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Expert Tips for Finding Design Gems on eBay

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The search for a decor diamond in the rough is often as satisfying as the score itself. The epic quest, the thrill of the find, the edge-of-your-seat anticipation to click it to cart—it’s the amalgamation of all these parts that makes using an online marketplace and auction house like eBay such a satisfying experience.

For the consummate collector or everyday buyer alike, this global bazaar is a one-stop treasure trove for your home. “I love eBay for many things,” says designer Sarah Gibson, the Salt Lake City-based founder of Room For Tuesday. “It’s an amazing resource for pieces from around the globe. From vintage rugs to designer fabrics, there are many items to be found that will never go out of style.”

Hunting and gathering inspired pieces—current or vintage—is easiest and most fruitful once you know how to make the site’s tools and features work for you. That’s exactly why we turned to Gibson, who also happens to be a bona fide eBay expert. Here, she shares her top tips for navigating the virtual landscape like an insider.

Look for online outlets

eBay features many reputable brands where you can source a plethora of new items and often for less—particularly within a brand’s outlet store, Gibson says. “One of my favorite outlets lists products that have been overstocked and returned, as well as items that have served as showroom or photo shoot samples, or products with minor shows of handling,” she says. “I scored two authentic midcentury modern office chairs for 40 percent off the standard retail price.”

If an item is slightly scratched or worn it should be listed in a detailed description, and you can often see the wear in photos. Then you can determine if the deep discount is worth it.

“For these types of items, quantities are always limited, but the savings are significant,” Gibson says. “It’s an amazing way to find designer pieces for less.”

Shop brands with a “buy it now” option

If you associate eBay solely with bidding for items in online auctions, it’s time to broaden your view. “When you’re looking to complete your purchase immediately, shop eBay with the ‘Buy It Now’ option,” says Gibson. “I filter my search for these terms, knowing that I can instantly purchase a product.”

Follow suit, and you can enjoy the instant gratification of buying pieces from covetable brands, which offers their full collection of rugs and home furnishings, including this striking leather armchair, on the platform.

Safavieh Oslo Mid-Century Arm Chair
Cecilia Retro 5-Tier Wood Etagere
Safavieh Cecilia Retro 5-Tier Wood Etagere
Atka Acrylic Coffee Table
Safavieh Atka Acrylic Coffee Table

Some additional pro tips for buying new: Don’t neglect the filters on the left side of the page, which allow you to narrow your search by new and ‘Buy It Now’ items only, along with your specific price range, free shipping, and more.

Do your due diligence

In order to ensure the items she buys are quality pieces, Gibson looks for those made of durable materials such as wood, marble, and stone. “Carefully read the description, which can help you determine [an item’s] quality,” she says.

Gibson also suggests using specific descriptors to search for particular items and materials. If you’re on the hunt for a specific chest of drawers, for example, you might search “tiger oak” or “flame mahogany.”

The same philosophy applies when looking for rugs. “I usually search for natural materials like wool,” says Gibson. Other natural options include cotton, sisal, and jute. She also suggests checking seller reviews before buying, noting, “I’ve purchased hundreds of items from across the world, and the best way to ensure something will arrive as expected is to purchase from a reputable seller.”

Fifth Avenue Rug
Safavieh Fifth Avenue Rug
Braided Jute Area Rug
Nuloom Braided Jute Area Rug
Savannah Fringe Textured Wool Area Rug
Nuloom Savannah Fringe Textured Wool Area Rug

Shop local

While one of the joys of eBay is its global offering, the site also makes it easy to shop locally by setting your search parameters to a certain radius—be it 100 miles or 1 mile—in order to see what’s available within driving distance.

That feature can also be beneficial if you want something in a pinch, advises Gibson. “I was on a deadline and needed a piece for an upcoming photo shoot,” she says. “I didn’t have time to wait for shipping, so I searched locally and was able to find a beautiful table within my budget and arranged for a pickup.” Another reason to shop local: You’ll save on shipping costs.

Target your search

It may seem like a no-brainer, but using keywords is, well, key to finding the item you’re looking for, Gibson says. For example, when hunting for an on-trend curved lamp, you might have better luck typing “arc lamp” instead of “curved lamp.”

The secret to finding out which magic words to use is to pay attention to how similar items are described. “Begin with a simple keyword and then, as you uncover things you like, jot down those product titles for your next search, honing your selection as you go,” Gibson suggests.

If she’s looking for landscape paintings, for example, “I’ll start with a broad term such as, ‘oil painting,’” she says. “And, as I see relevant or similar items to what I had in mind, I’ll borrow keywords from those products to hone my search criteria.”

On her next search, she’ll type in those more specific keywords she found, like “original 19th century landscape oil painting.” Gibson also recommends setting up alerts for specific items, either by text or email, so you’ll be the first to know when that Holy Grail item becomes available—a great idea when sourcing both new and vintage pieces.

Bypass the bid

While Gibson’s clear preference is the ‘Buy It Now’ option, if you love to haggle, she says to look for the ‘Accepts Offers’ button. That means you can negotiate the price with the seller directly, instead of getting into a bidding war with other buyers, which can be more time consuming. Unless, of course, bidding is your idea of shopping fun. In that case, bid away.

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