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confessions of an ebay addict

4.4.99

Hard to believe it's only been six months since I met my great love. I refer, of course, to eBay, the online auction site that boasts, like, 607 billion buyers and sellers. (Ballpark figure.) It's a drug. I'm addicted. I waste hours, entire sunny afternoons, sitting there clicking and searching and browsing. Whatever pops into my head, I type into the search bar, and someone's likely to be selling it.

Lately it's been worse because I'm not buying so much as selling. Yes, the great purge is underway at la casa de Rob, and a video collecting dust on my shelf that might go for two bucks at a yard sale could capture $28.50 from someone who wants it badly enough. Yep, that's an exact figure. I put up BAD LIEUTENANT (since I now have the DVD) figuring it might top out at $10. Imagine my surprise when the bid surpassed that and almost tripled it! I almost felt like emailing the high bidder and saying "Look, this video has gone for about $7 on here before. And you can probably get it from Amazon.com, new, for like $15." Not being stupid, I didn't. I kept my mouth shut and cashed the money order. Oh, and I shipped out the tape, of course.

Hey, I didn't put a gun to the bidder's head and force her (it was a woman -- maybe she's a fan of nude Harvey Keitel scenes) to bid $28.50 on a video she could get elsewhere for half as much. (Hell, you can get the DVD for almost half that!) I set the opening bid at $2 with no reserve. Anything that happens after that is entirely up to the bidder(s). Sometimes you get two responses, jack and shit; and sometimes you find yourself the happy beneficiary of a bidding war.

Anyway, some useful tips I've learned, offered here for the eBay virgin or newbie...

SET A SPENDING CEILING

Mine is generally $20-$25, since I usually don't bid on high-demand items. However, I am occasionally moved to make an exception; three times I have ended up parting with $40 for a video I particularly craved. (Only to watch it sell for $20 two weeks later. Get used to that. It happens to everyone.) I have never spent more than $40 on any one eBay item, nor do I intend to. $40 is my absolute high Vatican ceiling. Yours might be higher or lower. Whatever, establish it for yourself early on and only deviate from it on special occasions. Hold two $20 bills in your hand and ask yourself whether you'd rather have that or an obscure early Todd Solondz pre-DOLLHOUSE video.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Don't be like that BAD LIEUTENANT bidder. Find out if you can get it somewhere else; if so, for how much. Figure in shipping costs and place your bid. If you get outbid, turn around and buy the shit elsewhere. The cool thing about eBay for those who don't have a credit card is that you can basically buy cool stuff over the web without needing plastic, but that's no reason to roll over for a high price or get into a bidding war.

YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME

I've had egg on my face a couple times (see the paragraph before last), seeing an item sell later on for much less than I spent. But I've also gotten some hella-sweet deals, such as my prized CLOCKWORK ORANGE photonovel (basically the movie in book form, with dialogue captions under frames from the movie). I expected to go at least $35 for it, because that's about the low-end price I've seen used-book dealers on MX Bookfinder asking, but I ended up grabbing it for $20! The other Kubrick fans must've been nappin'. Of course, I won the bid shortly before his death; for obvious reasons, Kubrick-related shit is selling for major paper right now. (I received the book in the mail the day after he died. Spooky.)

Then last week, someone else was trying to sell the same book for $150! It was a raggedy-ass paperback edition that had been in someone's basement, and fuckin' looked it, too. My copy was in much better condition than this one. Now, I could see charging 150 balloons if it were a mint hardcover edition signed by Kubrick on his deathbed. The one this guy was selling? A paperback that looked like it was signed by my cats pissin' on it.

I took pity. I emailed the guy, because he'd invited people to email him if they'd seen this book anywhere before. I said, "Yeah, I've seen it a few times on eBay and it usually goes for between $30-50. I got my copy on here for $20. You ain't gonna get fuck-all for a response unless you dial down the opening bid a little, dude." Not the exact wording, natch. He emailed me back, thanking me, saying maybe he'd keep the book after all. A day later, when I did my daily Kubrick search, the book was still up for auction, and some idiot had actually matched the $150 minimum! Then somebody else surpassed that! When the auction finally ended, the raggedy-ass paperback that had been in a basement, and which I bought for $20, had sold for $152.50. Either someone was really stupid, or the book really is worth that much now that Kubrick is gone, even in shitty condition.

In a related win-some-lose-some anecdote, I just picked up the rare Alex Cox oddity WALKER (to be reviewed here soon) for $10.50, including shipping, on eBay. On Amazon.com, with a discount, this tape will run you about $75. A paperback I bought for a quarter at a book sale made me $69 richer when I posted it on eBay two weeks ago; a promotional GHOSTBUSTERS phone I won in a video-store raffle 13 years ago paid for my phone bill last month. You gots to dig the symmetry. So eBay may taketh away, but it can also giveth like a motherfucker.

WATCH OUT FOR VULTURES

At the last possible minute, bidders like to swoop down on an auction in its closing seconds and trump your bid. Be vigilant. Bookmark the page. Monitor it like Noah Wyle clocks an EKG. Stay up late and punch "reload" until your mouse finger cramps up. Or, raise your max bid by $10 in the final hour or two, just to be on the safe side. If someone outbids you at your max bid plus $10, well...maybe it wasn't meant to be. It's never a good idea to get too attached to an item you're bidding on, though this is sometimes easier said than done. Learn how to let go when someone outbids your absolute max bid; learn how to sit back from the computer and say "Fuck it. It's yours. Enjoy." Remember the Buddhist maxim that attachment and desire are two of the main roots of suffering. Then again, Buddha was probably never outbid with two minutes left to go.

ON THE OTHER HAND...

I have eaten some carrion myself, i.e. hovered over an auction in its final moments on earth. It's part of the game. It gets done to you; you do it to someone else. However, you may raise hackles in the bidder community if you do it often enough for your username to be recognized as a frequent 11th-hour bidder. Reserve the tactic for special occasions -- items you can't face yourself in the mirror unless you have them.

OPEN YOUR MOUTH

If you get outbid and the item isn't obviously one-of-a-kind, email the seller and ask if s/he has extras; offer to buy it for the price of your maximum bid. I've done this twice, with a kick-ass CLOCKWORK ORANGE poster and an early Cronenberg short film, and both times I ended up being glad I opened my mouth -- they had extra copies and were more than happy to make a little extra hassle-free cash. Remember, you're saving them the trouble of reposting the item -- which may end up selling later for far less than your offer. Many sellers jump at the chance unless the item is red-hot and they know they can do better than your max bid.

REMEMBER TO LEAVE FEEDBACK

Whether you're a buyer or a seller, it's simply good eBay etiquette to boost the feedback rating of a seller or buyer you're satisfied with. They should (but sometimes don't) do likewise for you. The higher the feedback digit, the more trustworthy you seem to potential sellers and especially potential buyers. ALWAYS, ALWAYS save the end-of-auction emails! They contain the username you will need to leave feedback. It's also smart to hold onto all email correspondence regarding the transaction until said transaction is history, feedback has been swapped, and both seller and buyer are happy. Save all emails in case a problem arises. If you're a seller, and a month goes by after the transaction and you haven't seen any negative feedback or emails from your buyer, it's probably safe to assume that no news is good news; if the buyer's pissed, you'd have heard about it quick.

SPECIFY MONEY ORDERS ONLY!

If you're selling something, that is. Personal checks are a pain in the ass. If they're from out of state, they get held in your savings or checking account for 2 to 5 business days until they clear. And more often than not, your bank or credit union won't go after the deadbeat; the bank goes after you and you have to go after him. Blech. Fuck it. I wanna just walk into my CU, hand them a money order, and walk out of there with money. Just yesterday, some other dingbat finally mailed me payment for my FRANKENHOOKER video he'd bid on, and right away I had two problems: (A) it was late and (B) it was a check. No email asking permission to cut me a check when I'd specifically asked for MONEY ORDERS ONLY; just a scrawled apology on the check itself: "Sorry about the check." And on the invoice that came with it was this: "Sorry about the delay." A friend of mine suggests I mail the video to this jamook in a sandwich baggie with a note attached: "Sorry about the shitty packaging."

Also, if you don't want to deal with shipping stuff outside your home country, specify that in your item description. You might lose some bidders that way, but with heavier items it's not worth it.

[2003 update: I now swear by PayPal for both selling and buying on eBay. It's just worlds easier.]

DON'T GO CRAZY

When I first started bidding on stuff, it got so I started pushing the envelope of my comfort level. All these auctions were about to end, and suddenly I had to come up with the cabbage to pay for all the items I impulse-bid on. This taught me an eBay rule that's important enough to isolate in big, obnoxiously red type:

NEVER IMPULSE-BID UNLESS
YOU KNOW YOU CAN BACK IT UP.

I turned out okay -- it really wasn't that much. But it spooked me enough to make me take a breather for a while. Same goes for posting your own items on eBay. Unless you would like to make this your life's work, and you have a staff of people to field email questions and pack the items, don't post a shitload of stuff at once. For me, six items at a time is pushing it.

IF POSSIBLE, INCLUDE A PIC

Even if you have to smuggle it from another web site. I've grabbed pic URLs from Amazon.com to show bidders what my tapes look like; since I don't (yet) own a scanner, that's my only option right now. It is not kosher to grab the URL from a pic another seller has posted for their own item, especially if condition is an issue. In other words, don't grab a pic of someone else's mint-condition STAR WARS poster if the one you're selling is creased and thumbtacky. This is called "fraud" and will get you booted at best. The reason to include a pic is that people want to see what they're bidding on, and will click on a post with a pic rather than one without. However, if the header and description are intriguing enough, the item may sell itself, sight unseen. The problem with borrowing pics from sites is that, if the pic vanishes from the source site, it also Houdinis off of your posting. But since auctions only last 7 days max, what's the likelihood?

NO OTHER AUCTION SITES EXIST

It's true, they really don't. eBay is the bomb. Oh, there are other online auction web presences, but it takes a more patient man than I to navigate them. eBay is wildly popular for a reason: It's easy to register and it's easy to find your way around. eBay is popular for another reason, too: because it's popular. In other words, it's been around long enough, and attracted enough traffic, that there are probably thousands of buyers/sellers on there with pretty decent feedback. The problem with the new Amazon.com auction, which I registered for just so I could fuckin' laugh at it, is that everyone on there has a feedback rating of, like, 2. You might recognize an eBay username on Amazon.com or somewhere else, but does anyone else worry that the other auction sites are like the Witness Protection Program for former eBay users who hit a -5 feedback and got booted? "Hey, Amazon.com has an auction page -- I'll start all over again on there!"

REMEMBER THERE IS LIFE OUTSIDE eBAY

There was a time in your life when you actually went to yard sales, antique shops, consignment stores, collectibles joints, etc., to satisfy your jones for unclassifiable miscellany. (I'm pretty much an "I couldn't really tell you what I'm looking for, but I know it when I see it" collector.) Break away from the puter every so often, get some fresh air, and hit some yard sales. Find some shit you don't want, pay a quarter, then turn around and move it on eBay for $69! The great wheel always turns back to eBay, baby, because that's what it's all about as the century nods off.


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