I LOVE eBay! I've been selling and buying since 1995, shortly after they first launched. In fact, I've gotten everything from Diane Von Furstenberg dresses and vintage brooches to Tory Burch leather pants and Oilily children's clothing on eBay--at prices not even close to retail.
I have learned a few tricks along the way. Here are some ideas for snagging a great deal on clothing, shoes and accessories.
1. Know Your Size. Since most eBay sellers don't allow returns, it's vital you know your size before you bid on an item. I've been known to go to Bloomingdales and try on several brands of jeans to determine what I like best. Then, I'll write down the brand, style, size, wash and fit. I get online and search on eBay using those terms. Also, most stores such as JCrew and Banana Republic, have standard sizing. If you're not positive, size up. Chances are you can have it altered if it's a tad too big. You'll be amazed at how many items "in the stores" are on eBay--even from places like Anthropologie and JCrew. Hint: Know what looks good on you! Buying on eBay is not the time to try out a new or trendy style.
2. Set up a Search. eBay allows you to set up a favorites search using keywords. For example, I love the French brand Catimini for children. So, I search on "Catimini" and each day I get an email with thumbnail pictures of the newly listed items by that brand. It gives you a chance to snag a great item using "Buy It Now" before it gets bid up past what you're willing to spend. You can do the same with favorite sellers. For example, there are a few moms on eBay who have a daughter a little older than Sofia. Sofia is the perfect size for their outgrown clothing. I will get emails when these moms list new items.
3. Don't buy purses. Many purses on eBay are fake and it's hard to tell from the listing. Some red flags: the seller is from Hong Kong or China, the seller has tons of the same purse up for sale and the seller has negative feedback that says something about fakes. If you're willing to take a chance on an item, make sure you're buying it from an individual buyer who just cleaned out her closet. Even a ton of positive feedback isn't a guarantee. Many times buyers have no idea that the item they bought was counterfeit.
4. Check the feedback. So, you find a great JCrew jacket, the price is right and you're waiting for just the right moment to bid on it. But, you notice that the seller has a 95% positive rating. Check it out, many times the negative feedback is from isolated incidents. But, if you see 2 or more feedback notations that say a buyer never received the item or that the item was not described accurately, beware!
5. Make that offer. Sometimes buyers will have a "Make an Offer" listed next to the sales price. Make the offer no matter how lowball! I just got a pair of designer boots for $80; the "Buy it Now" price was $350 and retail price was $1050! The worst that can happen is your offer is refused, but many times the seller will just send you a higher counteroffer that you can accept or deny.
6. Negotiate shipping. I can't tell you the number of times I've spotted something I wanted to buy then had to bail because shipping was too high. However, I've had success emailing the seller (BEFORE bidding) to see if he/she will lower the shipping cost.
7. Know the retail price. True story: Anthropologie had a pair of to-die-for boots that sold out on the website. I think they were around $250 (no, I don't own them...) On eBay, they were listed at $350--even after Anthro restocked them! That's $100 more than retail and I saw bids on them. Of course, you can't always check prices because most items are from several seasons ago. But, I tend to buy a lot of brand-name and designer stuff on eBay, so I do scour the retail sites to get an idea of price range of that particular brand.
8. Go for the good stuff. Honestly, eBay isn't worth your time unless you're interested in buying designer or high-end brand items. I mean, who wants to spend time surfing the web for Target or Old Navy clothing? I reserve eBay for splurge items that strike my fancy--things that I would likely never buy full price. For example, I may look for leather jackets, boots, winter coats, ski clothing, vintage jewelry, children's high-end holiday clothing, designer shoes, Theory brand pants, DVF wrap dresses, Tory Burch flats, etc.
9. Resell it. For children's clothing, you can't beat eBay for resale value--as long as it's a high-end brand in excellent condition. I've actually MADE money on preworn clothing from Oililly, Misha Lulu and Catimini. I tend to buy a few select pieces retail when they go on sale. Sofia wears them, then when she outgrows the item, I resell it. Obviously this works best on seldom-worn outfits, special occaision dresses or things that don't wear out easily. I pay for my daughter's wardrobe almost exclusively from the proceeds of her outgrown clothing.
10. Swoop in. To avoid driving up the price of an item, NEVER bid on it right away. Just save it to your wish list and mark down when the auction ends. Have a price in mind and if the item is still within reach 5 minutes before the auction ends, then wait until about 1 minute left and swoop in with your high bid. If you get outbid, it's OK because you entered the MOST you were willing to spend. If the item went for more than that, it just wasn't meant to be. And, you saved yourself from getting caught up in the moment and spending way too much.
As with anything good, it does take effort to find deals on eBay. You have to scour the site daily with very specific goals in mind. And, you have to be patient. I'm still searching (and have been for 10 years) for a Chanel tweed jacket. I haven't seen one that costs less than $500 yet.
You almost have to have a collector's mentality or really love shopping and the thrill of the hunt to be willing to spend the time seeking out eBay treasures. For many, it's just too much work. But, for those of us who check out all the designer Fall and Spring fashion shows and write down a wish list, it can be a way to get once-in-a-lifetime designer items for a fraction of the retail price.