eBay Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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eBay1 is an auction-based website where you can buy or sell just about anything2. About 750,000 new items are put up for sale daily, and buyers can find both new and used items for sale in just about any category.

It is not hard to find out-of-print books or items that are no longer in production (or, indeed, anything else you are after) on eBay, by using the search feature. New items are usually available at a lower starting price than you would see in the shops.


In order to buy or sell on eBay, first of all you need to register. This is a free, and simple, process and involves entering your first name, last name, street address, city (or town), county (or state, if you're in the US), post code (or zip code if you're in the US), telephone number, email address, user ID3, password4, secret question5, and secret answer6.


Bidding on eBay is very simple - you just click on the item you wish to bid for, enter the amount you wish to bid (remember to check what currency the item is being sold in) and click 'Place Bid'. The minimum amount you can bid is stated, but of course the maximum bid you can place is only limited by your own wallet.

Most, but not all, eBay ads include a picture of the item being auctioned.

Another nice feature of eBay is 'proxy bidding.' Proxy bidding enables the potential buyer to enter the maximum amount he would be willing to bid on an item and his bid is automatically increased until it reaches this amount as others place their bids. At the same time, the amount bid never goes above the minimum amount necessary to achieve success for the bidder.


One mistake a lot of first-time eBayers make is to make a lot of bids at the beginning of the auction and subsequently raise the price of the item they are bidding on. The best tactic is to place a bid at the beginning, to show your interest, and then wait until there are only, say, two minutes of the auction left to bid, so there is no time for anyone to out-bid you. Most eBayers call this 'sniping.' This isn't an option for anyone with a slower internet connection - and if you won't be near your computer at the time the auction ends, the best thing to do is to use an automated sniper.

Automatic sniping is a service provided by third party companies (such as Bidnapper which will automatically bid for you on eBay auctions seconds before they end, for a small fee. This is actually safer than manual sniping, because the timing is automated and it is done on a fast internet connection.


Selling on eBay is also quite simple - you simply upload a picture of your item7 with a description, and decide what the starting price of the item should be. You also have to decide on a method of payment, (eg cheque, cash, PayPal, etc) all of which are explained on the site. You can also add a reserve price (the lowest price at which you would be willing to sell the item), although people are less likely to bid for items with high reserves as there is less chance of them getting a bargain. If you have more than one item, you can either list them separately, or together as a 'Dutch Auction' where the top few bidders (depending on how many of the item you are selling) each win one8. Also, there is a fee for selling on eBay, which is generally around £3.50 ($5-6, €4.50-5.30) and must be paid with a major credit card.

It is generally advisable to set the length of your auctions at a week at least, to enable people who only have internet access at either work or during the weekends to view, and bid for, your item.


All communication, both to and from eBay itself, and between the buyer and seller of an item, is conducted via email. Emails are sent to you from eBay when you win an item, or are outbid, or have sold an item, and so on. (You can even request a daily email alert when items in your favourite categories arise). It is entirely up to you to contact the buyer or seller of your item to arrange payment and delivery of the goods.


As with any on-line purchasing, you should think about the safety of the transaction. How, you ask, can a person protect themselves from getting ripped off? While the system is not infallible, a helpful feature of eBay is the Feedback Forum. This is a system for buyers and sellers to report to others the results of their transactions with any particular eBayer. Details often given on the Feedback Forum generally concerns speed of delivery of the item, whether it was delivered as described in the ad - packaged well and in good condition, and whether the buyer or seller was a good communicator, paying within a reasonable amount of time. Each transaction has to be judged 'Positive,' 'Negative' or 'Neutral' and each of these forms a score, comprising a registered user's feedback. (It is possible for a user with negative feedback to have a minus rating!) Feedback is readily available on every registered user of eBay.

The feedback is supposed to prevent 'dodgy deals' taking place on the site. However, there is, in theory, nothing to stop someone 'selling' something to you, taking your money, and then disappearing. Obviously the feedback should prevent it from happening again, but it's worth being wary about what you buy, and from whom you buy it. Using escrow9 is therefore advisable for expensive goods.

The feedback system is, however, not infallible and can be abused in a variety of ways - there have been cases where the transaction has gone smoothly and bad feedback has still been given, or where the seller decides to change the terms and conditions of sale after the end of the auction, and then gives bad feedback if these are not accepted. Buy at your own risk.

What Do People Sell On eBay?

Almost everything you can think of. Certain things10 are banned from being listed - however, people sell everything from toys to books to ceramics to cars to tours of the Arrows F1 team factory... Take a look here to see some of the stranger things people have attempted to sell.

1The UK version can be found here.2Due to the buying and selling aspect, the site is for people over the age of 18 only.3You choose your user ID - however it must be unique; that is, no two users can have the same ID.4Again, of your own choosing.5This is the question you will be asked should you lose your password. Upon a correct answer, your password will be provided.6The information needed may be different for the various international versions of eBay, but it generally follows this basic pattern.7This is optional, but recommended - would you want to invest a lot of money in an item you couldn't view?8The items in a Dutch Auction must be identical.9Where both parties send the goods/money to a third party so the transaction is secure10Namely, body parts and other...ahem, unsightly items.

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