Online auction sites have given shoppers everywhere another, and often cheaper, option when it comes to finding everything from secondhand toys and vintage clothes to used cars and rare collectibles.
However, more than a few eBay buyers have been stung by unscrupulous sellers or ended up paying more than they need to, so if you're a bargain hunter looking for the perfect item at the perfect price, here are some top tips for getting your hands on the good stuff.
Just because it's listed on eBay doesn't necessarily mean it's the cheapest. To avoid paying over the odds, check the going eBay rate by filling out your search terms and ticking the 'completed items' box. This will show you the prices paid for similar items so you'll know whether you're getting a good deal.
At the same time, check shopping comparison sites to be sure you can't buy it cheaper elsewhere, as well as searching on Amazon marketplace or Play.com.
Items that can be delivered anywhere in the UK are bound to be popular, but searching for 'pick up only' items means fewer bidders and a better chance of a bargain. Thankfully there are now a range of apps and tools that let you search for local items, such as the Local eBay Deals Mapper which is available both on the web and as a smartphone app for Android or iPhone.
No bids bargains
Whatever you search for on eBay, the chances are you've scrolled down a fair few pages of items with a starting price of 99p or even less. While the seller is no doubt hoping this will encourage buyers into a bidding war, many such items get missed and end up going for a song. Try your luck with a tool such as Lastminute Auction, which does the searching for you, finding items for under £1 that are due to finish within an hour. Just watch out for higher than average delivery charges before you buy.
Time it right
If you spot something you're desperate to get your hands on, don't be tempted to bid straight away. Even if there's just one other buyer after the item you'll quickly end up in a bidding war and bump the price up unnecessarily.
Get sneaky with your bidding by 'watching' the item (you can set alerts if it's a must-have so that you'll get an email whenever a bid is made), and leave it late to make your play. By bidding 10 seconds before the time is up, it's unlikely your competitors will have time to come back at you. Similarly, many buyers lose out on items where the auction closes at an unsociable hour. Make the most of BayCrazy's Night Time Bargain search and you might just bag a bargain ahead of slumbering bidders.
Bid a bit extra
As any keen eBayer will know, it's possible to enter a maximum bid that allows the auction site bid for you until the limit is reached. But adding that little bit extra to your bid will mean the auction favours you. For example, on cheaper items, setting a limit of £10.10 instead means anyone bidding a flat £10 will automatically be outbid.
Scams and fakes
Knowing how to spot a scam or a fake on eBay is just as important as bagging a bargain. First off, make sure you read the full details of any item you plan to bid on carefully so that you know exactly what you'll be getting when payment has been made.
Feedback can be a useful guide to a seller's trustworthiness, though it's not the be all and end all. More than 98 per cent positive feedback and scores of more than 30 are usually a good sign, but beware those that have previously only sold a few very cheap bits and bobs before listing a high priced item.
Fakes are, of course, numerous on auction websites, and spotting them can be a tricky business. Designer handbags, sunglasses and clothes are among the most commonly-faked items, so checking feedback is definitely worth it if you're going for big name expensive brands. Bear in mind that photos taken at home are often among the most reliable, as scam artists often nab tempting snaps from official brand sites.
If in doubt...
If you are in any doubt as to the seller's credentials or the item you plan to bid on, it's best to buy from an eBay trader, which gives you the same statutory rights as any high street shop. And if a problem should arise that remains unsolved by communication with the seller, be sure to make your complaint within 45 days - any longer and you will no longer be covered by the eBay buyer protection scheme.
Are you an eBay buying pro? What are your top tips for getting the best bargains? Leave your comments below...