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How to eBuy on eBay

Your guide on how to bid - and win - at online auctions

Online auctions are a simple way to bag a bargain for your business. The first shock for newcomers to eBay is the range of items on offer: no matter how left-of-field your requirements, chances are someone will be selling just what you need. That means that even if your business is operating in a fairly niche area, you'll still manage to find the specialist equipment you're after.

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Rick Edwards of radio consultancy BritVoice Communications: "We required some fairly hard-to-find broadcast equipment. It turns out that many major broadcast companies use eBay as the easiest way to dispose of their used stock, giving us access to well-maintained second-hand kit". For anyone just starting out in business, it's a great way to reduce capital expenditure.

Successful searching

eBay is a thriving marketplace, so it usually helps to be as specific as you can when searching.

"Laser printer", for example, brings up hundreds of results. Do your research elsewhere, decide what you want, and then tighten your search terms (for example "HP2100N laser printer").

This might also explain why Chaz Brooks (right) of the eponymous Guildford creative agency, when tasked with buying a meeting table for his company's boardroom "found a table-football table on eBay instead. I got it within our budget, and it's still the centrepiece of meetings with clients. We are actually in the process of organising a charity World Cup table football tournament with a number of local businesses entering a team to raise some funds."

There are bargains to be had from a seller's misfortune! There is a legendary transaction concerning a "widescren TV"- yes, misspelt. Due to the misspelt description, the item attracted far fewer bidders, and was snapped up at a bargain price.

Similarly, use a selection of different search terms for best results, such as "mobile phone" and "cellphone".

Bid farewell to rival buyers

You have found your item, now you are ready to start bidding. Before doing so, however, you will need to register a username and password. Registration is free: like most auctions, eBay takes a cut of the final transaction, and as a buyer you won't pay for any extras over and above your winning bid price, apart from postage.

It is also worth bearing in mind the following:

Check if the item is new or used. Just because eBay is an auction doesn't mean everything is used. Plenty of companies operate "eBay Shops", because it's a highly efficient internet shop-front. New items may still be bargains- but they also might be no cheaper than your local high street.

Understand the difference between "Buy it Now" and "Auction" transactions. With "Buy it Now", the deal is just like a normal shop - you click to commit to a purchase and the product is yours.

Some auction items have an undisclosed reserve price. If your bid is below the reserve, you'll be notified, and your bid won't count. Equally, you can bid again at a higher price if you wish.

On some auctions, more than one identical item is offered. In this instance, you can specify how many you want, and the stock will be distributed amongst the highest individual bidders.

Time is the enemy of the eBay bidder! Every auction item will be displayed along with the exact time of the auction's expiry. Bidding in the last few minutes - and even seconds - can be frenetic, so it helps to be by your computer during an auction's dying moments. Many items double in price as bids come in at the last minute.

This frantic activity is tempting. Don't be fooled into bidding way beyond your budget. When you spot an item you want, establish its real value by searching elsewhere on the net; and keep in mind a maximum bid. If you're outbid on your maximum valuation, console yourself with a cup of tea and start again - someone else has paid over the odds.

You can track your bids in "My eBay" which will list all your items. You can also watch items in "My eBay" without bidding - many eBayers lurk about, watching items until the last minute and then sneak in a bid.

Business Centre

eBay now also has a Business Centre, recognising that the site now has traction not only as an auction house but often a central purchasing channel for small and medium-sized businesses.

Business buyers and sellers are identified in more depth, thus simplifying the business relationship. It means that buyers can purchase exclusively from other businesses rather than private sellers, giving more assurances on key issues like returns policies, legal recourse and, of course, the opportunity to claim back VAT.

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Giving you back your day

eBay, particularly for business, is also transparent. A trip to your local retail park will only give you a small spread of products to choose from.

One search on eBay will usually give you a selection of options from multiple sellers at multiple prices, giving you choice and transparency so that you can be sure of getting a fair price - which on a day-to-day basis is more important than netting an absolute bargain.

Yet, perhaps the greatest benefit of buying on eBay is saving time.

Sean Fleming (right), MD of Reading-based Clarity PR, saved a fortune kitting out his office with top-rated Aeron chairs (�900 new, bought on eBay for �300 each). But, he says, "We were also able to view a lot of art, and choose some unique paintings that go well with the image of our office and company. I struggle to find time to do all the things I have to, never mind find time to kit out the office with nice new paintings".

For businesses, eBay is the modern equivalent of a bustling bazaar - different traders with a cornucopia of products, but where all the trading power is firmly in the hands of the buyer.

What next?

Visit eBay to sign up and get bidding.

You've read our guide to buying on eBay - now how about a guide to selling on eBay and making a tidy profit? You can find out how to set up an eBay shop here.

You can increase sales by 30% on eBay. The site's Small Business Manager reveals how eBay can give your business an additional sales channel.

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