March 2011 Issue  Volume 12  Number 3

Access Issues

Accessing eBay: Tips on Buying and Selling for Screen Reader Users

Whether you're looking to sell things you no longer need, or buy something you've got to have, eBay might be worth checking out. For this article, the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Windows XP, and Window-Eyes 7.2 are used, and the word "click" refers to a screen reader mouse click, not the physical mouse click. You will need to be familiar with your screen reader's form controls including edit boxes, combo boxes, and search buttons. While evaluating the accessibility of eBay, I found that some buttons weren't clearly labeled. To work around this issue, take your screen reader out of its mode for filling out forms, and read the text below and above the button to determine its purpose. It will also be helpful to know your screen reader's hot keys for finding specific texts and links.

Words of Advice

There is a lot to learn about using eBay, and many books have been written regarding all the different aspects of the website. My advice is to move slowly and don't try to learn everything in one day.

Getting Started

Before selling or purchasing on eBay, a registration form must be completed. Make sure your browser is set to accept cookies; this will allow eBay to recognize your computer in the future and will make the site function more efficiently for you. Go to the eBay homepage, where you will probably find over 200 links.


Before selling or purchasing on eBay, a registration form must be completed. Find and activate the "Register" link. The actual registration form is easy to navigate, with all edit boxes clearly labeled. However, several times during the registration process, Window-Eyes spontaneously loaded browse mode, which had to be de-activated in order to continue entering information. As with many websites, a CAPTCHA was present, along with a link for an audio version. When I initially tried to play the audio CAPTCHA, the window opened, but all I got was a broken link. About a half-hour later, there was no problem playing the audio and entering the text.

Once your registration form is complete, you will receive an e-mail with instructions on how to activate your account—either through the link provided in the e-mail or, if that doesn't work, you can copy and paste the link into your browser and enter the provided confirmation code once the page loads. Once your account is verified, you will receive a welcome e-mail from eBay. Keep in mind that it is possible to get e-mail fraudulently claiming to be from eBay. Your registered name and user name will always appear in official e-mail communications from eBay and this fact will be stated at the beginning of all of their e-mails.

Familiarizing Yourself with the Site

Once your registration is complete and your account is verified, it's a good idea to review some of the information for new users. From the homepage, activate the "New to eBay" link. When the new page loads, activate the link that says, "eBay for Users with Special Access Needs." A great deal of information for screen reader users is provided on this page; take some time to investigate what's there. At first all this information might seem confusing, but as you become familiar with eBay, it will become less complicated.

Getting Help

At the bottom of the eBay home page is a link to contact Customer Support. From there, you'll need to go through several links until you find the "Call Us" link, then use mouse navigation keys to find the phone number and your personal identification number (PIN). Since it's such a cumbersome process, here's the phone number: (866) 540-3229. The PIN gets you through the menu of choices a little faster, but you don't need one to call. When I called eBay help, I found the representative very willing to work with me and we eventually figured out a solution to the problem I was having with the site. I did need to remind her that I was blind a couple of times (such as when she told me to put my mouse on a graphic). eBay also has a lot of online help available.

Setting Your Preferences

Near the top of each eBay page is a "My eBay" link. Here you can indicate your notification preferences, track items, keep a list of your buying activity and much, much more. Since there are so many options, you will sometimes have to go through several links to get to a specific setting. Even if you are logged into eBay, you will need to re-enter your password to access the "My eBay" section.

To set your communication preferences with eBay, activate the "My eBay" link. When the next page loads, activate the "Account" link, then activate the "Communication Preferences" link. That page will let you choose which format you prefer for communications (e-mail, instant messaging, text, or HTML). Activate the "Show" link, then use your screen reader's table hot key to make your selections. On this same page, you can set up what sorts of things you want eBay to tell you about. Activate the "Show Buying Preferences" link, then set your preferences, through combo boxes, for receiving notifications for such things as whether you won an item, if you have been out-bid, and that your bid is confirmed. By default, the combo box selection for each topic is set to "real time." Once you've made your selections, activate the "Save" button.

Before You Buy or Sell

Before starting the buying or selling process, spend some time on eBay's homepage. The homepage search form consists of an edit box, a combo box listing many categories, and a search button. An "Advanced Search" link is present to modify your search criteria. There are many clearly labeled category links. There's also a "Daily Deals" link. Through links, information is also available on buyer protection, top rated sellers, most popular items, and more.


Towards the bottom of the homepage is a link for PayPal. If you don't already have a PayPal account, you may want to consider creating one, as it will make buying and selling on eBay much easier. Creating an account on the accessible PayPal site takes just a few minutes.

Buying Items

eBay has two main ways for purchasing items: auctions and Buy It Now. In an auction, buyers place bids on an item and, once the auction closes, the highest bidder wins the item. With the Buy It Now option, the seller sets a price that a buyer can pay to purchase the item before the auction's closing date. Buy It Now can be a gamble. If there's an item you've got to have, then the Buy It Now price might be worth the chance. There are many eBay items that only have a Buy It Now price listed. In this situation, eBay functions like any other e-commerce website, except that it often will have more than one vendor for the same item.

There are three ways to search for an item: the search form, which consists of an edit box, a category combo box, and a search button; the "Advanced Search" link, which loads a form that uses combo, edit, and check boxes; and category links. No matter which way you search, there are links on result pages to narrow your search by many different criteria including seller, shipping options, and location.

Finding an Item

It might be helpful to follow along on an example of a search I performed for a specific bath product for my guide dog. First, I activated the "Pet Supplies" link, which brought up a page with links for the most popular searches within that category. Below the popular searches were listings of products categorized by animal. For example, the links under "Dogs" included grooming, beds, and leashes. Using these types of categories can be a good way to browse if you are not exactly sure what you want. Activating the "Grooming" link brought up a page with many categories (e.g., de-shedding tools, clippers and shears, shampooing and washing). Activating the "Shampooing and Washing" link returned six pages of product listings.

I knew the exact product I wanted, so I put the name into the search box and chose the "Pet Supplies" category from the search form's combo box. My search returned six results. Each result consisted of a link for the item image under which were the item's name as a link, the Buy It Now price (all of my results were Buy It Now only), and the end date for the listing (eBay does not permit indefinite listings). Using links, I narrowed my search to sellers in the U.S. who were offering new items. These refinements did not make any changes to the results. I then used a link to search for free shipping, but none of the sellers were offering that service.

Getting More Information Before You Buy

Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people on eBay, so before making any purchase a buyer needs to check out information about the seller and the item. Activate the item's link to bring up its listing page. This page is easily navigated with a screen reader's headings key. Topics include seller information, a description of the item, and shipping and payment information.

Under the words "seller info" on the item's listing page will be a link to the seller's information page. This page will provide information regarding how long the seller has been on eBay and will list feedback comments. It's worth the time to read some of them. Look for a seller who has a positive feedback rating of at least 99 percent and remember that the more items a seller has sold, the more accurate the feedback rating will be.

If you have a question about an item, find the words "questions and answers about this item" and activate the link. There, you will find any questions other users have asked, along with any answers that have been provided. If you do not find your answer in this section, find the "Ask a Question" link. Once a radio button on the resulting form is checked, a new form comes up with some information and two radio buttons. One tells eBay that your question was answered by the provided information, and the other will contact the seller. The "Contact Seller" link results in a page with an edit box allowing the user to write 1,000 characters. There is a CAPTCHA with an audio option; the numbers to enter are clear. There's also a check box to have a copy of your e-mail question sent to your own e-mail account for verification. After activating the "Send" button, the title bar on the next page will begin with the words "message sent." If the seller responds to your inquiry, the response will be from eBay and the subject line will begin with "eBay member."

Making a Purchase Using Buy It Now

Once I researched the sellers offering my product and decided which listing I wanted to purchase, I activated the "Buy It Now" link on the item's listing page. The next page showed the product information along with my shipping information as listed in my eBay account. Near the bottom of the page were two unlabeled radio buttons for choosing a payment method. With sighted assistance, I selected the PayPal button, and then activated the "Continue" button which loaded the PayPal website. Once there, I needed to enter my password, review the purchase, and authorize the payment.

Within minutes of approving the purchase, I received an e-mail from the seller congratulating me and requesting shipping information and payment. Since I had already provided this information through eBay, I just responded that I was looking forward to receiving my item and mentioned that I had already made a PayPal payment. Concurrently, I received a receipt from PayPal for my purchase. A couple of days later I received an e-mail from eBay informing me that my item had shipped. Within the e-mail was a link to contact the seller if I had any questions. My item arrived a couple of days later. Once I received my item and found that it was exactly as described, I left positive feedback for the seller.

Making a Purchase Using an Auction

If you are interested in an item that is available for auction, the item listing will show how many bids have been placed so far. To enter a bid, activate the item's link and fill out the resulting form—an edit box and a button—to place your bid. Beneath the form you'll find information on the minimum bid allowable. After submitting your bid, you will be given the option to confirm or cancel it. Search for the "Cancel" link, under which the words "confirm bid." Beneath those words you'll find the button to confirm your bid.

There are many eBay bidding strategies. Some people bid early and constantly monitor their items. Others wait until the last possible moment to bid, hoping to outbid other interested purchasers right before the auction closes. There are online third-party eBay bidding websites that will do a last-second bid (known as a "snipe") for a fee so that you don't have to monitor the auction yourself.

To track the bidding history for an item, on the item description page search below the words "bid history" to locate the number of bids, presented as a link. Activate the link and the user IDs of the bidders will be displayed in a table, along with the amounts of their bids. If you want to monitor the auction progress on a specific item, on the item's main page activate the "Watch this Item" link. You will then be able to check the item in the "My eBay" section under the "Watch List" link. You can also opt to have eBay e-mail you if someone places a bid higher than yours.

If you win an item through an auction, you will receive a congratulations notification from eBay. Within the message will be a link to make a payment along with a link to contact the seller. eBay will also send you an e-mail if you do not win an auction you've participated in.

Selling Items

Once you get the hang of it, selling items on eBay is fairly straightforward. Listing items requires multiple steps; it helps to have your items organized and photographed, and the descriptions written, before you start the listing process.

Creating a Seller Account

Registering for eBay does not automatically allow you to sell items; you must create a separate seller's account first. Activate the "Create a Seller's Account" link. Enter your password on the next page and review the registration information that appears. If the information is correct, use the check box to confirm. If the information is not correct, activate the "Edit" link and make changes. Once you've confirmed the correct information, a "Continue" button will load a page where there are buttons to have eBay call you to verify your identity. An automated phone call gives a four-digit PIN. Once you have your PIN, activate the "Continue" button, enter the PIN on the resulting page, and activate the "Continue" button there.

eBay charges fees for listing items, so you will need to choose a payment method. By default, the first of the three radio buttons—the one for PayPal—on the form is checked. The other two are for using a credit card or bank account. If you choose PayPal, you'll need to log into PayPal, review the eBay payment agreement, and active the "I Agree" button. If you choose to pay with a credit card or bank account, you'll be asked to enter the necessary information on a form. Once the payment information is accepted, you will receive an e-mail confirming your seller's account.

Listing Fees

eBay charges users to list items for sale. For the most part, selling fees are relatively inexpensive, but they can add up. As you go through the selling process, you will see what eBay charges for each component of the listing and you can choose to include or exclude listing elements based on what you're willing to pay. Keep in mind that many of the listing elements for which eBay charges will increase your chances of selling the item. eBay automatically deducts listing fees once your listing is complete. eBay also charges a fee if your item sells successfully. If your item doesn't sell, you can re-list the item and if it sells on the second round, eBay will reimburse the listing fees for the second listing.

Listing an Item

Listing an item can take a while, especially when you are learning the procedure. It's very helpful to post a photograph or photographs along with your item's description. If you do not have enough vision to take digital pictures, you might want to consider getting sighted assistance.

Before beginning the listing process, it's useful to check completed auctions of the same or similar items, to determine how successful sellers have been and to get a sense of what an appropriate price might be. When you do an item search, activate the "Completed Auctions" link and a list will be displayed. View some of the listings to determine how the same item did in other auctions. Towards the bottom of the item's listing will be a link that says "Sell One Like This." Activating that link will get you past the category selection form in the selling process described below.

I'll take you through the listing process for a designer handbag I no longer use. To begin the listing process, log into your account and activate the "Sell" link. You'll be presented with some helpful information about selling on eBay along with a "List Your Item" button.

The first part of the selling process is to choose a category for your item. After you've activated the "Sell Your Item" button, you'll find several ways to identify a category on the resulting page. You can enter key words, an item number, or a UPC code, and then use the search button, or you can browse for a category. I used the search form and the results were displayed with check boxes. I chose the appropriate category and on the next page, where a category number was now listed on my form, I activated the "Continue" button. On the next page, I found the word "success," indicating that I had successfully identified a listing category.

On that same page, you may find with the mouse navigation keys a message asking if you want to do multiple listings of the same item. To close this message, put your mouse pointer on the words "don't ask," turn browse mode off manually, then do a left click. On the screen, there should then be a form with radio buttons and a check box. When the page re-loads, the response form will now be accessible with form controls. Check the appropriate radio button and check box. Then activate the "Continue" button.

On the next page you will be asked to choose a listing form. The easiest form to use is the "Simple Listing Form," which allows the upload of four pictures maximum, and provides fewer options within the listing. The other form offers more listing choices. Make your decision by activating the button for the type of listing you want to use. It's possible to switch between the two forms. For this article, I used the more listing choices option.

The next page is a form for entering the title and other information about your item. The first edit box is for the item's title, which is a critical element of the listing. The title should include key words that a searcher would use to find your item. Since the number of characters is limited to 55, chose your title very carefully. Proper grammar is not important and some abbreviations are expected. This is the first thing potential buyers will see, so think of a title that will get attention.

The information about each item is category-specific. For my handbag, I had edit fields for color, condition, and style. Depending on your item, you might need to provide different information. Further down the page is where you will upload your photos. The photo or photos associated with your listing need to be on your computer in order to attach them to your listing. Once you activate the "Photos" button a new window will open that will allow you to browse for the photos on your computer, the way you would browse for any other file. There is a separate browse button number for each photo. The first photo you upload should be the most comprehensive.

Once your photos are uploaded, the next step is to describe your item. You can use the standard or HTML format. It's best to write and edit your descriptions in Word or another word processing program. When ready to add a description, if you're using the standard format, activate the link and when the new page loads, there will be combo boxes you can use to choose a typeface and size—the default is Ariel 10. There are also buttons for italics, bold, and other font formatting. Under the "Check Spelling" link is the word "description," and after that Window-Eyes says "undefined" and then "end form." The description needs to be pasted under "end form." For Window-Eyes, I found the best way to do this was to select the text in Word, copy it to the clipboard, then, with browse mode off, paste. I did have to play with this a bit because Window-Eyes couldn't find an actual edit box.

On this same page, there is a combo box to select a counter for keeping track of how many people visit your listing; the default setting is best. Next, is an edit box for setting the price of your item. Do not use a dollar sign; you can use a decimal point for cents. You'll also find an option to add a Buy It Now price, which costs extra. Via a combo box, choose the number of days for your auction; Seven days is standard and there is no extra fee. Chose when you would like the auction to start, either immediately or at a later time or date. Scheduling a start in the future costs $.10'since every auction ends at exactly the same time of day that it starts, and the end of an auction is usually the most active bidding period, it can be worth the fee to delay an auction start if you think that doing so will make the auction end at a convenient time for the most likely bidders.

After that, choose a shipping method and determine cost of shipping and handling. There is a shipping calculator on the page or you can check with your local post office or UPS store. Next, choose a payment method and activate the "Preview" button. If necessary, make any edits to your listing and then activate the "List Your Item" button. When the new page loads, it will say, "Congratulations! Your item is listed for sale."

Almost immediately eBay will send an e-mail indicating that your item has been listed. The first couple of words of the item's title will be in the subject area. Within the e-mail you'll find a link to review and revise the selling information and a link to go directly to the item's listing.

The Sale

Within minutes of the auction closing, I was notified via e-mail that my item sold. In addition to the amount my item sold for, the e-mail included links to contact the buyer, print a shipping label, and notify the seller about tracking and shipping the item. Once the buyer completed payment (the terms of my listing gave the buyer four days to pay), I received a confirmation e-mail from PayPal.

When sending the item, you have the choice of printing a shipping label through eBay or going to the post office or UPS to take care of shipping. If you go through eBay, when you print the shipping label the buyer will automatically receive an e-mail notification along with a tracking number. You might need sighted assistance for this step since the shipping label and receipt are printed on the same page. If you go through the post office or UPS, you'll need to provide shipping confirmation and tracking information directly to the seller; this can be done through a link in the e-mail you received that notified you of the sale.

To print the shipping label through eBay, first log into your eBay account. Then, in your auction e-mail from eBay, activate the link for printing the label. You will be presented with information about the weight and size of your package from when you entered it in the item's listing form. If necessary, make any changes. On the same form is a space to add a message to the buyer.

Next, log into your PayPal account to pay for the postage. Finally, activate the "Print Label" button. You will receive a confirmation e-mail from eBay with the item's tracking number and verification that the label was printed, along with a receipt from PayPal verifying payment of postage.

Leaving Feedback

Feedback is an important part of the eBay community. The more positive feedback you have as either a seller or buyer, the more people will trust you in your transactions with them. Since I was paid promptly for my item I left positive feedback for the buyer. Sellers are not permitted to leave negative feedback for a buyer, but a buyer can leave a negative feedback for a seller.

To leave feedback, log into your eBay account, go to "My eBay," and enter your password. On the next page, go to the "Leave Feedback" link. On the next page you will find links for "Buying" and "Selling." In my case, I was leaving feedback as a seller so I chose the "Selling" link and filled out the form, which uses radio buttons and an edit box for entering comments. There was a button to submit the feedback and a link to cancel. This same page also presents information on how to report any problems (e.g., a buyer who won't pay, a seller who didn't ship a purchased item, or an item that was inaccurately described). eBay is set up to handle disputes; more information can be found in the online help section or by calling customer service.

The Bottom Line

eBay can seem very overwhelming, but with patience and practice buying and selling using a screen reader can be successfully negotiated. I hope you find this article helpful in getting started. Remember, don't hesitate to ask for help from customer support.

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