The British love of a good bargain is legendary. We're also renowned entrepreneurs - if such a term can include setting up market stalls, re-gifting, selling on tickets and vouchers and offloading unwanted items at jumble sales. Why else would pre-credit crunch TV schedules be crammed with items such as ‘Cash in the Attic', ‘Flog It!' and ‘Under the Hammer'?
Now that things are tight, London's Oxford Street has gone back to its street trader routes, with dodgy-looking geezers flogging bottles of ‘perfume' to the most gullible bystander.
But there are far more dignified ways of making a fast buck or grabbing a quick bargain. The internet presents plenty of opportunities - and not just via eBay. If you want to advertise a specialist item, you should research where likely customers of that product hang out online and put the word out there.
Don't forget the small ads either: Loot, Gumtree and the classifieds on your local newspaper's site can all reveal gems and provide a ready base of customers happy to pick up from a local seller.
If you fancy seeing whether you can beat the odds and bag a bargain at a reverse-auction or penny-auction site, you'll need to do your research. We've outlined some possible pitfalls in the following pages.
In line with these cash-strapped times, the rules can be fast and loose. You'll need to keep your wits about you and be well versed in the rules of engagement before you begin your bargain-hunting or profit-making quest.
Having spent a few days watching some of these online auctions in action, it's clear that for those involved in the bidding process it can become all-consuming. It's also clear that if you don't pay proper attention to what's happening you can end up bidding and bidding and ramping up the price, when biding your time would have been more likely to bag you a bargain.
For all this, there are good deals to be had. One of our colleagues swears by online auctions. You might not end up with the most glamorous items, but who can argue with a brand-new jumper for 99p - especially as it leaves a bit more cash left over to spend on an irresistible gadget?
Bag a bargain at Swoopo.co.uk
1. Head to swoopo.co.uk and read How It Works on the home page. The general principle is that you pay to bid but, as you'll see, there are different types of auction. For example, you can bid to win cash on a ‘free' auction - the final price will be zero but delivery costs can be hefty.
2. Hit Register to begin the sign-up process - it costs £10 to join. The T&Cs are worth a read: some are sensible safeguards but other terms are less standard. You can have only one account per household and the company reserves the right not to reimburse you if you close your account with bids left unused - it cites admin costs.
3. You'll receive £10 free credit to use on your first auction. However, this is used in part payment for your first win, rather than in the form of free bids. Having clicked Buy Credits, select the ‘All categories' drop-down list and choose Beginners' Auctions. Here, you have a better chance of winning an auction.
4. Select a product, then check how many 50p bid credits are involved and when the auction is due to end. Expanding the information page on a live auction will reveal a few more details, such as the latest auction end date and time. Click your user account to see how many credits you have available.
5. Swoopo works on a countdown basis, with each auction lasting only a few hours or even minutes. However, if someone bids on the item in the final few seconds, the timer adds another few seconds to the auction. This neat trick boosts the overall selling price and is where the Swoopo BidButler comes in.
6. To use BidButler, specify price parameters at least £1 above the current bid price. BidButler will automatically make bids as necessary to win. Swoopo's advice is to use BidButler to scare off other bidders and to set a maximum price just above a full £1 - most people will use a specific pound as their cut-off point.
>> NEXT PAGE: Sell your stuff with Amazon Marketplace
Sell your stuff with Amazon Marketplace
1. If you don't want to flog your goods too cheaply by auctioning them off, try Amazon Marketplace. Here, you set the final price. Go to Amazon.co.uk, scroll down to the Amazon Services box on the lefthand side and choose Sell Your Stuff. Here you can register to get started.
2. For simplicity's sake, Amazon works by integrating its own product catalogue with private users' - so product photos and descriptions are already provided. Choose the product category, enter its details and the condition it's in. Amazon will show you how many other people are also selling that item and for how much.
3. Add the number of copies you have to sell, where you ship from and any other information. Once you receive an email from Amazon stating that you've sold an item, you must send it to your customer within two working days. These emails can be caught by spam filters, so check your junk mail.
4. Amazon operates a 14-day cycle and no money will be transferred to your account for the first two weeks after you set up your Marketplace account. After this, it automatically credits your account with any money due to you, either fortnightly or more frequently if you request it.
>> NEXT PAGE: Buy and sell safely on eBay
Buy and sell safely on eBay
1. Always check the seller's reputation and customer comments. Don't be afraid to ask questions - click ‘Email seller' to ask a question and elect to ‘Watch a bid' to see whether initial interest dies down as people get cold feet. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.
2. Counterfeit software is one of the most prevalent examples of fake goods being traded. If it's not in its original packaging, stay well away. Similarly, buying tickets can be a minefield: eBay expressly forbids it and you should also be wary of reseller sites. If a seller won't let you collect the tickets in person, back away.
3. If you get a message purporting to be from eBay or PayPal, stating that the card on file for your account was declined and they need another card to take their cut, it's a scam with a dodgy link to a phishing site. eBay takes its cut only after you successfully complete a sale. If in doubt, contact PayPal or eBay.
4. If you're buying something substantial such as a car, it may sound reasonable for the seller to demand a deposit. Decline and offer to pick up the car in person - that way, you can also examine it and check it's the same one. Deposits are a neat way for someone to con you and never be heard from again.