Dos and Don'ts of eBay Shopping

Decorating by way of eBay? Here's how to get exactly what you want — without getting burned.

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Do know from whom you're buying.
The saying "All you have is your reputation" couldn’t be truer than it is on eBay. Some eBayer sellers use their cloak of Internet anonymity to rip off buyers, provide shoddy service or sell sub-par merchandise.

One eBay seller, for example, specializes in Rachel Ashwell "Shabby Chic" goods. Unfortunately, she’s also notorious for hawking Ashwell’s low-end Target line as the real deal, inflating prices and sometimes taking payment but never shipping the buyers’ items. A quick browse through the seller’s feedback rating (the numerical link next to the seller ID) will clue potential buyers in to her scheme, saving them cash and disappointment.

If a seller has little eBay history or a feedback rating that's less than 98 percent positive (or even if it's above 98 percent but recent feedback has been negative), proceed with extreme caution, says Marsha Collier, eBay for Dummies author. To bring negative and neutral feedback right to the top (it's often buried in dozens of less-critical reviews), try entering a seller ID into this handy tool.

Do price out items before you bid.
Do your pricing homework first, or you may spend more for a brand item that actually costs less in the store. "Always price things at retailers' websites first," says Marsha Collier, author of eBay for Dummies. Before bidding, check matching items listed on eBay and use the "Completed listings only" box in "Advanced Search" to see what comparable items were sold for. Above all, decide how much something is worth to you, then set a budget and stick to it.

Don't waste money on worthless goods.
Sadly, fakes and other inflated items are rampant on eBay. Never bid on something — especially an antique, collectible or pricey brand-name item — until you've taken steps to verify its authenticity. Forget this advice and you'll waste money on items that, despite their seemingly can't-beat prices, wind up being no bargain at all.

  • If you're bidding on an antique or other valuables, see if the seller has included a certificate of authenticity or a professional appraisal in the listing.
  • If he or she says the goods were produced by a certain manufacturer or sold by a particular retailer, look for a picture of the label or maker's stamp.
  • If something is "rare," but has several identical items listed, you can bet it's a knock-off.
  • If you want an original, be on the lookout for tip-off words such as "-like" "-esque" "-style," "modeled after" and so on.
  • Finally, remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

      Don't be frightened of freight shipping.
      "If you're shopping for furniture or other large items, check local listings first," suggests Matthew Patrick Smyth, a New York City interior designer who frequently uses eBay to source items for clients and for his own home. The site's "Advanced Search" tool lets you hone your hunt to items within a certain distance of your ZIP code so you can pick them up in person or have the seller drop them at your door.

      But if you root out a treasure that's cross country, don't let the distance stop you from bidding if it's a piece you'd regret passing by. Even sellers who specify "local pick-up only" can often be persuaded to sell to a distant buyer who's willing to dispatch a freight company to retrieve the item. Freight companies to investigate include FedEx, Greyhound, Craters & Freighters, UShip and FreightCenter.

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