Lifestyle,  Zero Waste

Tips for shopping second hand on eBay

We all know that shopping second hand has huge environmental and financial benefits. It not only reduces the demand for new products to be made, but it's also a great way to reuse products that have already been discarded. Thanks to 2019’s renewed obsession with Tidying Up, it is a good time to be on the look out for those second hand pieces you’re in need of. However sometimes I can be tricky to find what you need in a charity shop if you don’t have the time for repeated trips.

That’s why eBay can be a great tool in shopping second hand. Used sensibly, it can be the perfect addition to a zero waste life, by reducing the brand new products you need, but also extending the life of products that you no longer have need for that someone else might want.


My friend Elly has always been a bit of a magician on eBay since we were teenagers, and I asked her to share with us her experience and some tips and tricks:



It all began for me back in 2003. My dad started an eBay account and it was mostly used by my parents to buy furniture but, as soon as I got my first job and started getting paid, my obsession began. Over the years my dad’s eBay account has served the whole family well, and provided me with some absolute bargains as well as earning money from selling unwanted items. I still use the account to this day, simply for the excellent feedback and reputation we’ve managed to build up over the last 16 years, although there is the small downside of my whole family getting enthusiastically involved whenever I am bidding on an item as they all get the notifications on their phones!

Some of my proudest bargain items over the years include:

A good quality pair of skis I bought for £80 that went on to last me two whole ski seasons. A desk I paid 99p for when I first moved to London - I had no idea how big London was and had to ask my dad to pick it up from Camden and bring it to my flat in South London and it’s still with me today though. A skirt for a wedding that I very nearly bought full price, decided was too expensive, then found it on eBay that evening for a third of the price (and yes, I was very smug about it). A huge TV for my current house, the owner was getting rid of it as they had bought a bigger one and we paid £40 for it - It had an Australian plug but we bought an adapter and bingo!

I have a few tips to maximise eBays full potential. It can be time consuming, but when you know what you’re doing and how to narrow down your options it will suddenly feel incredibly easy and worthwhile, and I still get a kick out of beating someone to a bargain with 2 seconds left on the auction.

1. Auction only

Although you can get the occasional deal on a “buy it now” item, the best prices are to be had on the auctions as they generally start quite low. Set yourself a budget, and try to avoid bidding on an item until the last minute. If you bid on it 5 days before the auction finishes then all you’re doing is increasing the price as others try to outbid you. I love to be a sniper bidder, waiting until 3 or 4 seconds before the auction ends.

2. Get to grips with the app/the website on your desktop

These are both pretty different. You can generally see more information on desktop and it’s easier to filter a search, but personally I prefer the app. On IOS it is very easy to use and pay (dangerous really...) and I get notifications to tell me when an auction is close to ending.

3. Play around with the search words you use

I’m a big fan of searching by brand, but when you do it pays to find out more about that brand. For example with clothes, how are they sized? If they're sized S, M, L, then you’re more likely to find items matching these, than if searching for size 12 or 14. Try alternate wording, so if you’re looking for a rucksack, try typing in “backpack” too. Make sure you keep an eye on the gender you’re searching for also. “Vans trainers” will be automatically split into men and women but I have found good deals searching on both. I am a size 7 so this won’t be applicable for everyone, but it works the same way for people with smaller feet - don’t forget to search the children’s section if you’re on the smaller side. It’s also possible to chose to only see “used” products using the filters to ensure you’re not accidentally buying new items.

4. Set up a PayPal account

This makes eBay-ing a lot easier. You can link your bank card to your PayPal account or you can use PayPal balance if you’ve been selling some items. Worst case scenario and you need to be refunded, it can easily be done using just your email address, and there are even some listings that will only accept payment by PayPal so it increases your options.

5. Don’t overpay

Some listings are just not well thought out. People try and sell something second hand for the same price they bought it as new last year. Or charge £6 postage and packaging when it costs less than £3 to send a t-shirt. If you think you’re being ripped off then don’t bid. It’s not worth it. I have seen listings that don’t sell and then are re-listed at a lower price, so it could still work out.

6. Lower your expectations a little

You’re buying second hand items without seeing them or trying them on, so leave a little room for error. I’ve had dresses turn up that don’t actually fit me, but I didn’t pay much for them and I gave them a chance at a new home. Usually I either sell them on or take them to a charity shop. With more expensive items, just make sure the seller has good reviews and lots of photos of the item and ask them questions to see how responsive they are.

7. Be nice

Reviews are essential on eBay so being nice is important. I’ve had someone leave me a bad review because she made assumptions about details I hadn’t specified, even after I had apologised and offered her a discount. Just last month I had someone buy three items and demand combined postage, then threaten to report me for “false advertising” when I wouldn't agree to it. When I pointed out that I had never offered this option, they just vanished, never paid for the items and I had to spend time re-listing them. Just be nice, manners will get you everywhere!

I hope that these little snippets will inspire you to give ebay a go, I promise you won’t regret it. Saving the planet, getting some new-to-you items, earning some spare cash and working on your reaction times to win an auction, what’s not to love?

Hopefully some of these tips will help you to give some pre-loved items on eBay another chance at life, and let you re-home some of your items to a new owner. Reusing items and stopping more items coming into existence will reduce waste and reduce the amount of resources, energy and water being used to make them.


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