RISC World

Buying and Selling on eBay

Mike Battersby

Buying Acorn/RISC OS stuff on eBay

In a few short years eBay has become almost synonymous with on-line auctions and though there are others about it is eBay that has set the standard.

Having used eBay for buying and selling fairly intensively during one period of a few months I remain impressed at how well thought out a system it is. It also brings together people from all round the world and I was surprised to sell a CD of an obscure 70s band to the US, matchbox toys to Canada and a 60s model engine to Germany as well as books to the US, Germany and Holland. One of the most satisfying sales, though was of my trusty 11 year old A3000 in first class condition which I feared might have to go to the skip along with many others from schools that I had already seen tread that path. Fortunately, though, through eBay I found a collector who would give it a home.

So for those of you who have not yet dipped your toes into the online auction "water" here is an introductory guide to buying on eBay with particular reference to Acorn related modern or collectors' items.


Anyone may browse the items on eBay but if you want to bid then first you must register as an eBay user. You do this by clicking on the "register" tag at the top of each page or on the register button among the new users buttons on the first page - shown in figure 1. If you try to do something that only a registered user is allowed to do, such as bid, then you will be prompted to sign in on a page that also gives you the option to register if you haven't yet done so.

Registering is relatively painless and once registered then all communication is carried out via email. Also among the new users' buttons are some links to online instructions.

The top portion of the eBay home page at with register link at the top and new users' button options

Finding what you want

Once you have accessed the eBay web site you can choose whether you want to see items "located in the UK" or "available to the UK" by clicking the relevant item just below the search box. There are eBay sites in different parts of the world and sellers decide who they are willing to sell to. For instance when I have sold smallish items on eBay I would normally make them available to Europe, North America (USA and Canada) and Australasia as a matter of personal preference. For larger items I would tend to restrict sales to the UK because of the difficulty and the expense of transporting large items overseas. If you choose to see items "located in the UK" then you see UK sellers' offerings only whereas if you choose items "available to the UK" then eBay cleverly puts together the offerings of all sellers who are willing to supply to the UK, wherever they are in the world. Obviously there are more offerings world wide than just in the UK but buying from abroad raises questions about making payments abroad, a question covered later in this article. You can switch between the two options at almost any time while browsing or searching by clicking on a link at the top of each list of displayed items (see figure 4 - top right second item down).


eBay sales items are put into categories by the sellers according to the options that eBay offers. These categories may be browsed through a tree structure. Bear in mind that different sellers of similar products may categorise their items slightly differently from one another.

If you are looking for Acorn type items then you could browse through the categories as follows. From the list of categories on the home page choose "Computers and Gaming" then "Vintage Hardware" and then "Acorn" to get a list of Acorn items. Notable that to eBay (and the world?) even a kinetic RISC PC is apparently "vintage hardware". The disadvantages of using this method are you would probably have to look for software, publications or other accessories separately in different categories. In fact the BBC Micro has its own category so would need to be checked if that's what you are looking for.

Contents of the Acorn category at one point in time. Note the path details just below the orange/yellow flash.

These categories will contain whatever sellers have put in them so are unaffected by the wording whether focusing on "acorn", "RISC-OS" or whatever. The items are displayed in the order of how soon it is until the auction closes. Clicking on an item listed brings up details of it - an example is shown below.

Detail of an item offered - there was more detail, shipping cost and a picture further down the page.


An alternative is to use eBay's search facilities. There is a search box on the home page, or accessible by clicking on the "Search" link at the top of a page, where you can enter key words which eBay will look for in items' titles or in the descriptive text accompanying them depending on your choice of option. eBay will look for occurrences of the words without requiring them to be in any specific order or sequence. Hence if you search for "Acorn Computer" it would find "Acorn computer - A5000 ", "Computer, Acorn A3020" or "Acorn's RISC PC Computer".

However, there are various things to watch out for. If someone has listed a RISC PC as "Acorn RISC PC 700", for instance without using the word "computer" then it would not show up. Similarly with any other model listed without using the word "computer". Such a search would also fail to find items such as "Acorn User" back issues or anything that doesn't use both the keywords "Acorn" and "Computer". An answer might be to just use the word "Acorn" you might think but then you have to sort the Acorn computer stuff from anything else related to Acorn as an item, brand name etc - see the example in figure 4. Also a search on "Acorn" might not show up a RISCStation machine or a Microdigital one or other third party items.

An example search on the keyword "acorn". Interesting that an Acorn Atom is fetching 8 times what is offered for an A7000! What is a "finneal" by the way?

Trying to find items by searching often relies on what the seller has chosen to put in the title of the item and/or its description. Collectors in various fields often find specific terms to include that gradually buyers cotton on to and use in their searches though new sellers are often unaware of these. I have not noticed any clear consistency among the Acorn related items I have seen but would suggest the inclusion of something like "Acorn computer related" or "RISC OS" (though the latter is more risky due the variations of possible spelling e.g. RISCOS or RISC-OS etc.) for any items that don"t have "Acorn" and "Computer" in their normal title. Hence someone selling, say, a Microdigital Mico might call the item "Microdigital Mico, Acorn Computer related". Similarly someone selling back copies of Electron User might use the title "Complete set of first 5 volumes of Electron User, Acorn Computer related" and so on. Once a term gets established it tends to propagate. However it is often worth trying some other searches in case a seller is unaware of conventions or in case of mis-spellings.

Bidding or buying

Although eBay is primarily an auction site it allows sellers to have an option whereby a bidder may buy something outright, bypassing the auction process. This can be done where an item has a "Buy it now" tag beside it (see the Honey Bears in figure 4) in which case a buyer may select the item from a displayed list and when details of the individual item are displayed then choose the "Buy it now option". Once a purchase has been completed that way then an item that was also available for auction disappears from the auction list. Items that are for either auction or "Buy it now" when originally listed lose the "Buy it now" option once a bid has been made.

Buying through a "Buy it now" option allows you to make sure of buying an item offered without the risk of being outbid. However, you may also pay more for it this way than if you had competed at auction, it all depends on who else bids and so on - you takes your chance!

If you wish to bid on an item then there is a box at the bottom of the description where you can enter your bid. You must be registered with eBay to bid and have signed in. If you have forgotten to sign in then you will be prompted to sign in when you try to bid. By the bidding box it will say what the minimum bid must be. Your bid must be greater than the existing bid by a set margin or must equal the minimum bid if you are the first bidder. Figure 5 shows an example bidding entry box.

You may find that you then become listed as the current highest bidder or you may immediately get a message saying you been outbid which may give the impression that there is someone else on line at that precise minute bidding against you. While that is possible it is unlikely and the ways bids change can be puzzling if you are not used to it.

For example, let's say that the current price on an Acorn Atom is £50 and the minimum bid to outbid it is £52 then you could just bid £52. However, if you know that you would be willing to go up to £65 then you could put your maximum bid in as £65. This is not an actual bid of £65 as it would be in a normal auction and if no-one else had bid in this way then the bid would simply go up to £52 as before. If, however, the previous bidder had put in their maximum bid as £60 then the bid would suddenly jump to £62 as the minimum amount for you to outbid the previous bidder's maximum bid that is within your maximum bid. If you had put a maximum bid of, say £58 then that would be less than the previous bidder's maximum and hence their "dormant" maximum would be "activated" and you would seem to have been coincidentally outbid as the current bid would jump to £60 and you would have been outbid even though that person is not actually on line and bidding.

There can, therefore, be a bit of an art in timing bids and deciding if you want to put your maximum in straight away or keep an eye on progress. By the listing of each item is the amount of time left before the auction closes. Once you have bid then eBay will inform you by email if you are outbid. They will also inform you at the conclusion of the auction as to whether you have been successful or unsuccessful. A record of your bids is also included in your personal details accessible through the "my eBay" tab at the top of an eBay page.

When a seller lists an item they can set a "reserve price" if they want, which is a minimum price that must be reached for them to sell the item. There will be a note on the details page by the current bid level if there is a reserve which hasn't been met. This may again produce a surprise where the price jumps by more than the minimum bid if you enter your maximum bid. For example, say the current price is £5 and the minimum required bid is now £6 but you are willing to go up to £20 and you enter that as your maximum bid. If the reserve price is £15 then the current bid will jump straight to £15 as the lowest price within your maximum that will meet the reserve price. As there is no indication as to what a reserve price is this can be a bit of a surprise. However, it all makes good sense if you think about it.

Checking on a seller

You will notice that each seller (and buyer) has a name that they chose when they registered. These range from ones which indicate something about them to all kinds of obscure or oddball names. After their name is a number in brackets which indicates the number of feedback items that have been left about that person and a symbol. The symbol of a pair of spectacles indicates a relatively new user (30 days or less) and the colours of stars indicates how many items of feedback have been left, within ranges. There may also be a blue and red "ME" symbol. Figure 6 shows an example of user info. If you click on the "ME" symbol (if there) it will give you some info on that eBay user. This is their own choice of info about themselves so there is no guarantee it is accurate. Clicking on the number will give you access to feedback left about them. This can be helpful as it gives an indication as to how reliable the person is as either or both of a seller or buyer.

An example of user info; the seller has 619 items of feedback and gets a purple star as a result whereas the buyer has only 6 and no star yet. Note the option to ask the seller a question and the blue and red "me" link to info about the seller.

Some feedback for a user. For the seller or buyer it is always nice to get positive feedback, even if it is German and you cant understand it!

Some example feedback for the user Mikechoo - seems like a really nice guy!!

When an auction is completed the winner and the seller are notified and given each other's contact details (email only) to arrange delivery and payment. There is also a link to giving feedback once the transaction is completed. eBay reputation is very important to bona fide participants and feedback helps sort out these from the less reliable ones.

Asking a seller questions

A link by the seller's info allows you to ask the seller a question (see figure 6). You are not given the seller's email address but can enter a question via an eBay page which is then passed on to the seller. This can be useful to check on anything you are not sure about. The quality of different sellers' descriptions of items can vary considerably. It may also tell you something about the seller; for instance I got helpful replies from some whereas one who was selling what appeared to be an Atari computer as a non-existent Acorn model simply didn't reply. Such responses, and how prompt they are would either encourage or discourage me from dealing with that person.

Making payments

Each seller should state how they will accept payment in the description of the item for sale. Sending cheques is fine within the UK but when dealing with overseas users the cost of bankers drafts in foreign currency is quite prohibitive and sending foreign cash expensive and risky. Fortunately many sellers use a system which allows payment by credit card so you get all the protection of a credit card payment as well as it being an instantaneous transaction, no waiting for the money to arrive before the item is sent to you. As a seller I used eBay's Billpoint which is operated by Wells Fargo who collect the credit card payments and forward them to your nominated bank account minus a small commission. It saves so much time and hassle that the commission was, in my opinion, well worth it. Foreign currency is translated at bank rates so it is fair on both the buyer and the seller who gets the stated price in his own currency in the end.

Once you have bought an item and actually gone through the various steps it starts to get easier and I found that the system functioned very well. There are professional sellers out there and occasional users all mixed in, quite a community and it helps propagate an interest in enthusiast items, such as "Acorn related" equipment as it is a ready and continuous activity centre of buying and selling. It also helps save items that might otherwise be destined for the skip.

Mike Battersby