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How to safely shop new and used tech items on eBay, according to experts

We’re sharing tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your eBay shopping experience.
Smiling woman doing online shopping on laptop at home
Buying refurbished tech items like smart TVs and wireless earbuds on eBay is safe if you know what to look for.Getty Images

Many people know eBay as an auction site for obscure collectibles and lightly used clothing, but since the company’s founding almost 28 years ago, it has become a retailer unto itself by offering ways to save money on used fashion, electronics, tools and new items like smart TVs and bicycles.

Today, many businesses use the platform to sell their inventory just as they would on any other platform like Amazon or Walmart. Big-name retailers such as Best Buy and Dyson even have their own eBay stores. These retailer-specific fronts usually offer similar inventory and prices to their regular store sites, but occasionally offer eBay-only deals and coupons that tip the scales in the consumer’s favor.

eBay is also home to pre-owned and refurbished items that you can either buy through auctions or eBay's refurbished online storefront. Below, we’ve highlighted some top-rated certified refurbished items along with some helpful tips on how to safely shop for tech on eBay.

SKIP AHEAD Tips and tricks to help you shop on eBay | How to place a bid on eBay | How to shop for refurbished tech on eBay

Tips and tricks to help you shop on eBay

Shopping on eBay may seem complicated to first-timers, so we spoke with experts and outlined their guidance on what to keep in mind as you shop, below:

  • Check seller ratings: “Always check a seller's feedback and ratings before making a purchase,” says Ray Chehova from GuaranteeCellular, a top-rated seller on eBay. “This will give you an idea of their reliability and help you avoid potential issues.”
  • Read the item description: Sellers might provide inaccurate or incomplete descriptions so it’s best to do a thorough read through of your item’s description page before you bid or buy it, according to our experts. If you’re confused about something you read in a listing, your best bet is to ask the seller a question directly via eBay.
  • Check the product’s condition: EBay sells new, pre-owned and refurbished products (more on the difference between these, below). Whatever you're shopping for, keep in mind the condition of the item on sale; if you're looking for a deal, consider shopping pre-owned or refurbished.
  • Check the original list date: If you are bidding on an item, you’ll want to place your bid right before the auction ends, according to Kayleigh Flurry, head of content strategy at Techboomers. If you wait until closing, “you're more likely to make a competitive offer that wins the auction,” says Flurry.
  • Check the return policy: Some sellers may have strict or no-return policies, which could impact your ability to send back an item if you're unsatisfied with it.
  • Use the ‘best offer’ method: If you don’t want to wait until the end of the auction to buy a product, you can make a ‘best offer.’ If the seller accepts your best offer, the auction ends immediately. By making the best offer, you’re showing the seller you’re willing to pay more than the highest bidder, and are serious about purchasing the product, according to Flurry. “When making a 'best offer', you shouldn't lowball the seller, and your offer shouldn't be just a tiny bit more than the current highest bid,” she says. Not all auctions accept offers however. You can configure your settings to ‘accepts offers’ in the navigation bar if this is something you’re interested in.
  • Beware of empty box scams: This occurs when sellers list a high-ticket, often hard-to-find item (like the PlayStation 5) for an unbelievably low price. When you see something like this, read the product description, check the photos of the items and look at the seller rating so you know you’re not getting snubbed, says Flurry.

What is a refurbished product?

EBay offers products in different conditions including refurbished, pre-owned or used. Here’s the difference between those, according to research and our experts:

Certified Refurbished: Ebay defines this as products “in pristine, like-new condition” that have been “professionally inspected, cleaned, and refurbished to original specifications by the manufacturer or a manufacturer-approved vendor.”

Refurbished: Not every item you pick will have a certified refurbished option. In that case, you can shop for products in ‘excellent condition’, ‘very good condition’ or ‘good condition’. They each vary, with excellent refurbished items described as ‘like-new’ and good items showing moderate wear and tear. Every item though, comes from a vetted seller. (Sellers have to specifically apply to the certified refurbished program to be considered for this.)

Used/Pre-Owned: These items are returned by a previous owner and may show signs of wear and tear. “Check the item's condition, and specifications, and read the seller's description carefully,” says Ozzy Russell who alongside Chehova is a co-owner of GuaranteeCellular. “Compare the item to similar listings to ensure you're getting a fair price.”

How to buy refurbished tech on eBay

EBay has a plethora of refurbished tech on sale including gaming consoles, smartphones and even appliances. “These items are usually restored to working condition and come with a limited warranty,” says Russell.

To get started, head to the search bar to look up the name of the product you’re in the market for. Then, click on the refurbished setting you’re looking for under ‘condition.’ From there, you can simply purchase your desired product like you would on Amazon or Best Buy. There is also a certified-refurbished specific landing page to help you shop.

The benefit of buying refurbished? EBay vets all its refurbished sellers for you, so there is less of a chance you will get a counterfeit or inadequate product — something that may happen in an auction if you're not careful. Each refurbished product will also have some sort of deal on it, typically offering anywhere up to 75 percent off.

How to place a bid on eBay

Auctions are a great way to shop on eBay, and if you play your cards right, it’s also the best way to snag a deal, especially on collectibles, according to Flurry. “EBay essentially takes the ‘auction’ system and makes it global, allowing its users to access products they otherwise couldn't in the 'real world',” she says.

While you can simply buy products on eBay through their refurbished section, an auction might be the only way to get a limited-edition product or rare collectible.

First you’ll want to look up the name of the product you’re shopping for in the navigation bar. For example, if I were in the market for a new, limited-edition console, I’d look up ‘Xbox Halo Edition console.’ From there, click on the ‘auction’ tab to see which ones are currently live. I always suggest picking a seller with a high rating, so you know you're getting a quality product. You can see the ratings of the seller below the product being sold, plus reviews from other eBay buyers.

Once you’re on the item page, you can also see the current bid and choose to submit one of your own. You submit your offer and then the auction continues for a predetermined amount of time. Keep in mind you’ll need an eBay account to place a bid, according to Flurry.

Based on your maximum bid, eBay uses ‘proxy bidding’ to automatically manage the process. “When you place your maximum bid, eBay will automatically place bids on your behalf, in the smallest possible increments, up to your maximum amount,” says Russell. “This ensures that you remain the highest bidder until someone else places a higher maximum bid or the auction ends.”

If someone outbids you, eBay will send you a notification via email. You can then choose to place a new maximum bid if you still want the product.

Once the bidding process is over, and you win the item, you're obligated to purchase it. EBay will send you a link to your email to complete the purchase, according to our experts.

If you want a better chance of winning the bid, make sure you place your bid a few minutes before the auction ends, that way you’ll have a more competitive offer.

The best-refurbished tech products on eBay in 2023

Since pre-owned items are hard to vet, we’ve only rounded up the best-refurbished tech you can shop below. Each of these products has a four-star or higher average rating and are considered ‘certified refurbished.’

Sony WF-1000XM4 Earbuds

Select tech reporter Harry Rabinowitz named the Sony WF-1000XM4 as one of the best wireless earbuds of 2023 thanks in part to its crisp, detailed audio and noise-canceling features. “They are some of the best-sounding earbuds I have tried,” he says. “The instrumentation on my favorite songs sounds rich and detailed.” They’re Bluetooth compatible, water resistant and have eight hours of battery life, according to the brand.

Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to 8 hours (ANC on) | Wireless Charging: Yes | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth Multipoint: Yes | Works best with: Android or iOS via app | Ear tips: Foam (S, M, L)

Dyson AM11 Pure Cool Tower Purifier Fan

Dyson’s cooling tower fan and air purifier has 10 airflow settings and removes 99.97% of allergens through its HEPA filter, according to the brand. The oscillating fan has an odor and humidity sensor, and three modes including an auto mode so your fan can shut off by itself. Since it doesn’t have spinning blades in its design, you’ll be able to easily clean it too, according to Dyson.

Weight: 7.9 pounds | Type: Tower Fan | Base Diameter: 7.72 inches | Voltage: 120 volts | HEPA filter: Yes

Bose QuietComfort Earbuds Series II

This model is one of our favorite noise canceling earbuds for its secure fit and ability to deliver clear, detailed sound. The buds are touch-controlled, which allows you to adjust volume and playback and even pick up phone calls, according to the brand. There’s an ‘aware mode’ too that offers enough transparent sound so you can still hear your surroundings while wearing them.

Noise cancellation: Yes | Transparency: Yes | Battery life: Rated up to six hours | Water resistance: IPX4 | Bluetooth: Yes | Works best with: Android or iOS via app | Ear tips: Three (S, M, L)

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Kayleigh Fleury is the head of content strategy at Techboomers, a website focused on improving the quality of life for inexperienced technology users.
  • Ray Chehova and Ozzy Russell are co-owners of GuaranteeCellular, a top-rated seller on eBay that has sold close to a million products.

Why trust Select?

Nishka Dhawan is an associate commerce editor at Select and has covered tech and electronics for more than three years. For this piece she interviewed eBay refurbished sellers and tech educators on how to navigate, bid and buy on eBay.

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