

For the next few years I became an occasional ebayer. I would buy something every now and then – vampire teeth from America for Halloween, wellies for T in the Park, a few 50s and 80s vintage dresses. I would also think about selling things but then remember the sheer time and effort involved and end up giving these things to friends or my little sister.

And then last December I fell in love with a sideboard. Now weirdly this is a sideboard I already owned (we had acquired it from my other half’s aunt when we bought the new flat) but suddenly I wanted another so I could have one in the hall and one in the living room. (I promise there was some method in my madness.) At first, I started searching in the junk shops in Edinburgh and Glasgow but nowhere really had anything that was either affordable or swoon-worthy. And so without even realising it I was back on ebay, searching for antique sideboards…

It took me a few months to find the right sideboard (in the right location too) but since then I’ve suddenly acquired a few other things (church chairs, 1950s winged sofa, coat hooks from an old school and a cute Eames style rocker) and my once empty old dusty place is looking a little more populated now.

So now that I’m back in love with ebay again, I thought I would share my older, wiser tips on how to ebay without losing your mind.

1. Know what you’re searching for

This may sound obvious but rather than wasting hours searching for a ‘vintage table’, be more specific and search for a ‘yellow formica table’ for example. Yes, you’ll get less results but you can save the search and get ebay to email you when an item comes up that matches your keywords. Not sure what you want? Look in magazines (Living Etc and Elle Decoration are my favourites), trawl junk shops and visit expensive online shops – and then search on ebay for the things you’ve seen. (I did this with my vintage marmalade jar I saw on Three Potato Four… sorry guys!)

2. Never ever bid until the very last minute

I can never repeat this enough… bid before the last minute and you will only drive the price up. So when you see an item you want make a note of the time it ends, then 5 minutes before it ends log in and see how much it is. Also look at how many bidders it has, who’s been outbidding who, be strategic. Then decide your maximum bid – be sensible here, ebay is not a competition, it is your hard-earned cash you’re parting with. Once there’s a minute to go, refresh the screen just to check what the price is at – if it’s over your max bid, just leave it, someone with more money obviously needs it more than you do.

If the price is still below your max bid, wait until there’s about 30 seconds or less to go and then put in your bid. This is what I call ‘swooping’. The other bidders will never see you coming (unless they’re swoopers too!)

Doing it this way may be more nerve-racking but it stops you being ‘out-bid’ by another buyer and having to up your bid. It also avoids you competing against the seller’s friend who has no intention of buying the item but is trying to get you to pay £xx more than you wanted to.

3. Work out the size of the item

I have done this so many times myself. Seen something I really wanted, waited patiently for the final 30 seconds to bid, ‘won’ it, looked forward to it arriving in the post – and then been vaguely disconcerted when something smaller or bigger than expected has turned up. It really is an easy mistake to make – you get so excited at finding something you want that you don’t bother reading the whole ad. Remember that the pictures are sometimes just to ‘represent’ the item the person is selling. So make sure you know what you’re buying.

4. Avoid huge courier costs by searching locally

I live in Scotland which means if I was to buy a sideboard in London it would cost me over £100 to get it shipped. I don’t know about you but to me that sort of negates the bargain I have just bagged if I have to add that much money to it. That’s why I started searching for things by postcode. To do this go to ‘advanced search’ on ebay and you can search within a certain amount of miles from a specific postcode (there’s also usually a tool down the side of the screen that lets you do this too). You can also save searches by locale too and get ebay to email you when a ‘yellow formica table’ pops up near you.

Searching by postcode has two advantages – courier prices will be a lot cheaper, and best of all, with a car or van you can go and pick the item yourself. If you choose the latter, remember to speak to the person on the phone first and get someone to come with you for safety’s sake. Picking up your ‘win’ yourself also allows you to meet the seller and find out a little about your new chair/sideboard/table… who did it belong to, what was it used for etc etc. I think it’s always nice to have a bit of history when you’re buying an ‘historical’ piece.

Ok, I think that’s enough from me on ebay for one day… I’ll share some of my favourite search terms another time. In the next few weeks I’m going to try out some of the ‘swapping’ sites. I’ll let you know how I get on.