This is the last post in my eBay series, and I thought it would be a good idea to touch on a few safety tips. When I started buying on eBay again (after a brief foray in the late 2000s followed by a long hiatus), I was very gun-shy; I’d heard a million terrible stories, and was worried about getting ripped off. I started by only buying vintage costume jewelry (low cost, low risk), and slowly branching out to clothes and other accessories as I started feeling more comfortable. Since then, I’ve bought a couple of pricey items, and a few dozen low cost ones, and I’ve had pretty good experiences across the board. More on that in a second. Let’s talk some very general tips.
Always Follow the Rules
My understanding is that eBay now has some pretty buyer-friendly rules in place that serve to mitigate a lot of the risks that buyers might encounter. I have no firsthand experience with them, because (thankfully) I’ve never had to invoke them, but it goes without saying that you must follow the rules if you want to take advantage of the protections eBay offers. I’ve never been asked by a seller to do something that contravened eBay rules, but if you are – don’t do it! And, by the same token, don’t ask sellers to do anything illegal (like lie on customs forms, apparently a common request).
Do Your Homework
I always take a quick look at a prospective seller’s feedback before I place a bid; if the item is expensive, I take a very close look. Sometimes negative feedback will reveal unreasonable buyer nitpicks; more often than not, however, it will reveal actual red flags – and the same applies to “neutral” feedback. For example, one or two buyers out of hundreds complaining about an item not being exactly as described may not necessarily mean that the seller is shady; some people don’t pay sufficiently close attention to item descriptions and photos, or have unrealistic expectations (especially for used items). On the other hand, one or two buyers out of, say, a dozen complaining about the same thing could be a different story. Personally, I have never bought anything from a seller that had a less than 98% rating (or anything less than 100% if they had fewer than a few hundred transactions in their history).
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to read the listing carefully, and look at all photos closely. The only times I’ve been somewhat disappointed with my purchases is when I didn’t do this, and just “hoped for the best” based on a cursory review. Sometimes descriptions are in small font, but will contain disclosure of minor or major imperfections, which may not always be highlighted in the photos.
The main thing you need to know is that everything – and I mean everything – can and has been counterfeited. This is one reason why, for example, I don’t buy make-up or perfume on eBay. There are resources that will help you in identifying fakes (in every category), but it can take time to develop an eye for the right signs, so invest your efforts where it makes the most sense for you. Personally, I rely on eBay a lot for my designer bag habit, so I have developed a process for vetting the bags I’m interested in. [That could probably take up a post or three of its own, so I won’t get into the details. I think I’ve written about it before, but if anyone is interested, I could work on updating the info.]
Ultimately, this is one area where eBay is supposed to be protecting buyers, so if you do unwittingly end up with a fake, you should be able to get your money back. My personal stance is that, rather than incur the upfront cost and then have to deal with the hassle of getting your money back, it makes more sense to invest a bit of time in avoiding the problem altogether.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the seller, including requesting more photos of the item (or photos of the actual item if the listing only provides stock photos). The latter, in particular, can be crucial tools in any authentication process you might need to undertake (see above). Provided your request is reasonable and politely worded, there is no reason for the seller to ignore you or refuse to answer your question/request. If that does happen, it’s a definite red flag.
I’ve generally asked questions of the sellers in 2 specific situations, frequently with great results. One, if the listing states that the seller “may not ship to [insert your location]”, I will contact them to ask if they would consider shipping to Canada. I think that wording indicates that the seller has checked off the “no international shipping” option, but many will still be happy to ship to Canada – at least if I ask nicely. In that case, always get a firm quote on shipping costs upfront, before you actually place a bid or otherwise commit to buy.
I have also sometimes asked sellers if they would consider adding a Buy It Now (BIN) option to their auction listings. As I’ve mentioned before, I find auctions stressful, and if I really want a (rare, hard to find) item, I’m willing to pay a little premium just to avoid the whole waiting-and-bidding game. Some sellers will be happy to do it – generally, in cases where you are the only person “watching” the item, even after it’s been listed for a while – while others would rather take their chances with the auction format. As I said, I wouldn’t bother trying this if the item is “hot” and is being watched by a dozen people, because the seller will have little incentive to do a BIN, at least at a reasonable price. And if you don’t get a BIN, don’t despair. I once contacted a seller to ask for a BIN, got shot down, and ended up placing the sole, winning bid on the auction – for a much lower price than what I had been willing to pay for the BIN option.
Trust Your Gut
In the end, always go with your gut. If the price seems a little too good to be true, or if anything about the listing or the seller seems “off” (even if you can’t quite put your finger on the reason), walk away. Nothing on eBay is a one-off, gone forever if you miss out on it the first time. Whatever it is that you’re looking for, you’ll find it again – and your peace of mind is more important than a (questionable) killer deal.