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eBay Hacks - 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
Title:eBay Hacks - 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
Author(s):David A Karp
ISBN:0-596-00564-4
Publisher:O'Reilly Media
Reviewer:Barbie

I discovered eBay in 1998, and have a consistent buyer and seller ever since. In the early days they were several auction sites, QXL among them, but the phenomenon of eBay has grown to such a size, that it now dominates the online auction market. It is estimated that there are over 18 million items for sale on eBay at any point in time. To be honest I'm surprised it's that low. eBay has evolved from its beginnings and has constantly adapted itself to offer the best service it possibly be can to its users.

However, getting the best of eBay can take some time. Even with experience there are plenty of hints, tips and tricks that the seasoned user can still learn. That is where this book comes in very handy. An 'eBay for dummies' this book is not. Although there is much the new user can learn from the 100 hacks, so too can the long-time users, as the book is firmly aimed at anyone who uses eBay. The book is overflowing with good ideas, for both the general user and the program hacker.

eBay on the surface is about buying and selling, but there is also the aspect of bidding, feedback, searching, presentation and even running your own business on eBay that is covered here. The final section of hacks are firmly aimed at the program hacker, with a look at the eBay API, which you can get to know further by joining the eBay Developers Program.

The first chapter deals with Feedback, how to give it and how to respond. Why feedback is important, how you can avoid bad feedback and how to resolve issues should they arise.

The next chapter looks at the most used aspect of the site, Searching. In most instances you'll have a fair idea of what you want to search for. The hacks in this chapter look at different ways you can find what you want, even to the point of stalking other buyers, who've been buying similar items. The use of categories to pinpoint searches, searching syntax and even browser toolbars are covered. For the programmer, there's a hack using WWW::Search::Ebay to write your own search robot.

Up next is a selection of hacks attributed to Bidding, with many useful tips for the buyer. The first hack in this chapter is a little bit advice before bidding, Sniffing Out Dishonest Sellers. Unfortunately due to its popularity, eBay has its fair share of dishonest auctions, and ensuring you don't get duped can saving a lot of heartache and money. We're then introduced to the act of snipe bidding, how to do it manually and some of the services available to do it for you. Understanding the way bidding works and taking advantage of the bid increments and how to pay online are also covered.

International bidding is covered too, and although many European bidders are quite used to translating between different languages, some other language speakers may not be so used to the idea of bidding on auctions from people in another country. From personal experience, some US sellers who select to sell only in their own country, are completely unaware that that is the default. With a polite email, most sellers are more than happy to sell to you wherever you are, providing you're willing to pay the extra postage charges. In some instances the reason for not selling outside of their own country are apparent, the item might be too bulky, or has something specific to the country of origin (such as power format), or the seller may just not want the hassle of arranging postage and insurance to other countries. But if you understand that, and are still willing to pay the costs, then you can generally strike a deal.

However, there is a glaring inaccuracy in Hack #30, which states that few sellers outside North America are able to accept PayPal or other credit cards. The statement is extremely misleading, as PayPal does cater for other countries, and credit cards have been in use within many countries in the world. However, there might be sellers who are old enough to have a credit card, but they can usually get a parent or elder sibling to handle that side of things, which has happen to me on a couple of occasions, but this also applies to US citizens too! However, there are many auctions which are transacted via cash or other payment methods. While some are safer than others, cash is done at your own risk. Do a bit of background checking to see whether sellers have done cash transaction before and have been reliable.

Hack #32 deals with getting a refund. There are some instances where auction items arrive not as described. Getting a refund can be awkward. This hack covers several pages of thoughts and good ideas on how to resolve the situation and get a refund. The basic understand though is, always be polite.

One thing that did bug me slightly about the Perl scripts shown, is the lack of '-w' & 'use strict'. While many readers might be familiar with Perl scripts, there are just likely to be several who aren't even programmers. It promotes bad practice and opens up Perl to bad press when things go wrong. However, the scripts that have made me truly cringe are those such as the code in Hack #24, although there are several others. The author boldly recommends using 'cgi-bin.pl' (the fore-runner to CGI.pm) a script that is over 6 years old, and definitely not suitable for advertising in a modern book. Lincoln Stein has taken a lot of time and effort to ensure CGI.pm is secure, reliable and easy to use, so there really is no excuse. The first two alone are why its part of Core Perl distributions. Informing readers to take a giant leap backwards is not something I would expect from a book discussing CGI programs in 2004.

Selling is the next section of hacks. Mostly they are just good advice to sellers about how to present their auction items in the best possible way. In some cases it only takes a little thought and effort to improve your auction, and start getting a lot of attention ... and hopefully higher bids :) Personally I'm not so convinced about the benefits of upgrading your listing, but for some it works. The hacks included here are largely explaining common sense. However Hack #40 I thought quite useful, as it contains some useful HTML code that sellers can use. Providing they don't over do it, it can help to promote listings very well.

Although Hack #41 works, I personally wouldn't advise it. eBay themselves offer several decent themes for your listing. Adding Javascript to mess about the background could lead to more hassle than it's worth. Some users disable Javascript, so you could end up with a poor looking listing, or the Javascript could be wrong and break the page so your listing can't even be seen.

Hack #45 is a good idea for those in the US, but it's not really practical elsewhere. There is a postage calculator available on The Royal Mail site, for those in the UK, and I'm sure there are plenty of others for the rest of the world. However, it's easier for the international buyer to figure out the postage costs from the main global zones. If you can list the costs for them, they have less clicking to figure out what they want to know and not feel like you could be waiting to rip them off.

The next sections covers photographs in your listings. A picture paints a thousand words, but if you take a bad photo, it can be the wrong thousand! These hacks cover a wide variety of ideas from lighting, close-ups and doctoring your photos. I thought Hack #58, Protecting Your Copyright, interesting. There have been several listings which stole images from others, only for the original owner to discover their bandwidth being hijack and replacing the image with a pornographic one or some textual message that highlights the seller's blatant misrepresentation of the item for sale. As such you might to protect your own images for the very same reason. There are also some good ideas for creating collages and clickable photo galleries.

For Completing Transactions there is a lot of worthwhile information of keeping track of payments, and finalising the deal. However, once again the book makes the mistake of assuming that America is the focal point of all eBay transactions. There are several inaccuracies regarding PayPal, Credit Card and other forms of payment for the rest of the world. I have successfully bought and sold items all over the world, and bizarrely the only ones I've had a problem with have been in the US.

The section on Running a Business on eBay, I felt was a little out of date. Although eBay has offer the service of eBay shops for a while now, the service has greatly improved in the last year or so. I now know of several friends and associates who are doing exactly this and with great success. There is still some tidbits of useful information though. However, Hacks #74 and #75 once again feature a big advert for cgi-bin.pl without any hint of using warnings or strict. I really hope people ignore it and learn to do CGI correctly.

The final section involves the eBay API. This is the SOAP API that allows automated access to the auction details on eBay. While at first glance the idea of an API into eBay might sound wonderful, it isn't as easy to do as you might think. While a developer license can be free, this only grants you access to the sandbox. If you want to access the real eBay you have to pay for it, and prices start from $100. If you are intending to create a commercial application, then costs could seem pretty small, but for the average user they may not be worth the effort.

While the section features several scripts to try the different aspects of the API, I do find scary that the scripts on offer so brazenly promote bad programming and Perl. I have to wonder who did the code review for all these scripts, or whether there was any code review at all. While the ideas are certainly worthwhile noting for reference, please don't copy the scripts verbatim.

Overall this book covers some very useful hints and tips in getting a good result from using eBay. Some hacks just expand on nothing more than common-sense, but then it is amazing how much of that goes out the window, when you get addicted to the thrill of the chase. If you're planning or are already using eBay, whether new or old, buyer or seller, then this book will fill you with many good ideas to improve your eBay experience.

However, from a programmatic point of view, please, please, please read the scripts and code within this book with extreme caution. If you intend to try them out, I truly hope you replace the shebang line with:

<blockquote>

 #!/usr/bin/perl -w use strict; 
</blockquote>

Any CGI scripts you intend to use, by all means take the code as a starting point, but take the time to learn how to use CGI.pm and ignore any reference to cgi-lib.pl, it will only cause you pain in the long run.

I am currently working on a library of functions to access eBay, both from as a screen scraper, and using the eBay API. The book has given me several ideas for features I want to include, and in some areas has given me a better insight in how to use eBay better. Like the addiction of eBay, you'll probably be referring back to this book on several occasions.

- Barbie, &copy; October 2004