Save smart on eBay

I’m a huge advocate of online shopping, especially for finding good deals. One of the best places to do this is auction site eBay.

EBay was the first person-to-person selling site established on the web, founded in 1995, and is still the largest worldwide auction site. Many steals can be found as long you are aware of how eBay works and use caution.

I find eBay the best source for high end designer fashion at discounted prices. When shipping costs and potential for problems are factored in, there is no point using eBay for the same types of items you can find locally.

Fashion pieces you can find on eBay at discounted prices:

  • Designer, vintage and discontinued jewelry and watches - I bought a brand new Citizen watch from Canada-based eBay store estreetplazacanada for less than half of its $475 retail price.
  • Shoes — if you know your size and how particular designers fit, you can realize huge discounts on brand-name footwear. I snagged a pair of $200 Cole Haan flats for $35 from store apparelsave because of a minor flaw I was able to fix.
  • High end clothing and handbags — you can find both new (typically last season) and pre-loved items. To ensure fit, I’ve tried on clothing brands at a brick-and-mortar store first. Then, I’ve bought new dresses by designers such as Black Halo and Alexander McQueen from eBay, wore them to a few formal events, and sold to get half my money back.
  • Accessories, sunglasses, make-up and perfume — I made the mistake of falling in love with a very expensive Tom Ford scent, but luckily found sellers on eBay that sell trial sizes of it for pennies.

Tips and tricks I’ve learned from years on eBay:

  • If you want to snag an item on auction, set it to your watchlist and then be prepared to bid during the last minute. If the item is popular, you may notice other bidders upping the price in those final seconds. If you really want it, don’t bid in incremental pennies, but jump up to price you are willing to pay in the final 15 seconds.
  • Some items are not on auction, but at a set price called “Buy It Now”, or BIN for short. If you’re not willing to pay the BIN price, feel free to contact the seller and make an offer.
  • Always scrutinize shipping costs. Sometimes shipping outweighs any potential savings.
  • If you are concerned about additional duties, set your search to items within Canada only. This function is on the left column of search results.
  • Check if the vendor has their own independent online store. Some designer consigners such as YoogisCloset.com and AnnsFabulousFinds.com list on eBay to attract buyer,s but offer items at lower prices through their own websites as they don’t have to pay eBay fees.
  • While you do have to be very cautious of designer knock-offs (more on this below), note that lookalikes are not illegal as long as the item isn’t patented (not typical for fashion) or using a copyrighted image (such as Louis Vuitton’s “LV” canvas). I like to try one of these items to test a product before investing in the real thing. For example, I bought one of the many Cartier Love bracelet knock-offs (not a counterfeit but a similar style). After wearing it for a while, I found I didn’t like it and decided to not invest in a real one.
  • If you are looking for designer handbags, I’ve found many of the best sellers are based in Japan. They are often considerably less than sellers based in the U.S. and Europe, provide free shipping, and sometimes get past customs without additional duties. Note  this is no guarantee and you must always factor in duties when purchasing from another country.

How to buy on eBay safely:

  • The most important thing is to ensure you are buying from a reputable seller. Always check the seller’s feedback ratings. Don’t just look at star ratings; actually read the feedback, both positive and negative, from buyers on similar items. Bulk sellers may have thousands of ratings and an individual only a few. But if you see a high ticket item, such as an Hermes Birkin, at a ridiculously low price from a “0” feedback seller, steer clear.
  • Beware of knock-offs. Popular and expensive items such as designer bags and jewelry are commonly sold fake, complete with all markings and documentation. EBay does have policy against selling counterfeit products, but can’t catch everything. The maxim “if it’s too good to be true” applies to eBay.
  • Always ask the seller any questions you have. If they are slow to answer or simply don’t, avoid them.
  • Authenticate items. Educate yourself on what to look for in authentic goods. EBay has many articles on “how to spot a fake”. You can also use authentication services or post on online forums using the proper thread and format.
  • Always check the seller’s return policy. Even if the seller doesn’t accept returns, you are protected by eBay if the item you receive is not the item represented in the listing.
  • Use PayPal as your payment method for eBay purchases. PayPal and eBay are in partnership and using PayPal offers double protection should anything go wrong with the transaction.
  • If there is a problem, follow eBay’s dispute resolution process. Good sellers will always try to make it right and eBay will hold them to it.

What not to buy on eBay:

  • Bridal wear — there are simply too many horror stories of brides receiving ill-fitting, cheap gowns or not getting their dress in time for the wedding.
  • Unless you are an expert, don’t buy diamonds or other gemstones on eBay. The exception to this rule is authentic designer brands.
  • Don’t bother with heavy or large items, unless it’s worth it with shipping factored in.
  • Unless you are willing to pay a premium, don’t bother going to eBay for current limited edition items. For example, when Coach recently put out a special Minnie Mouse handbag collection, some sellers bought up much of the available stock and then posted sold-out items on eBay at a significant mark-up. It’s like the fashion version of scalped tickets.

Happy bidding! 


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About the Author

Marla is best known for her 19-year career in the local charitable sector as a fund development and marketing manager with the Okanagan Regional Library, United Way, UBC Okanagan, and Kelowna Community Resources. 

In 2014, Marla and her husband decided to take a break from the work world, and, four years, later they are still enjoying Okanagan summers, winters in Mexico, and extensive travel. 

Marla has had a life-long passion for fashion, designing her own graduation dress and formal gown for the 1990 Miss Interior competition before age 20.

In 2014, she was named one of nine Style Ambassadors for a year-long marketing campaign at Orchard Park Mall. Her motto is “Life is short...you might as well go through it looking good."

If you have a style question or topic you’d like Marla to cover in this column, contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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