eBay buying tips

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Don't pay for info

eBay bans the sale of intangible items, including recipes, dieting advice and, bizarrely, spells and spirits. Yet some Del Boy types still sell web addresses as "exclusive info/tools of great interest".Other sellers flog mobile phone Sim unlocking codes for as much as £10, when you can do this for nowt (see Mobile Phone Unlocking).

To our great distaste, links to this site have been sold to the highest bidder. In the past, people have sold bank charge reclaiming template letters and links to the FlightChecker, as well as other tools from the site.

Use Google to check exactly what you're bidding for. If it's just "information", you'll usually find the same elsewhere for free.

Haggling on eBay pays off

There's nothing wrong with asking for a discount, even if the listing doesn't show the 'make offer' logo. Haggling works best on buy-it-now listings, or auctions with a high start price and no bids. To contact the seller, click 'ask a question'. If you're polite and charming, you'll get further. Blunt requests such as "will u take 50p" are usually a mistake. They annoy the seller, and a discount is at their discretion. Once you've clinched the deal, keep the transaction within eBay – just ask the seller to add (or change) a buy-it-now price. For 20 tips on haggling beyond the web, see the High Street Haggling guide.

Sneaky tricks to exploit sellers' slip-ups

Some sellers make basic mistakes, leaving goods going for bargain money (read the eBay Selling Tricks guide to avoid these blunders). As well as spelling howlers, another beginner's error is leaving out key details (brand, shoe size, wardrobe dimensions) or getting them wrong (saying a console's an Xbox when the photo shows a PS2, for example). At this point, many buyers give up as it's too much hassle. So contact the seller to fill in gaps. But don't ask the question via the item's listing page - that way, when the seller replies, eBay lets them add their reply to the main listing with one click, so all buyers will know the pertinent facts. Instead, ask the question via the seller's profile (make it clear which item you're on about). They probably won't bother with the extra faff of adding it to the listing, so you'll be the only one in the know. Spotted a Fabergé egg listed as "nice metal egg decorated with enamel"? It's worth knowing eBay only lets sellers do major edits to their listings before anyone bids. Once bidding starts, they can only add small updates. So if the start price is low, say 99p, bid before the seller cottons on. Then it will be too late to properly fix it.

Bid a few extra pence to boost your bid's chances

When bidding, you enter a “maximum bid”, and eBay makes automatic bids on your behalf up to your limit. Don't enter a round number. For example, if a tricycle is currently selling for £7, and the most you are willing to pay is £20, enter a maximum bid of £20.01. If someone else bids £20, eBay will favour your bid, even though it's just 1p more. It's worth being aware of bid increments, the steps by which prices rise. They vary from 5p to £100, depending on the current price. For a list, see eBay's Bid Increments guide.

Know your consumer rights

Buy from a trader – a person who makes or sells goods bought with the intention of resale – and you have the same statutory rights as when buying from a shop. This means your goods must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described. See the Consumer Rights guide for more info. This applies to both new and second-hand items. It should be easy to tell if someone's a trader - look for "registered as a business seller" on their profile. With private sellers it's caveat emptor, or 'let the buyer beware'. Buyers' only rights under law are that the product is fairly described and the owner has the right to sell it. There's little legal comeback. It's also worth noting that under eBay's own buyer protection rules buyers are eligible for a refund if the item's not as described, ie, if it doesn't match the seller's description. Your right to change your mind within 14 days Buy from a business seller using the buy-it-now button, rather than just a standard auction format, and Consumer Contracts Regulations also apply. (These rules came into force in June 2014 and replaced the previous Distance Selling Regulations.) Under the regulations, buyers who want to return something they've bought online - even if they've just changed their mind - have 14 working days after the date of delivery to notify the seller. You'll be able to get a refund for the item plus the cost of the least expensive delivery option. If you chose a more expensive delivery you'll have to cover the difference though. After cancelling your order you'll then have 14 days to send the item back, and may have to pay to do so. Read eBay's Consumer Contracts Regulations guide for more.
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