[tags]eBay, Buying, Tutorial[/tags]

The eBay experience has become something of a rite of passage for newcomers to the web. Sadly, it isn’t always a positive experience, but the judicious application of information, i.e. knowledge, can circumvent some of the more obvious pitfalls.

The best way to get started on eBay is as a buyer and here are a few things I’ve learned, in some cases by costly trial and error, about buying on eBay:

Read every word the seller writes in his description carefully. Make sure there isn’t a Catch 22 written into the description or terms of sale. Be alert for “Red Flags” in a sellers description, by which I mean statements like “No Returns” or “No Refunds”. If there’s anything at all about a sellers description or feedback that doesn’t feel quite right to you don’t bid on the auction (no siree, don’t do it). If there’s not another one like it listed on eBay right now, there will be soon; check back in a day or two.

Always check a sellers feedback. There’s no good reason for an honest seller’s feedback to go below 99% and it’s wise to track down and read any negative feedback a seller has received.

Never buy from a seller who has no track record of positive feedback.

Never leave feedback for a seller until you’ve received the merchandise or before he’s left you positive feedback for payment. If a seller states in his item description and terms that he will leave positive feedback for you only after you’ve left positive feedback for him you have two good options. Either don’t bid on the item at all, or don’t give the seller any feedback, regardless of how pleased you are with the item you purchased. Sellers who withhold feedback after you’ve paid them are, in effect, attempting to blackmail you into giving them positive feedback (which they may, or may not, deserve). Don’t let them get away with it.

Get a PayPal account and open a second checking account to use with it. Decide up front on the maximum amount you’re willing to lose in the event you make a catastrophic error; let that amount be the limit on how much you’ll allow to reside in your checking and PayPal accounts. I personally keep the combined total balance of my PayPal and associated checking account below $300; if I get suckered into revealing sensitive information to a phishing scam, the most I’ll lose is $300. Think of the fees for your second checking account as the “Insurance Premium” you pay to limit your losses.

Decide how much you’re willing to pay for an item you want, wait until there’s less than two minutes left on the auction, if your predetermined maximum hasn’t already been reached, bid that amount and stop there, don’t bid again. If you win, pay for it right away. If you lose, go find another one just like it to bid on. Repeat until you get what you want for a price you can afford.

Never purchase from a seller who’s only willing to accept payment by money order or cashiers check. When you purchase with PayPal or a credit card you are at least partially protected from fraud. When you pay by money order or cashiers check you have almost no protection.

If you wish to contact a seller with a question or complaint do it through eBay rather than direct email because eBay retains a record of communications which pass through their system. This insures that your communications will have been documented in case a serious dispute develops. If a seller only responds by direct email, declining to communicate through eBay, he may be attempting to prevent you from being able to prove anything he tells you.

If you’re abused in any way by a seller, don’t just drop it. Contact the seller through ebay, explaining the problem in a calm, collected and dispassionate manner. If you get flamed, all the better; keep copies of everything you write and everything you get back. Make three calm, collected attempts to communicate with the seller. If he declines to reply or makes negative, uncooperative responses, open a dispute and make three more attempts to communicate in a calm well thought out manner. Don’t give in to anger, even if that’s how you feel. If you still haven’t come to terms, make an official claim and follow through on that too. Chronically dishonest sellers don’t last long on eBay unless the buyers whom they’ve defrauded let them get away with it. By sticking to your guns and following through, you’re helping to protect other buyers.