Sunday, 22 December 2013

A New Year's Resolution - My return to paper based productivity.

This year's indulgent forays into the complex world of electronically assisted productivity, seeking a happy hybrid synergy with pen and paper, have been interesting but, ultimately, in vain.

The much anticipated magic carpet ride with Apple's excellent "Reminders" app has been a little bumpy, Google Calendar has made me feel like I'm painting the Forth Bridge, and some gentle perambulations with Evernote and Omnifocus have left me feeling like I'm in the garage far too often, rather than heading down the highway.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these systems, commonly used in business or group environments, and I have enjoyed experimenting with them, but I have found that it has detracted from the subtle pleasure of laying ink onto paper and see my forthcoming early retirement as an opportunity to switch to a totally analogue productivity system, much of it Filofax based.

So, my new year's resolution is to return to paper; for projects, lists, reference, and even my calendar. No more compatibility issues, no more running out of battery power on the train, no more disapproving looks in meetings, and no more awkward "just let me put you on speakerphone whilst I check my diary" moments. But I may still use my iphone as an alarm clock a few times each day.

I'm back on the waggon this coming year, and I'm hauling paper.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Bidding for Filofaxes on Ebay? Here's my guide for improving your chances of success.

Like many Filofax enthusiasts, I've used Ebay to add to my collection from time to time, and I'd like to share with you some of the "strategies" I've used on the world's most popular auction site. So, grab a coffee and read on.


If you are new to buying on eBay, I recommend this technique. In fact it's hardly a technique at all, more of an acceptance of how things work, really. You want that Filofax, you agonise over the possibility of being outbid, you know the clock is ticking inexorably towards the final countdown, you've heard of bidders who "win" actions in the last second but aren't sure how they do it, you bid again and again, before maybe losing out in the final seconds...
Well there is a better way. Have you ever seen the proxy bids being taken by the auctioneer at an auction house?  Just imagine eBay taking your maximum bid, and bidding on your behalf until you either win or are finally outbid. This is exactly what happens when you enter an amount into that box, but with the absolute certainty that eBay will not "take bids off the wall" or "bump the price". If you want that binder, and you are the bidder with the highest "invisible" maximum, then you will win, whether a "sniper" enters the fray in the last few seconds or not. Without doubt, the safest strategy for a new buyer, or for someone who simply doesn't want anything to go wrong in the last few seconds.

Have you ever noticed, in "completed listings" searches, that a buyer has often won an item for next to nothing?  Notwithstanding the need to check postage fees for each item, you can often pick up a bargain by leaving a low bid on several similar items, in the hope that you will be successful at least once. This strategy is often employed by eBay sellers (attempting to resell at a profit), who will target inexperienced eBayers who set their starting price too low commensurate with the number of likely bidders for their item. It may not matter whether they win more than one, so they are able to cast their "net" over a wide area.
If you are a new buyer who just wants to pick up a bargain binder, however, you can use this technique by placing a low bid on your next targeted item as soon as you know you were outbid on the previous one (and there are software packages that allow you to bid automatically on many consecutive items, stopping as soon as you are successful with one of them). Look at the completed listings for the item you are after, list them in price order (using the drop down menu), decide on a maximum proxy bid that is low but has proved to be successful recently, and just submit it and forget about it. There are some sellers who earn a tidy sum employing this method of buying to sell, so do not discount it if you are organised and patient.

Have you noticed how the bid increments work?  They gradually get larger as the bid price rises. If you know what the bid increments are, for any given bid price, you can outbid another bidder in theory by one penny, if you both have the same maximum proxy bid.
You may have noticed that the bid price suddenly changes, from being a uniform figure , to something like x pounds and 53 pence (or whatever your currency is). At that point a bidder has added a few extra pence to their bid, and the odd pence are carried onwards up the bidding scale. If you're not sure how the calculation is made then my advice would be to just be to bid a few pence more than the minimum figure required (and indicated). Risky, if you really want the item, but you may save yourself one bid increment per auction, which all adds up.

When an item is "won" in the dying seconds (and sometimes even the very last second), not only do the unsuccessful bidders feel cheated but the seller often feels cheated too. That's why many sellers will remind buyers of the "danger" of being "sniped" and extolling the best way of "defeating" snipers (submitting the highest proxy bid the bidder can afford, well before the end of the auction). But what if you want to be a sniper too?
From a moral standpoint you have to make your own judgement, but the practice is very common on eBay and a whole industry has grown up around this potentially successful strategy, with dozens of products available to automate the procedure.  It's easy to find one that offers a free trial. If there are several snipers ready to pounce on the same item, each snipers will have set their maximum amount, which will be submitted as a proxy bid to eBay in the normal way, and the only difference is that the bid is submitted automatically as close to the auction's end as possible. The end result is that the bidder, or indeed the sniper, with the highest proxy bid wins and, by definition, the whole point of sniping is to win with a lower bid, so it is by no means certain that you will succeed every time. A useful technique for some buyers, but risky to rely on 3rd party software interaction for that "must have" Filofax.

This isn't poker, but many bidders hold their "cards" close to their chest, so why do you see some bids very early in the life-cycle of an auction?
Consider this situation. An experienced dealer enters an early proxy bid of £150, on an item that may sell for £300, but has a starting price of 99 pence. Several buyers place bids, only to see their bid immediately outbid, in small increments (potentially all the way up to £150). They may give up and start bidding on a similar item elsewhere, which means that (whilst they remain the highest bidder on the second item) they are out of the running on the first item, if they want to ensure they are only bidding on one item at a time. A reduction in bidders, and indeed a reduction in the actual number of bids (since multiple bids make items more visible in certain searches) means a potentially lower final bid price, and the early bidder may enjoy the fruits of their clever strategy.

Consider a another scenario, again involving a very early bid. The seller is inexperienced, and hasn't provided a very good description of his item. An experienced buyer sees this and places a bid, thus immediately preventing the seller from editing his description (the seller can now only "add" information to his original description, which looks messy in my opinion, and maybe in potential bidders' opinions too, perhaps reducing the chances of a high final price. The early bid also removes the "Buy it Now" option, which may be part of the early bidder's plan. The early bird may well catch the worm, or indeed the Filofax.

Oh, how cruel it is to exploit the unwary, but if you didn't do it then someone else surely would. Select your favourite item category, search for items recently listed (using the drop down menu), and select those items with a "Buy it Now" by ticking the appropriate box in the left hand column. And there you have it. Just bypass the bidding completely by using "Buy it Now" to bag those Filofaxes that have, in your opinion, a ridiculously low BIN price. Just do it quick, before some other savvy bidder spots the same item.

If a seller has chosen to allow you to "make an offer", just do it. You don't even have to face the indignation of the seller, since part of your user ID is hidden until the offer is accepted, so give it a try. Remember that you will be entering into a formal agreement, as soon as you make the offer, and the seller could keep you waiting while they consider the situation, maybe leaving you reluctant to bid on another binder until you have an answer from the first seller.

Many buyers who will target sellers, asking if they will take "an offer", and there are many who will say yes, if only they'd thought of offering a "Buy it Now" option. Every Filofax seller has their price, and there's no harm in asking.

Use the "ask seller a question" link and talk business. If they agree, get them to add a "Buy it Now", but before someone places a bid. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, ensure that you conduct your transaction through eBay, to stay within the rules, and remember that the seller can "publish" your suggestion at the bottom of their listing, so keep things polite. Do the deal, but get ready with your finger on the button.