eBay Buying Strategies: Sorting & Filtering Search Results

In previous articles, I discussed how to avoid buying counterfeit coins and misrepresented coins on eBay.  In this article, I’m going to assume you’re already familiar with those basic guidelines and are ready to explore some more advanced eBay buying strategies, tips and techniques.  These tips are designed to make your entire eBay coin buying experience more efficient, and potentially more lucrative.  I’ll start out with some of the more common-sense techniques before moving on to less intuitive eBay buying strategies in a future article.

One mistake that a surprising number of eBay buyers make is not sorting or filtering their search results.  Let’s say you search “1916-D Mercury dime” on eBay.  The results you get will be what eBay considers the “Best Match” to your search.  eBay bases these default results on which listings are most relevant to your search phrase, but also gives preference to listings with free shipping, listings that are ending soon, and listings that have been posted by Top Rated Plus Sellers.  You might see a combination of auction and buy-it-now (BIN) listings—some ending soon as well as a few recently started.  As is the case with any default option, the majority of users stick to Best Match search results and probably remain unaware of the other options.  I would hazard a guess that coin buyers are a little savvier than the general population when it comes to eBay, but I felt it would be worthwhile to point out anyway.


When shopping for coins, you should be primarily using the “Time: ending soonest” and “Time: newly listed” search result options (selectable above the results).  Using these search result options makes your shopping experience a whole lot more efficient.  For the “newly listed” option, I would recommend filtering your results further and looking at only BIN listings.  That way, you’ll get a first look at the new fixed-price listings and might be able to find a great deal on an underpriced coin before very many other potential buyers see it.  Unfortunately, eBay’s reduction of listing fees in recent years means that sellers post large numbers of ridiculously overpriced coins.  If for some reason the coin sells, they’ll make a huge profit, and if not, it didn’t cost them anything anyway.  That means you’ll have to sort through a lot of bad deals to locate the good ones.

For the “ending soonest” option, you’ll want to be looking at auction listings.  You have a much better chance of getting a good deal bidding on auctions that are just about to end than bidding on auctions that have just begun.  When bidding, always place your bid at the last possible moment (while taking into account the speed and reliability of your internet connection).  I’m continually flabbergasted by the number of people who enter into bidding wars 5 days before an auction is set to close.  In that situation, all you’re doing is making the seller more money (as a seller, I can’t complain).  If possible, wait until there are only a few seconds left before bidding the maximum amount that you’re willing to pay.  If you’re not able to monitor the listing in its closing moments, place your maximum bid as late as you can.  And, as the data in my analysis suggested, you might want to pay closer attention to auction listings ending on Sunday and Wednesday in particular, as well as auctions ending very early in the morning in U.S. time zones, as final prices tend to be lower on those days and times.

If you’re a glutton for punishment, you could also look at BIN or-best-offer listings under “ending soonest.”  These are fixed price listings that were probably overpriced enough to make it to the end of their schedule.  If fixed-price listings make it to the end of their schedule without being sold, chances are that that’s either due to a ridiculous price or the seller’s inflexibility.  But it still might be worth a shot to send these sellers a reasonable offer and hope that they come to their senses.   I personally just started doing this, though I can’t report any success as of yet.

Outside of search filtering, another effective strategy for finding deals is looking for unoptimized listings.  By unoptimized, I mean listings with inaccurate or incomplete titles and descriptions and low-quality photos.  These listings will obviously tend to sell for less than listings with decent pictures and descriptive titles.  Listings with bad pictures are easy to find—just look through the search results until you find a tiny, dark, or out-of-focus photo.  I should mention that this strategy does come with a certain amount of risk.

Listings with unoptimized titles are a bit harder to find, as the sellers have inadvertently made their coins difficult to search for.  There are a variety of ways you can get around this.  One example: say I’m searching for a coin that’s commonly identified with a certain keyword, such as a “Buffalo” nickel.  Instead of searching “Buffalo nickel” I could instead search the Buffalo nickel category for listings without “buffalo” in the title.  To do that, I would use “buffalo” as my negative keyword by placing the word in parentheses, and then placing a dash before the parentheses like so: “-(buffalo).”  I could also broaden my search outside of the Buffalo nickel category and search by the year plus the word “nickel,” while still excluding the word “buffalo.”  To include multiple years in my search, I would again use the parenthetical search operator: “(1913, 1914, 1915, etc) nickel -(buffalo).”  In this case, I would find listings of 1913, 1914, and 1915 nickels that haven’t been identified as “Buffalo” nickels.  You can include as many words as you like within the parentheses—eBay used to allow you to use wildcard operators but those are no longer supported.

The benefit of searches like these is that you’ll see coin listings that most buyers won’t.  The vast majority of people looking for Buffalo nickels will search “Buffalo nickel.”  And sellers looking to sell to those people will title their listings “Buffalo nickel.”  But you can’t assume that all sellers know what they’re doing.  A lot of sellers might be unfamiliar with coins or just not eBay-savvy.  It may seem a bit ruthless, but these are the people you’ll want to buy from if you’re looking for the best deals.  One caveat: these same sellers are more likely to sell you a low-quality or misidentified coin due to their own lack of expertise.  Weigh carefully the risks and rewards before you bid.

I hope you found the tips in this article helpful.  Please remember to use common sense as your guide.  If a deal seems way too good to be true, it probably is.  In my next article, I’ll go into some more buying techniques, including how to determine your maximum bid and how to efficiently minimize the time you spend searching eBay each day.

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  1. Max, your concise, well-written articles about eBay have inspired me to get onboard. I have been able to acquire many beautiful BU silver coins at less than the cost of junk silver, sometimes for below melt. I await your next article with great anticipation. Thanks.


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