The Winning Bid: Buying Gear on eBay

An online shopping pro shares timesaving advice.
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An online shopping pro shares timesaving advice.

For Lynn MacDonald, becoming an eBay expert was the positive part of a painful experience. The 45-year-old mom began tinkering with online shopping while laid up after a nasty sledding accident. Now MacDonald leads clinics on getting your money's worth on the hyper-popular auction site.

JOIN THE CLUB

Start by signing up (click "My eBay"), so you can track your transactions and be notified when an auction is ending.

BE A SAVVY SEARCHER

"Think about how an item could be listed and use those terms in asterisk and parenthetical searches," says McDonald. The asterisk is a wildcard meaning "anything after." Example: women* includes women's, womens, and women. A parenthetical search allows you to hunt for either/or situations. Example: You want an internal frame pack by The North Face or Kelty. Your search would look like this: backpack (internal, int) frame (North Face, Kelty).

GRILL THE SELLER

Ensure that what comes in the mail is what you wanted by asking the seller for detailed photos and original purchase dates, plus targeted questions like how many field nights a tent has seen. And see the seller information box for buyer comments.

WIN THE BIDDING WAR

You're more likely to get the item you want (at the price you want) if you play this way: Mark the item to watch. When 10 minutes remain, submit your maximum bid. eBay's automatic bidding system then takes over; it starts low and increases just enough to keep you on top until your max is reached. (To follow the bidding, refresh the page.)

BE A HAPPY BUYER

If you're unsatisfied, talk to the seller, says MacDonald. Good ones want to keep their scores high and will often accept returns.