I've been a buyer and/or seller for almost 15 years now, even had a store at one point. It has changed a lot over the years, some good and some bad. I don't use it for all my purchases but I can't ignore the impact it has had on my collection.
I've seen dozens of books offering tips for sellers but there is hardly anything from the buyer's perspective. I've left a few of my tips around the blogosphere when commenting on posts and even shared a few here when boasting about some of my steals. I thought I would put them all in one place and hopefully fish for a few more from my readers. Some of them may seem like common sense but you'd be amazed at how they work.
1. Chek 4 mispelings and/or typos. Seems simple enough, right? Back when eBay used to allow "*" in their searches, I found quite a few steals just by typing "ryne san*" into the search box. That would pull up Sanberg, Sandburg, Sanburg, etc. I would also try "ryan sandberg" in my searches. Sure, some lots featuring Ryne Sandberg and Nolan Ryan cards would come up but you'd be surprised at how many are just spelling "Ryne" wrong. Using "Snadberg" is another favorite although it doesn't offer many options. If you're favorite player has has a unique name, give it a try. Without the "*" eBay has made it a little tougher to find, as I do the searches manually now when I'm bored, but it might be worth the effort. Try Ripkin for Ripken. Over 600 listings right now and that doesn't even include the savvy sellers that put both Ripkin and Ripken in their heading. How do I know that?
2. Use the "-" (minus) sign to eliminate stuff you don't want. If I type "Ripkin -ripken" into the search engine, it will pull up all the listings with "Ripkin" but nothing with "Ripken" in the title. I've used this in my Sandberg searches as well to find misspellings. When I type in "ryne -sandberg -duren" it pulls up all the misspellings while not including the correct listings and anything regarding Ryne Duren, Sandberg's namesake. Unfortunately, in case you haven't noticed there has been a boom of minor league players sporting the name Ryne in the past few years whose parents were probably big Cubs fans in the 1980's. That makes it a little more difficult but I just keep adding minus signs when I spot a new last name attached to the name Ryne.
3. Make an offer (even if there is no Make an Offer button). I watch a lot of items. Some I like, but are way out of my price range. If I see it in my watch list, it reminds me to do another search for it sometime later. I have unsold items in my watch list that keep getting relisted month after month without a price reduction. Sometimes I send a quick note to the seller to see if they'll budge. Can't hurt, might help. I'll say something like, "I'm interested in X, Y, and Z from your store/listings. Would you take $?? for the three of them together?" Sometimes I hear back with a yes or no or even a counteroffer, sometimes I don't hear back at all. If I have evidence to back up why a discount is warranted, I'll sometimes include that. Which leads me to...
4. Check finished (and sold) auctions. Do some research. You might see a dozen listings for the same card at $5 or $10 so the seller justifies that as a price. But if those listings are unsold and the last one to actually sell went for just a buck, there might be some wiggle room. Especially combining it with other stuff. You might get lucky with a couple of things for $10 rather than trying to nickel and dime some one. Which leads to...
5. Be a good buyer. There's a saying that goes "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Sure nobody wants flies, but you get the point. Part of my job (and anybody's job really if you think about it) has always been customer service. I'm always more willing to help those that are nice and friendly than those who come at me less than calm. Don't demand. Haggle, but don't lowball (without justification). That'll probably just piss the seller off if you even get a response. As I'm sure we all know, not every seller on eBay is a professional. Not every purchase is going to be the steal of the century. Sometimes, if you really want something, you're going to have to pay market value (or maybe even slightly above). And don't get upset if they don't want to strike a deal. If they don't want your money, why are you trying to give it to them? Find somebody who will! The great thing about eBay is that unless it truly is a 1/1 item, another one is likely to pop up eventually.
6. Finding out Best Offer Prices. You used to be able to see the final sales price of items purchased with a Best Offer option. Now eBay for some reason blocks it. But thanks to a thread on the message board at sportscollectors.net, I've discovered a trick to seeing those best offer prices. Thanks to user stabilio for posting this.
Click on the ended listing. Then click on "See original listing" (usually in the top left) to take you to the full original listing. Then scroll down to the top of the item description and look to the far right of the screen for a link that says "Print". Click on it and the price it sold for will magically appear.Apparently, it still shows up on the mobile app (I can't confirm, I don't use it) and if you view eBay through another country's site (.ca was posted in the thread mentuioned above, but again I can't confirm).
7. Back to making offers and finished listings. Sometimes an item is priced too high and doesn't sell. In fact, I wonder what the ratio of sold to unsold listings on eBay actually is. Or sometimes I'll be watching something but either miss the end of the auction or flat out forget about it. When I'm doing my price comparisons, I routinely check the unsold listings. If something catches my eye, I'll check the seller's other current or ended listings and try to make a deal that way. I just did that for a trio of items I'll be showing off later this week or maybe next that saved me about 40% if I had bid on them when they were active. Like I said above, can't hurt, might help.
8. Timing isn't necessarily everything, but it can save you a lot. When I was selling more, I would try to end my auctions on a Sunday evening. I found, for my products, that was the best time of day or week for my buyers to be around their computers. As a buyer, I look at stuff that ends after midnight, or otherwise awkward times during the day. Whether a seller is on the west coast listing stuff after 9PM local time or an east coaster is just a night owl, many auctions are won and lost in the closing seconds. If nobody else is up/around to bid on the auctions (and they haven't set their automatic snipers), you can get a great deal.
9. Use unround numbers. When I was bidding early on, I liked round numbers. If something was $2 for shipping, I might bid $3 to make it an even $5. Lots of people do this. So I started adding in a few extra cents. This would allow me to win a few more auctions and would sometimes save me from bidding the full next increment. Say somebody has something started at $0.99 with a bid on it already. I bid $3.03 (adding the few extra pennies). Well, if the original bidder had the same idea as I used to have and just bid $3, I win the auction by $0.03 rather than a quarter or fifty cents, whatever the next required bid would have been. Honestly, if you're willing to spend $5 on something, are you really dead set against $5.03? If you bought it in person, there'd be tax anyway right?
This got a lot longer than I anticipated it would be so I'm going to wrap it up here. You may not agree with everything I said here and some of this may be old hat to a lot of you experienced collectors, but hopefully some of it was useful. I would be more than happy to hear any other tips you all have to snag the great deals. I promise to try not to steal anything out from under you should be cross paths in a bidding war. Try.