How to find the best bargains
Trade Me is New Zealand’s most popular Web site – and a global phenomenon. Trade Me has 2.4 million active members and carries more than a million listings every week. In fact, in the lead-up to Christmas 2009, the site was weighed down with more than 1.4 million shiny baubles for sale.
How do you find what you want on those virtual shelves, at the best price? Watch for:
LISTINGS WITH POOR IMAGES OR NO IMAGES
Many people simply won’t bid on an auction if it doesn’t include an image, or if the image is so small or fuzzy that you can’t distinguish the product from the background. That’s why such listings can be great bargains. Yes, there are obviously risks. But if you’re bidding for an item like brand new single sheets, with a reasonably comprehensive description of what’s on offer, from a seller with more than a hundred positive feedbacks, the risk is minimal.
AUCTIONS THAT CLOSE IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS
Trade Me operates around the clock, attracting buyers and sellers 24 hours a day. Some of those sellers, however, perhaps not quite completely aware of Trade Me’s automated listing processes, add new listings either very late at night or very early in the morning. There’s nothing wrong with doing that if you pay a premium to choose a suitable closing time (ie: when there are people around to bid). If you don’t set such a closing time, then the auction will close at the same time as you listed it, an appropriate number of days later. Such auctions are fair game for the dedicated buyer willing to stay up late or rise a little earlier than usual.
High-volume sellers are particularly likely to be offering products through auctions that finish at odd times. Not because they don’t understand the Trade Me system, but because (if you’re selling multiple copies of the same product) Trade Me’s automated relisting system automatically relists the product to close in increments of 24 hours since the last sale. In other words, if some insomniac buys your widget at 3.27am, your next widget will be relisted to close at 3.27am a week or so later.
Canny Trade Me buyers can – and do – exploit this systemic weakness by adding high-volume sellers to their ‘Favourite Sellers’ list and watching for timing anomalies.
ON HOLIDAY OR AT THE GAME
Our political masters don’t plan an Election Day during the school holidays or when there’s a big rugby game scheduled; no-one would show up to vote. For the same reason, you should never end an auction on a public holiday, in the middle of a big sporting event or when it’s going to clash with a major television show like the final of Dancing With The Stars or Outrageous Fortune.
Fortunately for us, sellers don’t always have an event calendar at their fingertips when they’re listing their auctions, so auction closing times seldom take account of what’s happening out there in the real world. Sure, most sellers avoid Christmas Day and the more obvious public holidays, but even so there are often times to snap up bargains because the rest of the population are cheering on the All Blacks or fighting with their tent pegs in some sodden holiday paradise.
Lousy spelling can be the kiss of death for Trade Me sellers, but a glowing beacon for buyers in search of a bargain. How do you find such auctions? Try looking at popular Trade Me search terms in your desired category and predicting what mangled variants might exist out there – do a search and prepare to be horrified. Alternatively, browse through the auction listings with your eyes peeled for almost familiar brands and keywords.
Even when they do the other things right, sellers who say little about the items on offer – or who describe them badly – are likely to scare away potential bidders. A collectable Anchor Tea Towel, listed in the Antiques & Collectables category under the headline ‘Tea towel’, could only attract a $2 bid. The not-exactly-riveting description that kept the price low: “Anchor butter, in very good condition with no tears or stains, highly decorative and nostalgic item.” Bargain hunters who can see past such descriptions stand to make a killing.
How do you find such gems? Browse through a category and look for items that seem good value but haven’t attracted many, if any, bids. Some sellers seem unable to find words to describe their products satisfactorily.
OBSCURE HEADLINES & HEADLINES WITHOUT KEYWORDS
Auction headlines should be treated like gold – every word should be a potential keyword someone will be searching for. And those odd characters that populate the top row of the keyboard are a definite no-no, as perhaps two-thirds of Trade Me users find listings by searching.
Have you ever searched for the keyword “l@@k”? We just did, and the Trade Me search engine just came back and told us “No results for ‘l@@k’ in New Zealand”.
The other common headline mistake: not using keywords. We searched for Tupperware and found 460 listings. The first 422 listings displayed had Tupperware in the headline – the last 38 only had a mention within the main body of the listing. As a result they ended up at the tail end of the search list – bargain city.
LISTINGS IN THE WRONG CATEGORIES
Trade Me has a great many misplaced listings, thanks to the joys of self-classification. Misplaced items aren’t particularly easy to find deliberately. But if an item shows up during a search that appears undiscovered by others, check out the category in which it’s listed. If it’s wildly out of place, you could be in luck.
All those wonderful TV programmes where innocent consumers parade their home treasures in front of experts, to be told that they have a $500,000 Rembrandt hanging in their smallest room, are great entertainment – and a wonderful fantasy for Trade Me buyers. Reality seldom delivers on the dream but, if you specialise in a particular product category and know it well, you will have a definite advantage over casual sellers. As more and more new traders set up shop, your specialist knowledge could just come in handy.
We live in an instant gratification society – when it’s hot, we want it now. That’s why cinema chains can charge blockbuster pricing when a movie is first released – and why some patient (and thrifty) souls are willing to wait a few weeks until the price drops. The same dynamic applies to online auctions – when a hot new DVD or CD is just released, you’ll end up paying about the same to buy it on Trade Me as you would through a retail store. If you’re prepared to wait, however, the price will drop. How long should you wait? Check on the final sale price of similar items on a regular basis. When the price drops to a level that seems acceptable, get ready to bid.
BROWSING RATHER THAN SEARCHING
If you only use the Search facility on Trade Me, you could be missing out on bargains listed by sellers who (either through some of the poor practices already outlined here or through other misadventures of their own) have done a lousy job of listing their offerings online. It’s worth taking a bit of time to browse through categories of interest – like a jumble sale or a lucky dip, you never know what surprises are in store.
Okay, you’ve found an item you want, at what looks like a good price. Don’t do anything until you’ve read the advice below:
This is the single most important secret of buying successfully on Trade Me:
You shouldn’t bid at all until the last few minutes of any auction.
It may not be much fun for the seller. And you won’t get caught up in the thrill of the chase. But this is by far the best strategy for buying on Trade Me.
When you find something you like, add it to your watch list, wait until 15 minutes before the auction is due to end and then follow these five simple steps:
1. Decide on the maximum amount you want to pay.
Deduct the shipping costs. That’s your Maximum Bidding Amount.
2. Check the current bidding.
Open the auction listing page and check the current bidding. If it’s already over your budget limit, don’t bid. Otherwise, proceed to Step 3.
3. Refresh the auction listing page every minute or so.
Keep refreshing the page until four or five minutes before the auction closes.
4. Place your bid.
Place your Maximum Bidding Amount in the box labelled ‘Minimum next bid’ (or ‘Starting Bid if you’re the first bidder) and (vital!) tick the AutoBid box. Double check that you’ve put the correct dollar amount in the Bid box and that the AutoBid box is ticked.
5. Click ‘Place Bid’.
You’ll be asked to confirm your bid. Check it, click to confirm, then walk away.
If you win the auction, well done. You stayed within your budget and didn’t get into a bidding war.