I shop on eBay frequently. That is, I might not buy, but I peruse and evaluate which sometimes leads to a purchase. I likely average one or more visits a day to eBay, as I look to buy items for my personal collections, household goods, and, on occasion, items for business purposes. Over the past thirty years, I’ve bought thousands of items. I’ll guess that at least 25% of those purchases left me disappointed. In many cases, I was burned.
Making purchases on eBay is a gamble, without question. I’m not the only shopper who felt cheated after an eBay purchase, but continued shopping on the site. In the quest for the perfect item, or to fulfill a need, I still turn to eBay on occasion, to look, if not leap and make a purchase.
Still, based on my thousands of purchases, I’ve come up with a gameplan to help you limit the number of bad purchases on eBay. You will never limit all the risk of making eBay purchases. But with the few helpful hints that follow, you can greatly reduce your risk when shopping eBay. So, let’s get started.
Many eBay sellers have a very limited footprint, or profile. If you don’t know who’s making the sale, you’re taking a risk. There are many companies selling on eBay who want to stay in business and, therefore, ply an honest trade. They want to avoid unhappy customers and hope to keep selling over time. But realize that there are millions of eBay sellers who are individuals looking to sell one or two items. They hope to sell, and then disappear from the site. These sellers are much more likely to cheat purchasers or leave them less than satisfied.
Nearly everybody selling on eBay has positive feedback from buyers – so don’t be fooled and think you’re making a “safe” purchase because of positive buyer feedback. Positive feedback ratings are often misleading because leaving feedback on eBay is out of fashion. Many buyers simply don’t want to take the time to review a seller. In other cases, the seller’s rating is based on a very small sample of sales. Personally, it’s been more than a decade since I left feedback for a seller, even when I’ve been burned. I simply don’t have the time.
Most eBay photos are, in a word, horrible. They are amateurish, with poor lighting and angles. Often, they fail to capture key aspects or the sale item, such as the back or sleeve of a sports jersey or whether a CD or DVD is shrink-wrapped or has been removed from its original packaging. It is just plain impossible to know what you’re buying from eBay photos. Further, when a seller instructs you to check the posted image(s) to evaluate the item, rather than a detailed written description, it's for a very simple reason – they don’t want you to find flaws in the item. Never rely on eBay photos alone in making your final purchase decision.
Many eBay listings are incomplete or misleading. Here are some examples. Condition is often described as “used,” without any further amplification of what that means – i.e., was it worn just once, or washed hundreds of times? Also, many listing titles are deliberately vague. At any one time, fifty or more authentic/replica NBA jerseys on eBay are listed as “game” jerseys, as the seller hopes the buyer will see “game worn” in the description, which garners a significantly higher price. They are selling a $150 jersey for $4,500, hoping the buyer will believe the jersey was actually worn in a game when it’s really an off-the-shelf Fanatics replica.
Many sellers provide no details on an item other than the listing title. This is by design. When a seller is pushing junk, the less you know, the better. Originally, eBay listings contained significant product descriptions, like those provided by To Die For Collectibles. Reputable sellers want you to know a lot about what they’re selling, as an informed buyer can make better decisions and will be more satisfied. That’s why TDF Collectibles spends a lot of time, resources, and, yes, money, to provide detailed product descriptions for every item on the site. Over time, though, eBay minimized this feature, and it is now almost non-existent. This is a critical flaw across the entire eBay platform.
Beware the run-on listing title. We call this “Title Packing.” Sellers who provide scant details on an item love to pack the title with bonus material that has almost nothing to do with what’s being sold. An example? Try this. “1990’s Michael Jordan Game Jersey Nice Rare Mint Bulls Wizards Charlotte Tar Heels Super Hoops.” The goal is for you to spend more time trying to figure out what the description says, rather than what’s missing.
On eBay, “New” doesn’t always mean “New.” Items on eBay can be listed as “New (Other)” – a designation which many shoppers will take as “Brand New.” In fact, “New (Other)” refers to “Like New” items. That is, the item listed as “New” isn’t new, at all. Very deceptive.
Think of eBay as a digital flea market, full of lots of stuff, some deals, and a hodgepodge of sellers. Sometimes, flea markets are fun. But other times, they are a waste of your hard-earned money, and you get taken.
The best advice? I wouldn’t advise to avoid eBay altogether. Rather, “caveat emptor,” or buyer beware. Hopefully, the guidance here will help improve your odds of making a good purchase when, or if, you shop eBay.