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Online Auction Tips

Know the seller

There are several ways in which you can check out a seller.
  • Does the online auction site have the ability to view the sellers other auctions, by looking at this you can decide wether they are traders or not.
  • Does the online auction site have a seller feedback area, if so check out what other buyers have said about the seller, sometimes buyers can rank a seller, if the seller has bad feedback and ratings do the sensible thing and avoid them or your negative feedback will be joining the others.
  • Does the seller have a history of selling items, although if a history and feedback were always required there would be no new sellers, you can still gain confidence for your first few buys by taking these two into account.
  • Is the seller using an anonymous email account, they could be completely honest, but generally dishonest sellers will not have traceable email addresses.
  • Before bidding send the seller an email, especially if they are a new seller, just think of a simple relevant question to ask that is not covered in the description of the item. Good sellers are serious about their sales and will respond quickly, fully and politely. After all do not forget YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER.
  • Does the seller appear to be knowledgable about the item they are selling, this can go a long way to avoid buying fakes, because it is less likely the seller bought fakes in the first place.
  • How does the seller want to be paid? If they want cash chances are you won`t see your item or your cash. For reasons of traceability and some recourse you should try and stick with a credit card payment.
  • When does the seller require payment? If its a short fixed period you may wish to look elsewhere as making payments other than credit card can be delayed and anyway YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER and you should be allowed to pay within a reasonable amount of time.
  • What is the return policy for the item. If its not good don`t bother, you are relying on a photo and a description, the item may arrive and not be what you thought.
  • What is the shipping rate? Has the seller inflated the rate to make more money, if so you need to decide wether the item is worth it and if the seller is worth doing business with when they use practises like that.

Hidden Costs

Check out these costs before you bid, the item may not be worth it.
  • What is the shipping rate? Do your sums, add up the shipping costs, you may need to email the seller to find out the weight and dimensions of the item. ( a good excuse to get in touch )
  • Is delivery type specified, does the item really need to go by the most expensive or fastest way.
  • Does the item require insurance for its journey, if so how much will this cost?
  • Make sure multiple items are shipped and charged as one bulk delivery, not as many separate small deliveries which will be more expensive.
  • If you are using an escrow service how much will it cost.
  • Are there any taxes to pay, import duties may apply for International buyers.
  • Various payment methods cost and should also be added to your hidden costs equation.

Know the item

Check out the item before you bid.
  • What would the item cost new from a retailer, is the saving worth it?
  • Always print out the items description, you may need a hard copy later if a dispute arrises.
  • Images are most important for many items, they should be clear well lit, of a size that is easy to view, not a professional stock picture and without any signs of tampering such as retouching, always print them out you may need it if a dispute arrises.
  • Do some research, you may have plenty of time to research the item before bidding. Online auctions can run for weeks.
  • Search the online auction site for similar items before bidding.

Online Auction Scams

Check out these scams before you bid.
  • Shilling
    The most frequent scam. The sellers and their cohorts bidding the price of an item higher so that the winning buyer (you) ends up paying for the item at a higher price than you would otherwise have.
  • Bid Shielding
    A buyer places a low bid and is then followed by other buyers (partners) who take the bidding up very high compared to the real value of the item, at the last moment the high bidders withdraw their bids and leave only the initial low bid remaining. Basically you end up selling the item for a lower than expected price and no one else has bid because of the high bids that have been withdrawn.
  • Faked Photos
    Its so easy to make something look good or even replace it entirely and take a picture. Once the image is digitized further enhancements can be made. Look at the picture carefully, does it look like a stock shot? Does it have any areas of blur or fuzziness? (a sure sign it has been tampered with) Does it match the description? Print it out and also save it to disc, you may need it later
  • Untrue/Misleading Descriptions
    Again anything can be written about anything. When did you last buy a car, was that dent, rust, bad paint job in the description of the ad, of course not, sellers may fail to mention things they see as minor but you see as major faults and of course the same goes for auctions. Does the description match the picture? Is it a detailed description or just the make and model, sellers should give detailed descriptions and even point out faults, if you contact a seller before bidding and find that a lot of bad stuff has been left out of the description ask yourself if you want to do business with this person.
  • Failure to Deliver Merchandise
    Usually online auctions require the buyer pay for the merchandise before receiving the goods. So you have paid, the cheque has been cashed and you have not received your goods. First contact the seller, if you get no response contact the auction site hosting the auction, tell them the situation and request any details they may be able to give you.
    Be sure to keep a record of all conversations, correspondence and cancelled cheques.
    Many auction sites now require sellers to give credit card details for identification before they can sell, for obvious reasons choose your auction site carefully.

    In the US this is a crime and is classed as mail fraud so take legal advice.

    If the item is expensive use an Escrow service.
    Does the auction site provide insurance, if so it can save you money.
  • False Feedback
    Visit the online auction's buyer feedback page. Sellers are rated by past buyers. The feedback systems can be easily manipulated by the seller using false user accounts and/or by their partners. If a seller has a perfect feedback rating this can mean they are either totally honest and timely with their sales or they are dishonestly posting false feedback, there is no easy way to spot false feedback, although, an average rating is probably a good thing, after all very few people are perfect. If you get burned be sure to let others know by using the feedback sections.
  • Switch and Return
    You as a seller have sent your goods to the buyer, the buyer then switches your goods for older, copied or broken goods of the same nature and contacts you saying they are not satisfied with the goods and demanding a refund.
    You do not know this until the goods have been returned to you, so what do you do?
    Do not give refunds until you have the goods back.
    Before sending the goods take photos of them, describe them and note any model numbers, serial numbers or unique identifying marks.
    Contact the buyer and let them know you know and the evidence you have, then offer to return the goods to them when you receive payment for re-shipping.
  • Pirated or Stolen goods
    If you think the goods may be pirated or stolen contact the seller and ask for details of where and how they acquired the goods, then contact the original supplier to confirm. Software and designer goods are particularly subseptible to this.
Finally: If you follow the guidelines above and advice elsewhere on the Internet you should have no problems. Auctions are the best place for bargains and hard to find items.
These online auction tips are copyrighted to and were first published here in 1997.
Earliest web archive by WayBackMachine, 26th January, 2001.

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