Several months ago I posted my own "Five Rules For Ebay." Recently I re-learned why I had rule 3, which says "No international deals."
If you check out the original post, you'll see I caught flack from several readers who felt rule 3 was overly restrictive. I agreed that sometimes, for the right item at the right price, rule 3 could be ignored "as long as you never risk more than you can afford to lose."
I've been involved recording classical orchestras since the mid 80's. Many of these early recordings were made with Sony's first digital recording system, the PCM-F1. One of my long-term continuing projects is transferring the Beta tape recordings to a more modern and hopefully more archival medium. The best way to do this is via a direct digital connection. Only one PCM recording unit that I know was equipped with a S/PDIF digital output - the Sony PCM-601. Even it's more expensive sibling, the PCM-701, lacks this output option. Till recently I had been borrowing a PCM-601 from KGNU, the local community radio station, but they needed it back, so I began a search for my own unit.
Part of my daily regimen, along with my morning yogurt, is a visit to "My Ebay" where I look at my saved "Sony PCM" search to see if any PCM-601s have popped up. Most days the answer is, no. But about a month ago, one appeared. It was $225 "buy-it-now" with a shipping charge of $50. The description clearly stated that it was tested and working, so I pulled the trigger. Only after Paypaling away $275 did I notice that the seller was from Singapore. And so I broke rule 3, but good.
The seller emailed me several days after the auction to tell me that they had shipped the unit, but it had cost $159, not $50, and they would like me to cover the extra costs. I wrote back that I'd pay half the overage if the unit was fully working.
Two weeks later I got a notice from USPS and I went down to my local branch to pick up my package from Singapore. I was amazed how compact it was. Then I realized the packaging consisted of the PCM-601 sandwiched between two stiff pieces of foam board and wrapped with a boatload of cellophane wrapping. That was the sum total for shock protection. Miraculously, the package appeared to be intact and nothing rattled.
When I got it home and opened it up I saw that on the piece of foam that had been on the bottom, the PCM-601's four large rubber feet had left 1" deep indentations. That wasn't a good sign.
It only took a few minutes to discover that this PCM-601 only worked partway. It turned on and its front panel changed when you pushed the buttons, but it wouldn't play back, record, or respond to its analog input. It was dead, Jim. I had just purchased a fairly clean looking box full of parts for the PCM-601 for $275.
If the seller had been domestic, I would have returned the unit and received a full refund for my original costs (but not for my return shipping fee, which would be my responsibility). In theory I could get a refund via Ebay and Paypal's buyer protection policies even though the auction was listed as "No return" because the description said "tested and working."
But the gotcha for international deals such as mine is that a buyer must return the item to the seller via a trackable shipping method to obtain a refund. And Ebay doesn't release any refunds to buyers until Ebay has proof the seller received their goods. In my case, the least expensive trackable return shipping option would cost $160. For the difference between being out $160 or $275, I'd rather pay $275 and still have a parts unit for the day I do find a working PCM-601. Next time I'll wait for a domestic seller.