Online Auctions: Play it smart

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Online auctions are a terrific way to save money, or make an extra buck. According to a 2002 Newsweek article, more than 50 million people buy and sell on eBay, not counting the millions that buy and sell via other auction venues. This is beneficial for both buyers and sellers, but any online venture is bound to have pitfalls. Online auctions are basically an honors system type of business.

Sellers trust that they will be paid, and buyers trust that they will receive their items, well packed, and as described. As with any business, bad service is a possibility. If you browse eBay’s community boards, you will see hundreds of complaints – some reasonable, and some not so reasonable. A bit of auction savvy would eliminate more than half of the complaints.

If you follow these suggestions, you’ll do well on eBay or any online auction site.

1. Never bid without knowing the shipping and handling fee. Most auctions have the fee listed. If the fee is not listed, then you should contact the seller and ask. Consider how much you want to spend, including shipping and handling, and bid accordingly. The seller can’t be accused of overcharging if you were aware, or unaware, of the fee and bid anyway. You can’t haggle with the seller once the auction ends.

2. Understand that the postage mark may show a smaller fee than what you were charged for shipping. Most sellers charge a shipping and handling fee. This fee can include the cost of tape, postage, bubble wrap, and boxes. If the postmark is less than what you paid, don’t assume the seller is trying to cheat you.

3. Read the entire auction listing. Don’t skim the description, and assume all is well. Your bid is a binding contract. Many buyers fail to fully read auction listings, resulting in headaches and heartaches for all involved.

4. Buy before you sell. New sellers sometimes get discouraged due to lack of bids. People are more willing to buy from sellers with feedback. Establish yourself as a reliable buyer before you try to sell. People will then be more willing to buy from you. This is especially true if you’re selling high price items.

5. A big complaint of buyers is receiving badly packed items. As a seller, your job is to make sure the item is well protected. Even if the package is covered by insurance, most carriers refuse to honor insurance claims if the damage was due to packing error. Save yourself trouble, and negative feedback, by carefully packing your items.

The next time you buy or sell at an online auction, remember these suggestions. You’ll be glad you did.

Michelle Strait is an editorial consultant based in New York. Visit her site: http://www.michellestrait.com to read essays, book reviews, and to learn about her services.

Online Auctions: Play it smart
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