We received a great cost-saving tip from TechRepublic member Mike Nelson. He uses eBay to buy IT equipment. “In my shop we’ve acquired two Compaq servers that would retail for $10,000 for about $3,000,” said Nelson, a technical director with Laucks Testing Labs, Inc. in Washington state.

Nelson is not alone. Joseph T. Sinclair, the author of Ebay the Smart Way: Selling, Buying, and Profiting on the Web’s #1 Auction Site, also uses the online auction platform to buy IT equipment. “I just bought six fiber optic coupler boxes which normally go for $200 to $250 each and somebody was selling 50 of them brand new {on eBay}. I picked up six of them for $25 a piece,” said Sinclair, who buys IT equipment for tech projects at a charter school.

Cost-conscious managers can use eBay as a powerful purchasing tool. With some investigative work, you too can save your organization money with deals like these.

How to get the same deals
It’s easy to search eBay for IT products. Just go to the site and select the “Computers, Peripherals” heading on the left hand side of eBay’s home page.

Bob Rifenbury, an eBay veteran, often searches for parts on eBay. “We constantly use it. I’m very avid in searching it for lots of equipment,” said Rifenbury, senior network administrator at Laucks. But even with his experience, he is still careful.

“Just like anything else, I write up the proposal on expenditures, and I give them (upper management) both scenarios. I give them the scenario where I’ve already gone out and sat down with the vendors and figured out exactly how much they want to charge us to implement something…then I do research on exactly the same thing that they want to sell me to see if I can find it on eBay,” he said.

Rifenbury follows these strategies to find equipment deals on eBay:

  • Determine the market value for a certain piece of equipment.
  • Find out where you can buy the item at a discounted price.
  • Buy what you need from eBay only if the price is below the discounted price.
  • Do not cross international borders. Purchasing and shipping regulations in other countries don’t always follow U.S. regulations. Also, eBay buyers usually pay shipping expenses, so don’t pay extra for something you buy in Canada when you can find it in Dallas for less.

Rifenbury also asks sellers on eBay for the serial numbers of parts before he bids on an item. For example, if you have the serial number of a Dell server, you can look up its history on Dell’s Web site, he said. He did this with two Compaq servers and discovered that they were still under warranty when he bought them.

Another strategy Rifenbury uses to save money is to trade power for price. Recently, he bought two Compaq ProLiant ML370 servers with 933 MHz for $9,000 each. When he needed two more servers, he took a step back and bought two on eBay that were not as fast as the ML370s, but cost less.

“I bought two Compaq ProLiant 1850s, which is a lesser machine, but a very capable machine. Performance wise, my users can’t tell the difference. The difference (is) with everything that I bought and added into it, I only paid $1,500 for these servers vs. $9,000 for my other ones,” he explained.

New to eBay? Get your eBay education today

For first time buyers and sellers, eBay offers an online interactive tutorial that will walk you through some of the site’s more important features.

Do your research
It may seem obvious in any transaction, but it’s even more important on eBay to know exactly what you need and whom you’re buying from to make your eBay experience a success.

“My advice to the IT manager would be to keep a list of what you need and visit eBay regularly and pick it up as it becomes available,” said Sinclair. Be prepared to let an auction go. Don’t buy something if you think the price is too high. “Sooner or later, whatever you need will be available, and you can grab it at a good price,” said Sinclair.

Before you bid, visit the seller’s feedback profile to view how other buyers rated the seller. For example, if a seller packages a product poorly, a buyer can leave negative feedback about them in the profile to alert other buyers. With a profile, you can usually make a determination on whether or not the seller should be trusted.

Also, find out who’s selling the product. “The eBay fraud rate is very, very low, and so you’re chances of getting burned on eBay are not real high. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be careful- they should,” said Sinclair.

“If it’s a huge item, like a $10,000 item or something, then you’ve got to be real careful and make sure you go through whatever measures you have to to make sure you’re going to get what you pay for,” said Sinclair.

“A lot of these sellers that are selling the IT stuff, they’ve got hundreds or thousands of people that have given them feedback, and you know that when you buy from them, they’re not going to run off with the money or something,” said Sinclair.

You can also buy from certified resellers of larger tech firms. For example, Dell Financial Services sells refurbished Dell desktops, laptops, and other certified Dell parts on eBay. Other certified resellers for companies like Hewlett-Packard and IBM do the same.

While Sinclair and Rifenbury don’t advocate buying only from certified resellers, it may be a safe place for eBay beginners to start. Often certified resellers offer warranties and fair shipping for their products. Many of them also have return policies in case the equipment you buy is damaged during shipping or doesn’t operate when you receive it.

Tell us how you save money

Do you have any cost-saving tips? What strategy does your shop follow to curb spending? Tell us by starting a discussion below or dropping us a line.