The Beginner's Guide To Finding The Good Stuff On eBay

Illustrated by Norah Stone.
To put it simply, I find eBay intimidating. Now, I know it can't be that difficult to use — the site wouldn't have millions of users, after all, if it was so impossible to figure out. And yet, despite the fact that so many people sing its praises, I've just never been able to make it feel like second nature (or score any brag-worthy fashion finds on it, either).

Over the last year or so, though, I started hearing more and more women in my professional circle responding, "I got it on eBay!" when asked where their killer Prada shoes or perfect-fitting Levi's jeans were from. And that's when I realized: eBay is a goldmine for items that, a) no one else will have, and b) aren't technically available for sale anymore. But getting into the groove doesn't just happen overnight. It requires enlisting the pros for the down low on how to successfully navigate the deepest, darkest, secret corners of eBay — while also finding "the good stuff" in a sea full of "mehs."

And that's where these three stylish ladies come in. We asked Emily Holland, Refinery29's very own styling director, jewelry designer Pamela Love, and Linda Lightman, founder of Linda's Stuff, one of the most massive and successful shops on eBay, to share their tips and tricks for doing things right. Read on to see what I learned (it's a lot!), and consider this your beginner's guide to jumping (headfirst!) into the eBay action.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
The first key to successfully navigating eBay is setting a clear goal. This isn't to say that browsing is off-limits (I've learned it's almost impossible to stop browsing once you get in the swing of things), but there are clearly a ton of products on the site that can distract you from your main purpose. If you go in with an idea of what you're looking for, you're less likely to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all. And once you have that intention in mind, you can use eBay's search tools and filters to help get you there.

"Don’t be intimidated — eBay is the most user-friendly shopping site, and the search filters are amazing for a new eBay-er," Lightman says. "I would start by searching for things you are currently looking for (i.e., if you want a new pair of Rag & Bone jeans or a pair of Sorel snow boots, search for them on eBay to compare prices with what they're selling for in stores), and you can narrow things down based on the product’s name, model, size, and so on." The most important part of finding what you want (and getting a good deal on it), is paying close attention to retail prices in order to avoid high markups.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Holland agrees that aimlessly wandering through eBay isn't the best idea: "It's very hard to 'just browse,' and I even struggle when my search just isn't specific enough," she says. "I use eBay more for, say, a super-specific item I saw someone wearing on the street that I have to get my hands on. You find the gems when you really narrow in, like looking for wide-leg khaki pants by Ralph Lauren."

Once you have your general goal in mind (like snow boots or jeans), do like Holland recommends and get really specific: "Search by 'time-ending' — sometimes items ending in the middle of the night are the best if you want to bid on something because everyone else is asleep," Lightman suggests. Clearly, timing is key, and that's one piece of pro advice we'll be putting to good use.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
While eBay has begun placing more emphasis on new products in recent years (Pamela Love even worked with them on a capsule jewelry collection where 100% of proceeds went to a cancer charity), our pros generally agree that eBay is more fun for searching for the old stuff — but old in a good way. We're talking vintage gems, collectors' items, and hard-to-come-by brands or styles.

"Sure, you can buy new stuff, but it's more about the interesting pieces and less about the new designer pieces," Holland says. "It's about the novelty of what you can find, or getting a good steal."

Still, though, it might surprise some beginner eBay-ers to know that not everything on the site is used. "eBay is the best place to get a deal on new with tags ('nwt') items. A lot of people don’t know that nearly 80% of items sold on eBay are new," Lightman adds. "If you have a list of things you always buy, like Madewell jeans, Lululemon workout gear, or J.Crew cashmere sweaters, look for them on eBay first. You’ll be surprised at what you will find."
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
eBay is all about taking second chances on missed buying opportunities. Where else do you think all those designer collaborations end up? "eBay is the best place to find limited-editions and capsule- or diffusion- collection items that sell out immediately online and in stores, like the Yeezy Boost [350s] or [pieces from] Balmain x H&M," Lightman, who sells designer and name-brand items at up to 80% off herself, explains.

And, since fast-fashion moves so damn fast, eBay is also a great way to get another chance on styles from Zara and H&M, too. I saw someone wearing a Zara faux leather jacket that was no longer available, and found it on eBay that night for the ticket price (and it's won me all the compliments).
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
As is the case whenever ordering online, sizing can be tricky. Even though most sellers are pretty good with supplying specific measurements on clothing, that doesn't mean shoppers always use them. Love admits to ending up with a bunch of shoes that don't fit, which might be why she tends to stick to jewelry or handbags, as many people do, since a lot of accessories are one-size-fits-all. Plus, when it comes to these types of goods, eBay really is a paradise.

"I love looking for vintage jewelry for my personal collection — I collect jewelry from certain periods of time, and I find it really fun to find that stuff on eBay," she explains.

If you are going to shop for apparel, be sure to have a measuring tape on hand to ensure the item will fit properly. Worst-case scenario, if it doesn't, most sellers have pretty understanding return policies.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
If there's a certain designer or category of items you collect, eBay is your new happy place. "I’m a huge Dries Van Noten fan, and I love its pieces from previous eras and periods, so I like to see what I can find from Dries and hunt for any category I can get my hands on," Love says. So, sometimes, when it comes to collecting, that specific goal is just a certain designer and not a specific category.

"I’ve [also] gotten some really beautiful Mexican silver jewelry. Sometimes you have to go to 1stdibs and places like that to find it, but once in a blue moon you'll find it on eBay. I found a couple cool pieces over the past year that I wear all the time," she adds. So, if you don't already collect something meaningful, eBay can be the perfect catalyst to begin a collection of your own.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
There are a few features every eBay beginner should be aware of and put to good use. The first: "Always check out the seller’s ratings," Lightman says. "This is another great thing about eBay shopping. You get to pick who you want to buy from based on their track record."

The next is the alerts feature, where you can save your favorite searches and get notified when something is listed. Holland notes that the alerts can be a bit annoying if you save a search that gets a ton of listings every day.

Finally, Lightman recommends: "If you don’t want to immediately pull the purchase-trigger, you can always add the item to your watch list. And eBay will also suggest more items that are similar to your 'watched' items." Love agrees: "I definitely come back to things that I’ve watched as a way to bookmark things that I'm not ready to bid on yet but still want to keep in mind."
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
So, you've gone in with a goal, narrowed down your search, and found the vintage gem of your dreams. Now, you're ready to buy — how do you actually do it?

"This is where a lot of people get intimidated by eBay," Lightman says. "They think everything is an auction and you have to be glued to your computer to 'win' the item. In fact, nearly 85% of eBay’s GMV (gross merchandise volume) is at a fixed price. Also, you can always email the seller directly to 'make an offer,' which is another great part of eBay. You can haggle and try to get the price you want to pay!" Again: Who knew?

To break it down, there are three options when it comes to purchasing items on eBay. "Buy It Now" allows you to, well, buy the item right then and there; "Auction" means you set the maximum bid amount you're willing to pay for the item; and "Best Offer" gives you the ability to offer your best price, as Lightman mentioned, which is beneficial to both the buyer and seller. "From the buyer’s perspective, let's say you want to purchase an item that is listed for $100, but you know that you can only spend $75. You can make the offer to the seller (who realizes that the item has maybe been re-listed a few times or hasn't yet sold) and can then make a sale based on your proposal," she says.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Unsurprisingly, eBay also has a mobile app; the surprising part is that it's actually worth downloading. "The mobile app is amazing," Lightman raves. "You can take shopping breaks in the middle of your day, or search for your favorite items. You can get alerts on when sales are ending or new items are re-listed, so you’re literally able to be shopping 24/7. You can also list items directly from your smartphone, too. It’s as easy as uploading a photo."

It's also a great way to ask friends for advice on what to buy: "You can browse on the go, and if you are waiting to bid on something, you don't have to be by the computer to do it," Holland says, which is especially useful for that late-night bidding strategy mentioned a few slides back.
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Illustrated by Norah Stone.
Of course, even though we've approached most of these tips from a shopper's perspective, the whole other side to eBay is selling — and Lightman has some expertise to share there, too. "To be successful on eBay, I always say you have to be honest, period. Linda’s Stuff has built a reputation for selling authentic luxury items — our consignors and buyers trust us. It’s hugely important in this industry." So, just like in life in general, honesty is the best policy.

But aside from being real with your customers, you've got to give them what they want. Be familiar with the product you're selling, educate yourself about the market, and use common sense: "Sellers don't want a bad rating, so they generally won't sell something fake or misleading," Holland says. But, she has noticed that in selling, the more visual you can give people, the better, and Love agrees.

“I think there’s definitely a science to how you sell things and how you photograph things — my photography isn’t always so great," she says. "People get really professional about it. I had a friend who had a business for a while selling other people's clothes on eBay and she got really editorial about it." So, obviously, if you want something to sell, you've got to make it look desirable.

What I've realized from all of this, though, is that eBay, like anything else, takes practice. The more and longer you use it, the more you get your buying and selling strategies down-pat and your preferences on lock. And the more you'll end up scoring the goods of your dreams (and maybe make some extra money, too).

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