This article was first published on 2008-08-22. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
If you are like me, going to the Apple store to buy Mac gear is a great experience. Everything in there is made for the Mac user. No checking the back of the box to see if it works on Macs. No clueless looks from the sales guy. Apple Retail has been carefully created and branded to make you feel good in the store.
The only downside is you pay for it. Everything is list price. That iPod cover? List price. That Oakley bag on the wall? List price.
My budget is very tight these days, making list price out of my reach. So what can you do to get a deal? How about buying on eBay.
Why buy on eBay?
There are two markets on eBay that I try to take advantage of. The first is retailers selling below list price. These guys usually run auctions continuously. eBay provides them an outlet where they can offer discounts which they might not normally be able to do. Particularly with Apple branded stuff because Apple will enforce their list prices with regular retailers. When you want to buy new items on eBay, make sure the description explicitly states New in Box or NIB.
The second market is just for used goods. This market is normally what people think of when they think of eBay. You can buy used goods on Craigslist too, but I think the marketplace is more efficient on eBay.
What to buy on eBay
Here again, I will break it into a few categories. The first are the items that make total sense when buying used goods from strangers. Here I’m talking about things like cables, keyboards, USB hubs and the like. Anything that either works or it doesn’t. These are the things that are usually attached to your Mac, hiding under the desk or behind your display. Wear and tear doesn’t really come into play. Also, most people don’t really care what external condition they are in because normally once you set these things up, you ignore them.
The second group is what I call the "back of the Apple store" items that you prefer to buy new. These items may overlap the above group, but also include messenger bags, backpacks and accessories. Items from this group you want to buy on eBay just because paying list price would be foolish. Buying them from Apple doesn’t add anything. This group you should also shop on e-commerce web sites. See Get the Best Buys on Mac Stuff with Shopping Comparison Websites to find out how to get the best price.
The third group is software that you don’t need the latest and greatest version of. You can find out-of-date software that people don’t need when they upgrade as well as games that the sellers are done playing. Just ask to be sure they aren’t tied to the seller’s Mac and will be usable on your Mac.
For the next two groups, you must be willing to travel. eBay is probably the best place to buy a used Mac. My only qualifier here is to restrict your search to the area you are willing to drive to. That way you can inspect it before buying and avoid shipping fees which can add up on heavier items, particularly desktop Macs. See Where to Buy Your Used Mac for more info.
And for the last part, you can buy new Macs on eBay. Just be sure you find a local seller for the reasons mentioned above. I would also only buy a new Mac on eBay if I lived near an Apple store. Otherwise, you won’t have any support if something goes wrong. Apple stores will help you with a dead Mac as long as it’s under warranty. You don’t need a receipt, but you should register it so they know when you bought it.
What not to buy on eBay
Although I have done it, I normally wouldn’t buy a new Mac on eBay unless the price is great. My reason is that Amazon usually has a good discount in addition to no sales tax and free shipping. See Pulling the trigger – Where to buy a Mac – Tips for the best price and delivery for more on that.
Next up, I wouldn’t buy something that is known to be flaky and that I may need assistance with. I’d put RAM, hard drives and printers in this category. I suggest you only buy these from retailers that have good customer service.
Finally, I wouldn’t buy used items that have moving parts or are known to wear out over time. Used hard drives, used batteries, power adapters and displays come to mind here. These are usually the first things attached to your Mac that fail. I’d suggest you only buy these from retailers you have a lot of confidence in and will give you good service when you need it. And remember to keep the receipt!
I’m not a heavy eBay user, but I know enough to use a sniper to get something I really want. A sniper is a software service that puts your bid in at the very last moment so the other buyers can’t react. I’ve used EZSniper before and have been happy with it. To know the going rates for items on eBay, I’ll also run a completed listings search of the item I want. That’s the only accurate way I know of to find what people are really paying for items. Look for that in the left column.
How do you like to use eBay? Do you have any successful stories to share? I’m sure there are more strategies used by more experienced buyers. Share yours in the Comments section below!