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eBay: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner

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How to Find What You're Looking For

When you head for the mall, you might be in the mood to window-shop or you might be on a search-and-purchase mission for a specific item. Similarly, you have two options for finding things to buy on eBay: you can browse, or you can use eBay's search engine to home in on what you want with laser-guided precision.

To start shopping, click the Buy link at the top of any eBay page, as shown in Figure 1-6. That link takes you to the eBay Buy page shown in Figure 1-7. The Buy page is the home of eBay's search engine.

The eBay logo and these links appear at the top of nearly every page on eBay and are a great navigation aid. Wherever you wander on the site, Help is only a click away. To begin shopping, click the Buy link.

Figure 1-6. The eBay logo and these links appear at the top of nearly every page on eBay and are a great navigation aid. Wherever you wander on the site, Help is only a click away. To begin shopping, click the Buy link.

The eBay Buy page lets you search for specific items or browse using categories or themes. Browse Categories lists eBay's main categories and gives you a peek at some of the subcategories.

Figure 1-7. The eBay Buy page lets you search for specific items or browse using categories or themes. Browse Categories lists eBay's main categories and gives you a peek at some of the subcategories.

Tip

You don't have to start on the Buy page when you want to search current auctions. Use the Search box in the upper-right corner of all eBay pages. Where it says "Start new search," type in your keywords, then click the Search button—and you're off.

Whether you choose to browse or to search for a particular item, you'll wind up on a results page with a list of current auctions for your topic. To look at any item in more detail, click the item title to go to its auction page. The auction page is where you can read a description of the specific item, check out other bidders, and, if you want, place your own bid. You can read about the ins and outs of auction pages on Section 1.3.

Just Browsing, Thanks

If you don't have a specific item in mind, you can browse through eBay's 30-plus main categories and seemingly infinite subcategories. eBay tweaks its categories frequently, letting you drill down to what you want with ever-more precision.

From the Buy page, eBay gives you several options for browsing:

  • Browse Categories. Under Browse Categories, if you click any of the links, eBay takes you to the main page for that category. From the category page, you can type in a search term (a keyword that describes the item you're looking for, like iPod or nutcracker), select a subcategory, or see what others have been searching for. To piggyback on the searches other people have conducted, simply scroll down to Popular Searches (on the left side) and click any of the listed links.

    Note

    Just because a search term is popular doesn't mean it's useful. Often, common but meaningless words like of, the, or to top the list of popular searches.

  • eBay Keywords. If your mind works best in alphabetical order, this option is for you. eBay's computers keep track of popular searches and list them alphabetically. If you click a letter, eBay shows you terms starting with that letter that others have searched for recently.

  • Common Searches. This option also uses keywords, organized in a slightly different—and harder to navigate—format. It's still alphabetical, but it's less selective; it seems to have every phrase anyone has ever used to search eBay, from a 100 (auction titles containing a standalone letter a and the number 100) to zzzzzz (which seems to be a popular, if not very descriptive, keyword in bedding auctions). Huge and cumbersome, Common Searches is not a helpful way to browse.

  • Popular Products. This page shows popular items in popular categories. The hottest items related to entertainment and electronics frequently show up here.

  • eBay Stores. These stores feature fixed-price items that don't always appear in regular auction searches. Listings in eBay Stores last longer than regular auctions: from 30 days to indefinite (or, of course, until sold). For more on eBay Stores, see Section 7.3.

  • eBay Pulse. To see what's hot on eBay, check out eBay Pulse. (You can get there directly by typing pulse.ebay.com into your Web browser's address bar.) eBay Pulse displays the top searches, the largest stores, and the most-watched auctions.

Searching

Searching is one of the primary things people do on eBay: buyers search for items they want to bid on; sellers search to compare prices or check the market for an item they'd like to sell. But searching on eBay is tricky business. Because there are millions of auctions running at any given moment, sifting through all that information to find that one specific item you're looking for can be trickier than finding an enthusiastic sales clerk at Wal-Mart. This section shows you the basics of searching so you can get up to speed quickly. (Chapter 3 has more info on power searching.)

You can start a search from just about any eBay page by using the Search box in the upper-right corner. Inside the box are the words "Start new search"; click this phrase to clear the text box, then type in what you're looking for—say, DVD recorder. Click the Search button or press Enter, and you're off and shopping.

Reading your search results

Figure 1-8 shows you a typical Search Results page. The first thing you want to do is scan the item titles listed in the middle of the page. When you see something you're interested in—say, the Sony DVD Recorder shown in Figure 1-8—slide your eyes to the right to see whether this auction lets you use PayPal, a service for transferring funds from your credit card or bank account directly to the seller. The PayPal icon, a small, blue double P, tells you that a seller will let you pay through this system.

In the middle of the Search Results page, under List View, eBay shows you the item title, whether the seller accepts PayPal (a double P icon means yes), the current price, how many bids so far (or whether the item is a fixed-price Buy It Now item), and how much time is left for bidding. (For more on Buy It Now auctions, see Section 1.4.3.) The small camera icon means there's a photo on the auction page; some sellers pay a little extra to include a small photo, called a gallery photo, in the results list. The Compare button lets you comparison-shop, described in detail on Section 3.2.2. To view a particular auction, click its title.

Figure 1-8. In the middle of the Search Results page, under List View, eBay shows you the item title, whether the seller accepts PayPal (a double P icon means yes), the current price, how many bids so far (or whether the item is a fixed-price Buy It Now item), and how much time is left for bidding. (For more on Buy It Now auctions, see Section 1.4.3.) The small camera icon means there's a photo on the auction page; some sellers pay a little extra to include a small photo, called a gallery photo, in the results list. The Compare button lets you comparison-shop, described in detail on Section 3.2.2. To view a particular auction, click its title.

Note

PayPal is usually the easiest way to pay for things, and a lot of buyers bid only in auctions that accept PayPal. You can find out more about PayPal and other popular payment methods on Section 2.3.

Keep sliding your eyes right to see the current bid (the price you need to beat), how many bids have been placed on the item so far (which tells you how hot an item is), and how much time's left for you to jump into the fray (d means days; m means minutes; s means you're out of luck unless you're a really, really fast typist).

If all systems are go and you want to learn more about an item or place a bid, just click the item description to jump to an auction page with details and bidding choices. (For the skinny on auction pages, flip to Section 1.3.)

Tip

eBay lets you customize your search results, which can be a good way to home in on an item within a price-range, sold near your home, closing within a day, or many other factors. On the right side above the results list, click Customize Display. On the page that opens, select the options you want (such as shipping cost or distance) and click Save.

Better Searching

Often, a basic search gives you too many results, including a ton of items you're not even interested in. For example, if you're looking for a printer, you might get a bunch of listings for related results, like ink cartridges and printer cables. Save your eyes and let eBay winnow out some of those results from you. The following sections show you how.

Matching Categories

One way to narrow your search is to click one of the Matching Categories on the left-hand side of the results page. For example, in Figure 1-8, if personal video recorders are what you're really looking for, you could whittle down the 1,134 matches to only those listed under the category Digital Video Recorders PVR, which has just 20 items.

Finder

Some popular items display a Finder on the left-hand side of the results page (shown in Figure 1-8) that lets you specify product type, brand, and other parameters, like size, style, or color. Taking advantage of the Finder is another way to narrow down overwhelming search results.

Picture Gallery

eBay believes the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you're looking for something specific—for example, you've got a vision dancing in your head of a little black dress with spaghetti straps and a ruffled hem—use gallery view to help you weed out the wrong auctions and zero in on the right ones. Gallery view filters out auctions without a gallery picture, so you won't wear out your clicking finger (or your patience) clicking those little green cameras to see if maybe, just maybe, an auction has what you're looking for.

To switch to gallery view, look above the items listed on the Search Results page for a link called Picture Gallery (Figure 1-8). If you click this link, eBay leaves out non-picture-gallery items and reformats your search results to look like a catalog (Figure 1-9).

Gallery view is a little easier on the eyes than list view. The photos are larger, and the results are less squeezed in. On the other hand, you see fewer items on a page (24 in gallery view as opposed to 50 in list view), and items without a gallery photo don't show up at all—so you might miss a good deal if you view your search results using only Picture Gallery.

Figure 1-9. Gallery view is a little easier on the eyes than list view. The photos are larger, and the results are less squeezed in. On the other hand, you see fewer items on a page (24 in gallery view as opposed to 50 in list view), and items without a gallery photo don't show up at all—so you might miss a good deal if you view your search results using only Picture Gallery.

Searching within a category

Searching within a category can save you a lot of time. For example, if you search for the word matrix without selecting a category, eBay shows you thousands and thousands of items, from shampoo to video games to snowboard boots to cars. If you're looking for memorabilia from the film trilogy, you'll go nuts sorting through all those irrelevant auctions.

To narrow down your searches to a specific category, such as Entertainment Memorabilia, go to eBay's navigation bar and click the Buy link. On the Buy page that appears, choose a category as shown in Figure 1-10, click the Search button, and let eBay zero in on what you want.

Tip

On the left-hand side of the Search Results page is a list of Matching Categories. Use these categories to narrow your search further. If you click a category, eBay discards all the results that don't match that category.

If you know you want your search results from one category only, select that category here. Doing so excludes scores of results you don't want to see. Don't turn on the "Search title and description" checkbox unless your initial results are too narrow. A check in this box tells eBay to show you any item that has your search not only in the auction title, but anywhere in the item description—which usually brings up lots of irrelevant results.

Figure 1-10. If you know you want your search results from one category only, select that category here. Doing so excludes scores of results you don't want to see. Don't turn on the "Search title and description" checkbox unless your initial results are too narrow. A check in this box tells eBay to show you any item that has your search not only in the auction title, but anywhere in the item description—which usually brings up lots of irrelevant results.

Advanced Search

Advanced Search gives you even more options for targeting your search. You can search by item number, bidder, or seller; find eBay Stores (Section 7.3) or search their inventory; and find other eBayers. Figure 1-11 shows you how it works.

At the top right of any page, just under the Search box, click the Advanced Search link. The Search menu on the left-hand side of the page shows you your choices. If you know what you don't want, list words to exclude from your search. You can limit results to a favorite seller (or ten), and you can sort results by time, price, distance from your registered address, or whether the seller accepts PayPal, a popular payment method explained on Section 2.3.1.1. If you want to speed-shop, you can have eBay display as many as 200 results per page; if you'd rather take your time, display only 25 per page.

Figure 1-11. At the top right of any page, just under the Search box, click the Advanced Search link. The Search menu on the left-hand side of the page shows you your choices. If you know what you don't want, list words to exclude from your search. You can limit results to a favorite seller (or ten), and you can sort results by time, price, distance from your registered address, or whether the seller accepts PayPal, a popular payment method explained on Section 2.3.1.1. If you want to speed-shop, you can have eBay display as many as 200 results per page; if you'd rather take your time, display only 25 per page.

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