Buying on eBay: Quick Tips at a Glance

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Buying on eBay: Quick Tips at a Glance

What to watch for in listings and how to close

Follow these tips religiously to help ensure a positive eBay buying experience.

Always check feedback first. Before you look at any aspect of an auction listing other than the price itself, check the seller's feedback to see whether this is a person you would consider doing business with. If not, it's a waste of your time to study any other aspects of the listing.

Be very aware of the listed shipping cost. You will be expected to pay the stated shipping amount, which can appear either at the end of the listing under the heading "Shipping, payment details and return policy" or anywhere in the item description.

Carefully read for guarantees or their opposite, AS-IS or "condition unknown." Don't simply expect that an item will work or that if it doesn't you'll be entitled to a refund. Read the item description carefully and look for a section titled "Seller's return policy" near the bottom of the listing to understand your rights in this particular auction. If there is no satisfactory guarantee that an item is fully functional and guaranteed, don't expect this to be the case.

Read list of included items carefully. Don't simply expect that the seller's item will include all of the accessories, materials, or included components that the same item would include if purchased at retail. Look for the seller's stated list of included items or phrases like "all original accessories included," and if you don't see any such promises, don't expect anything but the item itself.

Pay attention to quality of listing, quality of item shown in photo. Look critically at both the photo supplied by the seller and the item description. Is it of low quality or does it show a lack of attention to detail? Don't expect any better from the transaction. Be wary of stock photos or descriptions that have been clearly copied from manufacturer's websites—often this can indicate that the seller doesn't even have the item in question.

Check payment method. Be sure that you're willing to pay using one of the methods listed by the seller. It is not uncommon or unreasonable for a seller to be unwilling to accept any one of the common forms of payment, including check, PayPal, or credit cards. Most sellers do not make exceptions to their payment policy, even if you "didn't notice" before you bid.

Check shipping location, method, and areas. If you want to be sure to receive your winnings safely and in a timely fashion, read carefully for the seller's location (shown near the top of the item listing under "Item location") and the shipping method(s) offered (shown near the bottom of the listing under "Shipping, payment details and return policy"). Bidders in the United States should prefer the United States Postal Service over UPS or FedEx if they have an APO, FPO, or PO Box address.

Watch out for shady gotchas. Watch carefully for tricky language that inverts the meaning of an auction or that makes carefully parsed omissions, including gotcha phrases like "BRAND NEW APPLE 40GB IPOD box EXCELLENT CONDITON," "VERSACE like DRESS," "GENUINE compatible EPSON INK," or "AWESOME BLACK LAPTOP not IBM THINKPAD."

Strictly avoid the most common red flags. Make it a matter of personal policy not to bid on auctions that are associated with:

Sellers that have a feedback percentage below 98%
Western union payment or other forms of wire transfer
"Too good to be true" buy it now prices
Illegal/self-copied media or obviously counterfeit items
Sellers that list no shipping cost or return policy
Items listed as "untested" or "condition unknown"

Pay quickly and notify the seller that you've done so. Don't drag your feet or pay silently. When you win an auction, do your best to make payment immediately and contact the seller once you've done so to notify him or her that you've sent your payment and look forward to a quick turnaround on their end as well.

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