Buying on eBay – a Guide

Posted in Second Hand Shopping.

Earlier in the week I wrote a guide to making money on eBay. In this post, I’m going to show you how to spend it!

Just like selling, buying on eBay quickly becomes addictive. You’ll soon start to question the price of everything you buy – from that Topshop tea dress to an adaptor for your electric toothbrush – and wonder if you can get it cheaper on eBay. And the answer is almost always yes – as long as you’re clever about it. That’s where the Little Bird Guide to Buying Stuff on eBay comes in.

Buying stuff on eBay

What do you want?

Unless you have an entire week of total nothingness stretching in front of you, or you’re stuck on a desert island with someone interminably dull (and a 3G connection), eBay is not the place for idle browsing. You’ll just end up with RSI, a crick neck and 20 billion items on your watch list. It’s best to identify what you want before you start searching, and the best way to do that is find it elsewhere first.

Do your research – if you’re looking for, say, a dress for a wedding, think about brand, style, colour, fit and size, and include these parameters in your search. No results? Widen it a little. Fiddle about with your keywords (take a look at the buzzwords mentioned in my guide to selling) and use category filters ’til you have a manageable number of results. Then you can browse without quitting your job and becoming a hermit.

Okay, now I’ve said all that, I have a confession. The longer you spend trawling through listings, the bigger bargain you’ll get. That search for ‘black dress’ may return 567 pages of results, and ‘the one’ is probably on page 566. Persistance is key when it comes to successful eBay shopping.

How much do you want to pay?

eBay money is real money. Seriously. It took me a few years and more than one call from HSBC asking about ‘suspicious transactions’ to realise it, but it’s true. There’s something about the process of bidding that makes everything seem pretend, like playing Monopoly or ‘borrowing’ a tenner from your mum.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and competition of an eBay purchase, but each bid is contractual and you should always be prepared to pay. So give yourself a maximum bid based on what you think the item is worth and (this is the hard part) stick to it.

How low can you go?

There are a few things you can do to ensure you get the very best price on eBay, but the main one is this – do not bid until the auction is very nearly over. If you bid any early than the dying seconds, you’re just pushing the price higher as other people bid over you. It takes nerves of steel to wait until the last 30 seconds before showing any kind of interest in an auction, so you need your game face on. Sit on your hands if you must. Just keep away from that ‘place bid’ button.

Can’t control yourself? Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us, especially when you stumble across something so undeniably perfect you just can’t stop. That’s where Goofbay comes in. Use the sniper tool to set your maximum bid for the auction and it’ll do all the nail-biting bits for you. Then you can sit back and laugh manically as your fellow bidders marvel at your eBay prowess.

Goofbay should be part of any eBayer’s weapons arsenal – other useful features include a misspelt keywords search and seller history check. It’s also great for those annoying auctions that finish at 3.27am or clash with your best friend’s birthday, because you don’t have to be at your computer to place your bid. Although if you’re a hardened eBay addict (like me), you might want to download the eBay for iPhone app to get your fix wherever you are (probably best to close it when she’s blowing out the candles, though).

You won! … Or not

Bagging a bargain on eBay is quite an achievement these days – almost everyone knows its money-making potential, and many sellers play dirty to preserve their profits. Shill bidding can be a problem and prices are pushed up as more people turn to the site as an alternative to the ever-expensive high street. But with savvy searching, it is possible to get what you want for less. Here are my favourite bargains:

  • Topshop chunky cardigan – RRP £48, bought for £24
  • Vintage leather pencil skirt – RRP approx. £70, bought for £13
  • Vintage Levi’s 501 jeans – RRP £50, bought for £1.72
  • Indian handpainted wooden Christmas decorations – RRP priceless, bought for £12

What are your tips for buying things on eBay? What’s been your best bargain?



Not sure really. It’s not so much the bargains as the chance to find unique or HTF items. Things discontinued in the shops and so forth.

Also things like bras. I know what size I am in Bravissimo but I can usually ebay the same bra for a lot less than in the shop.


ooooh what a wonderful guide! eBay is pretty much my life, for a while I made a living from it until they changed all the rules and gave buyers all the power! I always see if I can get things cheaper on ebay, I love using it for unique items too! My favourite bargain ever was a collection of Blythe dolls that I got for £15 as they were listed as “Blyth dolls” insead….. they are worth hundreds!
I guess my top tips are to search for mis-spellings…. this is where you can pick up the real bargains. There is a pretty neat tool on goofbay to search this way! x


Damn, I bought that cardi full price! Oh well, if I’d seen it on ebay I woulda fought you for it, and probably lost as you are clearly much more the ebay expert than me!


Best ever bargain – cream 70s faux fur coat for £4. It’s done me through three winters now, and always gets loads of compliments (although once a torrent of abuse from a man about animal rights, even though it’s clearly from a nylon!).

I often buy cosmetics and perfumes on eBay – for example this payday I got my usual Vivienne Westwood perfume and body lotion for £44, brand new and boxed, which is less than the perfume alone would have cost. Powersellers and eBay shops will often come up trumps with this sort of stuff, although obviously beware of fakes etc.


I love bidding on topshop stuff on ebay, i got a tunic worth £38 for like £19, and a leaf ring for 99p!
Also got a motel dress with tags for £2.99

I’m clearly going to open a new tag and start browsing.

Fashion Junkie

Another fab guide, thanks so much for posting it. One thing I learned about eBay- yes there are bargains, but you still have to think of what an item might be worth. Not everything is going to be 10% of the RRP.


Good guide Jen, I love bidding at the last second but even when you place that 30 second bid some people manage to get another in. This happened at the weekend went I was bidding for a pair of DMs, will wait for 10 seconds next time haha!! My secret weapon is to set my maximum bid to a random number like 12.37 that way if someone bids a nice neat amount like 12 you can snatch it up with only a few pence more.

Bow Dream Nation xx


I know exactly what you mean with it seeming like pretend money, it’s totally addictive spending money on there!

Maria xxx


i am a complete ebay addict, as we speak i’ve just bought a topshop playsuit for £9.99, which sold out in stores for £45, bargin i’d say! i always leave whatever money i have in my paypal account though in my paypal account, it makes me feel less guilty about the amount i buy cause i never see the money in my bank account!


Ah, now BUYING on eBay – that is something I know a bit about! (As mentioned on your previous post)

I have too many bargains to mention – in fact, a large proportion of my entire wardrobe comes from eBay. My favourite things are my numerous dresses from places like Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Asos etc, that I’m too tight to pay full price for – so I buy them on eBay, brand new with tags, for a fiver. Brilliant. I’ve got SO many things like that. Anything I buy on eBay is a major bargain – if it’s not, I don’t buy it!


Hi, great guide! However, as someone who sells a lot on eBay I am a bit concerned at the way you drop in ‘shill bidding is rife’ with no evidence or references. Shill bidding is s criminal offence, in fact a man in the UK was imprisoned for it recently. Ebay take it very seriously. Saying stuff like that is damaging to people who work hard to make an honest living on eBay. It does happen, but I disagree that it is ‘rife’ as you say, as I am aware of how closely eBay watch each transaction. Just because a seller gets good prices for their items it doesn’t mean that something dodgy is going on, perhaps they are just good at what they do and promote well. Overall I like your piece but if you are going to bring up such a controversial issue then a little more research would be a good idea.


Hi Anon,

Glad you like the guide overall. I completely take your point about shill bidding, although I think it’s more a case of artistic licence than a lack of research.

I’m a regular eBay seller (my guide to selling is here – and know how closely they monitor shill bidding. I also know about the court case (the guy was from Bradford – very close to me in Leeds!) and I followed the news about it.

I agree that the majority of high sales are due to excellent listings, demand for product and (more often than not) buyers getting carried away. I do think shill bidding is still a problem for buyers on eBay, but it’s probably not ‘rife’ as you so rightly point out.

I’m going to amend that sentence in the guide now. Thanks for making the point!

Jen 🙂


Luckily as a student I have loads of time for ebay (my dissertation tutor might disagree). I’m a massive fan of doing the ‘silk top’ search because often you don’t know what you’re looking for before you find it. I got an amazing leopard print silk top I’ve been living in recently which I never would have sought out. Also I paid £25 for it, because some things cost money – I often forget this and refuse to pay over a tenner for items clearly worth far more…

My biggest tip would be: beware the rebound buy. That’s when you miss out on one thing you wanted so recklessly splash out a bit more on something sort of the same but just not as good because you’re still trying to capture the magic of that original item.



Hi, thanks for your reply, I think your amended sentence is much better. It just gets on my nerves sometimes that people see eBay as a dodgy and unregulated marketplace when that couldn’t be further from the truth – like anywhere there are those few bad apples who are out to rip people off, but I have spent 4 years building up a business selling vintage on eBay, it is my sole income, and off the cuff comments like that perpetuate the myth that anything goes on eBay and everyone is out to rip you off. I have over 18,000 feedback and I still think the feedback on eBay speaks volumes.

I read your seller guide when you published it the other day and I think it is very good. I am a big fan of your blog, so please don’t think I was trying to be critical of you or your blog in general. Thanks.


I got some Topshop knee high boots, RRP £90, for around £30. That’s my best ever bargain, but my favourite part of eBay isn’t necessarily the bargains, it’s the usual an one-off things. I fairly recently nabbed myself a cream bureau on eBay that had been done up by the seller for a very reasonable £30! (£30 must be my magic price.)


i have to admit, im pretty good at the old selling on ebay, ive made around £1500 in about 2 years just cos i really dont have much cash so i was buying to sell ect, tkmaxx clearance is the place to be. but i do buy a pair bit too now, as i have a job now so i buy lots of old collectables and stuff. just got 3 70s milk bottles wit ace logos on them.


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