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7 tips for successfully bidding on eBay

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Introduction

Whilst many items on eBay are now sold at fixed prices, some of the best bargains can still be found among the traditional auction lots. While auctions historically favour sellers, with competing buyers raising prices as they outbid each other, if you know the secrets, it is possible to win nearly all the eBay auctions you enter, and often for a lower price than others would have been prepared to pay.

Here are seven tips for successfully bidding on eBay:

1. Set-up notifications

It is important to set up notifications so the website can let you know when something happens to the lots in which you are interested.

To do this, follow these steps:

  • Click My eBay at the top of the website and log in if requested.
  • Click the Account tab and then choose Communication Preferences from the left-hand menu.
  • Scroll down to the Buyer heading and click the Show link alongside ‘Buying activity’.
  • Select Outbid – check that this is set to Real-time.

2. Check when lots end

Whilst bidding on eBay in itself might be easy, your ability to win an auction might depend on when the lot ends – so always check this before you bid.

If a lot closes at midnight your time you are likely to be in bed, or if it ends at 2 pm, you might be at the office, and, therefore, unable to bid.

As most winning bids are typically made in the last few minutes of a sale, avoid bidding on items if you know that you are unlikely to be online at that time.

3. Use automatic bidding

If an auction lot is currently priced at £10, a logical next step might be to bid a pound more (even if your mind you are prepared to go higher).

However, if you are prepared to pay up to £20 for the item then you can actually bid £20 right away and let eBay bid on your behalf. That means that if another bidder puts in a higher offer, then eBay will up your bid automatically – up to your maximum bid (£20 in this example).

It is important, however, to understand from the outset, that specifying your maximum bid does not mean that you will have to pay that amount to win the auction – if someone else’s top bid is, say, £17, then eBay will enter a bid for £18 on your behalf.

The automatic-bid increments increase on a sliding scale as indicated under a lot’s current price. Basically, the higher the price, the greater the increment. So, for example, if the price of an item is in the range £1 – £4.99, then the increment is £0.20, whereas if the price is £1,500 to £2,999.99, then the increment goes up to £50.

(It should be noted that a bidder may be outbid by less than a full increment. This would happen if the winning bidder’s maximum bid beats the second highest maximum by an amount less than the full increment.)

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4. Use a sniping service

Automatic bidding is useful but it’s not the best strategy for winning, as competing buyers might wait until the last few seconds to add on a pound (dollar or equivalent) or two – just to beat automatic bidders.

Whilst you can do the same yourself if you are online and can watch an auction’s closing moments, an alternative is to use a ‘sniping’ service – essentially a computer program that bids on your behalf at the very last moment.

Auction Sniper is free to use, though you do pay a 1% fee for each auction won with help the service. An alternative – and totally free service – is Gixen.

In both cases, the idea is the same – set your maximum bid and the number of seconds before the lot closes that you would like the service to put in your offer.

5. Decide how much to bid

Deciding how much to bid is a subject of much debate amongst eBay bidders.

There are some who argue that by bidding just a few pence more than a round figure – £10.04 as opposed to £10.00, for example – you will stand a better chance of winning the lot.

However, the fault with this logic is that someone else might bet £10.05 or even just £11 and thus secure an item that you really want.

The best advice then is simply to bid up to the maximum that you are prepared to pay, because playing around with a few pennies or cents is really no guarantee that you will win.

If someone outbids your maximum and you decide that you would actually be prepared to pay more, hover the mouse pointer over My eBay and choose Bids/Offers then click the Increase maximum bid link alongside the lot.

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6. Take advantage of sellers’ mistakes

If you search auctions on eBay you will find thousands of auctions, and you will be up against just as many bidders.

However, sellers sometimes make mistakes in their listings that make them hard or impossible to find from common search terms, which presents an opportunity for clever bidders.

Basically, if you search for misspelled items, then it will get fewer hits, but you will also have less competition.

Some websites are set up just for the purpose of finding misspelled lots. For starters, try BargainChecker and BayCrazy.

7. Maintain discipline when bidding

One final tip applies to any auction, whether online or in a physical auction room. Determine the maximum amount that you are prepared to pay for an item, and stick to it. If it is a question of an incremental few pounds or pence, then you can relax the rule a little if you really want an item, but, once it goes beyond these limits, it is time to withdraw from the auction.

There will be other opportunities to bid on other items, so save your money and time until they become available.