or, “how I find all those $4 cameras.”
Part 1: eBay
As my collection has grown and my journey through the world of photography progresses, I have achieved a bit of a reputation as a bargain hunter. I primarily find them in three places: eBay, Craigslist, and thrift stores.
I won’t go into a lot of detail regarding the mechanics of eBay. Most people have some experience with it, and there are plenty of resources elsewhere. I will however teach you a few of my secrets.
First and most importantly: IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS. Not probably. It is. That guy who found a mint condition 1955 Leica M3 in a box when Grandad died, has no idea what it is, and wants $10 ‘Buy-it-now’ for the strange old camera? He sold it in 2002. He has been replaced by a thousand people who think the Pentax K1000 they bought for a photography class in 1986 is now worth $500 because it’s old. Do your research.
With that aside, we need to find something to buy. If you are looking for something specific, enter it into the search box and enjoy the hunt. We’ll come back to you later. Feel like browsing? Come along with me.
Secret #1. Shop at odd times. More people are active on eBay on nights and weekends. Prices and competition go up. These are good times to end your auction as a seller, but we buyers can do better. If you can shop Tuesday noon, do it.
Secret #2. Order your search. By default, eBay presents your items in a Most Relevant order. This is a nebulous format created by the search engine to make you see what it wants you to see. Change it. Order your results by Ending Soonest. This gives you the best chance of finding something interesting which others have missed.
Now that we’ve found something we want, we can rejoin our friends from above. The next step is to read the listing carefully. Make sure you are bidding on the camera you think you are getting, not a manual, picture, or model of the item. If the asking price seems extremely low, double check. Scrutinize descriptions, and make sure the camera is not listed as parts only/not working/for repair, etc. Check shipping cost, methods, and location. Sometimes these can be surprising.
Check the seller’s feedback rating. I prefer to believe the vast majority of sellers are good people, but I have had a problem or two. I will not bid with anyone with a positive feedback rating of less than 98%. Beware of sellers with low feedback counts; they may be simply new and inexperienced, or they may be operating under a new name after ruining their old one.
Secret #3. Your bid. This is more important than it sounds. Decide the maximum amount your are willing to pay. This is not the bid you want to enter now, or the price you think you can win for. This is the ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM you are willing to pay for the camera. Now tweak that amount slightly. You don’t want to lose by a nickel. If you are bidding $55.00, increase by a few cents to $55.27.
This is your bid. You will not revisit it, because it is the most you are willing to pay. If you lose, you lose fair and square. Revisiting bids causes you to bid against yourself, and you will end up paying too much.
Secret #4. Sniping. This is the act of bidding at the last possible moment. It reduces opportunities for other bidders to come along and bid against you. Even if you prevail in a bidding war, you end up paying more.
You can always snipe manually, sitting at your computer at odd hours with your finger poised to click the bid button. It won’t help your social life, though. There are multiple software packages and services which can store your bid and place it at the appropriate time for you. I am a fan of eSnipe.com and have used it to good effect.
So there you have my secrets to winning bargains on eBay: shop at odd times, order your search, bid only once, and snipe. Good luck.