Hack 52 Let's Make a Deal


How to handle impatient bidders without losing customers and without getting kicked off eBay.

From time to time, bidders will contact you with special requests, such as those suggested in [Hack #26] and [Hack #27]. How you respond to such requests and how you decide to conduct business is entirely up to you, but you'll want to be careful about some of the steps you take. As a seller on eBay, you'll have to walk a fine line between protecting yourself from dishonest bidders, not upsetting your honest bidders, not violating eBay policy, and not wasting large amounts of your time.

See who you're dealing with by taking a moment to look at their feedback and investigate their history, a process explained in [Hack #53]. That way, you'll know whether you should trust the bidder or add the bidder to your Blocked Bidder list (see [Hack #54]).

For instance, an impatient bidder might want to use Buy-It-Now on one of your auctions, even though the item has received bids and the option has disappeared from the page. The following are a few different approaches to dealing with this type of request, each with its own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Assuming you know the value of your item (see [Hack #33]), you should be able to look at the current bids ? as well as the relative success of your competition ? and predict how much you're ultimately going to get for your item. Your auction may indeed be on track to fetch a higher amount than your original Buy-It-Now price, in which case you'll want to politely tell the bidder that you prefer to let the auction run its course. Naturally, you'll run the risk of not getting as much as the bidder is offering, or, at the very least, driving the bidder away by making him wait.

  • If you cancel all bids on an auction, the Buy-It-Now price will reappear, and the bidder in question can buy the item. Unfortunately, this approach is not without risks. First, you'll need to get the timing right; if the bidder isn't quick enough, someone else may place a bid and the Buy-It-Now price will once again disappear. But what's worse is the possible flight risk; if the bidder doesn't end up using Buy-It-Now, you've essentially canceled a bunch of honest bids on your item for no reason.

  • You can also make an under-the-table deal with the bidder, agreeing to end the auction early for a certain dollar amount. But this, too, is fraught with peril. First, eBay may consider this to be a violation of their "fee avoidance" policy, and as a result may suspend your account. Second, since it is an off-eBay transaction, it won't be covered by eBay's fraud protection policies, and neither you nor the bidder will be able to leave feedback.

    As a seller, you should never solicit an off-eBay transaction from your bidders, either in your auction descriptions or in any eBay-related emails. There are several reasons for this, not least of which is that it's a common practice by scammers and spammers (see [Hack #20]) and may unsettle otherwise interested customers. It would also violate several eBay policies put in place to protect bidders. This doesn't mean that you can't agree to such requests from bidders, only that you should be careful about how you proceed.

  • Probably the safest approach is to create a second listing, identical to the first. When it's ready, send the URL to the bidder and instruct him or her to use the Buy-It-Now option promptly (before anyone else bids). Only when that auction has closed successfully should you cancel bids on the original auction and end it early. This way, you and the bidder can complete the transaction officially and enjoy the protection of eBay's buying and selling policies. And if the bidder backs out, you can simply end the superfluous listing or modify it to accommodate a different item.

Although the preceding example is the most common request of this sort, it's not the only one you'll receive. Bidders often contact sellers to ask for alternative colors, versions, etc., as well as related items and accessories, and a cooperative seller can stand to make quite a bit of extra money. Just be careful about how much you reach out to bidders.

If you're selling shoes, for example, it's generally acceptable to mention that you have other sizes and colors, either in other auctions (see [Hack #47]) or for sale in your online store. But this is different from posting a "dummy" auction whose purpose is to simply direct customers to your off-eBay store. Bidders won't buy it, and eBay won't tolerate it.

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