Whereas most virtual stores have a team of marketing experts to create a comfortable online environment, eBay offers little assistance to new shoppers. The best it gets is eBay's Clothing/Shoe/Accessory Buying Guide. Pretty basic stuff, considering that clothing purchases are now second only to antiques (in terms of volume) for the auction site.
In the last couple years eBay has wizened up and begun collaborating with legit designers and offering virtual sample sales. You will often see the 'eBay Fashion Vault' promo'd on the homepage. I first took notice of this when they were offering steeply discounted French Connection dresses last summer. Today's:
Preloved's capsule sweater collection is currently available (Sadly, no Free Shipping for us Canucks. Still, I prefer the American eBay site to eBay.ca, since most US sellers are happy to ship here for a few extra greenbacks and there is far more choice.)
So sometimes it's that easy, like shopping at any other online retailer. Something on the homepage catches you're eye and you're off! (Think Anthropologie; you click on one cute Tracy Reese dress and that leads you to another.. and then another...)
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Here's Part One of my quick reference guide to help navigate those scary eBay waters (consider me that frugal friend, pointing you towards the 'good' garage sales and best flea market finds)...
1) Searches - the easiest way to search eBay is the Search bar (duh), but it only brings up exact matches so type carefully. The drop down menu allows you to search either the whole or eBay, or a specific category (ie: Clothing, Shoes and Accessories).
Since item titles and descriptions have limited characters, sellers will often abbreviate words or phrases.
Frequently used acronyms:
EUC - excellent used condition
NR - no reserve
BIT - buy it now (fixed price auction)
BNIB - brand new in box
NWT - new with tags
PU - polyurethane (as opposed to GL - genuine leather)
NSFW - not suitable for work
VTG - vintage
OOAK - one of a kind
AUTH - authentic
MRSP - manufacturer's suggested retail price
2) Limited Searches - the basic search can be limited by a variety of factors. It is now mandatory for sellers to list the item's condition (new or pre-owned). Sellers also have the option of filing their items by color, size, type, designer, location etc. You can use the tickboxes to narrow your search.
Similarly, if you are on a tight budget (or you are easily suggestible), you may want to use the blank fields on the left-hand side to view only specific price ranges!
I most frequently limit my searches with the three tabs at the top of the search results, since I almost always like to bid on items, rather than pay a fixed price (where's the sport in that?).
It also helps to sort your results according to time left, price, or location using the drop down menu on the far right (The default setting "Best Match" will show you items in which your search terms are most readily/closely matched).
3) Advanced Searches - there is a blue hyperlink for Advanced Searches just to the right of the basic Search option. I hardly ever use this, but it does work well if you are looking for a particular store or seller you know the name of (ie: "Linda's Stuff" is a popular eBay consignment store. Instead of searching the whole of eBay for individual items, I can view all of her items with the Advanced Search because I know her SellerID).
Note: eBay does NOT have a spellcheck function, so when lazy or rushed sellers list their items with a misspelling it will not appear in the search results. Some industrious folks created a free search engine called FatFingers, which scan eBay for one or two-letter misspellings of the item you are looking for. This way, you are able to bid on items that nobody else can even see!
Also: 42, it's the answer to everything.