All about eBay

With millions of people logging on daily, it’s time to peek through the window of the World Wide Web at the world’s largest on-line auction site.


What is eBay?


Not a beach in Australia, but an international on-line auction house where you can buy – and sell – everything from cars to CDs, computers to collectable plates. On ebay there are over 30 000 clothing, footwear and accessory items sold every day, over 4 600 diamond pieces sold every week and over 2 000 bids placed on antiques and artwork every hour.


How do I sell items?


Step 1: First, find out what the item you want to sell is worth by looking at similar items on eBay, or get a couple of valuations. Have in mind the lowest price you’d be prepared to accept (the reserve price) and a realistic starting price. If you’d prefer to sell at a fixed price (and about a quarter of eBay goods are bought this way), there is a fixed price facility (Buy It Now). Then think about postage – bids can come from all over the world, so most sellers opt for the buyer to pay for postage.


Step 2: Register with eBay. This is free, but you do pay a small commission both to list and sell your items. Follow the instructions on site for listing your item. Display an attractive photo of what you want to sell and give a full honest description of the item.


Step 3: Choose whether you want to go for the auction or Buy It Now format, how long you want the auction to last and what payment methods you will accept.


And how do I buy?


Step 1: There are over 10 million items listed at any one time, so narrow the definition of the item or at least the category you are looking for.


Step 2: Make sure you know what you’re buying. If a description or picture is unclear, e-mail the seller with your questions before you bid.


Step 3: You can either take part in auctions or contact the seller by e-mail to see if they will sell direct. If you don’t want to keep checking to see how the auction is progressing, you can use proxy bidding – you set a top limit and eBay automatically bids for you up to that amount. Remember, if your bid is successful you are committed to buying.


Step 4: if you plan to pay by credit card or cheque (always safer than sending cash), use PayPal. It takes 24 hours to register and there is a small commission fee, but with PayPal no financial details, such as bank account number, are revealed to either party.


What if something goes wrong?


One worry for novices is that they will end up bidding for something that either never arrives, or turns out to be much less interesting than described. In fact, only a minute proportion of transactions are fraudulent. There are also several ways to guard against tricksters. Firstly, there’s the feedback system, then the facility to contact the seller direct.


Clearly, the more expensive the item, the more cautious you need to be. If the item wasn’t as described, contact the seller direct. eBay offers a mediation service between buyer and seller (look for the Square Trade section). However, if after all this, an item never arrives, and you paid for your item through PayPal, you may be covered for up to $ 1 000 USD by PayPal Buyer Protection.


What are eBay’s advantages?


You have a huge range of goods to buy and customers to sell to. This means your chances of finding a specialist item, or indeed selling one, are much higher than in a local second-hand store. It is also very convenient and quick.


And the minuses?


While there is an on-line eBay community, you don’t get the human contact you would from antique shops, say, and you don’t get to see and feel the goods before you buy. While the risk of not getting what you paid for, or having a buyer default, is very small, it is there.