The facts about… eBay

Picture the scene. Your house is full of clutter post Christmas and you desperately need to make some space to fit the new things in (sound familiar?)

So what do you do? Put an advert in the classified section of the newspaper or box everything up and haul yourself to a car boot sale at 6am on a Sunday morning.

Close up of's main web page.Well, 20 years ago maybe. But these days, you’re more likely to put your items on eBay. And the chances are you’ll make more money than you ever would at the freezing car boot.

This explosion in the way we buy and sell items has changed the face of shopping, not just for sellers but for buyers too.

Just like Google, it’s even a verb. I’ll eBay it.

A new way of shopping

The site works on lots of different levels. It’s opened doors for small businesses to now have a purely online presence, without the need for costly premises and other overheads. And it’s a great way for individuals to sell unwanted items, bag a bargain or find items not easily available elsewhere.

I’ve been using eBay for about eight years. My original plan was to only buy things with money I’d made selling on the site. The best laid plans eh? The great thing about eBay is that you really can buy or sell pretty much anything (within reason).

Over the years I’ve sold, amongst many other things, wine corks, a stuffed meerkat (for £25), a metal girder and a conductor’s badge. The latter was the best – my mum found it in her aunt’s house after she passed away and was going to bin it. I sold it to a collector who was absolutely delighted with his purchase.

And I’ve bought some equally diverse things. A Marge Simpson wig (don’t ask), furniture, kids’ fancy dress costumes and Dr Who and James Bond memorabilia as gifts.

So, if you’re new to eBay, here are a few hints and tips:


  • Check it isn’t cheaper elsewhere. Sometimes it’s not always more economical to buy second hand.
  • Set your limit and stick to it. You can easily get carried away in a bidding war.
  • Bid in odd amounts. So rather than £10, try £10.08 – this will put you ahead of those bidding in round figures.
  • Look for a high-star rating and good feedback for sellers, and beware those with poor ratings – they’re like that for a reason.
  • Read the small print to check the item is exactly what you want, eg is it really new or is it reconditioned?
  • Try looking for themed presents for friends. Just type in the subject and away you go…
  • Not everything has to be bid for – many items have a ‘buy it now’ button so you can just purchase straight away.


  • Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So something that was free for you could still be a bargain or sought after by someone else. There are a few rules about things you can’t sell (knives, pornography, live animals, certain tickets eg for the World Cup) but almost anything goes.
  • Try to make sure bidding ends on your item at a time more people are likely to be online. So this means evenings and weekends rather than halfway through the working day.
  • Check postage costs. Some low-value bulky items can cost more to send than they cost. You’ll claim the postage as part of the sale, but it’s not making you a profit.
  • If you’re selling large items that can’t be posted, you can flag them up as collection only.
  • Be realistic. An item is only worth what someone is willing to pay, so just because it holds sentimental value or you think you should get more, ultimately its worth is determined by the bidders.
  • Set a reserve price. This isn’t advisable for everything, but if you really can’t bear an item to go for less than a certain amount, you can put a minimum price on it. This might put people off though, so don’t get into the habit of it.
  • Check your free listings. You can post a certain number of items free every month, then eBay will charge a percentage based on criteria like number of photographs, value etc. Look out for special offers with additional free listings.
  • Build up your ratings. By offering a good service your buyers will rate you highly, making you more appealing to future purchasers.
  • Consider what you’re selling. Kids’ and baby stuff doesn’t tend to make much as there’s so much out there, but collectibles are more highly valued. This doesn’t necessarily mean antiques – I’ve sold McDonalds Happy Meal toys on there (plus the stuffed meerkats…)

If there’s a problem…

  • Check your terms and conditions carefully before you buy. These are set by the vendor rather than eBay, so vary from item to item.
  • If the item isn’t what you think it should be, go through eBay arbitration. This is very good and usually resolves problems.
  • Don’t just automatically give someone negative feedback. Most people are happy to rectify issues and marking them down will affect their future selling power over what is usually a genuine mistake.


All eBay payments are made through PayPal, so you’ll need to open an account. This can link to a credit card or bank account if you don’t have enough balance to make payments.

Using eBay is a great way to declutter and make a bit of spare cash in the process. Be warned though… it’s also a great way to acquire new clutter!

Phil Garrett

About Phil Garrett

I’m an aerospace engineer and father of two (which means I love a bargain). I enjoy travelling with my family, supporting Aston Villa (for my sins) and gardening in my spare time.