Wednesday, August 3, 2011

8 Techniques to Get Good Deals on eBay

eBay is a great way to get a substantial discount on photo and other equipment.  But to get the best deals, it helps to know a few techniques.  Using these techniques, I've been able to get deals like this (hit the jump):

  • Quantum X2 with QPAQ module.  A brand new QPAQ by itself costs at least $685.  A used X2 is usually over $300 on eBay.  I got both for $350 shipped.
  • White Lightning X3200 monolight.  $549 brand new.  Got it for $382 shipped.
  • Nikon SB-800 for under $300 shipped, with 6-month warranty.
Here are the eBay techniques I use:

1.  Sniping.  Sniping is a well-known technique among eBay veterans but it still works.  eBay novices usually put in their bid for an item once they find a good deal only to find that someone outbids them at the last moment by a measly $1.  That's sniping in action.

The problem with bidding early is that you're giving information away to your competitors -- letting them know how much you're willing to pay.  If you truly are willing to pay more then there's no harm of course.  But if they are willing to pay just as much as you are, they can outbid you simply by raising their bid slightly more than yours, so you're at a disadvantage.

With sniping, you don't put in a bid until the very last moment before the auction closes, then you bid the highest amount.  A variation on sniping is to snipe twice.  You can put in a bid with a bit less than a minute left using an amount that is LESS than what you're willing to pay.  You'll notice that other snipers will put in their bids around that time too.  Sometimes they have time to raise their bid again if you outbid them.  With less than 20 seconds left, you can then put in your real final bid.  Hopefully they won't have time to raise their bid yet again.  The problem with this strategy is that it can escalate into irrational levels.

2.  Odd numbers.  Instead of bidding round numbers such as $100, bid a bit higher such as $102.68 just in case the other guy bids $100 as well.  Usually I don't see this tactic making a difference but it has been the deciding factor in a few cases.

3.  Boolean Searches.  I mentioned this on the blog before but it's worth mentioning again.  eBay allows boolean searches.  The complete list of formatting rules are here.  It's not easy to remember them all but it's easy enough to remember that "OR" is done by enclosing the terms in parentheses, separated by commas (no spaces).

4.  Saved Searches.  Some of the best deals on eBay are in a "Buy It Now" format -- not an auction.  If the deal is really good, it usually doesn't last long (disappears within minutes of being posted).  How do you find those deals?  I use saved searches.  After you type a search and you see the search results, you'll see a small link to save the search.

Once the search is saved, you can opt to be notified by email whenever an item shows up that corresponds to your search.  This works even better if you have a smartphone.  Just download the eBay app for your phone.  On the iPhone version of the eBay app, to save a search, press the star (hardly obvious!).  On the search tab, you'll then see a link for saved searches.  Pressing on that will show all your saved searches, which you can refresh by dragging down the screen.
On the iPhone eBay app, press the star at the top of the search results to save your search.
Saved Searches appear as a link at the top of the search tab.
Pressing Saved Searches shows you a list of your saved searches.  When a result appears, there will be a blue dot to the left of the search item.
When you find a good deal this way, jump on it.  Once, I saw someone selling a Vagabond Mini for $200 shipped.  At that time I only had one AlienBee though, so I hesitated.  The deal disappeared just seconds later.

5.  Unique Opportunities.  Occasionally, there are postings that present unique opportunities.  Here are the most common ones:

  • Bundles.  Sometimes, sellers bundle items together.  For example, you may see a posting for 3 monolights, plus a lightstand and other accessories.  I've found that the bundled price tends to be lower.  This is somewhat expected because not everyone wants everything in the bundle.  Plus, buyers must fork over a nominally higher amount, which means that there are fewer "qualified" buyers.  Generally, the larger and more expensive the bundle, the bigger the discount.  For example, I once bought a bundle that included 3 speedlights plus 4 Radiopopper JrX receivers, 1 JrX transmitter, and 3 RPCube modules for $400 shipped.  Just make sure you really do want everything in the bundle or can find a way to sell some of them.
  • Unusual Timing.  If the auction is scheduled to end at 3am Pacific Time, that's not going to get a lot of last minute bidders.  Similarly, if the auction will end during a long holiday (when most people are having fun, not sitting in front of their computers), the final price will usually be on the low side.
  • Unusual Spelling or Labels.  If someone labels the item using a non-standard name such as "Alien Bee" rather than the more common "AlienBees" or "Alien Bees," the final price will again be on the low side.  Be sure that your saved searches include unusual name variations.
  • Unusual Descriptions.  Sometimes sellers are not very familiar with the item they're selling and will describe it ambiguously.  Use this to your advantage by asking the seller questions to reveal hidden value, then bid accordingly.  For example, the Quantum flash I mentioned above was described ambiguously by the seller who wasn't familiar with the item.  By contacting the seller I found out that the sale included the QPAQ battery module.  Whereas no one else was willing to buy an X2 by itself for the starting bid of $350, I knew that the X2 + QPAQ pair was a good deal for that price.  So I sniped it and got it.
  • "Broken" Items.  Sometimes, sellers underestimate the value of their item when a part is broken or malfunctioning.  Once, for example, I bought an SB-800 with a buy it now price of less than $300 just because there was some battery residue in the battery lid.  I also found a broken SB-800 with a price below $150.  I called Nikon and they told me it could cost up to $150 to fix it.  After asking the seller questions to make sure it was repairable, I bought it and got the unit fixed at a total price of under $300 with a 6-month warranty from Nikon.

6.  Ask Questions.  Besides asking the seller questions to clarify, try proactively asking them for other stuff they might have.  Some of the sellers of photo equipment are retiring pros or stores with inventory so they might have unadvertised stuff that you may be interested in.  Once, I bought a CyberSync receiver from a seller.  I asked him if he also had a CyberCommander transmitter and it turned out he was planning to sell one too.  He made me a good offer and I got it.

7.  Give a Little.  If there are a lot of bidders and you really want the item, be prepared to go just a little bit above what you would consider a good deal.  That little bit can give you the edge you need to win.  Just don't go overboard to "win at all costs" -- which is not a good eBay strategy if you're trying to save money.

8.  Watch out for traps.

  • Misleading Descriptions.  Read the item description very carefully.  Sometimes the description is ambiguous or misleading.  For example mannequin head wig might mean a mannequin head with a wig or just the wig.  If you're not sure, ask the seller.  Don't assume anything.
  • Missing Parts.  Again, read the description carefully.  The seller may make a long list of what's included.  Your job is to figure out what they're NOT saying is included.  (Few sellers proactively disclose what's not included.)  For example if you're buying a lens, they might say: includes box, instructions, warranty card, lens cap and rear lens cap.  The list is quite comprehensive which might lead you to think that it comes with everything that is included with a new lens.  It may turn out however that the lens hood is missing.
  • Shipping costs.  Some sellers make the item cheap but bump up the shipping cost.  Make sure the total price with shipping is within your budget.
  • Second chance and fake bids.  Some buyers aren't really ready or willing to buy the product.  Sometimes the buyers are irresponsible.  Other times, unscrupulous sellers use software or other means to create false buyers.  Either way, the price is artificially increased.  It's hard to immunize yourself from this kind of problem but one way to avoid it is to be very careful of "Second Chance" offers.  One time, I was bidding on a ballhead that had a very low starting price and no reserve.  Strangely, just a few minutes after I bid, there was another bid on the item.  Even more strange was that every time I raised my bid - even just by 1 cent, it would be followed by a counter bid.  Sensing that something was wrong, I stopped bidding.  The other bidder indeed won but sure enough, I later got an email saying that the winner didn't want to buy the ballhead so I had a Second Chance offer to buy the product for the highest bid I had put in.  The problem is that the price isn't necessarily fair to me because I was bidding against a fake buyer, which raised the price beyond what it otherwise would be.
So anyway, those are my tricks for getting good deals on eBay.  Enjoy and happy bidding!


  1. Excellent post Mic, however I don't fully understand the disappearing searches, how can a search disappear?

  2. By disappear I mean someone else gets the deal :)


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