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Buying on eBay

eBay is by far the largest online auction and direct sales operation with the opportunity to trade, both buying and selling around the world. eBay does not have many staff in proportion to the number of people using it, so customer service is near non existent and if you run into problems then resolving it can be difficult. eBay also own Paypal the electronic payment system, which works well for the vast majority of people, but like all online payment systems has to put up with the antics of the credit card companies, who may not authorise some payments without reason.  With the current problems some banks are having maybe like reducing peoples credit limits, a way to ease their cash flow problems.

Generally buying things on eBay is a pleasant experience, and we have purchased a very large number of things, making an enormous saving, plus turned a lot of spare stuff that was taking up space back into cash via eBay. In a number of cases the price we got for items we sold was far more than we expected. Photographers of course have a great advantage in that we can show items really well in photographs, and as its only the photos that buyers can see you do tend to get more bidders for items well presented and clearly photographed.

As well as auction items there are very many with 'buy now' prices.

If you buy cameras, lenses and flash units on eBay from Hong Kong or the like, then compute out the full price including carriage and insurance if charged, and watch out as well for duty. In some cases these dealers have a no duty guarantee repaying you any duty charged but not often the 10 or 12 fee charged by the carrier for collecting the duty.

You need to watch the prices and compare, Nikon prices in the UK tend to be exceptionally high on new releases, and then later dealers offer cameras cheaper, so when the Nikon D300 came out you could save over 300 by importing it, while 6 months later the difference has dropped to around a 150 saving, plus some extra goodies like a free 2nd battery. If you have a lens, or two, flash and more, then the savings can become significant.

Capture NX2 upgrade from NX, about 65 including postage on eBay from the USA compared to 79.99 here (July 08), generally the lower the price of the item the lower the proportionate saving taking postage into account.

Second hand lenses and items of course are often available at a great price.

Ink for printers, including original manufacturers inks are usually also available at a fraction of the price in the shops. If you have ink cartridges hanging around in your own business, you may want to lock them away and change them when necessary yourself, its likely that quite a few employees are supplementing their salaries with office supplies sold on eBay.

Tips on winning on eBay

  • Ask the seller questions if anything is unclear, or you have concerns. Most sellers are only too pleased to answer you.
  • Check the sellers feedback, and the feedback they have left for others (see below), to see they have a proven history of friendly honourable trading. If you have any doubts ask if you win if you can pay when you collect, dodgy characters want money sent somewhere, and won't meet you. Still concerned ask for a phone number and speak to them. Still not happy then choose another sale to bid on.
  • Decide the absolute maximum you are prepared to pay, taking into account the item, quality, and possibly earning potential (and postage if applicable).
  • Make sure the VAT situation is clear, normally any VAT will be included but in some cases with USA dealers they do charge VAT, and hand it over to the European authorities, so always ask if its not clear.
  • Stop and think. If you win its a legal auction and you have to pay. If you don't and its an expensive item the seller could take an action through the county court, not only costing you far more but damaging your credit rating. Even on cheaper items it is likely they would put a negative feedback on eBay, perhaps making others less likely to deal with you, or bid on items you want to sell.
  • Enter the absolute maximum (see next note below) in to the eBay bidding system, this is called proxy bidding. EBay will only put your actual bid now to one step above the current winner, but will keep bidding automatically for you up to your maximum. You will not pay any more than if you sat at your computer, constantly bidding yourself for days.
  • Many bidders who use the proxy system, end their bids in an uneven amount i.e. bidding 6001.36 or something so that they are ahead of any bid at 6,000. If another bidder bids the same as you exactly, then your bid being in first still takes precedence, and the auction jumps to that value. The only other time the price jumps up rapidly is if there is a reserve, where as soon as a bid is put in above the reserve, the price jumps to match the reserve.
  • If there are no bids on an item don't be put off, some people don't want to be the first one for some reason, its your opinion that counts, likewise if others go bidding mad, don't allow it to change your opinion of the item. Sometimes the first bid in ends up being the bargain buy when others leave it too late. Remember first bid has precedence whenever two bids are equal.
  • If you are outbid, having been the winning bidder, eBay will send you an email to tell you, but near the end of the sale, this may arrive too late. Email is nothing like as speedy as many people think.
  • Some bidders use snipes to put in a bid at only a few seconds to go to the end of the sale, not giving you enough time to respond. This is allowed. People using snipes can only outbid you if you are bidding up each step yourself, and unless they have set their snipe above a proxy bid, the proxy bid either higher or equal will win. See Information on sniping.


  • Don't bid on items you don't want assuming someone else will bid more - its not a game.
  • Don't get caught up in the drama, and keep bidding to win and then regret it after, decide on your maximum price.
  • Don't bid more than you can raise, or use cash that you need for living on (or students your essential beer money).
  • Don't ask to do deals outside of eBay, cutting out eBay. Remember many sellers will think that if you would cheat eBay you would cheat them as well, and this all works with trust that has to be earned. 

After the auction

  • Contact the seller and pay fast, this will get you a good rating on eBay, from feedback. If paying by Paypal or some other online means or by cheque,  don't forget the post and packing.
  • Arrange to collect it, if you choose this option, however sellers are not so concerned about you taking time to collect as they are taking time to pay. If you want to pay on collection and there is a delay look at paying a deposit now, and the balance on collection, that way the seller knows he definitely has a sale, and not a silly person.
  • Remember to leave a feedback on eBay, so others know the deal went through smoothly. Remember others can see your feedback about others as well as feedback on you (click on the number after a name and look at the items in small type under the stats box). Experienced users also know how to get at past bids, items sold and bought etc, so confidence in you is dependant on your own actions.
  • Remember that anything you buy you can also sell, possibly for even more, and as you are only one step above the next bid below you, others value it today nearly as much as you do.
  • Having had a good experience go on to many more but make the maximum use of feedback and other information available.
  • eBay is a fantastic service, allowing you to buy and sell items smoothly and profitably. Discovering how to use it to your advantage is as good as a huge salary rise.

If you are not happy about something

  • I have never had any problems with a buyer or seller, but if someone was not happy I would rather they told me and we could sort it out. 
  • A few items I have bought were not quite as I had expected, but on reading the details again, they were usually explained correctly, it was just my vision of them that was wrong.
  • Contact the buyer or seller and try to sort it out.
  • If you can't agree suggest you undo the transaction, seller loses eBay fees and buyer loses postage.
  • Everyone wants a happy deal so start as positive as you can.
  • Don't get into leaving negative feedbacks, at all if you can help, the other person will do the same to you and may mess up other transactions for you. You don't have to leave any feedback at all if you are not happy with the transaction, otherwise you might respond saying it arrived fast but not mention the quality.

If you get suspended without explanation by eBay

eBay has few staff, if someone reports something they think looks suspicious, or you do something by accident against eBay's rules that its programs detect, eBay may feel its simpler to suspend you than work out if there is a  real problem.

  • Seems to happen to some people, just object or open a new account if you don't get a sensible reply.
  • Don't take it personally.
  • Don't become dependent on eBay, if you get let down it won't then be so important to you.

If selling

  • Look at what others are selling, prices raised and why some items sell for more
  • Include photographs and a description, you know what it is, others may not. Generally good photos = higher prices.
  • Make sure you give all the information, i.e. how old, what is included, model etc
  • Be aware that there are scams aimed at sellers as well as buyers.
  • If you are going to close the auction early if you get a high offer say so, otherwise don't take out of auction offers.
  • Allow several methods for buyers to pay.
  • Answer all enquiries promptly.
  • Once payments is received make sure you pack it well and get it posted promptly, ask buyers to complete a feedback when received so you know it arrived safely.
  • Remember to complete a feedback on buyers, once they are happy with their purchase.

Post and packing charges

When I first started buying art, computer games and other smaller items on eBay, I could not see how the postage could ever be as much as I was being charged, for example 6 or 10.50 for a painting in a tube or 3.50, 5.50 or more for a small computer game. I, like some others, tended to try to cost the actual postage and packing material. What I came to realize, having spoken to some about this and read the material on eBay on the subject, is that the figure given for P&P also includes all other charges that the seller has encountered or is likely to, so Paypal and other similar fees and often eBay costs as well. The seller is therefore looking to get the amount bid at the end of the auction and for the buyer to cover all costs.

The practice tends to shift with larger items and some sellers use the same model while others expect to cover postage and packing, plus possibly a contribution towards other costs, but in wanting to get as much as possible for the item being sold are often willing or feel that they have to partly subsidize these costs. 

It is in practice very difficult to guess what the postage will be for many items, without actually packing it up and taking it to a post office to weigh. So many times the postage cost advertised for larger items, although looking expensive, will not actually cover the cost of the dispatch. With larger items although sometimes people have questioned the postage figure I have quoted,  I  find a third at least I have undercharged to the extent that I end up subsidizing the postage and getting no contribution towards packaging or any other costs.

So with larger items, where you take payment through Paypal, have paid the eBay listing and final value fees, and spent time and thought, as well as packaging materials, you will frequently find you barely cover the postage and maybe subsidizing the sale to the sum of hundreds of pounds. Therefore you need to be aware of all these costs, when considering the price you will accept, setting start or reserve prices and setting the P&P charge.

With smaller items where people are putting up a large number of items, not wanting to subsidize items and especially where they have started the bidding at a very low figure, calculating the individual figure for each item is difficult, so the practice I have followed is the one others have used and explained to me, of setting an average figure, that over a larger number of items will average out. For most small items I have set this at 3.50 being the most common charge I have paid for small items and about the average cost. With some items for example thick books this does not cover the cost, but for smaller items like computer games, it does and over all, I think its currently just about the average actual cost. In practice if you can save and reuse some padded envelopes and other packaging this will also help you to stay within the amount you receive. 

When advertising anything for sale on eBay its a better practice to include a P&P figure whatever you consider it to be, than the policy some follow of saying they will tell people after the close of the auction, which could give grounds for disputes to arise. Similarly its a better practice to factor in Paypal and other charges than put it within the text and try to collect it after, as most people will pay the amount shown on eBay which is the bid price plus P&P and not remember to go and look at small print again.

When buying you always should look at the combination of your bid and the P&P (and other charges if specified), particularly when sniping in groups you will find that you have snipes set at a range of different figures, to take into account the P&P set. You should always look at the P&P before you bid, you have no grounds to complain later if you bid and did not take this into account. People who complain about P&P charges where they are shown tend to get poor feedbacks and on eBay getting a constantly good feedback has to be your aim. 

Some sellers will combine items, sometimes this is shown in listings, in other cases ask if you are intending on buying two or more items from a seller. In some cases it may be more cost effective for you to collect, or a good excuse to visit another area and take some photos at the same time.

Remember with postage if the situation when buying is unclear then ask for a postage price before bidding.

See Also:

Sniping and Multiple Bids

Buying Wisely


Photography Business topic section


By: Keith Park Section: Photography Business Section Key:
Page Ref: buying_on_ebay Topic: Photography Business  Last Updated: 11/2009

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