January 2006 Issue  Volume 7  Number 1


Buy It, Sell It: eBay 101

Millions of people buy and sell on eBay. It has revolutionized the world of online shopping. On the CNBC program, "The eBay Effect," eBay's CEO Meg Whitman accurately described her company as "the first global online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers 24 by 7 and has fundamentally changed the way people think about trade."

It is possible to use eBay with a screen reader, but it can be frustrating to do so. Keep in mind that sighted people also experience frustration with the site, especially in the beginning "learning" stage.

There is a lot of information on eBay's web pages, which may be difficult to navigate at first, but with time and practice, you can do so successfully. If this is your first venture into the world of online shopping, you may want to consider starting off by using a regular retailer's web site. Either way, it is essential to become familiar with forms, combo boxes, edit boxes, check boxes, control buttons, and radio buttons. (For definitions, see "Redoing Windows: A Guide for Customizing Windows for Users with Low Vision" in the May 2005 AccessWorld.)

There is no way to learn everything about eBay in one article. But even with limited knowledge, it is easy to get started both buying and selling. You can learn the fine points as you work. Many books have been written about how to use eBay. For example, on the Amazon web site <www.amazon.com>, I found 373 results when I inserted "books" in the search combo box and "eBay" in the edit box.

How It Started

Pierre Omidyar, a software engineer, invented eBay during his spare time in San Jose, California. Legend has it that he did so because his wife collected Pez dispensers and wanted a place to buy and sell them. On "The eBay Effect" TV program, Omidyar set the record straight: "My wife did collect Pez dispensers; she was very passionate about it," he explained. "The passion people have for collectibles was really a key learning piece for me." He developed eBay because he had an interest in efficient markets, not Pez dispensers. On Labor Day 1995, eBay's web site was launched.

Getting Started

When eBay's web site <www.ebay.com> is loaded, there are over 100 links on the page. These links include Shop for Items, Sell Your Item, Track Your eBay Activities, and Pay. There are links for all the categories that are used to classify items. There is also a Sign In link.


To buy or sell anything on eBay, you must first complete the registration form. Activating the Register Now link on eBay's home page will bring you to the form. The registration form is straightforward. It uses a series of edit boxes and several combo boxes. The first two edit boxes are for your first and last names. Next come two address edit boxes. If you have a short address, just put it in the first box. Next comes a city edit box and then a state combo box. Next is a zip code edit box, followed by a combo box for a country. The top choice, which is already displayed, is the United States.

The next part of the form is for telephone numbers. To register, a primary phone number must be provided. The first edit box is for the area code, the second is for the first three digits of the telephone number, and the third is for the last four digits. There is also an edit box for an extension. A secondary telephone number can be added, and the edit boxes follow the same entry format.

eBay users must be at least 18 years old, so you need to enter your date of birth on the registration form using two combo boxes and an edit box. The first combo box is for the month, the second is for the day, and the edit box is for the year. Next come two edit boxes to enter and then reenter your e-mail address.

Finally, you are presented with eBay's rules and privacy policy. If you agree to these rules, check the I Agree box and then activate the Continue button.

Now it is time to choose a user identification (ID). Pick an ID that you will remember. Do not use your name unless it is the name of your business. Your user ID identifies you to other eBay users. eBay will display several choices for a user ID via radio buttons. You can pick one of eBay's suggestions or check the radio button that says, "Create Your Own ID." Right below this radio button is the edit box to enter an ID. Note that e-mail messages from eBay always include your user name.

Since so many people use eBay, it is possible that your first choice for a user ID will have already been taken by someone else. If it has, eBay will give you several options for creating a new one. There are three edit boxes where eBay asks you to name three of your favorite things. If you fill out these edit boxes and choose the Create New User ID button, eBay will display several choices. Select the one that you want by checking its radio button. Another option is just to enter a new user ID in the user ID edit box. You may have to try many times with this method.

The next two edit boxes are for entering and then reentering a password. The password must be at least six characters. Next comes a security measure in case you forget your password. The first part of the security measure consists of a combo box where you choose a question that eBay will ask if you forget your password. Questions include What is your mother's maiden name? What is your pet's name? and What street did you grow up on? Once you select a question, type the answer in the edit box that is below the question. Then select the Continue button.

Once your user name, password, and secret question have been accepted, a new page will come up telling you to check your e-mail. You will quickly receive an e-mail message from eBay explaining how to validate your registration. To perform this task, just select the line Complete eBay Registration in the e-mail. Once your registration is validated, you can buy and sell on eBay.

Before you shop or list an item for sale, it is a good idea to visit the Track Your eBay Activities link. If you have not already signed in, activating the link will bring up the form. Once you are signed in, you can view and manage various aspects of your eBay activities. You can track items of interest, receive and send messages to and from sellers, have eBay keep you signed in on the computer you are using, and much more. It is definitely worth the time to review this section.

Let's Go Shopping

eBay uses a simple search form, consisting of an edit box, a combo box, and a search button. When you fill out the edit box, be as specific as possible, or you may get too many hits. The combo box consists of 39 categories, including collectibles, jewelry, musical instruments, clothing, and search all. There is also an advanced search, which includes searching within a particular country or distance from home, price, and when the auction for that item closes. You can also enter the words on which you do not want to hit.

When you search for some items, such as clothing or jewelry, you can refine the search by filling out an additional form, which provides more details about what you are looking for. This will narrow the search results. For example, if you are looking for shoes, you can search by size, heel height, and color. If you put the brand of shoes in the edit box, the search results will be even more focused. Once your results are displayed, there will be a lot of additional information on the pages, so you may need to arrow around to find what you want.

When the word braille was put into the search form's edit box and "all categories" was selected in the combo box, the search yielded 165 results in a variety of categories, including books, toys, and collectibles. When the same search was performed using books as the category in the combo box, 69 books were displayed in such categories as children's books, fiction, nonfiction, and textbooks. Each subcategory had a link to it, and the number of books in that category was also shown. Activating the Children's link brought up 52 results. eBay displayed subcategory links for these results, including Bedtime, Fiction, Nursery Rhymes, and Other; 19 of the books were in this category. Once this link was activated, a further breakdown of the books was displayed using categories such as age range, condition, and format. Under "condition" were the choices new and used. Activating the Used link yielded 7 results.

Once your search is narrowed, it is possible to choose how your results are displayed. eBay uses links, check boxes, and combo boxes to accomplish this task. This is particularly useful if you have many results to go through. By default, all results are displayed, but you can choose to have only auction items displayed or only Buy It Now items shown. A Buy It Now item has a price listed, and you can immediately buy the item for that price without placing a bid and waiting to see if you have won the item. It is an easy procedure if there is something that you just have to have.

Each listing contains the following information: item title, whether the seller accepts PayPal, bids, price, shipping cost, and time left for the auction. PayPal is eBay's online payment service and is usually available to buyers. It is described later in this article. Many listings have photographs. There are times where the seller does not list the item in the correct category. For example, I found braille magazines listed in the fiction category of braille books, rather than in the nonfiction category.

Above each listing is a check box that can be used to compare several items by activating the Compare link. From the seven results that were displayed, I selected the book, Love and Kisses Darling. The listing appeared as follows: First there was a check box for comparison with other items. Next came a link that said "Item has pictures." Underneath that link was the title of the item; in this case, the title was, "Love and Kisses Darling--Board Book! BRAILLE!" On the next line, the words "PayPal buyer protection program" appeared. The line after that said $4.99, to indicate the current price, and the line below that had $3.00, which is the shipping price. The bottom line said when the auction would end. In this case it was 9 hours, 57 minutes. If there was a Buy It Now option, it would have been placed just above the shipping cost.

To find out more information about a product, select its title link. The title of the item appears, and its number is underneath. Below that is a link to watch the item in the My eBay section of the web site, which is part of the Tracking Your eBay Activities area. Putting the item in that area makes it easier to track, but it is not necessary to do so. There are several other links about the item and the item's bidding history. Then there is a button to place a bid.

Before you place a bid, it is extremely important to read the information regarding the seller, which is found in the Seller Information section of this item. Once you place a bid, you are in a legal contract with the seller, not with eBay. It is important to know about the seller and to have the ability to ask him or her any questions about the item. Just as in any business, most sellers are reliable, but there have been occasional problems. eBay has employees whose job is to monitor the web site for fraudulent listings, but they do not catch everything.

There is a lot of information in the Seller Information section. By activating the link with the seller's user name, you can view the seller's member profile. This profile contains the seller's feedback rating, which is the number of people who have done deals with the seller and gave him or her positive feedback on eBay's web site. For example, if a seller completed 200 transactions and 199 buyers left positive feedback and 1 person left negative feedback, the seller's feedback rating would be 99.5%. There are links that say, "learn what these numbers mean," which are helpful in explaining how eBay rates members and calculates their feedback scores.

Back in the Seller Information section, there is an About Me link, where a buyer can find out additional information about the seller, including when he or she started selling on eBay and other items that the seller may have available for sale. There are also links to feedback comments left by past purchasers.

Sometimes a buyer may have a question about an item. The Ask Seller a Question link is easy to use. In my case, the first item on eBay that I ever purchased was a pair of UGG slippers. The item had a picture, but that did not help me with the description. I e-mailed the seller through the Ask Seller a Question link and got a much better description. The e-mails are sent through eBay, and the seller's response appears in your e-mail's in box. You can reply to the message, and then the seller will have your e-mail address, or you can use the Respond Now button, and your response will be sent to the seller's My Messages mailbox on eBay, and your e-mail address will not be visible.

Below the information about the seller is some more information about PayPal, followed by the word description and a more detailed description of the item. The description includes details about the item, the shipping cost, and methods of payment that the seller will accept. EBay strongly recommends using PayPal, but some sellers accept checks or money orders.

If you are satisfied with the item and think that the seller has an acceptable feedback record, it is time to enter a bid. Just below the Place Bid button is the bidding history for the item. It shows how many other bids have been placed and who is the high bidder. The start date and time, plus the remaining time for the auction and where the item will be sent from, are also indicated. Activating the Place Bid button will bring up an edit box in which you can enter your bid. Next is a button that says "Continue." Below that button is a line that says "You will confirm in the next step."

A new page is displayed that has information about the item, shipping information, the payment methods that the seller will accept, and the Confirm Bid button. Under the button is a reminder from eBay that confirming the bid means that if you win the item, you are in a legally binding contract with the seller. If you are sure about the item and your bid, go ahead and activate the Confirm Bid button. eBay will automatically bid for you, up to your maximum bid. This automatic bidding is called "proxy bidding" and is a key feature of eBay. Should you win the item, you will have to pay only one increment above the second-highest bid. eBay uses a formula to calculate bid increments. The greater the cost of the item, the greater the increment.

Shortly after you place your bid, you will receive a confirmation e-mail message that also contains a link that will bring you directly to your item. If you are outbid, eBay will send you an e-mail message to inform you. The message will also contain a link so you can rebid. Many people wait until the last possible moment to bid, so eBay sends you a reminder e-mail message when the auction is almost over. If you want to view the bidding, just activate the link on the item. As the end of the auction gets near, activate the Refresh button on the screen, and an updated page with the current high bid will be displayed. If you are the high bidder, that information will be on the screen. There will also be a graphic of a green check. If you are no longer the high bidder, there will be a graphic of a red letter "X." (Window-Eyes was able to read both without any special graphics dictionary editing.) When the auction for the item ends, you will receive another e-mail message informing you whether you did or did not win the item. If you check the item's page after the auction ends, it will state that you have won or have not won. If you won, there will be a button that says, Pay Now. If you wait for your announcement e-mail message from eBay, you can click on the item's link in the message. Once there, you will find the Pay button.

Pay Up

After you win an item, you are expected to pay for it promptly. According to eBay's rules, the buyer and seller must contact each other within three days. In the original listing, each seller indicates the forms of payment that he or she accepts, which you should keep in mind when you decide to bid. Just about every seller accepts PayPal. Some dealers accept money orders or checks, but PayPal is by far the easiest way to pay for your purchases.

Information about PayPal can be found in various locations on eBay's site. PayPal will bill your credit card, or you can put money into your account. Sellers can have the profits from their sales go directly into their PayPal accounts. Registering for PayPal is quick and easy. Also, PayPal provides insurance up to $1,000 for your items at a nominal cost. Before you set up a PayPal account, it is worthwhile to read the New Buyer Overview.

eBay encourages both buyers and sellers to leave feedback about their experience. Reminders to leave feedback will appear in the My eBay section, where you track your eBay activities. The reminder is toward the bottom of the page, and as each item is displayed, there is a link under it that says "Leave Feedback."

The feedback form consists of an edit box, which has the name of the item that you purchased. Underneath it is another edit box, which contains the item number. Four radio buttons appear next. You check one to rate the experience: positive, neutral, negative, or "I will leave feedback later." Below the radio buttons is an edit box to leave comments. The final control is the Leave Feedback button. If you have a problem, there is a link that says, "Dispute Console." This is the link to go to if the item was inaccurately described or if you have not received your item in a reasonable amount of time. The link presents a form and instructions about how to submit your problem to eBay.

Once you buy an item, the seller can leave feedback for you. In the Track Your eBay Activities section, there is a number right under the user ID. Clicking on this number brings up a page that shows which sellers left feedback and what they wrote. The first time you receive feedback, eBay sends you an e-mail message. After that, the information is on eBay's web site.

Learning and Getting Help

On eBay's home page is a link called Learning Center. When this link is activated, the next page has information about various aspects of eBay, including how to buy, how to sell, and safe trading tips. There are also brief Audio Tours with such topics as registering, searching for items, bidding, and selling. However, these "tours" are not specifically designed for individuals with visual impairments. Before you play the Audio Tours, you may need to turn off any pop-up blocker software.

The Getting Help link provides several ways to get assistance with a problem. There is a list of most frequently asked questions and their answers. Links to eBay Acronyms and the eBay Glossary are also on the Help page. There is also a help query where a topic is entered in an edit box and a search button is activated. The A-Z Index link brings up a list of topics.

eBay's corporate telephone number is 800-322-9266, but customer support can be found only online. On the program, "The eBay Effect," eBay's vice president of customer support for North America, Wendy Jones, explained, "We average about a hundred thousand contacts a day. Our response often comes across as less personalized and less friendly than we would like." Jones added that this problem is being addressed.

Selling Items

Listing items for sale is significantly more difficult than is buying them. Numerous forms need to be completed, and they do not always work well with a screen reader. Completing all the required information is time consuming, and the process can really test your tolerance for frustration.

The majority of items that are sold on eBay include photographs with their listings, but providing photographs is not mandatory. If you do not have enough vision to take a picture, you may want to consider getting sighted help for this task. If you plan to sell many items, a digital camera is more cost-effective than is a 35-millimeter or Polaroid camera. A scanner may be good for some items, such as autographs or CDs. If you plan to use photographs, they must be loaded onto your computer's hard drive. When it is time to upload the photographs for your item, you will need to know where they are located on the hard drive.

Before you choose to sell an item, check to see how much the same item or a similar item has sold for on eBay in the past. Simply check the Completed Listings check box in the Customize Search Options section of the item listings. Doing so brings up a list of previously offered items with details about how many bids there were and the price that an item sold for or that the item did not sell. To see the description of an item, simply select its link, just as if you were interested in buying the item. Reading the item's description may provide ideas about how to word the description of your item or about which words are not good to use.

Seller Registration

Before you can start selling items, you must complete a seller registration form. To begin this process, activate the Sell Your Item link on eBay's home page. The next page gives reasons for selling on eBay, and there is a Sell Your Item button. Information about this button is found on the page that is displayed when the button is activated. After you read through the information and decide to go ahead with the process, activate the Create Seller's Account button.

The account form is slightly different from a standard registration form. The first part is for filling out credit card information. First, there is an edit box for the credit card number, followed by two combo boxes for the month and year of the card's expiration date. Then there is an edit box for the credit card's security code. Underneath the credit card information is your billing information. This information may already be filled in. Just check it to ensure that the information is correct. After the billing information, there are two radio buttons. The first one says that the credit card will be used for verification of your identification and eBay fees, and the second one says that eBay fees will be paid through a checking account. Choose the one that you prefer and activate the Continue button.

The next page says "Congratulations" and your eBay user name. Your seller's account has been created successfully, and you are ready to sell. On the same page are radio buttons to select the selling format. The top one is to sell an item using an online auction. Review the other buttons and pricing information on the page. Once you select a selling format, activate the Continue button. Almost immediately after the account is created, you will receive an e-mail message that contains some tips on how to sell items.

Listing an Item

The next page that comes up walks the seller through the listing process. The first edit box in the form is for entering a category. Here is where a screen reader can have some difficulty. There is a way to browse the categories, but it is not a link or a combo box. There is, however, a link that tells you to click there if you are having trouble browsing the categories. Activating the link presents the original categories in eBay's combo box as radio buttons. Check the one that best fits and then activate the Continue button. The next page is where subcategories are chosen, and it too has the same problem. Activate the link for having trouble viewing the subcategories, and you will be presented with a list box, so just arrow down to what you want and click Continue.

Next, it is time to enter a title for the item. Enter a clear description with as many key words as possible. A subtitle can be added for an additional cost. Next enter the item's description. Again, the edit box for this task is not easily located. There is another Having Trouble link for finding the place to enter the description. Activating this link puts you on a page where you can insert the description. You can use HTML commands or write a description in advance and then cut and paste it into the edit box. The advantage of doing the latter is that the application's spell checker and grammar checker can be used. Also, it is easier to make changes than to manipulate the text once it is in the edit box. There are also combo boxes for selecting the type and size of print and other visual attributes. If you plan on using photographs, there are numerous choices that need to be made, including the number of photographs, size, and location. eBay charges different amounts, depending on how the photo display is arranged. Be sure to fill out the edit boxes for the location of the photographs for the item and then upload them. There is an option to select the type of counter for showing the number of times your item has been viewed. Select Andale Counter. A description of this type of counter is given later in this article.

Next set the start and end dates and times for the auction using a series of combo boxes. There are a variety of theories about when it is the best time to run an auction. In general, it is best to have the item available over a weekend and to end the auction at night. This time frame allows for the highest number of last-minute bidders, since it is more likely that people are at home at these times.

The last part of the listing process deals with payment, shipping, and returns. Most sellers on eBay accept PayPal. Other options include a money order, cashier's check, and personal check. Choose all the ones that you are willing to accept. There is also an edit box to explain your return policy, if you have one. For example, I listed a poster on eBay, and my return policy was that I would give a full refund if the poster was not as advertised.

It is important to determine how much it will cost to ship the item before you list it. There are check boxes for determining where you will ship the item, such as the United States only, Europe, or worldwide. Enter the price and check the correct radio button for the shipping method, such as ground UPS or U.S. Postal Service. When all the information is completed, choose the Submit button. You will immediately get a page showing you the link for your item. Before any bids have been placed, it is still possible to make changes to the listing. Once the first bid is received, it is possible to add to but not change the description. You can still change the category if you find that you are getting few hits.

When an item is listed for sale, eBay immediately charges the "insertion fee" to your account, starting at 25 cents and going up to $4.80. When the item is sold, eBay charges a modest "final value fee." There is no final value fee if the item does not sell.

Once the auction starts, eBay sends an e-mail message saying that the item has been successfully listed. The seller can track the bidding process through the My eBay section of the web site. In My eBay, all your items for sale are listed, along with the number of watchers, the high bidder's user ID, the current price, and the time until the auction closes.

Within your listing, the number of hits (people who have viewed your item) is presented as a graphic. To get the number of hits on the counter, you can register at the web site <www.andale.com> for no additional charge. Andale will send you an e-mail when your registration is complete. Live help and e-mail help are available for this site. Once you are registered, there is no need to log in each time you visit Andale if you allow your computer to set a cookie; the web site will know who you are. The information about the items you are selling is in the middle of the page. Above this information are some links that may be difficult to understand with a screen reader, but the important information is the last few words of each link.

eBay notifies you if your item receives a bid. Once the auction closes, eBay sends the information about the buyer and how much the item sold for. This e-mail also contains an option to send the buyer an invoice. At the bottom of the e-mail is the information that would appear on the invoice.

If the buyer uses PayPal, you will receive an e-mail message informing you that you have received an instant payment. In fact, the message will have the buyer's e-mail address as a return address, but it is actually sent through PayPal. In the body of the e-mail message is a link to view the transaction online. Activating this link brings up the PayPal log-in page. After you log in, the transaction page is displayed. Basically, this page lists the item's name, price, and shipping cost and the buyer's name, eBay ID, and e-mail and shipping addresses. Once the money is deposited into the seller's PayPal account, the seller can use these funds to pay for future eBay purchases. Money is deducted from the PayPal account first, and then the balance of the cost appears on your credit card statement.

Just as a buyer can leave feedback about a seller, a seller can and should leave feedback about a buyer. Leaving feedback for a buyer can be helpful if this person also sells on eBay. Future buyers can check the particular buyer's feedback score to determine whether they want to bid on an item that the person is selling. Feedback is critical to the eBay system.

It is possible that you will receive spam e-mails that appear to be from eBay and PayPal. If an e-mail message is really from eBay, your user name will be included, but that is not definitive. Never give out additional information by e-mail. It is fine to view an item using the link in an e-mail message from eBay, but do not give out your user name, password, or any other information. The same is true for PayPal. Do not give out your PayPal password, and do not enter your credit card number or other personal information unless you have gone to PayPal's web site manually, rather than through an e-mail link.

The Bottom Line

Be prepared to experience periods of frustration with eBay and do not try to learn everything in a day. With patience, eBay can be a lot of fun to use and a huge time saver. It is a good place to hunt for bargains, sell things that you do not need, and maybe even get some extra money. It can save you a lot of time traveling to stores and keep you out of long lines.

Related Articles

Let Your Fingers Do the Shopping: A Review of Seven Online Shopping Web Sites by Janet Ingber

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