Seven Smart Trading Tips for 2011

Ready to do things differently on Trade Me this year? These seven tips will help you buy better and sell smarter in 2011.


1. Don’t settle for the first item you find.
When you have your heart set on buying something, it’s tempting to grab the first product that meets all your needs. If it’s a rare collectable (perhaps a handwritten note from James Cook to the British Admiralty with details of a fabulous long-lost treasure stashed somewhere in Gisborne), then by all means grab, grab, grab. Otherwise, do a little homework first, before you place any bids.

For example, let’s  hypothesize that you are looking for a set of petanque boules, to while away those long summer nights (we picked petanque because it was one of the first items we stumbled upon when we began browsing on Trade Me today).

Perhaps you, like us, found this listing:

The product looks good, the price (at $23.99) seems perfectly reasonable for a new set and the seller has a 99.8% rating. All systems should be Go, right?

Well, that would be true if you were browsing in a shopping mall — but this is Trade Me. The rules are different.

How so?

Well, for a start, unlike in a retail environment (where stores need to sell products to make a living), many Trade Me sellers aren’t in it for the money. Sure, most of us would like to make a few extra pennies selling our surplus wares on Trade Me — but that may not be why we’ve listed our goods on the site. Sometimes, we just want to be rid of the stuff cluttering up our attics and garages and shelves (or perhaps our significant other has hinted at GBH “if I have to look at that moosehead one more time”). So items that might be worth a lot more get listed for a low price just to get rid of them.

Secondly (and sorry, there’s no tactful way to put this), not every seller knows what he or she is doing — in other words, they haven’t read TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS. As a result, you never know when you’ll find valuable artifacts listed with a low starting price (and no competing bidders). That’s especially true if sellers have done a poor job of describing the product in their listing — or the photos look like they’ve been taken underwater.

Our first smart buying tip for 2011, then: look around before you bid.

And the easiest way to do that? For that advice, turn to Tip #2 (about which more in a moment).

But first, sticking with our petanque example: if you looked around on Trade Me, you would have found quite a few listings for petanque.

Are any a better deal than our original find? To work that out, sort your results by price:

Lo and behold, a couple of potential petanque bargains emerge immediately:

[Even though the second seller shown above has listed a $50 Buy Now price, he/she has still started the auction at $1 with no reserve (the yellow flag indicates that any bid of $1 or more could take home the prize) -- so you could well end up with a very low-cost petanque set.]

Add both prospects to your watchlist and keep your bidding powder dry until just before the end of each auction (see Tip #4 below for more details).

2. Use the Search facility properly.
At the top of the page on Trade Me, you’ll find the Search box. If you’re a Trade Me regular, you no doubt use the Search box all the time — but you’re probably not taking full advantage of all the capabilities available to you.

Trade Me Power Searchers know that:

  • Adding quotation marks around a phrase tells the Trade Me search engine to ONLY look for that phrase, helping you narrow down your search. For example, searching for computer desk returns 2073 listings which feature computer and desk (not necessarily together), including 138 irrelevant listings for computer peripherals and 116 similarly superfluous results for laptops; while asking for “computer desk” narrows down the search to 604, all of which include the words “computer desk” (with just 10 laptop listings now featured).
  • Add an asterisk (*) to the end of a word to search for possible variations on a word, e.g. cup* matches cup, cups and cupboard
  • Use an uppercase OR between two search terms to find either one of the terms, e.g. Canon OR Nikon will give you results for either one of those brands.
  • Use an uppercase NOT between two search terms to find the first term but ignore the second term, e.g. iPod NOT shuffle will give you results for iPods but exclude references to shuffle.
  • By default, Trade Me will find variations of search terms, e.g. fish will give you results for fish and fishing. Use a plus sign (+) immediately before a search term to find only that exact term, e.g. +fish will only give results that include the word fish.

There are more than a million listings on Trade Me every week. Using smarter search strategies to find the items you really want should make life a lot easier and avoid your having to sift through the 999,999 items that really aren’t you.

3. What’s it worth?

Despite the fiscal optimism of many sellers, if a product is priced too expensively on Trade Me it mostly won’t sell. So how do we judge what products are really worth, before we decide whether or not to bid on them?

We use the Trade Me Time Machine and take a look back to see what similar products sold for on the site.

Okay, Trade Me don’t really call it a Time Machine — but it serves that purpose. The path to the time machine is via the little link on the right of the search button labelled “More options”.

Click on that link and you’ll be taken to an Advanced Search options page that enables you to search what Trade Me calls “Expired Listings” — auctions that have closed.

If we search closed auctions for petanque, we find (amongst other results), auctions that closed recently with petanque sets going for $1.50 — so we know we just have to be patient to score a good deal.

4. Hold your breath — and your bid

This is the most important buying tip of all: don’t bid until the last few minutes of any auction. Otherwise you’ll just end up attracting other bidders.

For more information, may we respectfully point you in the direction of Chapter Six of Trade Me Success Secrets. It deals with the topic in far more detail than we can address effectively here.


Finally in our roundup, three selling tips to guide you through 2011. NB: Follow the links to some of our most popular past columns — it may be a New Year, but much of this advice is timeless.

5. The Six Little Words

These six little words, added to your listing, can double the number of prospective bidders for your auction: “add this item to your watchlist”.

6. What should you sell on Trade Me?

So you’ve decided to get serious about Trade Me and make some real money on the site. But what should you sell – and where can you find goodies at the right price to make a good profit anyway?

Start here.

7. When bad things happen to good auctions

Sometimes, Trade Me auctions sell out in a flash. Other times, not so much.

You polish up your headlines, take some great photos and write sizzling words that (you figure) will have people bidding like crazy. You kick-start your auction with great hope and check back in a day or so later.

What? After all your good work, how could this happen? No bids! See here for what to do next.

The Seven Tips

Okay, that’s our lot this time round. If you’d like even more advice, check out the column on the right of this page to:
  1. Sign up for our free newsletter;
  2. Get your own copy of TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS; or
  3. Find out about our Advanced Selling on Trade Me online ecourse, starting soon.

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6 thoughts on “Seven Smart Trading Tips for 2011

  1. Chris

    I’d like to comment on your exhortation never to bid untill the auction closes. This is not always a good idea.

    I’ve increasingly noticed that with a very low reserve that some interested buyers post a question early on, asking for a “Buy Now”. Quite often the seller will agree and load a “Buy Now” on their auction. Before anyone else knows it, the questioner has walked off with a bargain.

    When there is a low reserve and no ‘Buy Now’ is currently offered I recommend bidding to the reserve immediately. By doing so you prevent the seller from offering a “Buy Now” in response to a questioner. It keeps the auction a level playing field for all and ensure the auction is not high-jacked and you miss out completely on a chance to win the goods.

  2. Joel

    Yeah, sometimes I think if something is moderately priced – reasonable but exactly not a bargain – bidding early can put other bidders off. They see there is some one else interested who will quite likely keep bidding. Rather than start a bidding war that they don’t really want to win, they look somewhere else instead.

  3. Michael Carney Post author

    Your comment is valid, Chris, in terms of protecting the integrity of the auction process (and stopping private Buy Now arrangements) — but it does still make you more vulnerable by raising a red flag (literally) to attract other bidders. The “don’t bid till near the end of the auction” strategy, in combination with last-minute autobidding (refer Chapter Six of TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS) is, on balance, the most effective method for winning more auctions in the long run, without overpaying.

    Of course, the underlying assumptions of this bidding strategy are that (a) there is no shortage of supply of the given product; and (b) that sellers tend to price similar products similarly. If either assumption isn’t relevant for a particular auction, then a more aggressive bidding strategy is entirely warranted (again, see Chapter Six for a “win at any cost” plan).

    Michael Carney

  4. Chris

    Yes I agree with you Michael, last minute auto-bidding is the most effective means of winning. I attribute most of my successful wins to this strategy, but I think it is equally due to some bidders forgetting the closing time of the auction and that has left me the only man standing with no competition at closing time.

    Auctions that close during the day (not weekends) can be easy pickings but after midnight and there is almost no competition at all.

  5. Michael Carney Post author

    To add a Buy Now, go to your auction listing and click on the “edit” button (within the “Seller’s options” box near the top of your listing). That will take you back through the listing process and you can add a Buy Now price into the appropriate box. Please note, though, that you won’t be able either to edit your listing or add a Buy Now price if there are any bids on your auction.

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