Decorator's Shopping Guide to eBay

Smart search tips to help you locate decorating deals on the world's largest online auction site.

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  1. Design 101

1. Make a wishlist before you browse.
"Know what you want before you search, and picture every word you can to describe that item," says Marsha Collier, author of eBay for Dummies, who also runs CooleBayTools.com and serves as an eBay University instructor. This will help you zero in on what you're looking for, and help curb impulse bidding.

2. Be specific with your search terms.
The more you can describe an item you're looking for — and the condition you expect it to be in — the more likely it will turn up in search. Remember, people are writing every listing, so there are bound to be discrepancies in spelling. Use Fat Fingers, a site that locates popular misspellings of common words on eBay, to turn typos into search success. Also think about descriptors like the manufacturer name and adding the words "new," "like new," or "used."

3. Search in the right places.
Take advantage of eBay's category system. If you're on the prowl for a Charles Eames lounger to add some '60s swank to your living room, simply typing "Eames" (or its equivalents, "mid-century modern" and "Danish modern") into eBay's search box will return over 8,000 results — most of which are a waste of your browsing time. Type in "Eames chair," on the other hand, and the search engine spits out a much more manageable listing; do the same search in the "Antiques: Furniture" category, and you'll get even fewer to browse through.

4. Know the search shortcuts.
Use a comma with no spaces to find listings with either the word before or after the comma ("Baskets,Wicker"), and a minus sign to exclude listings containing certain words ("Stickley -reproduction"). Another tip: Click the "search title and description" box to browse listings with keywords buried below the title.

5. Find what you want with synonyms.
If you're seeking a vintage luggage set to stack stylishly next to your bed, it makes sense to search in the "Travel: Luggage" category. But if that's the only place you look, you'll miss the substantial steamer trunks and the nifty, genuine crocodile-and-tweed suitcase sets being offered in "Antiques."
Savvy shoppers type "vintage suitcase, luggage" into the search box and let the eBay engine riffle through dozens of major categories (and thousands of sub-categories) to ferret out true finds. Looking for a sconce? Marion McEvoy, a design-industry veteran and self-confessed eBay addict, advises: Don't forget to search "wall lamp," too. Likewise, try "stitchery" as well as "embroidery," "fainting couch" in addition to "chaise lounge," "drape" in place of "curtain."

6. Search styles and colors.
If you like a particular style, be it "Moroccan," "Traditional," or anything in between, plug it into the search engine and see what turns up. Or try what Kitty O'Callaghan, an avid eBayer in White Plains, N.Y., does: "I often just surf the colors I like, like teal or turquoise," she says.

7. Read eBay's Reviews and Guides.
eBay's active user forums offer everything from how to spot valuable collectibles to reviews of design books.

8. Join a neighborhood.
eBay's neighborhood section allows you to connect with others who share your interests. When you join, you'll be able to participate in discussions, see related guides and reviews, and browse auctions right from the group page.

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