A veteran of countless victorious campaigns, my mother is mortified that I do not share her love of shopping. Slogging through a battery of identical stores in a dogged pursuit of the Holy Grail at 75% off is cruel if not unusual punishment. The national retail chains display a sea of uninspired, creatively challenged merchandising stretching as far as a pair of glazed eyes can see. It's inhumane.
You're probably thinking I'm an insufferable snob. To the contrary, I love kitsch as much as the next person – maybe more. I've spent away many a happy afternoon in consignment stores, tiny boutiques, and outdoor fair / flea markets.
My introduction to eBay was a DeGama like epiphany – a paradise of plenty with no crowds and no parking lots. I discovered that I inherited Mom's thrill of the chase – a passion for finding the unique at bargain prices. Cherchez le tout!
A word of caution: eBay is a pitiless siren and she must be approached with discipline and resolve. Seductive though she may be – you do not want a houseful of clothing you once once and knick knacks hidden in closets after an abbreviated debut. You will end up on "Hoarders" talking to a therapist and filling up trash bags. As with any worthy endeavor, you must take this pursuit seriously – or pay the consequences. In the spirit of providing a public good, I offer the following advice:
• Narrow your focus. If you're anything like me – wandering around the eBay neighborhood without purpose is hazardous. You'll become a human pinball – ricocheting from teak furniture to hand painted purses to vintage watches – finally landing in a mental cul-de-sac. Only when exhaustion snuffs out your red eyed wanderlust will you log off. Whatever you do – do not go near the lists of shoes for sale – I mean it – it's positively addicting (but endlessly entertaining).
• Take your measurements. For clothing – use pants, tops, dresses, etc. that fit you well for comparison. In my younger, callow pre-eBay days, I actually used a measuring tape on myself. Moreover, I measured all the way around. Snicker if you must but I'm betting I was not the only one. You need only measure the above lying flat and multiply by two. This method is actually a major improvement over hours of trying on clothes in a claustrophobic dressing room.
• Filter listings by +/- one size – brands often run large / small and it's difficult to discern from pictures (see Zoom in below). Most sellers include exact measurements. If they do not, simply ask – eBay provides a convenient form at the bottom of the page. For that matter, any questions you might have are usually answered within a couple of hours.
• Depending upon the item, you should decide whether you want it new or used. For example, most people shy away from buying used swimwear or lingerie. On the other hand, I found my favorite shoes in the used category – I could easily see from the photos that they were a flawless soft suede (and French! Who knew?) So I paid $ 45.00 for a pair that cost well over $ 250.00. Victory! New items can be further filtered as NWOT (new without tags) or NWT (new with tags). In my experience, it really does not matter.
• When you first decide to go shopping on eBay, order the listings by 'ending soonest' so that you do not miss something while you're scanning new listings. Note of caution: it is often overwhelmingly tempting to bid or buy when the clock is ticking. Take a deep breath and look for the same item, usually by brand, in ALL of the lists of that category. I've frequently been surprised to find many of the same item – at lower prices. It makes me question the original seller's grasp of economics but it happens. After you've cycled through a category, you can begin to check only the newest listings on a periodic basis – just take note of the ending dates.
• The "Watch List" is a valuable tool in the decision making process. It allows you to store listings that appeal to you without committing to a purchase. There are several good reasons to do this:
o You can compare similar items side by side by simply checking the box next to each and clicking on the compare button. It really does help you to narrow down your options – I can not count the times that I thought I could not live without something – only to look at it later and wonder about my previous state of mind. The very process of deleting a listing naturally help you to define your preferences and work towards a decision. If it's a high dollar item, this is especially important.
o You are afforded a "cooling off" period before reviewing your choices. Passions run high in the pursuit of the finest at the lowest prices and unnecessary hasty decisions are to avoided like the plague.
o You will receive alerts via e-mail about items on your watch list that are approaching their expiration date.
• Most sellers on e-Bay will draw your attention to any defects in merchandise. However, it's always a good idea to zoom in on them to ensure you understand the severity of the problem. For that matter, I always zoom in on stitching, materials (especially leather), and wood.
• Research is critical and often makes your searching easier:
o Take note of the brands that you like in various categories and use them as a filter.
o Google unfamiliar brands to gauge a reasonable price and, if you're lucky, to read reviews on that brand / product. I've often found the same item for less.
o Visit online department stores to view the latest styles.
o When you see something you love but it's not the right size, remember the brand. In fact, open another tab in eBay and look for that brand.
• The mechanics of bidding are fairly straightforward. However, if you really, really like something, make sure you've thought about the highest amount you're willing to pay for it and let eBay automatically do the bidding for you. This maximum bid is strictly confidential so you are not involved in a costly bidding war that often leads to everyone paying too much. eBay will increase the current bid by $ .50 up to the amount you specified. If someone outbids you before the end of the process, you'll receive an e-mail. However, it's important to stick to your original promise to yourself. If you're like me, it's awfully tempting to become competitive but it hardly ever pays and you'll most likely experience buyer's remorse.
If a buyer entertains offers, by all means make one. The worst outlet is a rejection. Always treat sellers in this process as real human beings. IE, if you receive correspondence from them, do not just bark an answer – engage them as you would any business person. I once received a $ 225 watch (demonstration model) for free because I politely made an offer; the seller discovered that the stem was missing and refused to sell; I expressed my disappointment; and she sent it to me, even paying for the shipping (it was Christmas). I subsequently sent it out for a repair costing $ 47 and I'm wearing it as I write. You just never know.
Always check shipping charges. In many cases, I suspect that the seller is actually profiting from this line item so I generally compare to what others are asking for this service. While I'm on the subject, many sellers will combine shipping charges if you buy more than one item from them so it behooves you to go to their store to see if there's anything else that interests you.
Finally, expect some failures – it happens. Over time, however, you'll get the hang of it and this will happen less frequently. Even if you never buy a single thing, the sheer entertainment value will make it all worthwhile. The lingerie category is a hoot and a half – featuring models from your local 'gentlemen's club' and poses that defy description. Sometimes, the seller (or some hapless relative or neighbor) will model their wares themselves – staring back at you from the screen with that bewildered look. Have pity.