Know the Value
When you need something in a hurry, you likely rush into a twenty-four-hour convenience store and pay premium price for it, so you can solve your situation quickly. The product's immediate availability makes it more valuable to you, and you pay a higher price without hesitation. On a normal shopping day, of course, with more time and choices at hand, you would likely push that same product aside and go for a cheaper generic brand.
The price levels for objects can be driven to eye-opening heights in online auctions for reasons you may never understand. You won't be able to see into the minds or read the body language of the competing bidders. You will probably never learn what has motivated them to place such a high value on a particular object. At the same time, you will encounter many situations in which you will find desirable items listed and no one — or almost no one — bidding on them. These are prime moments for alert buyers who are seeking the items. Some days, you will catch amazing bargains, and some days you will run away from an overheated listing, fearing that people's credit cards are about to burst into flames.
Your strongest defense against getting in over your head is to know the real value of any item that catches your eye. You may be an expert or at least a knowledgeable hobbyist in one or two fields. But online auction bidding can lead you into many unexpected and unfamiliar subject areas.
At one time or another, you may find yourself in unfamiliar territory. A spouse may suddenly ask you to find a certain type of power saw or sewing machine accessory. A child may ask for help in getting an old video game. You may remember a favorite toy from your childhood and wonder if anything like it is still around. A parent may want a telephoto lens for a beloved camera that went out of production in 1975. You may develop a fascination for antique radios or decide to start a home business and need used office furnishings. The possibilities are almost endless. So, you must learn how to search for the information you need.
Dare to Compare
The best way to win consistently in online auctions is to be an unwavering comparison shopper. You may see something you crave in an auction that's ending in two minutes. But unless the price is low and you know it, let it go. A similar object, maybe one in better condition, will be available in another auction soon or may have just been posted on another auction site. Your job is to find it, and that won't require much work if you take the right approach.
Any auction site worth its digital salt has (1) search tools to help you locate what you want, and (2) advanced search tools to help you narrow your search to special qualifiers such as color, size, vintage, price range, and brand.
Another very useful auction site tool is the ability to display the closed listings for particular items that have recently sold. For instance, winning bids in recent auctions can be viewed on eBay by using the Search: Find Items page. Enter a keyword or item number, and then check the Completed Listings Only box.
The displayed listings will cover auctions completed within the past fifteen days for the particular type of item you are researching.
Yahoo! Auctions' Advanced Search screen allows searching closed auctions by keyword and by Zip Code, city, state, or radius as small as twenty-five miles.
Amazon.com Auctions' Advanced Search screen allows displaying closed auctions spanning the past thirty days. The resulting lists can be a bit daunting, unless further refinements are entered. One search of closed auctions for Computers & Software turned up 32,000 items spanning 640 screens.
Not all online auction sites offer the ability to prowl through closed listings. For example, some business-to-consumer sites want you to stay focused on what is up for bid right now in their auctions.