Friday, January 14, 2011

How to Not Be an Idiot When Shopping on eBay

“What’s the most inspiring thing I’ve ever said to you?”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
~The Office

Few of us begin the day by saying to ourselves over our morning coffee, “I think I’ll behave like a complete moron today.” Some, perhaps, but few. Which is fortunate, considering the ones who suffer most from these moronic tendencies are not the morons themselves, but those who have to get through the day trying to navigate around them.

Now, “don’t be an idiot”, while very good advice, may indeed seem overwhelming in its generality. But even the most monumental of tasks ceases to be intimidating when broken down into small and easily handled segments. Today, we will focus on not being an idiot when shopping on eBay.


Listings on eBay contain valuable information in different forms. Sometimes, it’s pictures. Pictures are very pretty, aren’t they? Yes, they are. But there is other information in an eBay listing that at times can prove even more useful than the pretty pretty pictures. It is in the form of words. Words that tell you things about what you see in the pretty pretty picture. Like how big the thing in the picture is, and what it’s made of. So when you’re shopping on eBay, you need to look at the pictures AND read the words.

When you do not read the words, and the item you purchase turns out to be 1) not everything you had ever hoped and wished and dreamed and prayed for, but 2) exactly what the words in the listing said it would be, this is actually your fault, so please do not turn around and try to blame it on someone else.


The things for sale on eBay are not at your house. If they were, you wouldn’t have to buy them. Because of this, they have to be sent to you. From somewhere else. Now, sometimes people selling things will not send them to certain places. So it’s up to you to determine the following:

- Where you live
- Where the thing you are buying can be sent
- If where the thing you are buying can be sent is NOT where you live

There is, for example, a difference between the United States and the United Kingdom. Confusing, I know, beginning with the same word and all. But they are different, there was a war and everything, you may have read about it. So if an item is currently in the United States, and the listing specifies that it will only ship within the United States, and you live in the United Kingdom, you can’t buy it. If you try, it will only end in disappointment, and you should spare yourself that whenever possible.


When you go to a store, you have to pay for things before you are allowed to take them out of the store. eBay is just like that. When you bid on things, and you win those things, you have to pay for them. And not just whenever you feel like it. You actually have to pay for them fairly soon after you win them. If you do not, you will make people sad. If you make too many people sad, you will not be allowed to play eBay anymore.

Oh, and besides making people sad, you will be in violation of a legally binding agreement entered into at the time of your bid.

But mostly you‘ll make people sad and you don’t want that, do you? No, of course you don’t.


I don’t tell just anyone about this, so I want you to pay close attention. Write it down, even. At the end of all the pretty pictures and descriptions, on every single listing, carefully hidden in plain sight, is a text link that says...


What this does is take you to a form that you can use to ask sellers questions. About things they are selling. Things you want to know about things you want to buy before you buy those things. And that’s really the best time to ask those questions, BEFORE you buy things. Sellers are people just like you and me. They are sometimes not perfect, and occasionally forget to include information in listings. Sometimes the information you want is actually in the listing, and you don’t have to ask the seller a question. (Please see Step 1) But sometimes you want to know more and that’s all kinds of okay! Sellers like that! They want you to be happy! They want your money AND your love!

This concludes today’s lecture on How To Not Be An Idiot When Shopping On eBay. Feel free to suggest future “How To Not Be An Idiot” topics in your comments. I’m sure there are plenty out there.


  1. once when I was selling on ebay, their site calculted some ridiculous shipping fee. I couldn't see it but I received a ton of nasty e-mails from possible buyers. ;/

  2. Well, THAT'S not good :( That's also not eBay, per se. Their shipping "calculator" isn't really a calculator at all, just an interface with USPS and UPS, so those are the guys who were giving you the bogus shipping charges. I don't suppose any of those potential buyers had the courtesy to say something like "hey I'd really like to buy this thing but these shipping costs, WOW, is that right?" and give you a chance to fix the problem, instead of just being nasty?

  3. no not really. I suppose e-bay can be like a social network. Just drop by and throw Foul-bombs. It's easy to be a jerk when you don't have to actually face someone.- Natasha

  4. It's becoming very much a social network, with the added advantage of the potential to mess with someone's livelihood. Fabulous!