If you use eBay as either a buyer or seller, chances are that you use their Sold search function in order to see what people are actually paying for an item…especially if what you’re looking for is any kind of collectible. Or perhaps you have inherited something, or snagged it for the proverbial song at a tag sale, and are curious about what it may be worth. So, you do a search for whatever it is and then, at the bottom left sidebar of the results page, you click the Sold Items checkbox and voila! You can see what people have actually paid for the same or similar whatsit that you have or want. Right?
Well, quite possibly not. In fact, there is only ONE type of sale on eBay where you can actually know for sure what the purchaser really paid for that item. For any other kind of sale, the Sold price that eBay displays may or may not be what that item actually sold for. But how do you know?
Let’s first take a look at the four possible types of listings on eBay.
eBay Active Listing Formats
The examples I show here are all for listings and sales of Cybis porcelain because they are listings that I research regularly for my other website. They fall into the Collectibles and Vintage categories, which are the ones that most people who do look at Sold prices often look at. I used the simple search term cybis, and All Categories, throughout these examples (sorted with the Newest/Most Recent items displayed first in the results.)
STANDARD AUCTION STYLE LISTING
A standard, no-frills auction-style eBay listing offers an item along with the seller’s chosen opening bid amount. People can place bids, and the highest one when the auction timeframe ends, gets the item.
This is an example of how a standard auction style listing appears if someone performs a search for Cybis, in the Newest sort order. It shows the amount of the minimum opening bid ($25) and the day that the seller listed it (January 24th). When clicked on, it goes to the auction listing itself.
Here is the relevant info for that listing. It shows the time remaining in the auction and allows people to enter bids. This is what most people think of as an auction. However, sellers also have an additional “auction option”, which is…
AUCTION STYLE LISTING WITH A MAKE OFFER OPTION
This active-listing search result is also auction-style, but it also shows or Best Offer underneath the current bid count. This seller is saying “I am willing to end this auction and sell it to you immediately if you make me an acceptable offer that is more than $75.”
This is what the potential bidder sees when he clicks on that search result. If he chooses to enter $75 or more in the Bid field, the “Make Offer” section immediately disappears and the listing instantly reverts to being a standard auction listing (like the Raccoon example) for the remainder of the auction timeframe. The item will then be sold to the highest bidder.
However, let’s say that a shopper doesn’t want to risk losing a bidding war. He can instead click the Make Offer button and let the seller know that he is willing to pay (for example) $125 for this Pinto Colt. The seller has 48 hours to respond; if the seller says okay, the auction immediately ends and the buyer will pay $125 plus whatever the seller may have shown as a separate shipping charge. Sale complete.
You may think (as I once did) that an auction listing that ends in this way will show up in eBay’s Sold search as a $125 sale.
You would be 100% wrong. So, keep reading.
STANDARD BUY IT NOW LISTING
Some sellers don’t want the fuss and bother of auction listings; they want to set a fixed price. eBay calls this format “Buy It Now” because there is no competitive bidding involved.
This is how a standard, no-frills Buy It Now listing looks in a search. Someone can buy this item immediately for $17.99 plus the indicated shipping cost. Easy peasy.
Here is the business part of that same listing. You click Buy It Now, you pay for it, and boom! Done.
But, just as with the auction style, the seller has an option when first listing the item.
BUY IT NOW LISTING WITH OFFER OPTION
A seller who is uncertain (or flexible) about what she wants for the item may choose to add an Offer option to her Buy It Now price. This is how such items appear in a search: or Best Offer appears beneath the asking price.
This is how the listing itself looks. A shopper can either pay $14.99 (immediately converting this listing to a Sold one at $14.99), or offer the seller less than that amount. If the seller accepts the lower price, the item is sold. Let’s say that someone offers $11.00 for this bunny and the seller says yes. You would assume that when this listing appears in the Sold search, it will show $11.00 as the selling price…. because that is what the buyer actually paid (plus shipping, which is separate.)
But you would be wrong again.
Notice that in these two “Offer” examples, the offer (for either a higher or a lower selling price) is being transmitted from the potential buyer to the seller. The seller then makes a decision to either accept the offer, ignore the offer, or make a counter-offer to the potential purchaser.
In 2019, eBay threw a monkey wrench into the works by introducing the Watchlist (a/k/a another can of worms).
Watchlist Discount Offers
The original purpose of the Watchlist was to allow eBay shoppers to keep track of listings they are interested in, without having to create a separate browser bookmark for each one and remembering to periodically check them. You can add any kind of eBay listing to your Watchlist, and eBay will notify you of any “action” on that listing, and it will also show you how many other people (not who; only the quantity) also added that item to their own Watchlist. eBay also tells the seller how many people (again, not who..just the number) have put the item on a Watchlist. Basically, it’s a popularity poll.
The seller, however, can do something with that Watchlist function. He may wonder if one of those Watchlist people may be willing to buy that item right now if offered a discount privately. Let’s say that the Pandora seller has decided that he would accept only $12 if it means a fast sale instead of waiting for someone to pay $17.99 as a standard Buy It Now. He can choose to send a Special Offer message that will go out globally to anyone who has put that listing on their Watchlist. This is the eBay form that the seller will fill out, entering $12.00 in the Offer amount, and whatever message he wants to put into the Message field. He clicks Send Offers.
eBay immediately sends this $12 special price offer to everyone who has that item in their Watchlist (the special offer Watchlist price must be at least 5% lower than the publicly shown listing price.) The seller does not know who the watchers are, and cannot select who gets the offer and who doesn’t. Every Watchlist user gets the offer at the same time. The first person (if any) who takes advantage of the discounted price gets the item.
Notice that in this case, the offer is coming from the seller to the potential buyers (instead of the other way around.)
You would assume that the discount-offer-accepted price will be the one that appears for this item in eBay’s Sold search.
And yet again, you would be wrong.
So, what DO you see when you look at the Sold price of something on eBay? Let’s find out.
Sold Results on eBay
The only kind of sale result on eBay where you can be certain that the sale price shown is what the buyer actually paid, is a search result that looks like this:
This was a standard auction style listing. People bid on this item and the highest bid won. There were no offers, no discounts, no nonsense. For this item, the high bidder paid $86.00 plus shipping. When you see a Sold result that has one or more bids and no mention of an “offer”, then that IS actually what the item sold for. Way back in the earlier days of eBay (1990s into early 2000s), they all looked like this. So simple.
Unfortunately, the introduction of “offers” has mucked things up unbelievably.
Here is a Sold result that at first glance looks like an auction because hey, the item got one bid, right? Not so fast! Notice the Best Offer Accepted beneath the 1 bid. This tells you that this was originally an Auction Listing with a $9.99 opening bid level and also had a Best Offer option, and that someone made the seller an offer that was more than $9.99 ….which the seller accepted. I happen to know the person who bought this piece, and I know what the accepted offer to the seller was. It was more than 3x the opening bid level. But as you can see from this screenshot, eBay is NOT showing the price that the buyer actually paid! It is only showing the original opening-bid auction price of $9.99. Someone who wants to know how much this particular piece of Cybis is currently selling for (i.e., the market value) will see $9.99 and think either “hmm, I guess I shouldn’t pay much more than that for one of these” or (if looking to sell) “maybe I shouldn’t ask too much more than that for one of these”. This reporting format is extremely misleading on eBay’s part. Why can’t they show the actual price that was paid to the seller for the item? That was, after all, what it did in fact sell for. So why not show it?
If you see a Sold item result like this one, where it says 1 bid and also Best offer accepted, it means that the item sold for MORE THAN the price that eBay is displaying in those big green numbers. But how much more? 50% more? Double? Triple? Quadruple? 10 times? All that eBay is telling you here – in ‘code’ but only if you know how to interpret this particular Sold result format – is that it was more than what eBay is showing (in this case, meaning “more than $9.99”.)
The situation gets even more complex when looking at items that sold as a Buy It Now rather than as an auction-style listing.
Remember the Cybis Bunny that someone has currently listed for $14.99 as Buy It Now or Best Offer? Here’s a similar situation with a piece that sold:
This Peter Pan was originally offered in the same way as the bunny. The seller listed it at $34.95 or Best Offer; someone offered less than $34.95 and the seller accepted that lower amount. But see how it shows up in the Sold results? There is a line through the original asking price, and below that it says Best Offer Accepted. The strikethrough tells you that this item sold for less than $34.95 but again… you have no idea how much less! It could have been $30, or $25, or $20, or $12 or whatever. (The absence of a bid count tells you that this was never an auction listing.) Again… why does eBay not show what this actually sold for? All you can deduce from this Sold result format is that it was less than $34.95
This last example will illustrate exactly how mucked-up eBay’s Sold search display really is. I am going to show you two examples of sold listings. In both cases, I know the buyers and know how much was actually paid for both items. And in both cases, the item was originally listed as a Buy It Now without a Best Offer option. Thus, one would think that the Sold result would be straightforward. Nope.
One of these items sold for exactly what eBay shows the Sold price as. The other item sold for less than what eBay shows. Can you tell which one is displaying the actual price that the buyer paid?
That’s right. You can’t. The reporting formats are identical. There is no line through the green prices, and no mentions of any offer. They both show a sold price with Buy It Now underneath it
How and why did one of these actually sell for less than eBay is saying it did, you ask? It was because that listing was put onto one or more Watchlists, and the seller decided to send a “Special Price Offer” to the Watchlist users, offering it at a lower price than what was being shown in the active listing. It was sold to the first person who responded to the Watchlist-based discount price offer from the seller. Yet, eBay does not show the discounted price that the buyer actually paid. It shows it as being sold for the original non-discounted price instead. Again…why???
In fact, many eBay shoppers use the Watchlist function solely to see if doing so will elicit a lowered price offer from the seller, either immediately or later on. If an item has been on eBay as a Buy It Now for longer than the seller anticipated, sending a global “Watchlist special discount offer” is a way for the seller to hopefully prod an on-the-fence watcher into making the decision to buy.
The question remains: Why does eBay make it so hard to see what an item actually sold for? What’s the big classified-information/state-secret deal? Of course, this doesn’t matter when one is dealing with a $3 widget, but in the vintage or collectibles market this information is valuable. At least when you look at a brick-and-mortar auction listing, you see the hammer price. Even at much smaller selling venues like Poshmark, Mercari, and Etsy (yes, you can ferret out Sold prices on Etsy but it takes much more planning and work because they don’t have a Sold search function) you can see the actual price that buyers pay.
As of 2022, eBay reportedly had more than $10 billion (that is billion with a B) in revenue, so I cannot believe that there is no room in the budget to have their software display the actual selling price of an item regardless of how it got there (high offer, low offer, seller discount, whatever.) The fact that they don’t do this, may mean that they simply don’t want to – although the logic eludes me.
At least this post can offer a way to decipher the information that eBay does present within their 90-day-lookback Sold search function. My other site has a new section that reports online sales of Cybis limited edition sculptures, and it’s ironic that although eBay sales represent the vast majority of that data, they are also the least useful in terms of providing the selling prices. When it comes to reporting Sold prices, transparency is definitely not eBay’s forte! It’s incredibly frustrating to those who are endeavoring (for either commercial or legal purposes, as in estate or insurance appraisals) to determine the current or recent market value of an item that is no longer in active or mass production.
For what it’s worth Poshmark is similar in not always showing a true final price. I believe if an individual item is discounted the price is correctly reflected, even if the discount is an offer. However bundling a few items is highly promoted and results in only one shipping fee, typically when bundling you pay a reduced price also as many sellers offer discounts. I’ve paid less than half the asking on items by bundling and they appear sold at full price.