Valerie's eBay Tips:

Here are my tips for using eBay. Note that eBay undergoes slow but continuous change, so these tips may be outdated by the time you see them.

I mostly use eBay for finding kids' clothes. It's a particularly good place for finding very specific out-of-season items. For example, I once went on a quest for size 18-month footed pajamas in March, when all the local stores were selling beachwear. None of the local stores had footed pajamas, but I finally found exactly what I was looking for on eBay. (At which point my kid announced that he hated footed pajamas. Sigh.)

eBay generally isn't a good place to buy physically large items, such as cribs or strollers, since the delivery charges can be very expensive. It is a good place to find obscure things that you would have to search through lots of stores for. For example, I had no trouble finding a seder plate on eBay. I have no idea where to even start looking for seder plates in stores.

A disclaimer: I've bought a number of things on eBay and learned some ways to make it work better for me, but I am not an expert.

Finding items:

  • I've had good luck finding items with the search feature, especially while my kids are in sizes like "3T" or "12mo", which is easy to search for. The size 3T is easiest to search for. "Twelve months" is harder, since it could be written as "12m" or "12 mo" (with a space) or "12mo" (without a space) or "12 months." You may need to try a few different variations to find what you're looking for. Though eBay is so large that all the different possible abbreviations are likely to yield something.
  • I'm not generally very brand-conscious, which is OK for buying things off-line, where you can look at them before buying. On eBay, since I can't see and touch the items before buying them, I've found that I get better quality items when I look for brand names with good reputations. Some of the ones I search for are, for clothes: Baby Gap, Old Navy, Hanna Andersson, Gymboree, and Agabang. (Agabang makes very soft clothes for newborn babies.)
  • So, I might do a search for "3T Old Navy" to find clothes for my kid, followed by "3T Gap" or "3T Gymboree" -- or, looking ahead, "4T Old Navy".
  • There are also categories with names like "Home > All Categories > Clothing & Accessories > Boys > Clothing > Toddlers (Sz 2T-4T) > Shorts" which can also be a good way to find clothes in your kid's current size.
  • People use a lot of weird abbreviations. The abbreviation that sticks in my mind is that "NWT" means "new with tags" and "NWOT" is "new without tags". There is a glossary of eBay terms here .
  • A "reserve price" is where a seller sets a secret minimum amount for selling the item. For example, a seller could start the auction bidding at $1 but set the reserve price at $10. This means that if the auction closes with the high bid less than $10, the item isn't sold. I view reserve prices as a bizarre game-playing tactic, so I generally won't bid on an item with a reserve price. You'll know if an item has a reserve price if it says in little red letters next to the high bid "reserve not yet met" or "reserve has been met". Sellers sometimes put "NR" or "No reserve" into their auction titles to indicate that they nicely have not set a reserve price.

Before bidding on an item:

  • Always check the seller's feedback before bidding. There's a link from each item to the seller's feedback. Feedback is a list of comments that other people have left after buying from this seller, intended for future customers to use as a buying guide to judge a seller's reputation. I look for sellers with less than 1% negative or neutral feedback. That is, if a seller has 1000 feedback entries, I would only buy from this person if less than 10 of those feedback entries were negative or neutral.
  • Sometimes it's instructive to page through a seller's feedback to see how the seller responds to negative feedback. If the seller responds to negative feedback with, "I wish you had talked to me first -- I would have refunded your money," I'm more likely to buy from the seller than if the seller responds to negative feedback with comments like, "The item description said 'as is', why didn't you read it, jerk!"
  • If you're at all unsure about an item or a seller, don't bid. Ebay is so big that there are always more of the same thing. I used to tend to get attached to particular items I saw listed; it took me a while to realize that almost any item is listed again and again; very few things really are one-of-a-kind, especially if what you're buying is children's clothes.
  • Find out what the postage will cost. A $1.50 kids item that costs $5 postage probably isn't a bargain. If the postage isn't listed, you can click on "ask seller a question" to e-mail the seller and ask about the postage charges.

How much to bid:

  • Most people bid in round numbers. If you bid a few cents higher, it will occasionally give you the edge over another bidder. For example, if there's an item you want to bid $5 for, instead bid $5.06. That way if someone else bids exactly $5, your $5.06 is higher, so you win.
  • Figure out the highest amount you would pay for the item and bid that. For example, if you see an item where the current bid amount is $1 but you would pay up to $8 for it, don't bid $1, bid $8.06. If nobody else bids on it, you'll get the item for $1. If someone else bids, eBay will automatically raise your bid as needed, up to $8.06, with no attention from you needed.
  • If I find an item where someone else is the high bidder and there are only a few hours left until the item closes, I usually won't bid on it. It seems wrong to take away an item that someone else expected to win. I don't think many people on eBay think about that, but it seems to me that it's the honorable thing to do.

After bidding:

  • Ebay will automatically send you e-mail to tell you if you've been outbid on an item. I've turned this off. When I get e-mail telling me I've been outbid, it makes me suddenly desperately attached to the item I was outbid on, so I go back and bid more, often several times. That might make sense for fancy collectibles, but for kids' clothes it's a good way to pay too much. I've had better luck noticing that I've been outbid and instead searching for a similar item to bid on. (Once in a while, after being outbid on several items in a row, I'll bid on lots of the same thing and then end up with too many of them. That tactic sometimes gets me into trouble. For example, I ended up with lots of size 2T snowsuits! Oops.)
  • "Snipers" are people who set up a computer program to enter a bid at the last possible moment, stealing an item away from the high bidder. This makes me crazy. I don't have any good answers for how to deal with this, other than going to some other auction service rather than eBay. I wish eBay would change their policies to disallow this. Some other auction services have a policy of keeping any auction open for bidding for 5 minutes after the last bid was entered, so that people can counterbid. This means you'd have to sit at your computer and check the auction price repeatedly until the auction closes, which is a pain, but I think it's better than getting sniped.


  • I like PayPal, a service you can use to pay for auction items with credit cards. Sending a payment by postal mail is a minor hassle, so I often won't bid on an auction unless the seller accepts PayPal payments.
  • If a seller offers optional insurance from the post office, I never buy it. If you figure insurance costs $1.10 per item, and I'm bidding on items that sell for maybe $4, then by the time you pay for insurance for 4 items, you've spent enough money that you could have saved the insurance money and used it to buy a fifth item to replace anything that got lost in the mail. Plus, by self-insuring instead of using post office insurance, you surely save yourself a lot of hassles with filling out forms and other bureaucracy at the post office if an item gets lost. Also, I've bought maybe 200 items on eBay and I've never yet had anything get lost or damaged in the mail. For expensive fragile items, such as digital cameras, insurance makes sense, but not for kids' clothes.

When the item arrives:

  • If there is any problem with what you received, the first thing to do is send e-mail to the seller. Most sellers don't want to get negative feedback and will do what they can to make an item right.
  • You have 90 days from the close of the transaction to enter feedback. I've had problems only extremely rarely, but one of the times that I did, the seller strung me along for so long that it was too late to enter negative feedback. I had a lot to say about this seller, so I've always regretted that I let my chance slip away.
  • If the seller did a good job, enter positive feedback so that other people know that this seller is OK.

I hope that's useful! Please let me know if there's anything you think I should add.


ps. If you ever run across Judith, please tell her I said this is her fault. :-)