When you make a bid, you are entering into a contract to buy the item if you are the highest bidder. Bidding before you have done your research might result in your paying too much for an item of questionable quality, so don’t bid unless you are knowledgeable and ready to commit to the purchase. Actual bidding strategy is discussed later in this section.
Warning: Remember, you cannot retract a bid unless you meet the criteria described in the section on bidding described later in this section.
Investigate what similar items sell for. Use eBay's Search feature to find similar items. These items may be currently listed for sale, in which case you can determine if they are attracting bids. Or the auction for the item may have closed (a “Completed Listing”). To find auctions that have closed and what price the items have sold for (or if they sold at all), check the "Completed Listings only" box when you search. When reviewing search results for prices, sold items are bolded green; unsold are red. Check the price of new versions of the same product by searching on popular online shopping sites such as Amazon, Google Product Search, Bizrate, or PriceGrabber. (You may be surprised to find, for example, that bids on that used digital camera you are considering are surprisingly close to the price of a new camera with a manufacturer’s warranty.)
Keep track of comparable items. If you find several items that match your search criteria, you can track these auctions using eBay’s Comparison Shopping Feature. eBay provides a tutorial to learn more about comparison shopping.
Read the description and terms of sale. It may seem obvious, but in the heat of an auction, buyers can miss crucial information such as the existence and terms of a refund and return policy. Keep in mind that you are not entitled to a refund if you misread the description, but you are if the seller made a misrepresentation that led you to buy the item.
Research the item’s authenticity or reliability. Unless you are already familiar with a particular product or item, you may need to research its authenticity, reliability, or desirability as a collectible. eBay members provide advice on hundreds of topics — from stamp collecting to engagement rings — in the reviews and guides section of the site. Non-eBay sites such as CNET or Amazon.com may also provide helpful user reviews of products offered on eBay.
Research the seller. Check out the seller’s feedback rating (discussed more in Rules, Disputes, and Feedback). Although not a perfect predictor of an eBay member’s reliability, feedback can provide some insight about a seller’s past dealings on the Web. Be sure to read the comments. You can also query the seller directly by clicking on Ask the Seller a Question, a button located on the item listing page.
Look for seller guarantees. If you’re concerned about fraud, look for sellers who participate in PayPal’s Buyer Protection Plan or, better yet, for sellers who are bonded through BuySafe, both of which are discussed in the section on Rules, Disputes, and Feedback.
Research other bidders. Although it may seem odd, one reason to do so is to determine your competitors’ buying habits. For example, are there several bidders collecting the same die-cast farm vehicles as you? If so, you may decide to participate in a less-competitive auction. Checking on other bidders’ histories can also help you avoid being a victim of bidding. A history of bid retractions may tip you off to this abusive tactic. To research who else is bidding on an item, click on the “History” link, which will reveal the list of bidders, but not the amounts of the bid (at least until the auction is over). To learn more about a particular bidder on the list, click the bidder’s ID. You can also contact bidders directly via email (and by telephone if that information is available), although eBay prohibits any communication that interferes with the fairness of the auction—for example, you cannot make a side deal with another bidder.
Calculate shipping costs. Get an accurate idea of shipping and handling costs, as these expenses may exceed the cost of the item. The shipping information is often posted in the item’s description, or you can determine the expense using eBay’s shipping calculators. If shipping costs cannot be determined based on the posted information, ask the seller directly.
Review the payment information. Most sellers and buyers use either PayPal or money orders, but some sellers also accept personal checks.