Smart eBaying

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The goal for any collection of mine is to collect interesting items for the lowest cost.  For the Mac Museum, I generally do this through eBay and Craigslist. Craigslist tends to be cheaper as people either a) don’t understand the value of what they are selling or b) don’t care and just want to get rid of it. The problem with Craigslist is that items are generally only available for local pickup which severely limits my options. I have actually found some of my best (and least expensive) items on Craigslist but there is no guarantee that something interesting will become available, and if it does, there is addition coordination required to get it. Craigslist frequently has an off-season for me.

When Craigslist starts to slow down I look to eBay. eBay is an entirely different beast.  It has far more items available, they are easy to find and track, easy to pay for, and easy to ship. But they cost more. A lot more.  Many of the sellers on eBay use it as a business and price accordingly. It’s also very easy to check for similar and price in a similar manner. As a result items generally cost more than on Craigslist and often follow price trends. Case in point: I purchased two classic Macs, an original 128k Macintosh and a Mac Plus, for $50 on Craigslist including disk drives, original software, and original documentation.  An original 128k Macintosh sells for anywhere between $300 and $2,000 on eBay, often times in worse shape or less complete than what I found.  When I purchase items on eBay, I have to work hard to get them for a price that I’m willing to pay. I use the following strategies to keep my wallet safe.

Know What You Want To Buy

It’s simple, right? But it’s not just about knowing the item you want to buy, it’s knowing about what you want to buy. Knowing how it works, knowing how much it costs from other outlets, knowing how it performs in comparison to similar items.  This is an advantage not only because you will get the product that you want, but also because you can get a better deal. Sometimes sellers don’t know what they are selling. They might sell it for far less than it is worth because they don’t recognize what it is. They also might  think it’s broken.  If you know how to fix it for a low cost then you will make out on the deal.

Watch Multiple Auctions

When I buy something on eBay I search for it and add as many auctions as I can find to my watch list.  My goal is to determine the average price of the item that I want.  At this point I’m just an observer with no intention to purchase. I also want to see how each auction plays out. Does the item’s price double or triple in the last 10 minutes of bidding indicating that the item is in demand? Are there a lot of auctions or only a few, indicating whether the item is common or rare, and priced accordingly?  Does an auction for the item close and then get re-listed immediately, indicating that the product was not interesting to anyone or that it was overpriced (which is often the case)?

Set a Price Range and Honor It

It’s a simple concept, but without a price range it’s easy to over pay.  When you are in the last minutes of an auction bidding against another person it’s easy to say “ok, I’ll add five more dollars” as the price quickly rises out of your range. If you do win you might end up overpaying. For something like the Mac Museum where I’m trying to find lots of items, overpaying is not an option.

Bid Late

When bidding on an item time is essential. The price of items can go up significantly in the last minute of bidding.  In general I bid late in auctions, often in the last 30 to 15 seconds. The idea is that if I bid extremely close to the end of the auction, it gives other bidders little time to outbid me.  I used to bid a day to several hours before an auction ended only to see that my maximum bid was eclipsed during the last minute of the auction. I then started bidding in the last minute but that wasn’t enough to win against aggressive bidders.  Now I bid in the last 15 seconds if I can.  It can be risky if I’m on my phone with a weak internet connection because my bid might not make it in on time, but it has been a successful strategy so far.

Embrace Loss

It can be difficult to lose an auction, especially if it is for an item that you really want. No matter what strategies you use, you can still lose an auction.  Sometimes other bidders have extremely high maximum bids that you can’t win against anyway. Other times bidders are just a nanosecond faster than you getting the final bid in. It’s not a big deal. There will hopefully be many similar auctions in the future that you can win.  I have lost more auctions than I have won. Sometimes it’s tough, but there is always another auction. Sometimes I even end up with a better quality item from the second or third auction that I bid on. Winning isn’t everything.

Look for Includes

I’m collecting a lot of different things for my museum – computers, keyboards, mice, software, manuals, boxes, books, promotional materials, posters, disk drives.  Many of these things are available separately but can be costly.  Take a mouse for example.  A mouse might sell for $10 with $5 shipping.  I might find an auction that includes not only a mouse, but a keyboard, a disk drive, and some software for $30 and $10 shipping. If the keyboard, disk drive, and software were separate they might cost $15 each or more including shipping. If I bought all of it separately it would cost me $60, but I buy them together I get them all for $40, saving me $20.

When looking for computer accessories this comes in handy. There are a lot of auctions for Macs that are broken in some way. They usually sell for low prices and sometimes come with additional accessories. If I buy them for the accessories and find some way to fix the Mac, I end up with a free Mac.

Keep Searching

Even if I am bidding on an item, I continue to look for similar auctions just in case. I usually check eBay three or four times a day. I add anything that is remotely interesting to my watch list to look at later. Once a day or so I go through my watch list and check up on the things I’ve added and remove them if they don’t make sense. As auctions near closing I check on them and often decide to let them go. By keeping searching often and keeping my watch list full, I always have other opportunities.

They Work for Me

These are my tips and they have worked well. In the past two weeks I’ve purchased a bunch of items at great prices – a Quadra 660 AV desktop for $35 including shipping and an expensive and hard-to-find Apple AAUI adapter, a Wallstreet PowerBook G3 for $50 with a boxed copy of Mac OS 8.5 and free shipping, a brand new boxed and shrink wrapped copy of Mac OS 8 for $23 including shipping, a PowerBook 3400c for $27 including shipping, and a VST Zip 100 drive for my Lombard PowerBook G3 for $12 with free shipping.  The AAUI adapter included with the Quadra sells for $100 on its own. A boxed copy of Mac OS 8.5 sells for $15 or $20 alone. The boxed copy of Mac OS 8 that I bought had been crushed a little, but it was easy to fix. For $147 I got two laptops, a desktop, a rare network adapter, two boxed copies of software, and an accessory. Not bad.

I got all of these items because I searched often, added to my watch list, looked for includes, set a price range, bid late, and embraced loss. Happy eBaying!

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