My Turn

eBay: Standing Up For Yourself

Andrew W. Hill - 2001.07.10

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

eBay is a great place to pick up some fantastic deals. As long as you know exactly what you want and how much you are willing to pay for it, you can usually come out ahead of both retail stores and online retailers.

Most of the sellers on eBay are one of two things - people trying to clean out their garages or people trying to make a profit. The majority of these people are very honest and pleasant. I buy and sell on eBay with some regularity - the last time I made a purchase at CompUSA was an ink cartridge that my mother needed urgently.

Given the amount of bidding I do, there is a decent chance of some bad transactions. I am not saying any of the people I have had bad experiences with are dishonest; I believe them all to be honest sellers. What is important when buying something on eBay is never to let yourself get walked over.

The biggest problem is with items that never seem to arrive. Last December, I was still waiting for an item I ordered in October. After sending the seller another irritated email in early December, I received a most profuse apology saying that it was accidentally overlooked and never shipped. The best way to prevent something like this is to harass the seller. Send them an email once a week and ask about the status of your order - whether they've received payment, shipped out the item, etc.

The biggest problem I have had is with people that ship defective items. One of the first items I bid on was a memory module for my mom's PowerBook 150 (on which I am currently writing this). The auction item description stated it was for "Power Book 150 520 540". In any case, it turned out that it was a PB 5xx RAM module that wouldn't physically fit in my PB 150. The seller, who was a representative for a major RAM vendor, looked into the matter and discovered that an adapter was required. He gave me a full apology as well as refunding my money. Return of the module was not required.

Recently I was involved in a heated discussion with an eBay seller over an adapter. It arrived with one of the pins bent, despite being incredibly well packed. Even with UPS's best efforts, I don't see any way this kind of damage could have been caused. The way in which the pin was bent indicated to me that the adapter had been used since the damage had occurred. In no way do I believe that the seller realised the item was damaged. The seller offered to refund my money if I returned the item, which was perfectly reasonable. However he wasn't willing to reimburse me for my costs of shipping the item. It ended with him refunding my money and the defective item is sitting on my shelf ready to be used for an art project or whatnot.

I have no problem with sellers of defective items asking for the return of their item. Some proof of the fault is perfectly reasonable, otherwise it could be thought that you are trying to get something for nothing. My problem was that I was being expected to pay money for an item that I was not able to ever use. To me, that seemed unfair.

You can't win every argument, but you can definitely prevent getting regularly abused if you remember a few ground rules:

  • Hassle sellers to make sure you know where your item stands. If you are selling, make sure to give your buyers updates when you send/receive payments or items.
  • If you receive a damaged item contact the seller immediately. Don't decide that "it isn't that damaged" or "it was only five bucks." Never let anyone get the better of you.
  • If the seller of a broken item requests that you return the item to them make sure they are willing to pay for the return shipping.
  • Above all else, make sure to leave appropriate feedback with eBay. If you have an encounter with a particularly bad seller, you can contact eBay. I am nearing that point with one person with whom I have had ongoing problems, and I understand that eBay has people trained in dealing with such problems.
  • In any dispute, eBay has the final word. If you contact eBay and don't like their decision, you can either live with it or get legal advice. I strongly recommend you live with it.

eBaying can be a very positive experience that can save you a lot of money and time, but most of all you must be careful and never ever let anyone get the best of you. Happy bidding!

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