eBay, founded during the dot.com bubble in 1995, is one of the few websites to both weather that storm and come out with the first massive marketplace/auction site. While it used to feel more like the world’s biggest garage sale, now you have several different categories of sellers. So how do you bid or shop on eBay and make sure you get what you thought you were buying? eBay protection is easy if you take the time to look at what kind of vendor you are dealing with, find out what sort of inventory they carry, and you check out their reputation.
eBay Seller Feedback
The first line of defense in eBay protection is seller feedback. For years eBay (rated 83/100 on Viewpoints) allowed both buyers and sellers to leave positive, negative or neutral feedback a comment that would be displayed to the public. The system worked well by and large, but eBay discovered that some buyers and sellers were using the feedback system as much for petty retaliation or to push the other party’s hand by agreeing to remove the comment if the buyer/seller accommodated unforeseen circumstances. To stop retaliatory feedback, now sellers can only leave positive feedback, but buyers can leave feedback for sellers in the form of star system in a number of different categories:
- Item as described
- Shipping time
- Shipping and handling charges
A seller’s overall feedback score is noted in parentheses beside their eBay user name. But don’t just assume high numbers mean more safety. If you are buying a big-ticket item, or something you want very badly, it’s smart to click on the number beside the seller’s ID and check out their actual feedback. Some sellers are retailers with vast inventory, and while they may have a positive score of 20,000, they may also have received 10,000 negative or neutral scores. Conversely a new seller may not have a very high number, but the comments and stars given are wonderful. eBay calculates the score by giving a seller plus one point for each positive rating, no score for neutral feedback, and minus one for negative feedback.
Also read the comments buyers leave about the seller. As a former powerseller I can assure you a few snarky comments are inevitable, but if you see a pattern of remarks saying that the item arrived broken, it was other than described, or that the seller was very unaccommodating you might want to continue searching.
eBay Protection: Know your seller
While feedback is the biggest safety tool you have, there are other important factors. It’s important to check out where your seller is located. First it lets you know about how long it will take for your item to arrive, but sadly certain countries have a reputation for importing fake brands of clothes, handbags, even iPhones. If you find prices that are just too good to be true, they probably are. A lot of the phony goods come from Asia, but some Asian sellers can give you access to real goods for deep discounts, so again check feedback and also see how long the user has been registered on the site. If you find sellers you like, add them as favorites. Very often if you build a relationship with a seller they will go out of their way to make sure you are satisfied with the transaction.
While there are some very professional storefronts on eBay, most sellers are just regular folks clearing out their closets to make a little extra money. These folks tend to be reliable and honest, but they may not know all the eBay rules. If you care about things like your item coming with original packaging, or from a smoke-free home, make sure to inquire before completing a transaction. Unless something is significantly other than described, eBay won’t provide you with recourse for odors or small imperfections.
Every eBay user has a “my eBay world” or what we used to call a “me” page. Here your seller can fill you in about who they are and what they sell. There is always a button to click in order to ask the seller a question. To avoid hassles after the fact, ask your questions about sizing, pricing, shipping costs and everything else before you place a bid or buy something outright.
eBay payments and PayPal
Finally be careful about payment methods and how much information you give to a seller. I will discuss online payment options in a future article, but for now suffice it to say that most transactions are paid via PayPal, which eBay owns. If a seller wants your credit card number, wants a money order, cash, or a wire transfer, be very wary. There are a few legitimate non-PayPal secure payment options, but if you are new to eBay stick with sellers who accept PayPal. Both eBay and PayPal take steps to verify their vendors, so you and the seller have some protection if something goes awry. PayPal is linked directly to eBay auctions to make checkout—and if necessary filing a complaint— easier if your item doesn’t arrive. You’ll need to provide shipping details, including a tracking number, to PayPal so if your item never arrives you will get a refund, albeit a very slow one. To double your security use PayPal funded by a credit card so that if PayPal won’t act on your behalf, the credit card company may be able to intervene by stopping the payment on their end.
eBay is the biggest and most diverse marketplace on the Internet. My best advice to you is don’t visit unless you have some disposable income, because there is literally something for everybody on sale Now excuse me, please. I’m watching an auction for a pair of Manolo Blahniks and I don’t want to miss a chance to snipe the shoes when it ends!
Editor’s note: If you have professional experience with online shopping, Viewpoints is recruiting experts in priority product categories to write for our blog. Check out this overview of the Viewpoints Category Expert Program, including qualifications, compensation and how to apply.