There are few things I enjoy more than a trawl through eBay. Trawl is the choice adjective here, because scroll feels to blithe. In lockdown, eBay even overtook Instagram, because yes, I need tat to supply days with anticipation (the delivery) and life with satisfaction (the ownership). Plus, there's something explicitly exciting about a bidding war. Even one for a teapot with a starting price of £2.99 that is fought for in increments of 10 pence.
Being good at eBay, I've always thought, is an underrated skill. Demonstrating patience, tenacity, judgement and financial responsibility, it’s the kind of attribute (I think we can call it that), that’d sit well on a dating profile. It saves you getting up at ungodly hours to queue outside stores selling hyped collaborations (if you are that way inclined). It saves you paying over the odds for pretty much anything, and it saves you from going insane when a moth feasts on your favourite M&S cashmere jumper that's no longer sold, because oh would you look at that, Jenny in Peterborough is selling a job lot – presumably her late grandmother’s – for less than a tenner.
I am committed to my eBay game. Friends, very good ones I might add, have been asked to bid on items I’m selling to feign competition. It backfires when they win, and I have to extricate them from the transaction, so as not to damage their user profile, but for the most part, it’s reliable, if only slightly fraudulent. I have halted tube journeys to come up to ground level to bid on something, even if it means I miss a doctors appointment that I waited six weeks to secure. But boy was the original Hockey exhibition poster that hangs in my hallway worth it.
Sure, there are some shockers. I’ve bought prints that remain rolled up in the cupboard. Jackets that spoke of “mild wear and tear” but looked as though they’d weathered a war, and objects that appear life-size but are in fact, fit for Borrowers. Hit and miss it may be, but the process is a thrill, and when you do win something worthwhile, you’ll cherish it like it’s the most precious thing you own. A Princess Diana memorabilia T-shirt? Phoebe-era Celine everything? A bamboo brolly stand? (Niche but very nice).
Pleasingly, the more you eBay the better you get at it. You know the nanosecond at which to bid when there’s only one minute to go - the line is as thin as a cat's whisker. Too quick and you’ve exposed your tactics, your panting as vocal as your sweat is visible, too slow and your WiFi connection might serve you a thwack. You know the best sellers, where to find them and how to converse with them; it’s a language of specificity. Piecemeal responses do not fly, nor do dramatics and emotion. This is business, my friends. Don’t wallow or simper. Stuff will come up again, stop harassing the seller, and get finding it already.
Set ‘alerts’. Perhaps you’ve long lusted after a Gucci mules or a 90s Fendi Baguette. If you once got something excellent from one seller, chances are they’ll come through again. But you can also set alerts for individual pieces. I’ve had a Jean Cocteau lithograph alert for as long as I can remember. It’s not that the don’t come up, it’s just that I’m not on a six figure salary.
Spell Things Wrong. Eleanor Cording-Booth, a writer and interiors enthusiast, once told me that when looking for dining tables, to search for dinning tables - the extra, erroneous ‘n’ is a common mistake that yields a tonne of tables that attract less interest because people haven’t been able to find them.
Set automatic bidding. This didn’t exist when I was teenager. I had to hide in the loo during Biology to feverishly bid on Juicy Couture. Or ten years later, when a piercing alarm went off during a friend’s birthday dinner: ‘EBAY!!!!!!!!!!!!’. But it’s a godsend. It only works for auction style listings, but just enter how much you’re willing to pay for an item and eBay will bid up to that amount for you. Don’t go up in round numbers, something unexpected like £51.24 will tip you ahead of the predictable £50 bidders.
Scour Collect Only listings. Use this tool to suss out collect only bargains near you (eBay doesn’t allow for you to search for these). It’s a great way to get bigger, usually more expensive items such as sofas, which whether you like the pattern or not, might be ripe for reupholstery.
Be nice! Some people do this for and living and depend on decent people to leave decent reviews. I dish out blanket 5 star ratings to anyone who packages my plates with a notecard to say, handwritten, that they hope I enjoy it.