What eBay is and How to Save Money with Bidding

Last updated: April 14, 2017 - 4:30pm EDT

You can buy almost anything online today. Because of recent technological advancements, there are some websites out there that sell millions of items each year online, and some people who sell their own items online as well! One of the popular websites where this happens is eBay.

What exactly is ebay? And how does it work?

eBay.com is an online auction ecommerce website. It doesn't sell its own products, but provides a space for sellers to showcase their products, connect with buyers, and otherwise manage their stores. The site’s unique auction system also provides buyers the opportunity to bid on products often obtaining them for less than retail prices.

eBay homepage

In that same space, buyers can find and monitor products that they're looking for, make purchases, and have wares delivered to their homes or businesses. Because eBay doesn't sell anything, it makes money by charging fees for listing items, selling items, and processing transactions between buyers and sellers.

The history of eBay, and why it’s so popular

eBay started under the name "AuctionWeb" in 1995 by Pierre Omidyar to auction off miscellaneous objects he owned, such as laser pointers.  It was renamed "eBay" in 1997 as a shortening of "Echo Bay Technology Group," the name of Omidyar's consulting firm. 

eBay has since grown into a multi-billion-dollar online marketplace. Initially the site focused on auctions but new functionality was gradually introduced to the site. To supplement the auctions, straight purchases through the "Buy It Now" function were made available.  Now eBay also features other services to facilitate things such as reverse auctions (similar to Half.com) and event ticket trading (like StubHub.com).

eBay’s popularity likely lies in its brand and longevity. Since it was founded in the mid 90’s when the internet was still reaching mainstream, the fact it was been around for so long gives it an advantage over any competitors. While online purchasing can still be iffy for some, the popularity and branding of the company strengthens the confidence of a consumer making purchases. 

What can I buy on eBay?

There are so many things you can buy  – and very few things you can’t! Some of the most popular categories of items include:

  • Antiques
  • Books and magazines
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Event tickets
  • Home decor
  • Cars and other kinds of vehicles
  • Sporting goods and fitness equipment
  • Toys
  • Video games and consoles
  • Watches and jewelry
  • and so much more!

For obvious reasons, items like alcohol, tobacco, weapons, drugs (and paraphernalia), and hazardous or dangerous items (for example, fireworks) cannot be bought or sold on eBay. For more information, check out this help page on the Prohibited and Restricted Items on eBay.

Is eBay safe and reliable?

eBay is generally safe to use, as most people selling products through the website are honest. In addition, dishonest sellers are weeded out by its online feedback system. eBay also has money-back guarantees, and uses secure online transaction technology to protect your financial information. 

Always read the feedback other users provide about a seller before making a purchase. Sellers with many successful orders filled and a high rating are generally trustworthy and more reliable than those who have filled few orders or who have low ratings.

4 reasons to use eBay

1. Save money by bidding instead of buying

If you learn how to participate in auctions well enough, you could end up winning items at prices that are less than at retail!  We'll have some tips on how to do this in a later tutorial on eBay bidding tips.

Bidding on eBay items

2. Name your price and haggle

For some items, you may be able to convince their owners to sell them to you for less than their current asking prices.  Submit a "Best Offer" for an itemwith the price you are willing to pay.  If the seller is desperate enough to make a sale, they may accept your offer or make a counter-offer.

3. Fixed prices for when you're in a rush

If you don't feel like bidding for an item or trying to talk the seller into lowering the price, many items have the option to Buy It Now at a fixed price.  No muss, no fuss... just pay for the item and have it delivered.

4. You can sell, too!

Have some stuff lying around the house that you don't want anymore?  List it on eBay and see if it ]ells.  You can hawk it at a fixed price, accept offers from buyers if you just want to get rid of it at any price, or put it up for auction and see how much money you can get!

The pros and cons of eBay

There are many great things about eBay that make it one of the most established online marketplaces in the world. Here are some reasons to use try it out:

  • Its proven track record means you can trust it – the company will fully refund you for any purchase that goes wrong.
  • It makes bidding easy, allowing you to enter the maximum amount you would bid on an item, and then re-bid higher than other users by 1 increment to help you win the item.
  • A great internal search engine, dividing items into dozens of specific categories you can easily browse.

A few of the drawbacks of include:

  • It is difficult to cancel orders if you change your mind, and it is really up to the discretion of the seller if they will accept a return.
  • Sellers decide the ways you can buy their items, and set the prices at whatever they like.
  • It can be difficult to have questions about the products answered, as it is the responsibility of the seller to answer customer service claims.

Though often you can get great deals on eBay, buyers are at the mercy of sellers, and have to trust the authenticity of what they are buying to what someone has written about it online.

How to get started on eBay

To begin bidding and/or selling, you will need to sign up for an eBay account! Signing up is easy; you simply enter a bit of information about yourself and create a password. From there, you can start looking at listed items, and then start bidding!

In later tutorials, we'll go into detail about how bidding works, but essentially, it happens like this: you find an item you like, and then post a bid.  When someone bids higher than you, your bid is revealed to other users. As the clock for the auction counts down, you can increase your bid. When the clock runs out, the highest bid gets the item at the price of the second-highest bid, plus one bid increment.

Once you’ve won an item, you need to pay for it, which you can do through eBay’s secure server. After you’ve made a payment, the seller will ship your item to you. As you wait, you can track your order online to make sure it’s going where it needs to. After receiving your item, make sure you provide feedback about your seller to help other eBay users in the future.

You can also become a seller on eBay, and sell your own products!

Becoming a seller on eBay

Becoming a seller is easy; what’s more difficult is establishing a reputation on the website so that users actually want to buy from you. Here is our 3-step method for how to become a seller:

1. Set up a seller account on eBay

The first step is to set up a seller account. You must confirm your name, address, and phone number, as well as set up an automatic payment method for your seller fees and money-back guarantee returns.

2. Create a listing on the website for your product

The next step is to create a listing on the website so that eBay users can find your product and purchase it from you. Clearly explain what the item is (or does), and be sure to use language that most people would understand – simple is always better. Make sure you post a fair price, or no one will buy it. Chances are there are other similar products like yours, and in general, users always want the best price. So, to make your first few listings effective, be sure to check out listings on eBay for similar products, and format your listings accordingly.

3. Manage your listing and complete a sale

Once you have your listing up, the next step is to wait! By checking on the Sell section of eBay, you will be able to see if anyone has bid on your item.  You can also answer any questions about the item that people have posted. Sellers establish better reputations by having good customer service, so always remember to treat potential buyers well, and do everything you can to help them make a decision.

If you make a sale, be sure to verify you have received payment from the buyer. From there, package your item as nicely and securely as possible, verify the shipment information, and leave feedback about your buyer for other eBay sellers. Reviewing buyers is just as important as reviewing sellers!

4 tips to saving money with eBay

A great thing about buying online with the auction system is that you can get items for much less than they sell for in retail stores! Check out our list of the best 4 ways to save money by using eBay:

1. Compare the going rate with other sellers

When you’re looking for something specific and you find it, you get excited because you found exactly what you’re looking for! But don’t just bid right away. Be sure to check out suggestions, or look for other sellers who are showcasing the same (or similar) products. You may be able to find the same thing for a much better price, especially if there are new sellers out there looking to build their reputations on.

2. eBay Coupons

Sometimes, you can find coupons on other websites that you can use at the eBay checkout. Be sure to check popular coupon websites periodically, or do a simple search in your web browser for “eBay coupons” to help you find even better deals.

3. eBay Best Offers

eBay has an option called “Best Offer,” which allows you to make an offer to a seller to see if they will agree to sell it to you for that price. You can even offer less than the asking price! Simply make your offer and wait for them to accept, reject, or counter your offer. It is always up to the seller, but it may be worth a shot! To learn more, consider reading our article on eBay Best Offers here.

4. Buy large quantities of things you need when the price is right

If you see a great price on eBay for something you may need plenty of, be sure to buy in bulk! Sellers sometimes sell off inventory to make room for new products. So be on the lookout for great deals on products you buy frequently, and buy them in larger quantities!

eBay customer service

If you have an issue with something you purchased on eBay, or have had an unpleasant experience with a seller, there are a few things you can do.

1. Try to resolve issues with the other party (buyer or seller) first when applicable.

It is very likely that if you try to contact their general customer service, they will suggest (or even require) that you contact the other party in the transaction first. If you’re having an issue with a buyer or seller, contact them and try to resolve it. Then, if this does not work, proceed to an option below.

2. Use the eBay help pages.

eBay knows that you may have questions, so they have taken the time to write tons of pages of help for you! If you click Help & Contact on the eBay website, you can click through the dozens of categories of help to find what you’re looking for. If you have something more specific in mind, you can search for it at the top of the help page.

3. Open an item case.

If you need someone from eBay to look into your issue, and the help pages can’t solve your problem, you can open a case. In your Account Settings, you can click on the Resolution Center, and explain why you need to open an item case. Their customer service team will jump on the case, and update you as they progress through solving your problem.

4. Call eBay, or have them call you.

If you’re looking for more of a personal touch, click Contact Us at the bottom of the help page. eBay will still attempt to solve your problem with other resources, but you can click Call Us or Call Me to speak to a customer service representative.

Websites like eBay

There are many websites out there like eBay that can help you buy items online, participate in auctions, or find great deals on products that you just can’t find in retail. The most popular competitor to eBay is Amazon.com, which is another one of the largest online marketplaces in existence. Amazon has everything “from A to Z” (as they say), so you’re likely to find what you’re looking for... and often, at a great price. Bonanza.com is another alternative to eBay, and though very similar, claims that it's better than eBay.  In fact, it has been voted better by sellers online for five years in a row.

There are many other alternatives to eBay out there, and we’ve got the list of the best ones! Check out this article that lists all of our favorites.


eBay is among the largest online retailers in the world, and for good reason. It’s  interface is easy to use and intuitive. That doesn’t mean it can’t be challenging to get used to, especially if you’re new to online shopping. If there’s more you’d like to know about how to actually use the website to buy, bid on, and make offers for stuff that you really want, you can find tutorials for all on our website. Saving money on, and even making money on eBay is easy and fun!


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