General Thoughts – Buying on eBay

So this year I did something I had not done before: I dived into the vast online bazaar that is eBay and did some buying and some selling. I thought I would share some of my thoughts on both experiences, because maybe this is something you’ve shied away from as well. Or maybe you’re a savvy eBay pro and you’ll have some tips for me… I’ll break it into two parts, so today’s post is on buying on eBay, and next week’s is on selling.

I should also provide some context, as I think that’s important in this case. I turned to eBay specifically to shop for Warmachine and Hordes models. So I was looking for specific items with a specific purpose. I imagine the buying experience could be completely different if you’re more… browsing.

I had done most of my online shopping, for years, on Amazon – and when I started Warmachine and Hordes, this was no exception (especially without a game store in town stocking anything for the game). However, I came to find that everything that seems to be on Amazon, pretty much, for the game is coming from third party sellers – and their “free shipping” is not so free when you live in Alaska. And our Amazon Prime didn’t apply either. So I would see a deal, and then see $10 shipping, and suddenly it’s no longer a deal.

I turned from there to online game stores, but then Privateer Press (who makes the game) announced that they no longer wanted online retailers undercutting brick and mortar stores by so much… so right after I started my Trollbloods army and had ordered some models, the price went up on everything else if I wanted to buy more. I had also turned to eBay when I started looking at the Trollbloods, so I kind of doubled-down on eBay at that point.

So in something close to the order I experienced things, here are some of my thoughts on buying on eBay…

The Confusing – Buying Big Lots

So like I said, I started looking to get into Hordes, to buy a Trollbloods army. So what does one do but type in Trollbloods and see what you get… and from there, you get a lot, but especially catching my eye at first were the big lots.

That is to say, the sales of whole armies at once. This is a fairly common thing in something like miniatures war gaming; when someone changes to a new faction, or realizes they have reached a point where they have too many factions, or leave the game, or get salty because of a rules change (this is what I was hoping for in the first place!)… they sell the army on eBay. I had heard of this practice, and when I talk about selling, we’ll touch on this a lot more. But as a preview… some of my thought was to sell my old Warhammer stuff to buy Warmachine and Hordes stuff.

So the problem with buying a big lot was that it would be me doing things in the wrong order… I hadn’t sold anything yet, I didn’t have a big stack of disposable models-money lying around to buy a whole army. There was one lot in particular that really had my attention, I ran the numbers on what they would all cost to buy on Amazon, I built army lists and thought about how I would use the models…

And that got me finding the holes. The models missing, the things I would still want to buy. I was looking at buying a big lot, and then spending another $100 or more just to get started. It felt really confusing and stressful to consider. A good value… a huge expense… savings… but also not…

I didn’t bid. I moved on to finding specific models I wanted.

The Annoying – Winning Bid Limits

So then I found someone who was selling an army piece-meal, each model or unit individually. Their prices were good. The models were built and primed, so that was a little bonus. And they said they would combine the shipping cost if you won multiple items – which is an awesome feature on eBay.

However, as I started looking through and bidding on all sorts of basic essentials for my Trollbloods army… I quickly hit the cap on winning bids. Which is only a few bids. It seems that, more than anything, this might have had to do with me being a new user on the site… but it was incredibly frustrating.

The seller had even done a great job of staggering their items, a few every few hours every evening for a few days. Meaning if I had bid first on the earlier items, then moved on to bid on later items, I could have won more. Instead, I had bid more in terms of which models were most important, then all of a sudden… ones that were a good deal that were ending sooner were totally out of my reach. I couldn’t place a bid.

Sorry, good seller. I would have liked to have bought more of your things.

The Annoying – Auto-Bids

So this is incredibly confusing as a new bidder, and is still frustrating once you know what’s happening. When you bid on something someone else has bid on, you might get immediately out-bid. This is because they can set a maximum bid they are willing to place, but you only have to technically pay slightly more than the most recent bid. So someone can set that amount they are willing to pay, and never look back – leaving the agonizing to you, the second (or later) person to come along. You have to decide how high you want to go on an incremental basis, potentially.

And I mean, I’ve been in a real life auction before, at charity events. I’ve seen a bidding war like this. But automating it is still annoying. Early on, it makes you feel like you did something wrong, and later on it can hit you with things like too-many-bids-too-soon limits or other issues. It also kind of artificially inflates the “number of bids” amount as you incrementally work your way up, getting auto-outbid over and over.

The Annoying – All that matters is those last few minutes

So eBay items tend to be up for a week or more, giving time for people to browse and find them, for bids and people agonizing over whether they want something – and for what price. But really, other than the discovery time, for something that more than one person has an eye on – all that matters is the last few minutes.

I mean, it’s basically an online bidding cliche that items will be snatched up from under your nose in the last few moments of the item being up. Or that’s when the bidding war really takes off. It’s led to my most agonizing when trying to buy – and can lead to some of the worst decision making. I guess my worse decisions were potentially to not buy rather than to buy (I think I missed a few deals), but I think you could just as easily fall in the trap of paying more than you initially wanted or intended – or more than you need to compared to, say, another item on the site.

Mulg the Ancient

For instance, I was trying to win the king of all Trolldom, Mulg the Ancient. Who got nerfed epically and is still pretty good… Anyway, I knew I wanted him and I was watching a lot of auctions for him. One with a low price and high shipping cost. One with free shipping but going for more. Trying to compare those prices. See how far I wanted to go. Let the first auction go… then watched the second auction get more expensive than the first went for. I let that one go too, and I got Mulg later on… for more than I think either of those auctions.

The Good – Watchlist

So there is something that can help counteract the last-few-minutes problem… while also compounding it, I suppose. And that is that there is a very good watchlist you can populate, with items you’re thinking of buying – or several of the same so you can comparison shop.

You can get notified when a watchlist item is getting close to the end of its run. You can also get notified if a watchlist item is re-listed, so you can re-watch it. Often this will be at a new, lower price! Or at least sellers have the option for that. I missed something that was relisted lower and in the time it took for my brain to go “that’s the price I should go for” someone had already done “Buy It Now” and it was gone. So the watchlist worked, even if I didn’t!

The Good – Saved searches

Complementing the watchlist is the ability to save a search for later use, a feature that I’ve found works easier and is more apparent on the App than in a browser (where it’s in the Advanced Search). Sure, sometimes there’s some good stuff and you watchlist it. Sometimes there’s not, and you just have to look again later. That’s what saved searches are all about!

I could see this being even better for searches outside of what I was doing. If you’re looking for something that maybe doesn’t have as commonly used a name (as opposed to specific models from a specific army from a specific company), once you find a search that works, that’s worth keeping! Or just in general to keep track of things you like to look for on eBay.

The Good – Accurate shipping prices

Alright, so you’ve searched, you’ve found, you’ve bid, you’ve won, you’ve got stuff on the way. I don’t have too much I want to say about this, because it’s private individuals or perhaps small businesses sending things – so it’s very much a Your Mileage May Vary situation when it comes to results. Mine have been good; a few breaks on models received because that’s just going to happen in the mail. They were all at existing joints and took a little glue.

What I can comment on, and which was a big deal for me, was that the estimated shipping that eBay had listed under the items was accurate. Because on Amazon, this was one of my big problems – something from a third party seller would say “Free Shipping” or have a listed price, but we’re in Alaska – so those were rarely accurate.

However they’ve done it, eBay accurately has the prices listed for shipping – including the Free Shipping. So sometimes I see a deal, click into it, and see WHOA EPIC SHIPPING COST and I walk away. But that’s good to know upfront. On Amazon, I was having to get to the final payment page to find that out – very frustrating!

Final Thoughts

Like I said, I’m still very new to the world of eBay, but I have bid and won things pretty recently – had an item listed as “or best offer” and sent an offer, got back a counteroffer, and then sent them a message saying that the shipping was pretty high to my area and I wasn’t going to go up more… SOLD!

Next week, expect my thoughts on selling on eBay, with a whole new slew of problems and woes! Let me know if you have questions, or definitely if you have advice!

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