Jerry Del Colliano recently wrote about the perils of buying a twenty-year old power amplifier in his latest Blog. And while I agree that buying used equipment always entails more risk than buying new, the discount makes it worthwhile much of the time.
I have been buying and selling on EBAY since 1994. I've sold guitars to collectors in Thailand and Spain and purchased watches from folks in Hong Kong and Argentina with no problems.
Lucky? Of course. But I try to stack the deck in my favor by applying five simple rules to all my EBAY and Audiogon transactions. Let me share them with you:
Rule 1 - No Feedback, No Sale
I will not buy from or sell to anyone with 0 feedback. No one, except a thief, lists an expensive piece of gear with a below-market "Buy It Now" price and has no feedback. Anyone who's halfway sane (or at least a slightly craftier thief) would buy some little stuff - batteries, USB cables, Q-tips, to see how EBAY worked, establish a Paypal account, and get comfortable with Internet sales, before selling a big-ticket item on EBAY.
On the seller side, I don't accept bids from 0 feedback buyers. Life is too short to have to educate a newbie on how to Paypal me money, why the shipping costs what it does, or the myriad of beginner questions and problems that come up when someone has never purchased goods through EBAY before.
Yes, I am discriminating. It reduces the drama ten-fold.
Rule 2 - No Pictures, No Bids
If a seller can't or won't supply a picture I can't or won't bid on their item. No exceptions. I need to see a picture. It doesn't have to be a very good picture, because with almost 60 years of experience looking at pictures I'm really good at decoding them. Even a smart-phone pic is usually good enough to tell me what I need to know. But without a picture, the playing field is so unlevel it's nearly vertical.
Rule 3 - No International Deals
I'm sorry, but I had to make this rule for myself. I used to love selling and buying cool stuff from exotic places, but the hassle? Customs forms, commercial invoices, everything in quadruplicate, the Lacey Act...All the extra steps have made it so time-consuming to sell or buy anything substantial from overseas that I stopped, cold turkey five years ago. I still buy little stuff from China and Hong Kong since I enjoy seeing the stamps. And the risk of getting burned by a seller with a 20K+ feedback rating for a $1.98 item is miniscule.
Rule 4 - Never Assume
Many people have communication issues, especially when they are buying or selling something. On EBAY you must read descriptions carefully. Never assume all the bits and pieces needed to make something work are included unless it says that they are. Also just because something usually comes with a remote, unless it say there's a remote, THERE IS NO REMOTE! Same thing goes for AC cables, antenna wires, cables, instruction books, software discs, etc. If it's not listed for sale, it's probably not there for a reason, that reason being it's not part of the deal.
Rule 5 - Buy The Seller
Whenever I'm seriously interested in something on EBAY, one of the first things I do is see what other kinds of things the seller has bought and sold in the past so I can judge their level of knowledge about the item they're selling. Usually the more the seller knows, the closer the price of the item is to the current market value, which is bad. But the more the seller knows, the higher the probability that the description of the item is accurate.
I would rather buy from a knowledgeable seller because they are usually better at packing and shipping, and less likely to be weird. I will only buy from a naïve seller if they have something I really want, AND it's not terribly expensive so the risk is manageable. In a worst-case total-loss scenario I want to be able to take the hit.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
I recently broke my own rules. I bought a Lexicon RT-10 from a naïve seller for the buy-it-now price of $150 plus $30 shipping. The seller had decent feedback, but everything they'd sold was decorative or household items, not electronics. I read the ad carefully. No remote control was included, but at the price I was OK with that. From the pictures I could see it had a rack mount, which meant a semi-permanent install, and the description mentioned it had been a home system. I could also see that it had no signs of physical abuse or moisture exposure, so I pulled the trigger and Paypaled away $180.
The next morning I was surprised to see that I had not received a notice from EBAY telling me the auction had been cancelled and my money refunded. Several days later I got an email with shipping info and five days after that Fed Ex Ground delivered a slightly rumpled but sufficiently large box so the contents could weather the abuse, with a working Lexicon RT-10 and its instruction book inside. Without a remote, as I expected.
One call the Lexicon and I had a new remote that only set me back $56. In the meantime I re-programed my Logitech/Harmony 890 by adding the RT-10 as an additional CD player (since that's what I'll be using it for). It was a fifteen-minute job, but in the end when I pushed "eject" on the Harmony remote the RT-10 stuck its tongue out at me. Success. Sometimes EBAY long shots do work out and buying used can be a great way for any audiophile to get a leg up in sound on a limited budget.
Your chances of getting burned are vastly reduced if you follow my five rules, I promise.