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A guide from the UK's leading online auction website on finding bargains online.
7 Mins

Top tips for finding bargains online

Jess Gibson
Jess Gibson

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word ‘bargain’ – when used as a noun – references ‘a thing bought or offered for sale much more cheaply than is usual or expected’, with alternatives words/phrases being ‘good buy’, ‘cheap buy’, ‘(good) value for money’, and ‘surprisingly cheap’.

If you’re a Brit, you probably already know that, right? We’re practically hardwired to seek out a decent bargain – whether we’re flush with cash or not, it’s rare that we can resist. And, if we look closely at other areas of Western society (the US, for example), there’s further evidence that humans in general are fans of a good bargain – take the complete and utter chaos that surrounds Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

The psychology behind this phenomenon is fascinating. You see, human brains react strongly when faced with discounts, offers, and bargains, with such things stimulating chemicals in our brain’s virtual reward centre that causes our giddy reactions. This part of the brain is called the nucleus ambens, and it controls pleasure. So, when we see items that we reeeeeally want whilst browsing – whether online or in person – we experience a huge rush of excitable tension. If this item also just-so-happens to be discounted in the sales or cheaper in one place than it is elsewhere, a part of the brain called the insula is triggered, which, as the part of your brain that controls pain, urges you to proceed with caution (something many of us will be familiar with, as it often results in us ‘uhhming-and-ahhing’ over the purchase). Then, in comes the medial prefrontal cortex – which, as the name suggests, mediates the conflict between the nucleus ambens and the insula, helping to balance the scales until you come to a decision. Basically, the cheaper and more affordable the item is, the more likely the positive will outweigh the negative in your brain. causing you to end up making the purchase.

Even with all of this, our brains are sometimes tricked into seeing something as a great bargain when, in actuality, it isn’t – it just appears that way. Take, for instance, items listed with a price ending in ‘.99’ or BOGOF/BOGOHP offers: these are strategically chosen by retailers to increase the likelihood of customers ‘recognising’ the item as a bargain. The former – referred to as charm pricing – makes the price seem close to the lower end of the spectrum (i.e. our brains perceive £2.99 as being closer to £2 than £3) and triggers a more emotional response, filling us with a sense of achievement. The latter, however, plays to the human propensity towards greed. Why buy just one when you can get two or three? Even if it means spending more money now, surely it’ll help you save money later down the line? In this sense, our brains lose all capacity for logic. 

So, armed with all this knowledge about the biology and psychology behind bargain hunting, what tips do we have for finding the best bargains online…?

The thrill of an auction

Most people’s first port of call when it comes to seeking out bargains are the websites they’re most familiar with – perhaps checking to see if there’s a sale on or any offers they can take advantage of. And whilst that’s all well and good (who knows, you might just chance across something great), settling with your old familiars means that you can miss out on some great opportunities elsewhere, such as online auctions.

At William George, you can have a browse through our extensive auctions, featuring everything from jewellery and homeware to large-scale machinery and classic cars, find exactly what it is that you’re in search of, register yourself and then bid on what you want with a price that you find reasonable! It really is as simple as that. 

Checking it out

When you first spot an item retailing for a lower price than you would’ve expected, the first thing you’re likely to do is get really excited about your bargain-hunting skills, which can then lead to you making inadvisable purchases you’ll later regret. 

Before letting yourself get carried away and prematurely deciding that you’ve located a good buy, it’s always a good idea to look up the original price or RRP of an item. How do you know the piece is selling at a decent price if you don’t know how much it ordinarily costs?! This is especially true for collectables, unique pieces of furniture – particularly if marketed as antique, vintage, or by a famous designer – artwork, and various electrical items. Often, the sense of achievement we feel at finding exactly what we want for what seems like a reasonable price is enough to fool us into believing that we’re getting a good bargain.

Auction sites are one of the best places to purchase some of the above items, as they feature full, detailed descriptions, note any faults or blemishes, and you can offer what you think the item is worth – which, if you’ve actually done your research, can help you to pitch your initial bid correctly. Plus, because such auctions generally last at least two weeks, you have a substantial period of thinking time that allows you to conduct all the research necessary into the ideal price point, thus preventing any impulse buys.  

Lady Luck

It might seem more comfortable to play it safe when hunting for bargains, but don’t underestimate the benefits that you can accrue when taking some chances; sometimes, the key to a bargain is to court lady luck herself and hope for the best! 

This is a particularly relevant tip when it comes to pallets of raw returns and liquidated stock – although each item inside is listed for the bidder’s consideration, the condition of the individual items are unknown. Regardless of this, it’s highly likely that there will be numerous items you can purchase via this method that will cost you far less than the original RRP. Yes, there’s potential for some of the items to have faults or some damage, but that won’t necessarily be the case with all items in the pallet and you can end up either saving or making a fair bit of cash by shopping this way. So why not take a chance and give it a try?

The beauty in a bit of history

When buying gifts or something to decorate the home, a lot of people will turn their nose up at the thought of spending their money on something deemed either ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’; it’s as though they feel that the shine has been rubbed away by pre-ownership. But this is, actually, a restrictive way of viewing such items. 

First of all, there’s beauty in the history that some items hold, especially if they’re a true antique with a rich past – surely one or two blemishes (that can be easily fixed or covered up) aren’t going to tarnish that? 

Secondly, if such items have been part of a raw pallet of returns and liquidated stock, you can’t rule out the possibility that they’ve simply been returned due to damaged packaging, the colour of the item being incorrect, or it not fitting in the customer’s designated space. So don’t assume that a returned item is likely to be broken or faulty!  

Last of all, ‘used’ doesn’t mean battered and bruised – an item has to be referred to as used, even when it has only been used once. In the case of online auctions, items such as tools and machinery could be listed after the completion of a small job that only required the item for a limited time, meaning that they are in tip-top condition and simply waiting for the right buyer to see the potential. And you can’t get more bang for your buck than a respected brand-name piece of equipment being sold for far less than its RRP, in full working order after having only been used for a short period!  

An extra handful

Some extra tips that we have for you are the following:   

  • Write out pros and cons – shopping online gives you plenty of time to look at both sides of the situation, so you can make an informed decision that is based on facts and not feelings.
  • Shop alone and without distractions – shopping with friends (online or in person) can cause you to give in to peer pressure and buy an item you don’t necessarily want, and distractions can prevent you from weighing up the pros and cons effectively.
  • Logic, logic, logic – our natural brain response when bargain hunting can lead to impulse buys that aren’t well thought through; before buying, always ask yourself, ‘am I really getting a good bargain here, or does it just seem like I am?’
  • We all love a good bargain – it’s what drives many of our shopping habits, after all – but make sure to keep your head during the process and don’t get too carried away! Follow our tips above and check out some of our live auctions to see what bargains you can spy.