Monday, May 12, 2008

Some tips for buying beads on eBay

About two years ago I began listing beads on eBay. At first, I thought it would be a good way to get rid of old stock. I didn't know that it would become a business for me.

I starting by listing huge lots of awful black coral. Keep in mind that it wasn't even black coral--it had been lacquered to look like black coral. They were shaped like rice grains and just a bit bigger.

Later, one of the purchasers mentioned that she thought it actually was wood that had been lacquered. But I digress.

The eBay bead market is quite congested. There are good sellers, bad sellers, and in-between sellers. There are inexperienced sellers, and experienced sellers.

There are a few important things to keep in mind when you are looking at auctions:

  1. Read the auction entirely. Yes, I know this seems simple, but seriously, this is incredibly important. I can't tell you how many problems I've had because someone didn't take the time to read the auction's description or terms.

    • Read their terms. This is one of the first things you should check out if you've decided to purchase an item from them. Which forms of payment do they accept? How do they figure out shipping charges? Do they combine shipping charges if you purchase more than one item? Answers to these questions will save you lots of heartache.

    • Read the description carefully. I say description here on purpose. Do not assume that the title is what you are getting--titles are known for being scrambled. Many sellers simply cram as many descriptive words as they can in the title so that their items will show up in the most possible searches. Read the description carefully and make certain that you are getting what you think you're getting. I recently heard a story about a woman who bid on a mold made from a bead--however, she thought she was getting a bead made from the mold, which is a different thing entirely.

    • Measurements. Take time to think about the measurements provided. Make certain you are thinking on the correct scale--inches are quite different from millimeters. Have a ruler with you when you browse, and it will help you figure out the scale involved.

    • Pictures. Are the pictures blurry? Hard to figure out? Beware of filling in the details and assuming that the product is what you think it is. Also watch out for a common practice on eBay, which is using stock photos. Often a vendor will take a single picture of an item that they have a large quantity of, and display that picture with every auction. This is not a bad practice when the items are identical, but when the items are handmade and there are variations, you could get stuck with beads that are as described but are substantially different from the picture shown. Most sellers will add a phrase in the description somewhere that the actual beads may vary from the photo, and that's your cue that you may not get quite what you expected.

  2. If you're not certain, email the seller. I can't even estimate how many problems this can prevent. Seriously. You should not feel shy about this at all. I'm not talking about emailing to double-check the terms in the auction--if it's spelled out in black and white, then that's pretty straightforward. But if they don't have any shipping terms listed, or if they have no terms listed for combined shipping, then ask before you bid on multiple auctions. If they don't respond within a day or two, then you know to be even more cautious. Yes, it might be because their child fell off a slide and had to go to the ER. However, most conscientious eBay sellers do attempt to answer emails quickly and efficiently.

  3. Beware of the negative feedback loop. So you received something that you weren't expecting, but when you went back and looked over the auction, it was clear that you were going to get what you got. Do you leave negative feedback? Hmm.

    My own philosophy is that negative feedback should only be reserved for the worst of situations. Your first course should always be to contact the seller before you leave that feedback. Beginning eBayers often think that they have to use that feedback to completely describe their transaction, which is how it is meant to work, in theory.

    In practice, however, it is quite different. Leaving neutral or negative feedback harms a seller in many ways. EBay as an organization has been getting more and more restrictive toward sellers, and a negative piece of feedback can damage a seller in numerous ways.

    I know from experience that most sellers will try to work something out with the buyer if he or she is unsatisfied. If you don't give the seller a chance, you will most likely receive a negative in return, and this will just make the situation worse. Or you will be blocked from their auctions. Or worse.

    Be wary of jumping on the negative bandwagon too quickly. First, contact the seller. Also, check the auction very carefully. Were you disappointed because the item was significantly misrepresented? Or were you disappointed because you did not read the description fully? If it's the latter, then you should not punish the seller.

In hindsight, I realize that I was very lucky in the beginning. I did list the black coral with lots of warnings, explaining that I knew it was lacquered, and very poor quality. It sold for a lot less than it had been purchased for, which isn't a good thing. However, it was through these experiences that I learned about how to write a title, an honest description, and most importantly, what the bead market on eBay was really like.

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