Sunday, August 29, 2010

shhh. ebay shopping secrets inside.

Probably the most common comment or question I get from everyone on this blog is "How do you find such wonderful stuff?" Now, I can't help you with the condition or contents of your local flea market/thrift shops/estate sales. But I don't mind telling my ebay/etsy "secrets" to you! We're all family, right?

Besides, they aren't really secrets. Just techniques. First up, eBay. (I'll save Etsy for another day.)
Numero Uno: Know thy wants (and how much you're willing to pay for them.)
This might be the most important tip. Know what you want; the age, the condition, and your absolute top dollar if you had to pay for it locally, and include tax and gas to get there (and possibly lunch). Why? Because that price is your maximum bid on ebay. (It will also save you from buyer's remorse when you inadvertently get into a bidding war over something you really didn't want in the first place.)

Note the vastly different starting prices on these patterns.
Do your research before you bid!

This concept is very personal. I can't tell you what your maximum bid should be on a gorgeous vintage slip with beautiful black lace & rosebuds.

Only you can know that. Your max price might be $10. Mine might be $30. In which case, I would win. Reverse the roles, and you would win. Lots of people only look for real bargains on ebay, which is fine if that's what you set out to do. But there are some wonderful items that really do deserve more than rock bottom prices. You decide what your limit is, but at the same time, don't let something you really love get away just because it's not yard sale priced.

My gauge of price is always this: If I don't buy it, will I be up at all hours of the night thinking about how I let it get away? A 1940s Vogue pattern magazine priced at $50, no. At $20? Yes. I would be kicking myself for letting that shiny piece of history slip out of my vintage lovin fingertips.

Numero Dos: Set thy Favorites and Searches.

You might already know you can save a seller as a "favorite". Do that, for example, when you find a cool vintage pattern seller who doesn't charge an arm and a leg, combines shipping, and typically has patterns in your size. Then, while you're in the "Favorite Sellers" portion of ebay, sign up for the seller's newsletter if they have one, and also check the box that will allow ebay to email you a weekly list of "Items from your Favorites".

Ebay's weekly newsletter will email you a few items from each of your favorites, up to about five. After that, you'll have to go directly to ebay and look at your favorites page to see the rest. I don't often find patterns to purchase in this newsletter because most of my faves have a huge inventory. I usually get my pattern goodies using the next method.

The Saved Searches method is different and I think it's a hidden gem at ebay. Most people probably never pay attention the little tag that asks if you want to "save this search". But, if you regularly search for 40s vintage patterns in a size 18...and your search is regularly coming up with things you want to buy, save that search! Ebay will mail you DAILY with new listings! Woot!

Saved Searches is my secret weapon. It's great because YOU come up with the search parameters, ebay does the rest. I've purchased many things through this method, especially with "Buy it Now" on something just listed that day.

Numero Tres & Cuatro: SHIPPING & FEEDBACK.
Tips #1 & 2 are my big ones, because I think most people get hung up on one or both of them. These two are oldies but goodies. First, READ THE FEEDBACK. I'm rarely disappointed on ebay because I read feedback**, every time. If they have a negative or a neutral on their feedback page listed, click the grey or red number and ebay will take you directly to that feedback so you can see it. Sometimes the 1 negative feedback is from a moron and you can disregard it.

**Note that these days, it's becoming pretty rare for a seller to have 100% positive feedback because of ebay's new policy whereas buyers can leave negatives, but seller's can't. That's one reason I no longer sell on ebay. Read the feedback and make an informed decision. In previous years, I would never buy from someone with less than 100% but I've had to make changes in how I shop because that's harder and harder to find.

READ THE SHIPPING COSTS. It's right under the bid portion, so glance at that and decide if its fair. My rule is basically never to pay more than a suitable flat rate USPS box costs. I rarely pay more than $10 for shipping unless its really heavy/large, etc. I typically pay about $2 or less for a vintage pattern, or $5-7 for a group of patterns, or a piece or two of fabric. (Flat rate box prices can be viewed on the USPS website.

And hey, if you think the seller could ship it cheaper using a flatrate box, just ask them before you bid if that might be an option. All they can say is no. (Just so you're aware, flat rate boxes are FREE, as are Priority Rate boxes AND the labels used on them. The USPS will even ship an entire case of them to a seller's house for free. Don't let someone rip you off by charging additional handling for the cost of a priorty/flat rate box and labels.)

If you're buying more than one item from a seller, make sure they combine shipping too. Conversely, if they combine shipping and you just bought a pattern, go peruse the rest of their stuff. It's like "free shipping" on everything else in their store!

Numero Cinco: Bidding with the Big Timers.
Sigh. When it comes to something that can easily be resold, you have to deal with shop owners bidding against you. Just like you have to fight off the flea market vendors at the estate and yard sales.

Vintage patterns on ebay are often gobbled up --ironically-- by vintage pattern sellers. I recognize most of their ebay "code" names now because I buy alot, so I sort of know whose purse is deeper than mine and I can call it quits early on.

Here's the cold hard truth about this whole scenario: All's fair in love and war and ebay. They have the money, they can bid against you. Often, they have MORE money to bid than you, especially on a fabulous large lot of vintage dress patterns in YOUR size. (and if you're me, that's one of the most popular sizes, unfortunately.)

Yes, it sucks. It sucks HARD. But the good news is...they're going to be reselling those patterns individually and you might still be able to get your hot little hands on the ones you really love, in the not too distant future. You'll just be paying a little more per pattern. If you know who "they" are, I suppose you could send a friendly email and say... I want this one. Really bad. Maybe they'll let you know as soon as its ready.

Or maybe they'll say, Please stop stalking me. (To be honest, I've never done this, but I've been sorely tempted a couple of times.)

(psst...Even if you don't know who "they" are, wait a week or so and see if they leave feedback for that item. There ya go. Now you know.)

Also, pattern sellers are typically not bidding against you in the single pattern race unless its dirt cheap. I can't win against a pattern seller in a really good lot. It's almost impossible. Their disposable income for that lot is much bigger than mine. They're hoping to make back the purchase price doubled or tripled. It's just business. BUT...they're not going to pay $10-20 for a complete, pristine, WW2 vintage pattern in my size, the way I will. They can't afford to, because they can't resell it and make a profit. So the singles are a much more realistic win for me.

Do I bid on the large, wonderful lots? You bet your ass I do! :P Once in a great, great while, I'll slip by the big timers and win one too. I just won a GREAT one a few weeks ago, that I plan to share shortly. It happens, but not often.

Numero Seis: Know the Lingo.
The title of a listing is what is searchable in ebay. If you're searching vintage, VTG also works in your search. You get varied results when you search 1940 and 40. Some people list pattern/dress bust measurements in their title and some don't. Some put their items in the correct category, and some don't. In other words, try a variety of things.

There are also search terms that buyers & sellers have coined over the years, and sellers put those in their titles to help you find their items. I don't know what you want, so you're going to have to investigate that part for yourself. One example is a "cutter".

A cutter is vintage clothing that has holes or damage, but could still be used for fabric or to recreate the pattern from. So you could search dress cutter and see what pops up. Remember tip #2, when you find a search parameter that is the Holy Grail for you, save it.

Sometimes the best buys don't have any of those things though. That's because they're being sold by NEWBIES who don't know any better! Bad for them, good for us. That means, they get overlooked or lost in the shuffle. Try mispelling vintage or pattern or whatever you're looking for and see what hidden gems you find. Transposed letters are the biggest goof I see in listing titles.


It may seem like you'll never, ever find such a fabulous item in this condition anywhere on earth again, as long as you live. But trust me, it only seems that way. Nearly everything I've ever bought, wanted, ogled or had sniped away on ebay, has shown its lovely face once again at some point. Unless it's OOAK (one of a kind), there's one out there, just for you.

Waiting for you to find it.


  1. Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks! I don't buy many vintage patterns or items, but sometimes I do see something I just must have. You're so sweet for sharing!

  2. Anonymous12:02 PM

    I agree with Kristine, you are super sweet for sharing. While I'm pretty good at estate sales, I usually buy bigger things there, I've only used ebay once, for something I really, really wanted and couldn't find anywhere. With your tips I might start shopping ebay and looking for some of the things I'd like to have. Thanks for sharing. ~Nita

  3. Those are some great rules for eBay. I learned your top 2 rules early on into the game but I've had to stop receiving emails and let some of my searches lapse because I was spending way too much money on eBay. Picking up Sarah Coventry broaches for $5 & $10 was starting to overwhelm me. *LOL* But thanks for reinforcing that I was doing the right thing!

  4. What a great post. I appreciate your willingness to share your secrets and the time you spent putting all of that together.

  5. Great post and I'll be really pleased to see your views on Etsy. I often prefer it because it feels a more slow-paced transaction. Personally, I am the world's worst estate/goodwill trawler, so I don't mind paying extra in recognition that someone else has the skills I lack.

    It won't apply to your US readers, but as an Australian, both Ebay and Etsy are great for current patterns. Even with the exchange rate and postage, they are often cheaper than buying locally in Australia. We never seem to have $2.99 sales like Joann's etc.

  6. Wonderful information! I'm trying to restrain myself, but I'll bookmark this incase I change my mind.

  7. You're just posting this because you're trying to get me to buy vintage patterns, aren't you? I know your wily ways. Oh sure, everyone else thinks you're "sweet" and "generous" but I know better. Sneaky.

    Word Verification: "rhaboi". It's like kohlrabi but tastes even worse. (My other option was some kind of male cheerleader from Thailand.)

  8. Hey! You just shared my tips *LOL* Great tips actually. I like the sneaky tip for going back to a lost auction to check out the feedback. I must admit I rarely visit eBay these days because I accumulated so darn many vintage patterns over the years due to my previous stalking habit. I wonder if we've ever bid against each other for one of those fabulous vintage lots? I guess I'll know


I love hearing from you, and thank you in advance for reading and commenting! &