eBay Bidding: Tips, Tricks and Tactics
This is part one of a two part series. I was planning a standalone post, but it took me 3 months to get halfway through my outline, so I decided to post what I have now rather than waiting potentially forever. Since I've had part one fermenting in the queue for 3 months, theoretically, part two should appear sometime in Jan 2006. (Maybe.)
Here are the hints in no particular order...
Avoid newbie wars.
If you see a slide rule that getting lots of bids, but there are only two people bidding, and each of them have low rankings, avoid the battle! What's happening is that two newbies decided that they want something, but they have no idea what it's worth. They each have the same misconception -- they both think that the other guy has a good idea of the true value of the item. And they both think, hey, that guy's willing to spend X dollars on it, then surely I can spend X + 1 dollars on it. With that type of positive feedback loop oscillating between the two newbies, there's only one way for the price to go -- up, wayyyy up!
Figure out what it's worth.
Some collectibles are hard to value, because the fact is, they're worthless if you look at them logically. The value of these items is only what people are willing to pay. That's where historical data is useful. You can look at eBay "completed" searches to get an idea of something's worth, but it doesn't go very far back. For slide rules, there are some excellent online databases where you can search for a certain model and see a long-term record of its price. Two are Slide Rule Search and Slide Rule Prices. You can also join a group like the Yahoo International Slide Rule Group. The people there are very helpful and would likely answer questions on prices.
Avoid variety packs.
I think sellers put multiple rulers into variety packs if each of the rulers is in such poor shape that they wouldn't be able to see them individually. I got a few variety packs, and was thinking, "wow, $10 for three rulers is a good deal!" It's not a good deal if each ruler is worth only a dollar.
Don't ask questions, ask for pictures.
The seems to be nonsensical advice. Of course you should always get as much information from the seller as possible. This lets you make an informed judgement as to what the item is worth. The problem with asking questions is that the seller is free to post your question, along with his response, on the eBay page. Thus, if you ask some really perceptive and get an informative answer, it's there for all to see.
Ideally, you would like to ask a question, and get an answer, without the seller being able to put it on the item page. This is where images come in. Sellers can't put extra images on an item page. (Or maybe they can, but I've never seen it done.) Instead of asking a question that can be answered by text, you should ask for an image that will answer your question. That way, only you will get the answer, and all the other bidders won't benefit from the extra info you have.
For example, instead of asking, "how is the paint and surface finish on the item?" you'd ask "can you send me an extreme closeup of the item, with the light reflecting off it?"
Or, instead of asking, "what is the serial number on the bottom," you'd ask, "can you send me a closeup of the bottom of the item?"
Most sellers have digital cameras (although it seems that sometimes, they don't readily have access to the item, only a few images.) Make sure to specify that you don't want the reduced version that Outlook Express always tries to push on you whenever you send an image.
Don't limit searches to "available to Canada".
It seems that some sellers who state "will ship to US" will also ship to Canada -- you just have to ask. They seem to charge more for shipping though. You have to bid early just to test if they've set up their acount for shipping to CDA.
Ask seller to say < $15.
If a US seller ships something to Canada that's valued at more than $20 Cdn, the Cdn government will charge a 14% tax for duty. Oh yes, you also have to pay $5 for the "processing fee" of paying the tax. For a cheap item like a slide rule, that's a big chunk of the cost. If you nicely ask the seller to state that it is worth $15 US (nearly $20 Cdn) then you'll be able to avoid the tax. Many sellers, however, are honest, and don't feel like lying and breaking the law to save you a few bucks. So don't get angry and give the seller a negative feedback if you get dinged.
Time is on your side.
I just did a search at ebay for "slide rule." There were 497 rules for sale. That number doesn't change very much. There's a continuous influx of slide rules being sold at eBay. The same models are sold over and over again. If you want a specific rule but it seems overpriced, don't buy it. Just wait a few weeks and another one will appear. If you wait long enough, you might get a really good deal.
Tabbed browsing speeds up searches.
I found the tabbed browsing feature of Mozilla to be a real time-saver for searches. It lets you combine multiple searches into one bookmark. What I did was search for the following things in four separate tabs:
slide* rule* (wildcard catches slide rules, slide rulers, slider rulers, etc.)
sliderule* (wildcard catches sliderule, sliderules, sliderulers)
slide* rule* (but in eBay stores)
sliderule* (in eBay stores)
Then save the "tab group" as a single bookmark. When you open the bookmark after than, all four searches are done simultaneously.
I've noticed that sliderules in eBay Stores tend to sit around for a long time, even cheap ones, probably because that's not the default results of a search.
I've never tried this, nor do I know anyone who's tried it. I don't know if it works, and if it does, it sure seems damn unethical. Ebay gives you the ability to send message to other bidders. If you're bidding against, or plan to bid against someone, you might send a message or two to increase their uncertainty about the seller, and as a result, reduce the maximum amount they're willing to bid. For example, you could send a message like, "hey man, I'd be careful if I were you. My sister's boyfriend's ex-roommate's mother bought a slide rule from that seller 6 months ago, and when the box arrived, IT WAS FULL OF DEAD RATS!" (Or something like that.) Be forewarned that eBay has moderators who can make your life miserable if you try anything fishy.
Beware of Phishers/Spoofers.
Whenever I get an official looking email saying "Important: your eBay/PayPal acount has been suspended due to suspicious activity" I immediately forward it to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In a matter of minutes, automated tools check the email and respond "Thanks for telling us about that, it's a hoax. We are now investigating." I figure, why bother trying to guess if it's legit when ebay will tell me? That's why I always forward anything that looks ominous.