Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My eBay Adventures

I haven't been a big user of eBay in the past but this year I've been tempted to buy about 10 things that I've found for sale there.

It's proven to be a happy experience only about half the time.

One big frustration for me is that I *never* win bidding wars. It seems that even when I place a ludicrously high reserve bid on a low value item that I'm pretty sure no one else can possibly be interested in, someone comes along and outbids me at the last minute. That happened in February when I tried to acquire "The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again!" LP that I mentioned at the end of my January 20th entry. Although there was nothing special about the item I was bidding on, someone ran the price up to about $16 and edged me out in the process after I thought I'd placed what was sure to be the winning bid. There have been identical LPs for sale for a set price less than that both before and since, so I'm not sure what the deal was. I thought at first that maybe I'd unknowingly gotten into a bidding war with a friend who was trying to buy the item for me, but apparently not. The good news is that I eventually acquired a copy in excellent condition for just $13 (including a $4 shipping charge). The bad news is that losing a bidding war that I didn't expect to lose (and still don't understand) left a bad taste.

A month or so later I got into another bidding war over a somewhat rarer item and ran the price up to about $25 before dropping out. I didn't expect to win that one, however, and was mainly just trying to feel better by making someone else pay about twice as much as they would have had to pay had I not been bidding. That's pretty immature behavior, I know, but it's the sort of thing auctions seem to bring out in even the best of us at times. (Watch A&E's Storage Wars at 10pm tonight if you want more examples.)

I've since limited myself to "Buy It Now" items being offered at a set price by top sellers with high customer satisfaction ratings. Alas, this approach has been problematic as well. Of the 8 items I've purchased this way, 2 never got to me and 1 turned out to be in worse condition than advertised. Although I got full refunds for the lost items and the flawed item cost less than $20, these "What a waste of time and effort!" experiences have pretty much soured me on eBay. I've ordered lots of things from Amazon over the years without *any* problem at all; why should I continue dealing with a site that turns out to be frustrating nearly 50% of the time?

On the bright side... that first Baja Marimba Band LP that I mentioned in my January 20th entry quite unexpectedly popped up on national TV just a few weeks later! I was watching a segment I'd taped about Herb Alpert on CBS's "Sunday Morning" on Feb 13 when the following photo from early in Herb's career popped up:

Herb is second from the right, of course - and Julius Wechter, leader of the Baja Marimba Band, is sharing the center of the screen with him. Although CBS didn't mention Wechter (or offer any other sort of context for this shot), all three of the LPs in this photo were made by his band. (They were his first 3 LPs and the shot was obviously taken to celebrate their success.) The LP I found and bought at a local Half-Price Book Store in December is the one Julius himself is holding. (Well, probably not the exact same one, but... close enough.) The LP I lost in the bidding war is the one on the far left. This is the first and only time I've ever seen any of his albums displayed on TV. What are the odds that the one I'd so recently purchased would pop up there NOW, nearly 50 years after it was first released? Pretty small. Which of course explains the thrill I felt when I saw it.

BTW.... I think that's Jerry Moss on the other side of Herb (Moss being the M in A&M Records). I have no idea who that might be on the other side of Julius. If you know the guy's name, please help dispel a bit of the ignorance in the world by sharing it with me now.

If you've had any experience with eBay - good or bad - please share that, too. Are my frustrations with it typical or uniquely my own? I wish I knew! (But not enough to bid for your story - sorry!)


  1. Losing a bidding war like the one you described just means you are smarter and and more governed by reason than the frenzied person who "won". The true winner was the seller.
    It's a tribute to psychological insight that auctioneers over time have learned to make people feel they won or lost. It is very clever and serves the interest of sellers, not buyers.

  2. My experiences with eBay are pretty much like yours. I got ripped off once--the guy claims I'm a liary but I have physical proof he knows he's the one lying. But that doesn't matter because the dispute resolution process was a joke at the time. I gave him a bad review, so he just closed his account and opened under a different name. eBay/Paypal claim the resolution process is better now, but I wouldn't know because, like you, I buy at Amazon instead if I can and use Buy It Now rather than bidding.
    There are services which allow people to place last-microsecond bids to beat you. If two people are using similar services trying to "win" an item the price can skyrocket.
    If I actually want something that is being bid for, I put an alarm in my calendar program for the end of the auction. Then I sync up my computer's clock with and make my only bid at the very last moment. I heard a student I work with complain that he usually "lost" auctions to people who do that. It sounded like a good idea so I do it. There are often several lurkers out there for every auction who never bid except in the last second. It produces a "photo finish" situation resolved by algorithms on eBay's computers. They have an elaborate system for incrementing competing bids that you'd have to read to believe. It sort of promotes outlandish bidding by guarranteeing you won't pay much more than the the next-most-eater person bid. Like I did a last minute bid of 75$US for a coffee maker like one my father had used when I was little. The price was around $20 at the time I placed the bid, less than 20 seconds before the auction closed. Two other bidders who hadn't made any bids yet escalated the price to over %650. It took most of my education in math to sort out the bid history and understand what happened.
    The next week I made the same last-minute bid of $75 on the same model coffee pot and I only had to pay $31 because the other person making a last minute bid had bid $30. eBay rounded that person's bid up a dollar and gave it to me.
    They have standards and thresholds for how much they round up the bids. You can see it in the history. I have not bought anything on eBay for years except using "Buy It Now" so I may have many of the details wrong--they may have changed in my memory or the reality may have changed. But at some point they start rounding up by $5 and $10 and maybe more as the bids go above certain levels.
    That's my experience with eBay. Are you glad you asked?

  3. "next most eager person bidding" not eater.
    I wasn't going to issue a correction just for "liary" but most eater seemed pretty inscrutable.
    The links anchored to my name on these comments might interest you. The Motley Fool analyzes how Google fleeced investors (except not in the long run) and eBay lets users say "eBay sucks" and "eBay screws purchasers in favor of sellers" on its own community discussion forums.

  4. I rarely buy anything online, but I did use eBay twice to buy. First, I bought a couple of set of beads for my friend, because eBay was blocking her from using them because she'd paid with the wrong type of payment, which apparently had been taken as payment, anyway. My friend who then surprised me by giving one set to me. They were elaborate and very delicate, and had shipped from Australia. Some had broken off fragile parts, but the seller reimbursed me by sending a whole other set much more carefully wrapped, so I was more than satisfied. Then, I bid on what I thought was a beautiful red stone, which later on turned out to be a gyp, not the actual real stone that was advertised. There was a legal action taken that I could have ended up being part of, but I wanted to keep the stone, anyway.

    I tried selling my grandfather's Haitian cufflinks, but no one wanted to spend enough on them, so I ended up buying them back, myself, from Stilt, and donating the profit to charity.

    Stilt has tons of experience on eBay as a Super Seller, both selling and buying. He HAS been burned a couple of times, but by and large, he's done OK on both ends, and I think he still sells, although business is pretty much down of late... and he really doesn't like the large cut that eBay takes.

    I guess one's experience is the luck of the draw. For some perspective, I bought an iPod charger directly at Fry's store, and after futilely trying and trying to charge with it, and thinking I was encountering many faulty electrical outlets, I finally figured out it didn't work, only to have Fry's refuse to refund my money, since I'd lost the receipt. (It wasn't expensive, but it's the principle of the thing. They routinely store ALL one's personal info in their database, and can pull up your last several purchases, so this shouldn't have been an issue whatsoever. Instead, I heard "we just installed a new program. We can't find your purchase." Grrr!)