How eBay Works

Using eBay: Browsing for Items

The best way to learn how to use eBay is to dive right in. What do you feel like looking for today? A surround-sound system? A mink stole? HowStuffWorks could use a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser. Let's look for one.

There are two ways to go about finding a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser. We can browse, or we can search. Let's start by browsing -- it's the slower, more round-about method, but it's a good way to get a feel for eBay's category system. The most popular categories are listed right on the eBay homepage, on the left side.


Pez dispensers are typically considered collector items, so the Collectibles category is a good place to start browsing. If we click on the Collectibles link on the homepage, we end up at a page listing all of the Collectibles subcategories.

At the very bottom of the page, you can see that there's actually a subcategory called Pez, Keychains, Promo Glasses, and within that subcategory is another subcategory called Pez.

That seems like a good fit. Clicking on "Pez" brings us to an auction-level page:

On this page, you can see that:

  • There are 3,355 listings in the Pez category.
  • The listings are currently sorted by time, with the newest auctions first.
  • We can search within Pez listings.

Since we're looking specifically for a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser, "Homer Simpson" is a good term to use to narrow the results. If we enter "Homer Simpson" in the search box directly above the listing, it's only going to search the Pez subcategory, not all of eBay (although you can search all of eBay using a dropdown menu in the category field). Here's what comes up:

Thirteen items isn't bad, but we might be able to find more. When you enter a search term and there are fewer results than you'd like, the first thing to do is go back up to the search field and check the box for "Search title and description." The first search we did checked only the auction titles for the term "Homer Simpson." Searching only titles is a good way to narrow your results if you know exactly what you're looking for and what most people call it -- for example, if you're looking for a GPS receiver, it's a pretty safe bet that anyone selling one would put "GPS" in the title. On the other hand, someone selling a Homer Simpson Pez dispenser might not put "Homer Simpson" in the title -- she might put "Simpsons" or only "Homer." So now we're going to search entire auction descriptions, which typically returns more results:

We now have 23 listings to look through. But there is a much faster way to get to the place we've ended up at. If you're just looking for a bargain on some type of collectible, browsing is the way to go; but if you're looking for something specific, the eBay search function is the quickest way to it.