5 Common Sense Tips for Buying Used Goods Online

by Jessica Sommerfield · 8 comments

I shop clearance racks and thrift stores as part of my frugal lifestyle, but I’ve always been hesitant to utilize online marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist or the scores of smaller websites and apps that have popped up over the last few years. Alongside the good finds, you still hear horror stories of scamming, stalking, and otherwise bad experiences.

Still, there’s something to be said about finding a great deal, especially on high-ticket items like furniture and electronics that tend to be overpriced by retailers. In the effort to find some new-to-me furniture for our new house without paying full price, I’ve decided to take the plunge and start engaging with a few of the newer mobile-friendly sites more actively. Here are some common-sense tips I’ve learned so far.

Tip #1: Don’t assume the item you’re looking at is still for sale.
I learned this one early on. I don’t know why people leave listings up after they’re sold, but they do. It’s annoying, but it’s something you’ll encounter if you want to find a good deal. Your first step should always be to ask whether the item is still for sale. It feels tedious to do this every time, but it saves the mental energy of calculating your offer price, as well as the emotional involvement of getting your heart set on something that’s no longer available.

Tip #2: Move fast.
Once you’ve verified that an item is still available, act quickly. With hundreds of other invisible shoppers, hesitating for even one day can mean losing your chance. Even if you’re still finalizing details, go ahead and place an offer on it to hold your spot, so to speak. This may seem rude to the seller if you back out, but in these types of marketplaces, they’re used to it (and will just sell to the next person that comes along).

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price (but don’t be cheap).
Just like in a flea market, sellers in these digital marketplaces tend to set their prices high because they expect to negotiate, meeting low-ball offers with counter-offers until both parties are satisfied they got a decent deal. Ultimately, the market decides how much any given item is worth, not how much the seller paid for it (although some sellers successfully use an item’s base retail as a negotiation point, thanks to the anchor price comparison trap).

Although it’s expected that you’ll offer a lower price, don’t be ridiculous with the offer. You’re unlikely to budge the seller extremely low unless other circumstances are putting pressure on them to sell at an extreme discount.

A related tip is to keep your eye out for items that have dropped their listing price – that’s probably a motivated seller who will negotiate a little more readily.

Tip #4: Factor in shipping or pick-up expenses and logistical challenges.
In the eagerness to find a good deal on something you need and want, it’s easy to forget about practical things like shipping or pickup. One of my experiences includes a great deal on a used washer and dryer set from a nearby city that turned into a logistical nightmare.

Settle the practical matters before you finalize the sale. How far away is the seller’s location? Are they willing to deliver, and do they charge? Do you have a vehicle large enough to transport the item? Is it something bulky located in a third-floor apartment with a narrow stairway? Getting these details out of the way can help you decide if the deal is worth it, whether in terms of its total price, fuel, stress, or backaches.

Tip #5: Check all the sites until you find the one or two that are best utilized and offer the best selection in your area.
Not all deal sites are the same for each area. Depending on your location, some apps will be more heavily utilized or offer higher-quality products on a consistent basis. Read reviews from users in your area to watch out for scams, and shop around several of them. You’ll quickly determine which is your go-to marketplace and save yourself extra time or even money.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Easton Memmott says:

    I did not know that asking for a lower price in a purchase agreement was so important. I love buying from other people, and tonight I am going to meet a friend to buy her old laptop. I will be sure to ask for a lower price than the one she asks for.

  • Cory @ Growing Dollars From Cents.com says:

    I think one of the biggest challenges with used goods is making sure that the quality is the same as is displayed online.

    I’ve experienced buying used stuff online where the item wasn’t the same quality as it stated on the website. It’s very frustrating.

    So buyers should check the comments from other buyers and the ratings of the seller to protect themselves from poor quality items.

  • Ying-NavigatingAdulthood says:

    “Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price (but don’t be cheap).” I couldn’t agree more. There’s no shame in negotiating for a fairer price, but I hate it when people low-ball something that I’ve already priced very fairly.

    I feel like it’s become easier and easier to buy larger items like furniture pre-loved because places like Home Depot allow you to rent a truck for $20 an hour!

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    I often explain to people , especially young people that there is no shame in buying used furniture as long as it is good quality . [ except mattresses ] You probably save 60 % or more . Up to 2010 I had 2 residences , 6 months in Newport , R.I. and 6 months in North Palm Beach , Fl. When I gave up my home in Newport , I sold or gave away a lot of furniture . Had a tufted leather couch that I bought about 10 years before for $ 5800.00 . I was like NEW , no wear and tear . [ I have the same couch in Florida ] I put a price on it of $ 1500.00 and finally sold it for $ 950.00 . They stole it. There is NO shame in buying used furniture considering even wealthy people buy used furniture ………… For example I have a used dining room set , a long table , 8 carved wooden chairs and a side board / chest . It is over 100 years old and in A – 1 shape . It is an antique …….. it cost me $ 2000.00 25 years ago but still USED no matter how you look at it. I am now an ” old man ” but in all my life I never bought a new car . Every one of my cars were low mileage used Lincolns . My 2008 Lincoln Town car had 13,900 miles on it when I bought it in April 2009 . New , 10 months earlier it would have cost me about $ 45,000.00 . I bought it for $ 23,900.00 therefore I saved $ 20,000.00 . The stock market CRASHED in 2008 and by the beginning of 2010 I felt it had hit bottom and invested that $ 20,000.00 [ plus /plus] back into the stock market and almost doubled my money . It is NOT how much you earn but how much you save . Money makes money.

  • Jing says:

    My reservation with eBay and Craigslist though is that it drives my sense of need/scarcity through the roof! So something that wasn’t a “need” really suddenly becomes this thing I have to have because it could be gone in a few hours ?

  • The Financially Savvy says:

    Hey Jessica – what are some of your favorite online places to shop for these items? Besides Craigslist and eBay, that is. Or are those still your go to?

    • Jessica Sommerfield says:

      Hey there,
      I’ve had good experience with Offer Up, but I’ve also checked out Letgo and the Facebook Marketplace. I’m open to checking into others as they pop up. ?

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