Friday Rant: On-line Shopping: Consider the Source and Do Your Homework — Part Two

I focused two weeks ago on the merits of how to utilize real market forums like Craig's List to find special gifts at great prices. This afternoon, I'd like to plug eBay as an incredibly well organized international forum and auction block from which to find truly unique items outside-of-the-box-stores, along with seasoned advice and tips for buying success.

Buying unique, one-of-a-kind, collectables is not the same as purchasing new branded and packaged stuff from Amazon and other sites, but it is far more special and exclusive. If you're willing to trust your instincts, as well as your ability to communicate, preclude and resolve the relatively low incidence of problems that can arise, eBay is an extraordinary forum to acquire very special items for loved ones and yourself.

eBay may seem overwhelming and risky at first glance, but all one need do to shop is enter a few key words under "category" and let the search engine offer up an amazing array of options. It's very sophisticated and actually easier than a Google search in many respects. It is not, however, one-stop shopping.

Scope out items you're interested in, save them in your watch list, and note the time when auctioned items will be ending. DO NOT place a bid when you find an item you would like to buy. Pre-bidding is just plain dumb, and I can't understand why anyone engages in it. Decide the value you are willing to pay and enter it as your "max bid" 15 seconds before the auction ends – works almost every time.

Two weeks ago I purchased a vintage and rare high-end stereo pre-amplifier at Jason's request – to go with the the amazing power amp acquisition described in the past Craig's List post – for roughly 35% less than otherwise available if one could even be found. It's a great case study: The pre-amp was in fact "mint condition", but was poorly packed and sustained some cosmetic damage in shipping. I described my honest take on the situation to the seller and he refunded the original manufacturers price of replacing the cracked glass face plus shipping within 24 hours.

Shopping on eBay offers a plethora of information and guarantees, some of which are official and part of the model, while other tidbits need to be gleaned. One of the most important factors to take note of among sellers with whom you might transact is their listed track record and buyer rating. Some sellers are pros and others do it as part of a special interest hobby. eBay lists the number of items a seller has sold along with a percentage rating of buyer satisfaction. Both quantitative rankings are relevant, though not all important. If a seller appears to be novice, bidding is often times less than enthusiastic. This also presents an opportunity to save over market value:
- Contact the seller with any questions you may have. Most respond quickly and honestly
- If you win the item via "Buy it Now" or on auction and you have concerns about packing and shipping, express them. Communication is always key and in my vast experience, always respected.

Every so often it happens that an item was not sufficiently packed or padded and sustains damage in shipping. Stuff happens despite everyone's best efforts but I have never experienced and unsatisfactory resolution over hundreds of purchases.

We've become such a litigious and risk averse culture that taking a near fully informed chance on a special item at a special price can truly imbue the experience of gift giving with a level of excitement and personal investment -- on multiple levels -- that has been lost in the diluted mall and branded market place of modern retail holiday spend. And the savvy adventure makes for great conversation around holiday meals and celebrations.

- William Busch

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