eBay is a changing beast, one that is scraping and clawing to succeed as a company after years at the top of the e-commerce mountain. When Amazon.com passed eBay in total traffic not so long ago, massive changes were implemented at eBay… and still are.
These changes, paired with a difficult economy, can be used to score top rookie cards at bargain prices. We queried some of the top sellers on eBay, all of whom use eBay to buy as well, and came up with some strong tips to buying your rookie cards (and anything else) cheap.
1. Establish actual valuation for your item. Every expert we spoke with said that you must know what your target item is worth. This means looking at sold auctions and fixed price listings to see what items actually sold for. Ignore the items in red that are failed attempts to sell, most likely at higher-than-market pricing. Look at the greens and get an average price. Be sure to compare apples to apples; don’t look at an ungraded Sidney Crosby SPX rookie and expect to pay that for a BGS 9.5 gem. Nor should you ignore multiple colored swatches in a patch auto when determining market value.
2. Saved Searches. When you begin looking for the card you’re after you start by searching eBay. Inevitably, you’re given a display of all the items meeting your search criteria from which to choose. But you can save this search and have eBay email you all new items meeting this criteria each evening. This not only saves tons of time but allows you to really wait for the right opportunity. Simply hit Save this Search just after the search box when you do your query. And be sure to follow the next point… patience.
3. Patience. All the sellers we spoke to spoke of patience, of not jumping at the first item that you found. eBay can be unpredictable and values can tremendously shift for the exact same item. By setting a defined price you’re willing to pay in cold-water, meaning not when you’re hot and heavy in an auction, you can really wait for the price to come to you. One seller told us how it took him over a year to get a Bill Russell 1957 Topps Rookie Card that he coveted. He said he had been outbid 30+ times over that period before finally landing the card in the condition he desired for $200 less than usual.
4. Auctions. It seems most apparent that auction formats are the best way to secure an item for the best price. We tested this theory as buyers and sellers and found that as sellers we were earning nearly 50% more on items we listed as Fixed Price versus low minimum bid auction formats where bidders must drive pricing. Following this model, we checked valuations for numerous popular rookie cards and found that invariably auction format cards went for far less. Of course, this makes sense as a fixed price listing is a seller’s wet dream pricing that he hopes a buyer will grab. An auction- at least one with a low minimum bid and no reserve- is dependent on buyers bidding an item up. With a sputtering economy and rookie cards a luxury item, that buying volume has greatly waned and with it, card prices. Whenever possible, look at auctions first.
5. Timing. By looking at timing through the lens of ‘less bidders means lower prices’ you can take advantage of the best times to buy. And it’s pretty simple. Move against the grain. Want a Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome rookie? Is the best time to get it when the Black Mamba is throwing up 50 pt. games in the playoffs or in the off-season when King James’ taking his talents to South Beach is dominating headlines? Other times it’s more simple; look for poorly timed listings. I love to check eBay for cards closing in the middle of the day when everyone is at work and the competition is light. Late night listings, especially on Friday or Saturdays are also opportune. And whenever possible use a snipe bid in the last second to put up your best bid. Why show your hand early and allow some rube with a man-crush to counter your best bid? You wouldn’t play poker with your cards up, why bid like that? Also watch for eBay cheap listing day promotions as it tends to flood the site with items, further diluting buyers and bidders. Pick your spots, follow the aforementioned rules, and grab a deal or two.
6. Low-Ball Best Offer. eBay offers a Best Offer format for many items which essentially boils down to the old negotiation axiom, “He who speaks first loses.” But that’s not always the case if you’re patient. If you’re truly willing to walk away from an offering unless it’s a sweet deal you can dominate the deal. Here’s how: First, as mentioned prior, determine the valuation of the card you want and then ask yourself what you want to pay. Let’s say that your target card is normally trading around $50. You want to pay $40. Next, you see a seller with the card for $65 Best Offer. Now, you need to get him to show you his cards, no pun intended. To do so you need to bid in the ballpark or he’s just going to consider you a clown bidder. So, you offer $35. This tells him that you’re interested, semi-serious, but no fool. Wait for his counter. It could well be at your $40 target or a little more in which case you counter at your goal of $40. He might just take it and if he doesn’t, remember your principle of patience and wait for the next card like this to go after.
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