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 scrutinize shipping charges.
"Whether you’re shopping eBay or Pottery Barn, shipping is a fact of life," Smyth says, "and if the price is right, you can still get a deal." But not if it turns out that a $5 tablecloth has a $30 "shipping and handling" charge. Some unscrupulous sellers try to pad their profits by charging exorbitant shipping, so whether you’re after a set of napkins or a 300-pound armoire, be sure to nail down the shipping price before you bid, says eBay Home & Garden senior category manager Jeannie Reeth. If the listing doesn’t specify those charges, e-mail the seller to ask.

Don’t bid right away.
It’s a common mistake: You see something you have to have, bid on it right away and keep upping the ante whenever someone outbids you. You may win the auction, but chances are you’ll pay more than you want to.

"Don't let the whole world know how desperate you are," says author McEvoy. "The key word when bidding is wait." Think of it as a game of strategy: Keep your poker face on for as long as possible, and then put in your best bid at the last moment so your competitors don’t have time to knock you out of the winner’s seat.

If you’d rather not be chained to your computer or have to set your alarm to catch the end of a 4 a.m. auction, you can either set a higher maximum bid amount or use a "sniping" service to do the dirty work for you. Some services charge a flat fee, while others tack a small commission onto winning bids.

Do set an odd maximum bid amount.
"Most eBayers bid in even increments, say $15 or $27.50," says Collier. By setting your maximum bid at an odd amount — $15.01 or $27.67 — you can gain the edge. "I see people win auctions by just a few pennies all the time," she says.

Don’t leave purchases unprotected.
While eBay’s free Standard Protection Program will cover your loss up to $200, there’s a $25 deductible, and the policy doesn’t apply to all purchases. Buy shipping insurance for anything delicate or valuable. Whatever you do, don’t buy from sellers who demand wire transfers, which offer no protection and are a red flag for scam artists.

  • For $1.65, you can insure items shipped via the U.S. Postal Service for up to $50 against loss or damage. And for $6.40, you can insure them to $500.
  • If you pay through eBay's PayPal site, your purchases may be covered for up to $1,000 against fraud under the Buyer Protection plan.
  • If all else fails, "it never hurts to ask a seller for a refund or discount when your purchase is damaged or not as described," Collier says. "Responsible sellers want to keep buyers happy."

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