What to Know Before Making an Offer on eBay

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eBay's Best Offer feature empowers buyers to start conversations with sellers and negotiate a price. Sellers complain about lowball offers, but you can't blame buyers for trying to get the lowest price possible. Sellers are always trying to get the best deal when buying for resale, so it shouldn't surprise us when buyers do the same thing. Sellers have added the Best Offer option to open the door for negotiating, but there are a few things buyers should understand before making an offer on eBay.

Why Sellers Make Best Offer Available

Variable value determination: Some items are a challenge to determine a value for. A seller may have a rare piece of art, an antique item, or something so unusual or strange that there are no items to compare its value with. Sellers often just price high and see what kinds of offers come in. If several offers come in around the same price, the seller may change the price to a fixed price based on the offers they received. In other words, the seller is waiting for the market to tell him how to price the item.

To test the market: The seller may only want to entertain offers and see what the market will bear. An item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. A woman who wears a size 8 Anthropologie dress may only want to pay $25 for her dresses, while another woman who may really love the brand and have trouble finding her desired size and style may pay $60. Sellers know this, so they wait to see what buyers will offer and wait for the best-case scenario.

They have a "fast nickel" business: Their goal is to turn inventory quickly for a reasonable price. Many eBay sellers have access to so much inventory locally that their business model is to turn over inventory quickly rather than wait for the highest price possible. Or, they may just not care to wait for the highest offer. Good enough will suffice.

To create space: The seller may be trying to get rid of stale inventory or just wants to liquidate aging inventory at cost. They may take any reasonable offer to get rid of something they have had up for sale for years, they are closing their business, switching locations, or some other reason that involves liquidating their inventory. Sellers in the business may "age out"—meaning they were only selling on eBay to put kids through college, and when the last kid graduates, they liquidate and close up shop.

Rules for Best Offer

Buyers only get five offers for the same item (10 for most vehicle categories). If you make an offer, and the seller rejects or counters it, you can send a maximum of five counteroffers. Expired offers, declined offers, and retracted offers all count towards the limit of five Best Offers per item. 

With Best Offers, the buyer chooses when the offer expires. If you don't hear back from your seller within that time, or the listing ends, you can consider it rejected. The seller can accept, reject, or counteroffer your offer. The Best Offer is a commitment to buy, the same as making a bid on an auction item or purchasing an item at full price. Make sure you really want the item, because if you don't pay, the seller can file an unpaid item strike against you. Too many unpaid item strikes and your eBay account can be shut down. 

Avoid including identifying information in your Best Offer, such as your email address, phone number, or website address. You will be notified if the seller accepts, rejects, or counteroffers through the eBay messaging system. 

eBay also warns buyers that shipping costs associated with a Best Offer can be a little tricky. According to eBay,

"Your offer only applies to the item price. Shipping costs and all other terms specified in the seller's listing remain the same."

Tips for Making Best Offers

Most sellers will tell you that they reject more offers than they accept, and some won't even entertain offers at all because they have been insulted by too many low offers. Here are some tips for working with sellers who will entertain offers:

  • Ask them directly: If you really want the item, you can message the seller and ask what the lowest price that they will accept is. This is acceptable on eBay and a good way to make sure you get the item without using all of your offers up.
  • Be reasonable: Don't offer $5 for a $100 item. The seller may be insulted and immediately end communication with you or block you.
  • Be prepared to negotiate: Sellers have done their research and know what items are worth in the eBay marketplace, so come to the table having done some prior research. This will at least give you perspective on what offers you can throw out that will intrigue the seller enough to entertain it.
  • Counteroffer until you run out of chances: If the seller engages with you, keep going. You get five chances on each item, so use them.
  • Offer to pay immediately: Some sellers won't accept offers because many buyers don't pay. There is no way to require immediate payment on a Best Offer, but you can tell the seller you really want the item and will pay right away. The seller may take a lower than preferred offer if the buyer includes in the terms, "Will pay immediately." Sellers just want to get paid, ship the item, and move on—anything that eases this process is a win for them.

Remember that Best Offer is an agreement between you and the seller. Treat the seller with respect, pay quickly, and don't insult them with lowball offers. You will be able to purchase more items at discount prices if you are courteous and respectful to the seller.