Would you, should you buy art and collectibles on eBay?
Given that thousands of transactions are completed every day under the Collectibles
and Art categories on eBay, the answer must be in the affirmative, or is it? The key
is to weigh the risks and decide what's most important to you.
This article reviews the pros and cons of going to a consumer-to-consumer shopping
site like eBay for art and collectibles. It addresses the main points you should consider
before buying from online resellers, not situations where you buy directly from
artists selling their own work on eBay.
Benefits of shopping online and on eBay
The benefits of buying online are clear, whether you're looking for collectibles
or any type of goods.
Convenience and accessibility Shopping hours are 24/7 and all you
need is Internet access.
Few geographical constraints Distances are no longer an obstacle,
although international transactions are not always advantageous or practical.
eBay supports different versions of its website in different countries.
Constant inventory turnover It is true that you can find almost
anything on eBay, and new listings that interest you can pop up at any moment.
Single-click comparison shopping When searching for an item on eBay,
you can selectively display and sort by a variety of criteria, including price,
buying format, "free shipping only," etc.
Minimum seller performance standards eBay holds their sellers to
a set of standards measured by customer feedback ratings. The numbers are less
meaningful when a seller has received few feedbacks.
Simplified return process If an item you receive is not as described
(which includes damaged on arrival, wrong item shipped, or does not work), find
the transaction on your Purchase History page under My eBay and request a return.
Unless you opt for a replacement or exchange, you should get a refund for the full
purchase price and shipping cost. The seller is also responsible for return shipping
costs, provided there is something wrong with the item received.
eBay Money Back Guarantee If the seller can't resolve a problem to
your satisfaction, you may escalate it to eBay Customer Support. eBay will refund
your purchase price and original shipping cost, but only if they rule in your
favor. Go to the eBay website to learn more.
PayPal Purchase Protection This program is very similar to eBay's
Buyer Protection. When you pay for an online purchase using PayPal, you get
reimbursed if you open a dispute within the eligible period and PayPal agrees
you have a legitimate complaint.
You can get lucky eBay auction-style listings present opportunities
to buy things for less than what you're prepared to pay. Motivated sellers may
also set fixed prices well below market. The odds of finding an authentic, known
work of art by a great master are probably none, though, and works that are
normally shown in fine art galleries rarely surface on eBay at a discount.
Sellers are people, too With enough exposure, you're bound to
come across the entire spectrum of good, bad, and ugly sellers. When you find
one who consistently delivers on their promises and will go the extra distance
to keep you happy, stay with them.
The great majority of sellers want nothing more than to do honest business. As
long as you ask the proper questions and apply common sense, the chance of losing
money and getting nothing in return is fairly low. When complications develop,
they're usually due to lack of knowledge of the sale item, varying interpretations
of the seller's description, or disagreements regarding item condition. Problems
can also occur in shipping. In a perfect world, both parties would be considerate
of the other and come to an amicable solution every time. But then, reality sets
- Incorrect or misleading description
Many online sellers are candid about being unfamiliar with a particular item
they have for sale. Others make misleading or untrue statements. For example:
- A Native American pipe that is part of a
sculpture design only has its stem and is missing the bowl. The seller says
this is the way it was when he bought it new. I don't doubt his sincerity,
but this can't be right.
- "Rare" is one of the most overused words
on eBay, especially when describing Swarovski crystal. Rarity is relative
and may be an appropriate term when referring to how often a mass-produced
widget comes up for sale, certainly not in the sense of how many are out
- Swarovski figurines are frequently described
as signed when the seller simply means they bear the
logo mark, which all do. To a collector,
"signed" means the piece has been hand-signed by its designer. (In my view,
a logo mark does not guarantee authenticity.)
- Pictures don't always tell the
full story Photos are helpful in showing an item's condition only
to the extent the image quality and view angles will allow. Beyond that, you
have to rely on your own knowledge and how up-front and competent the seller
is at inspecting their merchandise.
- "Excellent" is a subjective term
Ask questions and do everything possible to make sure words and
phrases like "good condition," "excellent," "mint" fit your definition and
not somebody else's.
- Shipping damage Mishaps
can result from a combination of rough handling and poor packing. Unless they
routinely work with auction houses and galleries, even professional shippers
may not know how to pack art safely. For instance, the weight of Starlite
Originals/Legends Mixed Media sculptures might belie how strong the metal is.
In fact, such a piece is vulnerable to bending, cracking, and breaking when
its weight or other forces are placed on parts not designed to withstand the
pressure, as shown in the picture on the left, below. Another potential problem
involves Swarovski crystal: the original packaging can be a confounding puzzle
to some, and I've seen sellers jam a figurine into place only to have it break
- Limited time to file a claim
You must request a return or report an item not received within the eBay
Money Back Guarantee window, and preferably within the seller's return window. If
necessary, ask eBay Customer Support to step in. Waiting too long before taking action
may mean you have no claim.
- Buyer Protection is not a
guarantee You should generally feel pretty secure with eBay's Money
Back Guarantee in the event you don't receive the item exactly as advertised.
Unfortunately, the guarantee only applies if eBay agrees with you. A dispute that
requires arbitration on the part of eBay will not necessarily resolve in your favor,
no matter how clear-cut you think your case is.
- 100% may not equal perfection
You absolutely should review a member's feedback before making any purchase.
However, numbers can lie, and past performance good or bad does not
guarantee future results. eBay can remove a negative rating that a seller received
if the accompanying comment from the buyer didn't follow published guidelines. In some
instances, this means a seller can be let off the hook and preserve their 100%
positive rating thanks to a technicality. On the flip side, a well-intentioned but
inexperienced seller may bungle a transaction and be saddled with a very poor feedback
percentage resulting from a single negative rating.
- Contentious sellers Like any large community, there will
always be a few bad apples in the barrel. This is true with buyers as well, but if you
shop on eBay a number of times, you're likely to experience the best and worst sellers
imaginable. While most transactions go without a hitch, horror stories range from
sellers who are rude; refuse to listen and learn; to those who'll call you a liar
and worse before they'll admit to a mistake.
- Beware of cons and scams
Some lessons are learned the hard way. I've been taken by a seller's stories
of illness and hospitalization and let the case deadline pass me by. And in the search
for bargains, keep in mind the old saying, "If it's too good to be true,..."
Doing it the old-fashioned way
For all the convenience and choices the Internet offers, nothing can beat the personal
touch that a respected dealer will bring to your art or collectibles purchase. A
reputable gallery or authorized retailer can provide:
- In-person preview of items Some art
objects should be previewed firsthand before purchase. If this is impractical,
your dealer ought to send you all the information you need.
- Personal, expert service
Dealers have knowledge to share. They will cater to your likes and dislikes,
possibly work with you on payment plans, offer perks to loyal customers.
They also have access to documentation on published artists and their works.
- Assurance of quality
You can be confident you're getting what you paid for from a legitimate
dealer. The pricier the object, the more established your seller needs to be.
Because mistakes can happen with anyone, you should still ask for whatever
documentation is available.
- Peace of mind Assuming
you're not buying from a fly-by-night operation, you have recourse if it is
discovered later that a purchase isn't what it was thought to be. Packing,
crating, and shipping are never a source of concern.
- A word of caution Big-time
scandals involving forgeries or dealer negligence have occurred. To blindly trust
anyone with your money is to invite trouble, and there's a statute of limitations
on how late a fraud claim or lawsuit can be filed. Moreover, intent to defraud is
often difficult to prove in court.
Only you can decide
Collectors have numerous places where they can shop, from "conventional" stores
with a physical inventory to estate sales, auctions, flea markets, online classified
ads. An online marketplace like eBay requires you to pay for merchandise without
personally examining it, and customer satisfaction is not 100% guaranteed. A collector
has very little reason to shop under such conditions unless they answer "true" to
at least one of these three factors:
- Product availability What you are
looking for is unique, sold out or retired, and is not readily found elsewhere.
- Discounted prices You
want to pay less than full retail. Businesses that carry overhead can't easily
match prices with individual sellers and virtual stores.
- Your tolerance for risk and
frustration You're prepared and willing to face a few characters
who are convinced if they don't set out to cheat you, that makes them a good
seller. Some will question why a collector would care about an item's condition
and flaunt their 100% feedback rating as "proof" they can't be wrong.
You have a better chance of getting what you want online if you set reasonable
expectations and understand the risks. eBay's not like gambling, where people
tend to lose most of the time. Nevertheless, you should know you will lose
some of the time. If you can't afford a loss or don't like the idea of losing,
don't take the risk.
If finding bargains is a high priority and you can deal with the frustrations
and occasional loss and disappointment, eBay's the place.
The above text authored by manitouj.com. Copyright © 2013, revised December 2016
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