Do you love the idea of sourcing amazing bargains on eBay, but give up when you hit the first page stuffed with irrelevant junk from China? Or perhaps you’re already an eBay aficionado who wants to hone your eBay search techniques? Either way, you’re in the right place.

For me it all started with a pair of green wellies that cost me 99p in 2005.

They arrived at my office just in time for Glastonbury and I was mocked by my colleagues about how uncool they were. One weekend, the most rain at Glastonbury ever, and one photo of Kate Moss in green wellies later – I was deemed the reigning queen of style at work!

99p well spent.

And so my love affair with eBay began. Now it is without doubt my number one place to shop. Mainly for clothes, but really, I’ll check eBay for almost anything I’m buying. So it kind of goes with the territory that I’ve become pretty good at zeroing in on what I want.

Here are some of the ebay search techniques I find invaluable for sourcing fabulous clothes at great prices:

1. Search all options

That’s right.

Think of all the ways someone may list the item you’re after.

And then search them all individually.

I know, I know, it sound tedious right? But you don’t get anything in this world without a bit of hard work, so just suck it up.

So what exactly do I mean? In some cases there are several ways to describe an item and a savvy ebay seller will list all the relevant keywords. But others don’t.

For instance certain colours are not cut and dry. If you are searching for a red coat, chances are it’ll be listed as a red coat. But what if you want a plum coat? That could be listed as plum, burgundy, maroon, purple or even aubergine. So get searching.

Likewise with shoe sizes. Not finding what you want searching for a 4, try searching for a 37.

Or you might be after a leopard print skirt, and the seller of the perfect item may have listed it as animal print. If you’re prepared to put in the extra time to search both phrases, in my opinion you deserve to be the person up against less bidders.

Sadly I don’t know a way to cover all possibilities in one search. If you search “maroon burgundy coat” ebay will bring up only those coats listed as both maroon and burgundy. Which doesn’t really help you. And although I’ve read that writing coat (maroon, burgundy) should work, I’ve tested it and it doesn’t.

But a little time can really pay off – you might uncover that gem everyone else has missed, and therefore get it for a bargain price.

So get comfy and start searching!

2. Snap what you want on your phone and eBay will search similar items

Oh my lord this is so genius that I just can’t wait to tell you about it.

Imagine you’re out shopping and see something you love but can’t afford/doesn’t fit/not in your size etc – take a picture of it on your phone and eBay will find similar items for you. How brilliant is that?

I only just discovered this amazing little tool and boy am I excited about it.

So how do you do it? First get the eBay app on your phone. Go into it and on the search page you’ll find a little camera symbol in the right of the search box. Tap it, take a photo of what you want, submit it and hey presto, lots of very similar items appear in front of your eyes as if by magic.

I tested it out by taking a very poor snap of my tan leather handbag and here’s what appeared. Not bad eh?

3. Cut out what you don’t want using the -technique

Sometimes it’s easier to get rid of what you don’t want than it is to specify exactly what you do. Here’s an example.

Imagine you want a real leather skirt. If you search real leather skirt or genuine leather skirt you’re only going to pick up the skirts where the seller has used the word real or genuine, so you’ll definitely miss a few.

So instead, type all the words that represent fake leather into the search box with the minus sign before them (no space). NOTE: If you put a space then eBay will include the term in your search rather than exclude it. You want this:

leather skirt -faux -fake -artificial -pu -look -vegan

Note the word look here – that’s in there because leather look is a common way of describing fake leather goods.

It is also possible to do this in eBay’s advanced search tab to the right of the search button if you prefer.

4. Don’t use words like “the” or “and”

As a general rule of thumb don’t include too many search terms, because ebay will only show you listings that include all the words in your search. So this also applies to words like “the” “a” “and” etc.

If the seller of the perfect pink and red jumper lists their jumper as “pink, red jumper” and you search pink and red jumper…well you’ll never find that gem.

For instance if I search pink and red jumper I get 47 results. If I search pink red jumper I get 131 results. Now this is weird, if I search red pink jumper, I get 871 results. That’s not supposed to happen! Which leads me on to my next point.

(And damn it, I just found a pink and red jumper I now just have to bid on!)

5. Jig your search phrase around to see if it generates more results

Nude black shoes 4 gets 500 more hits than black nude shoes 4. This does not fit with my understanding of how eBay’s search should work, but I’ve tested this and these are the results.

Nude black shoes 4 1703 results
Black nude shoes 4 1202 results

Make sure you check the category when you do this, because sometimes eBay will select a category for you, hence altering the search results. The first time I did this comparison I got 787 results for nude black shoes 4 because eBay had selected “heels”, which made it an unfair comparison because nude black shoes 4 was “all categories”.

Now I’m not necessarily advocating that more results is better, but if you use some of of the eBay search techniques to filter results that I describe above and below then you should be able to get big results like this down to a manageable search size.

6. Filter out the China tat

Now this is a tricky one.

If only it were as simple as ticking the “uk only” (or equivalent) box on the left hand side bar. That will get rid of the tat coming directly from China, but there are a host of local people importing it too, so it only achieves so much (which is not a lot).

I haven’t found an easy, infallible solution to this one, but I have two options for you to try. Each has a downside which I’ll fill you in on.

1. Narrow your eBay search to “used” and “new with defects”

This 100% eliminates cheap products from China and narrows it down to only preloved and damaged goodies. However, the obvious downside here is that you might be eliminating brand new items that would be perfect for you.

I think this is a great technique when there are so many items to search through, you probably have enough with used items alone.

2. Narrow your eBay search by brand

Cheap goods from China are unbranded, so a great way to eliminate them is to go into the brands tab on the left hand side and check all (or your preferred selection) of the brands listed, leaving out these two:

Not specified – at the end of the list so it’s easy to find
Unbranded – it’s listed alphabetically so just find it in-between T and V!

NOTE: You need to be searching in a category such as clothing, shoes and accessories for “brand” to come up as an option on the LHS. If it’s not there try narrowing your search by category first.

I’m going to walk you through an interesting example I just tested this on, as I think that will do the explanation for me.

CASE STUDY

Search term: pink orange handbag (I want one!)

First search: 2600 results

First I narrow by category (clothes, shoes and accessories): 2550 results

Then I narrow by brand, selecting everything but not specified and unbranded: 1625 results

Getting there, but I’m surprised how many pink orange handbags there seem to be. Thinking I’m done with my search narrowing I do my usual reordering using “sort by lowest price + PP” (I’m a stingy cow and there’s no point torturing myself looking at things I’m too tight to buy!).

And then it becomes sorely obvious why there are still 1625 results – some birthday tote bags have snuck into the search somehow – not what I want, so I click into one of the birthday tote listings, check the brand in the item specifics box (Westford Mill incase you want a birthday tote!), and then I whizz back to the search page, up to the top and find Westford Mill in the list of specified brands and exterminate it: 127 results

Bingo – I’m there.

And as a matter of interest I went back and searched “used” and “new with defects” and I got 87 results. So that’s 40 brand new pink orange handbags that I would have missed.

IMPORTANT TIME SAVER

Now I said I’d highlight the downside of this, which is that it can take a long time to check all of the brand boxes. But in researching this post I have found a solution. It’s a little extension you can install for free on Chrome that allows you to tick multiple check boxes with a couple of clicks.

Check Range Extension

It took all of about 10 seconds to install and then you simply shift-click first and last checkbox to select/deselect range. And you can then shift click any you want to remove. SO much easier than clicking 200 brands and leaving out 2!

7. Save your eBay searches

Proud of the eBay search techniques you’ve just used to hone your search to perfection? Then preserve them!

Once you’ve gone to all this effort to narrow your search to exactly what you want, then save it. That way you don’t have to go through it all again if you don’t find what you want on this occasion. Just click on the save this search link with the little heart next to it, just below the search box and above the results.

eBay will even email you new listings. When you click on the save this search link you’ll be given the opportunity to sign up for email alerts. If you want to cancel these at a later date you can go into my eBay (top right of your screen) > saved searches. There you can delete searches, edit them or change email preferences (see below image).

8. Check spellings

I mean both correct and incorrect. Want some culottes, search cullottes as well as culottes. There’s even a website that will find spelling mistakes and typos:

Goofbid

I do this a lot. Not by design, but because my spelling is pants!

9. Search for a “specific phrase”

I haven’t had need to use this much, but if you find what you are searching for brings up a whole load of irrelevant items because the words in your search also apply to them, then search a specific phrase by putting it in inverted commas.

Phew, I think that’s all I can think of for now.

How do you search eBay? Have I missed any eBay search techniques you find useful? Do tell because I’m always interested in new ways to source a bargain!

 

Or if you are a complete eBay clothing virgin then let me know because I’m thinking about writing a basic guide to using eBay to find great clothes.

Shop the look

Here’s where I sourced what I’m wearing.  And below you’ll find a selection of similar items you can buy now. Text in intalics below shows the brand, and bold indicates where I bought the items.  Sometimes the same if I bought the item new, sometimes not.

  • H&M silky blouse from eBay £3
  • Vintage Flares from the Mare & Foal Sanctuary Charity shop £1
  • Biba leopard print handbag from Sue Ryder Charity Shop £15 
  • Michael Kors gold and snake print court shoes from eBay £4
  • Banana Republic wide zebra belt from eBay £7.50
  • Marks & Spencer necklace from Rowcroft Hospice £4.50
  • Powder Sunglasses £30
Duco Sunglasses
Blevet Sunglasses
Biba Leopard Print Handbag
Women’s Party Animal Zebra Belt
Magnificent Pointed Court Heels
Zebra belt
Yoox Gerard Blouse
Beck Wide Leg Trousers