How To Use eBay To Shop Designer Fashion For Cheap
So the recession’s got you wondering how you’re going to put pate on the table, and you’re flipping through magazines and wanting to try out at least a few of the season’s glam picks. Or you’ve got the promotion but not the paycheck and you need a suit. Or you think if you wear that same old spangly blue tank top one more time you’re going to rip it off in the middle of the club and stomp it to death in front of all your friends and enemies and the pix will end up on Facebook and get you fired so you won’t need the new suit after all…
You’re about to become the world’s best-dressed fashionista on a budget.
Think of Ebay as a virtual stroll down Fifth Avenue and the Paris flea market and the mall all at the same time—and there’s always a 90-percent-off sale.
Here’s how it works: Retail boutiques, professional stylists, charitable organizations, chic women with eye-popping closets of things they’ve never worn, and even celebrities (Kim Kardashian for one) have more clothes and accessories than they will ever use, so they put them up for sale on Ebay. Those with more dash than cash snap them up. Everybody’s happy.
You’ll find everything from oh-so-of-the-moment trendy confections to polished classics that are always in style to basic jeans and tees. Some are new with tags (“NWT”), some are “NWOT” (“new without tags”—gotta learn the lingo), others are used but in pristine or excellent condition. You choose what you like and bid what you’re willing to pay at auction. Many sellers offer “Buy It Now,” which means exactly what it says.
Here’s what you do, in six easy steps:
1. Know yourself
Before you even go near Ebay or any other shopping site, plan your trip so you don’t get lost or come back with a lot of souvenirs you can’t use. (Remember: Many sellers specify that all sales are final.)
Have a friend take careful measurements of you, and measure different pieces you already own that fit well: Jacket, pants, jeans, skirt, dress.
Go to the high-end stores in your area (last time I looked, it was still free to try things on) and expand your awareness of designers who appeal to you. Note the sizes that work best on you, and remember that each designer’s sizing system is different.
Know your own style and tastes, and have a clear idea of how you want your look to evolve. Get ready to be dazzled by bargains, but vow not to buy anything that doesn’t work with your life. Ebay is like anything else: The $10 pink rhinestone-and-denim evening bag won’t be such a bargain when you find out you can’t clean it, and you’ve also got the $25 six-inch heels you’ll only wear once then break, and the $50 designer sweater you only bought because of the label but that would really work better on your grandma… When buying is as easy as Ebay makes it, a few small mistakes can add up to one expensive mistake—fast.
Prioritize what you need. Is it September and your old coat has more holes than cloth? Is there a special date or occasion coming up? Do you need to build a professional wardrobe?
2. Register on eBay
It’s fast and free, and you just have to link to a bank account or credit card to pay sellers through Paypal. Paypal is safe, because merchants never see your financial information.
3. Learn how to search
If you’re looking for a particular designer or kind of item, make sure you have the right spelling.
Allow for variations in the way items are listed. If you’re looking for pieces by Ann Taylor, your seller may have misspelled it “Anne.” If you want a cocktail dress, somebody may have called it a “sheath.” If you wear a size 8, some designers’ size 6’s may fit you, and others may just use “M” or “medium.” A European size 40 or 42 would fit many U.S. 8’s, and you wouldn’t want to miss a Chanel blouse for under $100 (it’s happened to me!).
Ebay is similar to other online searches. If you’re looking for an Ann Taylor cocktail dress in a size 8, but you know that line runs larger, here’s an effective search:
“ann* taylor” (dress, sheath, cocktail) (8, 6)
You’re asking for every listing that uses the words “Ann Taylor” or “Anne Taylor” (the asterisk is a wild card and the quotes keep the words together in that order) AND any of the words “dress,” “sheath” or “cocktail” AND either of the numbers “8” or “6.”
For more tips, check out Ebay’s buyer tutorials, and its user forums that focus on designer clothes.
You can rank your results by price or by how much time is left in the auction. If you’re using generic terms like “pants,” “suit,” “bra,” etc., I recommend ranking your results from highest to lowest. That way you’ll see the best quality first, and you can scroll down to find your price range.
4. Evaluate the merch (don’t buy the fakes!)
There’s been a lot of bad press about fakes on Ebay, and the worry is deserved. But if you educate yourself, and only bid when you’re sure you have a trustworthy seller with authentic items, you should be fine.
Check the seller’s feedback rating. If it’s below 98 percent (allow for a few kooky or hard-case buyers who just can’t be pleased), there could be a problem.
Other red flags include sellers who don’t answer your queries in a professional manner, who only use pictures from other websites or catalogs rather than of the actual item for sale, who list many of the same kind of item, who use more than one designer’s name to describe the same item, or whose prices seem just too good to be true, even on Ebay. (Just be aware than many established sellers start pricing very low to pique buyer interest, knowing the items will be bid up much higher.)
Be very cautious about non-U.S. sellers. Many of them, especially in the Far East, deal in counterfeit goods.
If the seller doesn’t specifically make a money-back guarantee that the item is authentic, ask if they will promise you one, and save the e-mails. Ebay has a good disputation resolution center to help buyers, but it takes time, it’s not infallible, and the seller could simply disappear from Ebay without abiding by the decision.
Ask any questions about details, fit and size well before the end of the auction, to give the seller time to respond. Most reputable sellers are delighted to work with you to make sure you know what you’re buying, and they’ll disclose any flaws upfront.
You can “watch” up to 200 items in your “My Ebay” page. After I got “sniped” as a newbie, I learned it’s much more fun to be the sniper.
It’s in Ebay’s and the seller’s interest to get you to bid early and often, which drives up the price as bidders compete. It’s in your interest to snipe whenever possible.
You’ll need to invest in a good, cheap stopwatch (or use one on your phone). Check “My Ebay” to see when an item you covet is about to end. Sign in a few minutes before end time, and watch as Ebay’s clock (activated when there’s less than an hour left) ticks down the seconds. You should have previously decided on the maximum you’re willing to pay. With about 20 to 30 seconds left (to allow for browser hiccups), click to enter that maximum bid and start your stopwatch. Don’t confirm the bid (the second click in the process is the confirmation) until the last few seconds (maybe five if you have a reasonably fast computer). When I’ve played it this way, I’ve won 80 to 90 percent of my auctions, and I haven’t helped jack up the price on myself.
6. Build relationships
Once you’ve found a good seller who consistently offers stuff you adore in your size and price range, never let her go!
Add her to your favorite sellers list, and leave glowing feedback for her, so she’ll do the same for you. (Most sellers wait to leave feedback until they know the buyer is satisfied.)
I have half a dozen beloved sellers from whom I’ve bought dozens of items apiece. They remember my name and my preferences and size issues, and often offer me extra perks like personal discounts, free or combined shipping, ending auctions early just for me, and even buying on approval.
Pay all your sellers promptly, always be polite, and always show appreciation through feedback. You’ll get out of the Ebay experience everything you put into it and more.
Get ready to constantly hear, “OMG, I love that! Where did you get it?”
Only you can decide if you’re ready to tell.
Written by and used with permission from Lyn Davidson
Lyn Davidson is a writer, journalist, children’s librarian, trivia gameshow champion, avid shopper and fashionista. “Like” her on Facebook!