How to Buy Stuff on eBay

How to Buy Stuff on eBay

eBay is dangerously easy to use. You don’t need computer skills of any sort to buy stuff on eBay.com, beyond maybe the basic ability to type words and roll your mouse around, clicking on things. Because eBay is an auction site, and an addictive one at that, its ease of use is trouble for those of us hooked on buying and selling.

There are four basic steps to buying stuff on eBay. You’ll start by registering with the site — this is easy, don’t worry, you’ll be searching for electronics or cars to buy in a few minutes. Once you find an item you are interested in, you either buy it instantly according to a price pre-approved by the seller, or you bid on it, auction-style. Once the item is purchased (either instantly or through a bid) you will make payment for the item to the item’s owner, and they will confim shipping.

Here’s a breakdown of each step of the buying stuff on eBay process.

Registering at eBay.com

You have to register to use eBay — this will provide you with an identity to the site and to other users. This is your eBay “persona”, and the way you behave toward buyers and sellers will be reflected in this profile along with other information about you, such as your buying and selling history and a few other details. Don’t treat people like jerks — pay them on time, and ship items on time. Otherwise your profile will reflect your reputation, and people may refuse to deal with you.

Browsing on eBay
Now that you have an eBay account, you can search for items to bid on or start putting your items up for sale immediately. When searching for items, you can browse through generic categories (“books”, “art”, “clothes”, etc) or search for specific items (“1st edition of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest) to find stuff to buy.


You can search only for items with specific details, like photos, or search for items for sale by individual sellers — really, the search options are pretty varied. eBay wants to get the stuff you want to buy in front of your face.

Buying and Selling on eBay

You have two options to consider when buying and selling on eBay. As a seller, you can choose to set a “buy it now” price that, if matched by the amount offered by a member of eBay, will entitle them to claim that item immediately. This is different from a reserve, which is a minimum price accepted for an item. If a reserve is not met, the item will not sell — however, if the “buy it now” price is not met, the item will simply sell for the highest over-the-reserve bid.

Choosing “buy it now” is an option I use when I find that “must have” item. As a sometime collector of first edition contemporary fiction, I find “buy it now” particularly damaging to my checking account balance.

When you see an item that interests you but maybe you’re looking for a bargain, enter a bid. Some basic bidding strategy — if you really want to win an item but just aren’t willing to bid the “buy it now” price, go ahead and lead with your strongest bid. If, on the other hand, getting a deal is your top priority, enter the lowest possible bid that you can stand to offer and work your way up from there.

Payment for eBay

eBay does not require you to use Paypal to shop, meaning you can use a debit card or in some cases a credit card. Check the “payment methods” available before you bid, to be sure you can get your money to the seller.

Using Paypal with eBay really makes things easy, because if you register for Paypal you won’t have to reveal your credit card number during a sale. It is also simply more convenient — click on “Pay with Paypal” and the seller has their money instantly.

eBay Shipping

All sellers on eBay will have some policy on shipping — some items will be shipped for free while other users have precise figures on shipping. Whatever the policy it will be listed in the information about the item. Again, make sure the shipping policy is something you can live with before you go and place a bid.

After the seller gets paid they will send you the item. If the item is satisfactory, you’ll have the opportunity to give the seller a “positive rating”, in exchange for which they’ll give you a positive rating, if all went well. These positive ratings are important, as they speak your reputation to other buyers and sellers. Prompt payment and item delivery are the name of the game, as well as accurate descriptions of items and shipping policies.

Scams on eBay

The easiest way to avoid getting “scammed” on eBay (or just buying something that isn’t what it says it is) is to do your own homework. Look at photos of an item, request more photos if the ones provided don’t look right, are too far away or fuzzy, or if you just want to see more pictures. If the seller doesn’t want to take time to send you some extra snaps of the item, don’t do business with them. If an item’s description isn’t detailed enough or the seller won’t talk to you about the item, don’t buy it.

Basically, trust your instincts. You wouldn’t buy something in the store if you couldn’t see it first — don’t buy something unseen from the Internet.

eBay is a phenomenon — plenty’s been said about it — and buying stuff on eBay is easy. Some people have managed to turn eBay into a home business, making cash auctioning items to other members. Some eBay users register and participate once just to see what its like — or to find that extra-special gift. The point is you can dive into eBay at the level of commitment you’re comfortable with.

Now if I could just get the seller to accept $50 for a first edition of Sylvia Plath’s Two Poems . . .