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How to Search eBay Like a Pro

Learn to navigate auction sites

By now, I think we all can agree that eBay can be a great place to snag high-quality clothing items on the cheap. But it’s not always easy.

You can follow SG for interesting finds, but hey, I don’t know your measurements, or what you’re looking for. And even if the stars align, and I do find your perfect [jacket, pants, blazer, etc] it’s pretty much the worst when you go, “Oh man, that’s JUST what I’ve been looking for!” …then check the details and find out it’s two sizes too big (or worse, I guess..too small).

Which is why I checked in with Brian Potter, who runs Haberdashboard, a menswear-focused eBay aficionado site. He gave me – and by extension, you! us! – the inside scoop on how to track down your next great eBay find:

Use search operators!

The eBay search function works like the search engines you already know and love, so treat it as such. For exact phrase, use quotes: ie:“Red Wing Heritage”. To exclude a term, use minus: ie: -loafers. To use or, use parentheses, ie: (lands end,j crew)will find anything with land’s end or j crew in the title.

It’s unfortunately impossible to run a search with JUST exclusions, you need to run at least one real search term. If you want to exclude multiple phrases, combine minus and parenthesis. -(h&m,abercrombie) will exclude anything that has h&m or abercrombie in the title.

If you want to exclude a multi-word phrase, resist the urge to use quotes. Instead, use parentheses: -(allen edmonds). This will also exclude all similar casings.

You can combine these in fairly complex ways to really narrow down your results, ie: horsehide “double rider” (schott,vanson,lewis) -(vintage,vtg).

Use size keywords in addition to size filters

Resist this urge to click the size filter over on the left to narrow your results down by size. Instead, start by adding your sizes to your search keywords. If you’re looking for a small J.Crew jacket, for example, simply search j crew small. Or if you’re looking for a size 40 or 42 Barbour, search Barbour (40,42).

The reason for this is twofold. The first is that sellers often incorrectly set the size when creating their listing. The second is that eBay calls sizes different things depending on what country the seller is in. For example, what’s called “Size” in the US is called “Chest Size” in the UK. The result is that when you filter by size, you exclude EVERYTHING that has a “Chest Size” listing – even if you check the “Not Specified” box.

Using size keywords will nearly always return more results than using the size filter. Of course, not every seller includes the size in their description. To be thorough, you’ll have to run two searches – one with size keywords and one using the size filters. Annoying, sure, but thorough? Definitely.

Use as few filters as possible

eBay filters such as “color”, “material”, “shoe width”, etc. often do more harm than good. One reason is that, like with size, sellers often simply fail to include that information, or include it in a way that eBay won’t see – ie: putting in “half wool half cotton” in as the material. For another, eBay localization rears its ugly head here too. “Color” in the UK is “colour,” so filtering by color will remove most of the UK results from your search. In general, it’s a good idea to use as few filters as possible to produce a reasonable number of results.

Be aware of European sizes

American and European clothes are sized differently, and you can capitalize on this to find under-visited auctions. The most important ones to know are European jacket sizing, which is 10 larger than US sizing (ie: a 38 US is a 48 EU) and UK shoe sizing, which is ~1 size smaller than US sizing (ie: a 9.5 US is about an 8.5 UK). There are European sizes for pants and shirts as well.

To include these, simply include the initials EU or UK in your search terms (though sometimes IT, EUR, or EURO is used instead of EU). So if you’re looking for a great Boglioli jacket in size 36, you might search boglioli (36, 46 EU, 46 IT).

Be aware of the relevant categories

There’s often more than one appropriate category for an item, making it worthwhile to check out all that could work. For instance, if you’re looking for a leather jacket, you should check Men’s Clothing > Coats & Jackets, but you should ALSO check Clothing, Shoes & Accessories > Vintage > Men’s Vintage Clothing, as well as Collectibles > Militaria, AND eBay Motors > Parts & Accessories > Apparel & Merchandise. If you’re not sure where you should be looking, run a specific search term from the top-level search (for example, “horsehide” almost exclusively returns nice leather jackets) and see which categories come up.

Look for mistyped listings

One of the great ways to find a great deal on something is to find things with critical typo in the title, that other searchers will miss. The best and easiest way to do this is with FatFingers.com. Type in your search terms, and FatFingers will run a search using all possible spelling variations.

Ask the seller about shipping

Often, a seller will indicate that they won’t ship to your particular country. In general, this is because international shipping is a pain in the ass and sellers (especially casual sellers) don’t want to bother with it. However, I’ve found that a nicely sent message will almost always result in the seller agreeing to ship it to wherever you are. So it’s always worth it to ask (though this may not apply if you live in country famous for fraud). Bonus, the auction will probably be cheaper, since most people will simply give up when they notice the shipping requirements!

Save your own searches

Frequent searches can be saved by clicking “Follow this search” at the top of the results. This will let you re-run it without having to type it in every single time. You can also opt to receive automatic email notifications for any newly listed items in a saved search.

It’s also possible to get an RSS feed of any search you run – simply add “&rss=1” to the end of the search URL, and then add it to your RSS reader.

Use others’ saved searches

People around the blogosphere have already done the hard work of assembling custom searches for high-quality brands. This is a great way to search if you’re not looking for something by a specific brand, but are just looking for say, a high quality sportcoat or tie. For good examples of pre-assembled searches, check out ThisFits, PutThisOn, and Brian’s site Haberdashboard.

Follow Sellers

If you find something great in your size, you can click “follow this seller” to get updates of any new items they have available, just like with a saved search. This is a great way to keep tabs on people in your size doing closet purges by listing their stuff on eBay.

….And that’s it! Easy, right? Just 10,000 simple steps. Kidding, kidding, but clearly you do have to be willing to put in some legwork to really get the most out of the auction site. While the payoff can be amazing (a Barbour jacket for under a hundred bucks!? Score!), some guys may not have the patience to enjoy the hunt.

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