Here I will share with you some of the things I have learned from shopping on eBay in general, and specifically for LEGO. I have been an eBay buyer and seller since the year 2000 with over a thousand transactions, and I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
First of all, let me say that eBay is a great place to shop for pretty much anything that you might be looking for. You can find everything from books, clothing, jewelry, electronics, video games, collectibles, cars, and even airplanes! I often say that if something is not on eBay it must not exist!
eBay is not one big company selling items, but more like a flea-market, where lots of ordinary individuals, and small and large businesses set up their “virtual tables” with items for sale. Just like at a real flea-market, you want to use some common sense caution to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of. I would ad here that eBay has strict rules for sellers to list and sell items, and buyers have full protection on most items in case the deal turns sour. (You can read about eBay’s Buyer Protection policies here.) The items sold can be brand new, used, or even broken. As long as the description is clear, there is always someone who is interested to buy. As the saying goes; “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure”.
REGISTRATION: Although you are welcome to browse eBay without being a member, to start shopping you will need to register. Registration is free, and it will allow you to watch items you are interested in, save searches, bid on auctions, and purchase items offered for sale. You can also set up email alerts for particular search-terms, so when an item gets listed, you will be the first to know about it.
FINDING ITEMS: You can find items by browsing the Categories section, or you can just type in keywords in the search box for the items you are interested in. Whereas on Bricklink every LEGO part is neatly organized and categorized – therefore easy to find – this is not the case on eBay. On eBay LEGO items would most likely appear under the Toys & Hobbies category, but the items themselves are listed with any keywords they seller chooses to. For example a seller may list LEGO 10179 Star Wars Millennium Falcon with all those keywords, so it easy to find. But another seller may list the same set as LEGO 10179, so you would only find it if you search by set number, but not by the words LEGO Millennium Falcon - which would give a different search result. And someone else, who is not very familiar with Star Wars or LEGO, may list the same set as Gray LEGO Spaceship. Another seller may misspell Millennium with one “l” or “n”, therefore making it harder to find. (In fact misspells and listings where the seller is not familiar with what they are selling are great ways to get auction-items for bargain prices!)
THE ITEM PAGE: When you find items you are interested in make sure you read through the entire item page. I always check the following:
PICTURES: I check out all the pictures of the item carefully in their largest view. Even by the way the picture is taken I can tell a lot about the seller. Several clear pictures usually indicate an honest, upfront seller. Dim, fuzzy or tiny pictures may mean that the seller is trying to hide something – or they may just have a bad camera – but I certainly take note. Is the seller using stock photos (generic photos of the item they may have taken off the Internet), or photos of the exact item they are selling? Unless the item is listed as brand new, I would be weary of stock photos. I have had a couple of incidences where the seller’s actual item was something different (and cheaper) then shown on the stock-photo and had to go through the trouble of returning it.
DESCRIPTION: I carefully read through the description of the item. This is absolutely essential. You may think that looking at the pictures is enough, but often the seller will give additional details in the description that may change your interest in the item, or how much you are willing to pay. For example in the LEGO category there are several minifigures that are actually converted keychain figures with the keychain-part removed (something you cannot always detect from the pictures). Although you may still be interested to buy them, these are often worth a lot less then regular LEGO minifigures. Unless you read the description you would probably bid higher then what the minifig is actually worth. If the seller truthfully stated in the description that the minifig is a converted keychain, but you haven’t read it, you have no basis upon which to open a dispute and you are stuck in a not-so-good deal.
SHIPPING: Shipping fees can make or break a deal, so always make sure you are clear on what it will cost. If you are buying more than one item from the same seller they may also have a combined shipping policy. If you are not sure, ask the seller before bidding or making the purchase, as once you hit the “buy” button you are in a binding contract. I would ad here that high shipping fees are not always a bad thing. I have won several auctions where no-one bid due to the high shipping fees and I was able to get the items for pennies, and even with the high shipping fee added, the overall deal was excellent.
FEEDBACK: I always check the seller’s feedback. If they have at least 50 positive feedbacks with no negatives, I would be confident to buy. If they have no feedback or some non-positive feedback I would contact the seller and ask some questions just to get a feel for them (unless they look like an outright fraud). Sometimes due to inexperience or mistakes, a seller ends up with non-positive feedbacks, but they want to get back on track and earn your business. These, and some purchases from zero feedback sellers who were just beginning their eBay career, were some of my best experiences. However if you are just starting out shopping on eBay I would suggest that you stick with established sellers. As you get more savvy, you will get a better feel for weeding out good sellers from the fraudulent ones. Also, make sure you leave feedback to the seller after the transaction is done. This helps their rating, and also helps other buyers to know which sellers to shop from.
AUCTION vs. FIXED PRICE: Sellers have the choice to list their items as an auction, or offer them for a fixed price. Auctions can last anywhere from 1-10 days, with 7 days being the most common. If you would like the item fast, I would recommend buying it for a fixed price (if the price makes sense, of course). If you don’t mind the wait and the possible bidding-war you can pick up good deals on auctions.
One caveat I would offer is to make sure you are very clear on the maximum amount you are willing to pay. This way you don’t get caught up in a bidding-war and end up paying more than you intended. Both for auctions and for fixed price listings I would suggest that you check out the Bricklink Price Guide so that you get a feel for what the LEGO set, part or minifig is going for. In addition, you can also check eBay’s completed listings and see what has been the going price for the item you are interested in.
Also, if you are planning to bid on a regular basis I highly recommend Bidnapper’s Auction Sniper, a bidding service that will bid on your behalf up to your maximum established amount. Bidnapper does something called “sniping”, which is bidding for the item in the last few seconds. This way other bidders have no chance to outbid you. (You can try them out for free at the above link.) I have been using Bidnapper for years on all my eBay bidding. I consider it a most essential tool.
EBAY vs. BRICKLINK: This is a question LEGO-fans often ask; which of the two is the ultimate place to shop? I would say “both”. BrickLink is far better and cheaper for buying individual parts and minifigs. Also since BrickLink is all about LEGO you will easily find exactly what you want from sellers who sellers who care about LEGO as much as you do.
However eBay is often cheaper for full sets, especially discontinued or used LEGO sets. I have picked up several discontinued sets far below the Bricklink price. eBay is also great for buying bulk LEGO. If you do decide to buy a bulk LEGO-lot just make sure the seller is reputable and the pictures are about the exact bulk lot you are buying. Otherwise you could end up with a bunch of junky parts or even non-LEGO items mixed in. I do not recommend LEGO-by-the-pound deals. These are often heavily cherry-picked and worth a lot less what you end up paying for them.
As a summary, I would say that eBay is a great place to shop for LEGO! Some basic bargain-hunting skills and a little market research can get you some of the best deals available anywhere! My intent here is to give you a solid foundation and get you a head-start in the eBay shopping game. And if you really get into it I would also recommend reading eBay For Dummies by Marsha Collier for further tips and tricks.
Also, if you have any eBay related questions, comments, or just want to tell about a great deal you have found on eBay, let me know in the comment section below. Happy eBayin’!
You may also want to check out these posts for further ideas: