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How to Win at eBay:
Reading a Listing
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I buy only from these approved sources. I can't vouch for ads below.

Before reading the listing in depth, first research the seller's feedback. I've found no correlation to the condition of items as received to the conditions as claimed in listings.

Spend at least as much time researching the seller's feedback as you do the listing.

Great sellers have shipped me new items that were described as "not quite mint," and every time I've bought something described as "as new" or "mint" from anyone, it's always been worse than described. You've been warned.



Is the seller in your country? Is he up the street so you can pay him a visit to inspect in person?

The Internet makes it trivial to "buy" things from anywhere, but good luck if you can't arrange shipping and customs duties. The world's economy is still half-choked by people who make their livings by getting in the way of your international shipments.

Beware sellers who conceal their locations with nonsense like "Hot Deals, USA." That was the lady who sold me a lens with fungus in it, even though the description explicitly warranted "no fungus." Her feedback is 99.0%, and wouldn't you know it, now that I look at her current feedback, she's been kicked off of eBay. Read the feedback; feedback works.


How to pay?

Avoid buying from anyone who doesn't accept PayPal. As of 2015, I don't know that eBay even allows anyone to accept anything other than PayPal, and paying with PayPal, you're covered under eBay's Money Back Guarantee.

Yes, PayPal is a part of eBay and it costs the seller a few percent, but I've had PayPal get me refunds when I've received garbage, and it's so much faster than any other payment method. Not everyone gets their scams resolved well, but I did. The issue may be whether or not PayPal can get itself reimbursed; read their limitations carefully.

If a seller asks that you check out using their own check-out system, but still paying with PayPal, it's rarely a scam, but likely not to run smoothly. I'm used to only about three fast clicks after an auction closes and my orders just arrive, since eBay and PayPal already have my data in their systems.

If a seller expects you to use their checkout system, expect the potential for technical glitches.


How much is shipping?

Good sellers often ship for free, or close to it.

Lesser sellers jack up the shipping charges not only to profit from them directly, but because the money they pay to eBay is a percentage of the selling price, excluding the shipping charges.

Nickel-and-dimers will overprice the shipping so that the final price you pay them may be the same, but since the percentage sent to eBay based on the selling price without shipping, might save the seller fifty cents.

Always be sure to confirm the shipping charges before you bid.


Look at the photos

Only if these other items check out, now look at the pictures.

If they are fuzzy and unclear, welcome to the club. Very few if any sellers make good product photos, and it's worked to my advantage. I've gotten great deals on pristine gear when a high rated (100%) seller has illegible photos.

I've never seen a case where a seller doctored photos to hide defects. Most sellers are lucky to get any photos at all, much less have the skills to alter them.

eBay is always a gamble, and I gambled that a good guy wouldn't sell junk. When I try this, I usually get a bargain price and 20 year-old lenses that are still like new.

Of course you're asking for trouble buying anything from a low-rated seller (99.6% and below), regardless of the quality of the photos.

The main reason to look at the photos is to see what's included, and to see what's for sale to confirm with the description.

Shiftier sellers describe one thing, but the photos show a version or model less desirable. If I see a discrepancy between photo and written description, I won't bid. For instance, the written description might be for a Nikon AI-S or AF lens, and the pictures show only an older AI lens.

Stupider people do this too, but 50% of the time they describe one thing and send you something better. Read their feedback.


If all else is good, only then read the written description

The last thing to do is read the listing. Many sellers don't really know what they're selling, and even if they do, the only way to know how to interpret their enthusiasm (or lack thereof) is to have researched their feedback.

Ignore baloney like VERY RARE!! BEST NIKKOR LENS EVER!!! HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER!!!, which is just fluff made up by crummier sellers.

Read everything very carefully. I often will see paragraphs and paragraphs in a listing talking about how great an item is, and buried in the middle of a random paragraph is a single line like "item is nonfunctional." Honest. Read carefully.

When sellers try to put a value on the item, or individual components of the system they are offering, take them at about half-price. If a seller writes that "the lens alone is worth $500," check other Completed Listings and you'll see it's probably only worth $235.

The very few lenses I've bought with fungus or scratches (euphemistically called "cleaning marks") were explicitly described as not having these defects. The nicest lenses I've bought tend to have the fewest promises in their descriptions.

Like every other medium through which I've bought used items, from cars to toys and from newspaper classifieds to the Internet, the more the seller tries to tell you how great the item is, the more it sucks.

Good sellers know every defect, and clearly call them out. They will post photos with arrows to show you every little nick and abrasion. When you see this, its a very good sign.

A pro seller pal of mine once asked for my photography help because he was trying to figure out how to make a photo of an extremely subtle defect that he wanted to be sure his buyers saw. He's a great guy, and even he's astounded that with a feedback score of around 30,000 that no one has ever left him a negative feedback.

Not only do photos tell you little to nothing, I've seen no correlation to the level of education of the writer to the quality of his goods. I bought a broken Nikon FA from a guy with the most eloquent and complete written description I've ever read of how perfect it was. Likewise, I've bought stunningly magnificent items from complete illiterates.

I was initially suspicious of descriptions which were in perfect English, except for critical words that were misspelled.

When someone uses "minty" instead of "mint," they haven't obligated themselves to delivering something in mint (new) condition. When something is described as having "no where," although educated people know the guy means "no wear," the seller hasn't obligated himself. If a lens is described as "no fungis," it could be loaded with fungus, and it has still been described accurately since fungis doesn't even exist, much less would it be in that lens.

In spite of my fears for descriptions that have only the critical words misspelt, I've not had a problem buying from them.

"As news conditions" means nothing; that's not even in English. "As new" has a legal definition as does "new condition," but as far as I know, retard English has no legal significance. I suspect if anything goes to trial, I'm told that judges tend to favor the buyer when a contract is unclear, but ask your lawyer, not me.

In all honesty, I don't know that anyone goes to court over eBay disputes for camera items. Whenever I've wanted to bother to return something that was junk, the sellers cheerfully took it back.

I do know the one time I returned junk to a reluctant seller, it was eBay's and PayPal's customer service people who heard our sides of the story.


The Fine Print

Read everything. Many crappier sellers have very fine print hidden just about anywhere saying things like "all sales final," "no returns," or "item is worthless."

Even I'm amazed at how small type can get on the Internet.



If something isn't right, I've been able to return it regardless of any stated return policy.

It s nice if a seller formally offers one in the listing, but if your interest is protecting yourself against receiving broken items, I wouldn't worry about it.

I've been able to return garbage that was sold as "As Is, No Returns, No Way!"


Previous Returns

Look at the other items the seller has listed, and the other items he's sold recently (Completed Items).

Every time I've returned some piece of junk, it's relisted by the seller 2 weeks later. Look in the seller's Completed Items, and you'll see the listing I won.

If you see a repeated listing, it comes from any of three causes: 1.) Junky item returned, 2.) First buyer bought the wrong thing and returned it, or 3.) First buyer never paid for it or competed the transaction.

I've bought items that were re-lists, and they were perfect.

Most of the time I return something, the new listing lists the problem I found, but not always. Be careful.


Crappy layouts that don't fit your screen

I thought my website was the last poorly laid-out site left on the Internet, until I saw eBay.

Most eBay listings still look like the web pages monkeys first started to write in 1992.

They have awful graphics, animated crap, and they are sometimes so wide that I have to scroll left and right to read them, even on my 30" monitor!

These crappy web pages exist because eBay lets every nut place whatever sort of listing he wants, and just like the early 1990s, you have people like me with no idea of how to design a web page trying.

Worse, many of the very worst listings appear to come from canned software packages bought by pro sellers.

The good news is that even though these are hard to read, that I've never seen any correlation between the quality of items sold and the quality of the listing page. The only thing that matters is the seller's feedback.



A listing should stand on its own.

It should answer all questions and disclose any faults which would reduce the value of the item.

If a listing is unclear, ambiguous or otherwise invites questions, I stay away.

If an item isn't disclosed as being broken, missing parts, or having specific damage, I presume it not to have them.

As Legal Obligations go, the seller is obligated to provide the item as described, so if it's got defects (like oily blades, stuck shutters, etc.), it's his responsibility to disclose it in the listing, or fix it free.

It's not your responsibility to play twenty questions with a seller trying to guess what he's selling.

It's easy to buy, but very difficult to be a seller. The burden is on the seller to disclose everything, not on you to have to ask about every possible defect.

As always, the seller's feedback should tell you everything.


Next: If you want it, Add it to Your Watch List

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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