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How to Win at eBay:
Research the Seller
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Researching your seller will usually tell you far more about the quality or condition of what you'll receive than spending much time trying to guess by looking at their listings.

Look at the listings for other items by the same seller (click on "view seller's other items"). Each seller tends to sell the same sorts of items. Even if the photos of the item in which you're interested are fuzzy, look at some of the seller's other items to see what sort of stuff he usually sells.

Look at what else the seller has bought recently (listed in his feedback). I was considering buying something from a guy, but when I saw that his latest purchases were bongs and other drug paraphernalia, I passed.



The seller's feedback is the single most useful piece of information you have to determine your potential for satisfaction with the item and the transaction.

This feedback is a far better predictor of the quality and condition of what you'll receive than the item's written description or pictures.

Feedback percentages are everything. The best sellers always ship something at least as nice as described, while the crummier sellers often lie about condition.

Only bid if the seller's feedback is at least 99.6%. That's right: a feedback score of 99.5% or below is usually awful. Whenever I've gambled and bought from a low-feedback seller, I've usually gotten gear that either takes weeks to arrive, is defective or otherwise Significantly Not As Described. For instance, I have a lens that just arrived from a 99.6% seller, and it smells a little like sewage and needs to go in for repair. Luckily I'm able to return it. Just ask, and most sellers are happy to take returns of genuinely defective products.

Sellers with high feedback, like NationalCameraExchange (100%) have never described any items I've bought as "new" or "mint," but when I've gotten them, they were so brand-stinking new that I was afraid to take the out and use them in the field for fear I might ding them, like having a new car.

The few tenths of a percent between 99.9% and 99.6% say everything about a seller, and the items you are likely to receive.

A good feedback rating is 99.8% or above.

A rating of 99.5% or below is horrible!

eBay only computes percentages for the past 12 months, but archives all of it forever. Go back and read all the negative comments.

You can read a lot of information by clicking on "detailed feedback" and clicking "See All." If you forget to click See All, you'll only see a little window with one comment at a time, which even for the worst sellers, usually will only show good comments. Remember, eBay tries to make everything and every seller look great to get people to buy more stuff more often. The worst sellers still have 97% positive feedback before they get kicked off eBay.

After clicking See All, click the 200-item-per-page option (bottom of page), and scroll past all the positive remarks. Everyone gets those. Read all the negative and neutral feedback, because it will tell you all about the seller. If you see "Mutually Withdrawn" feedback among the other negative feedback, stay away.

Ignore the 99% of positive feedback you see. Most people leave positive feedback, even if they got junk. I've always found something nice to say about every seller, even when I've gotten screwed. You must pay attention only to the few negative feedbacks left by people crankier than I, because these gems will tell you what you need to know about the seller.

Trivial negative remarks from stupid people can be ignored, but if people complain that they got broken, worse-than-expected items, never got their items or numerous people complained that they never heard from the seller, stay away. This very poorly rated store appears to have a habit of selling items they can't, or won't, ship. Each poorly rated seller's story is written in their negative feedback.

Look at the feedback of those who left negative feedback, and if their feedback is poor, don't pay much attention since they, too, are probably idiots. You can learn a lot very quickly by clicking other user IDs and item descriptions in people's feedback listings.

When looking at percentages, you need to consider Algebra. If the seller has a score of 1,000, meaning they've done about 1,000 transactions over their entire history with eBay, but had only a few feedbacks in the past 12 months, just one negative remark from an idiot can give them an awful feedback percentage.

An eBay drop-off seller also pointed out another fine point for which to look. This seller has what looks like bad feedback (99.5%), but from my experience, they are very good. When looking at their feedback, what pulled their ratings down so far tends to be negative feedback from buyers of $10 items. They suggested when looking at the feedback of a seller who sells such a huge variation and amount of items, to pay attention to the feedback from the buyers of items like you're buying, and pay less attention to people who buy $10 items and whine about it, as they tend to be the crankiest buyers.

I once saw an item and ignored it when I saw a ridiculously low 87% rating. I looked in detail, and discovered the one negative comment was from an idiot, and that there were only seven other feedbacks in the past 12 months. When looking at this guy's 10-year history, I realized he was a great guy, and I bought the item, which was excellent, at a bargain price because everyone else was too afraid of the 87% percentage.

If a seller has less than 100 feedbacks in the past 12 months, it's not difficult to maintain a 100% rating. You have to pay attention; but of a seller has hundreds or thousands of feedbacks in the past 12 months, his percentage is probably an accurate reflection of him.

If you have more time, you can click a member's ID in feedback and click Contact Member to ask them specifics of their previous dealings with a potential seller.

For instance, I was considering an item, which when I looked in the seller's feedback, seemed to have been sold before under a slightly different description and re-listed. I asked the buyer why he returned it, and it turned out that the first description was in error (to my favor). The first buyer returned it, and I got a great deal because when the seller got it back, he sold it with a low Buy It Now price to get rid of it. Only by asking the previous buyer, who knew more about the item than the seller, was I able to figure out what it was. Since no one else looking at the listing was able to figure it out, no one else had bought-it-now yet.

Retarded people write meaningless item descriptions, but their stuff is as good as anyone's.

Look at the seller's "feedback left for others." Some sellers love leaving negative feedback. Avoid these guys, too. You always can research the feedback from both sides of every transaction. Pay more attention to the guy with the better feedback.


Power Sellers, Platinum Sellers, Rising Stars, MEs and Checkmarks

Ignore this junk next to the seller's name.

These are merit badges handed out by eBay to sellers who make the most money for eBay because they sell the most stuff. Quantity is not related to quality.

I've never found any correlation between merit badges and quality of items or service. All that matters is the feedback.


Kinds of Sellers

Most sellers are either professional eBayers who sell a lot of stuff for profit, or guys like you and I who need to off-load last year's toys. The professional sellers come in many categories.

It's easy to figure out who's who: look at their feedback rating and items for sale.

A pro seller will usually have a feedback rating (that's the number in brackets next to the percentage) in the thousands, or at least the high hundreds. Really busy operations like Cameta have six-digit ratings, meaning they've sold hundreds of thousands of items.

Quantity isn't quality. Cameta's rating is 300,000, but their percentage is only 99.7%, which is mediocre.

Normal people will have a rating anywhere from zero up to a few hundred, if they buy a lot of stuff.

Look at how much they've sold versus how much they've bought. Full-time sellers buy almost nothing, and others mostly buy. It's odd to find people who sell about as often as they buy.

Pro sellers don't buy over eBay. They get their items every other place except eBay. They sell on eBay because they get the highest prices.

When pro sellers do buy over eBay, they never buy using the same user ID from which they sell. They don't want buyers looking at their feedback, and finding the feedback from the listing from which they bought today's for-sale item for half the price last week. Pro sellers will use another eBay ID for buying.


Kinds of Pro Sellers

Pro sellers come in these categories, in rough order of how often you come across them:


Garage Shops

These guys are much of the people from whom you'll find things. These are the guys who usually have hundreds of items listed at a time, and make what seems like a full -time living selling cameras.

These guys run the gamut from excellent to awful. Look at what they're selling (click their name, and then "Items for sale"). If the cameras are mostly worn and crummy, then the guy's just trying to sell junk at the highest prices. If he has a great (99.8% and better) percentage rating, and his cameras are clean, then he's a winner. I've gotten garbage from the low percentage guys, and items too nice to want to take out and use from the good guys.


Dumpster Divers

These are people who rummage through Dumpsters, live police auctions, thrift stores and garage sales to find their wares. It's easy to identify them: look at what they're selling. If it looks like the same mix of products as you'll see in any Dumpster, thrift store or garage sale, like clothes, old VCRs and stereos, an odd camera, tools, and auto parts, you've got a Dumpster diver as a seller.

These guys have no idea what they're selling. They'll pick up and resell anything shiny, and that's why you'll see them mention that they "have no way to test" in their descriptions.

They're honest, just know that you're taking your chances.

My wife knows of people who earn their livings cruising around good neighborhoods on trash day. They pick up anything left by the curb that looks good, and sell it on eBay.


Real Camera Stores

These are the same retail stores at which you might shop in person.

When they can't move an item at retail, they throw it up on eBay. eBay tends to attract more buyers for weird, expensive and unusual items, while common items are sold at the store.

Oddly, some of the good retail stores have awful feedback ratings, presumably because they sell their crappiest used items over eBay.

In other cases, some stores make a large part of their business of selling over eBay, and some small local retail stores will put really good things on eBay when they get something too good (read expensive or unusual) to sell locally.

Their feedback tells you everything.


eBay Drop-Spots

These are local stores that specialize in listing your items for you. They sell the same broad range of stuff as Dumpster divers, but are far more professional.

The place selling the items doesn't own the items. It is highly unlikely that the listing seller, the store, has any idea if it works or even what it is, beyond what they guy who drug it in there told them.

As I keep telling you for good reason, their feedback tells everything. The well-run drop-spots have high ratings. I've bought from these places and had great results.

Since these places sell such a weird mix of things, you can buy from places with slightly lower percentage feedback and do OK, but watch it: read the negative feedback to see what's going on.

I had a one of these places with poor feedback send me a rare old five-pound telephoto zoom. They shipped it by jamming it in a lightweight poster tube with no other padding or packing. It arrived effectively destroyed from the normal impacts it received. This was from a 99.1% (poor) rated seller. As I write this, they are down to 98.9%, and golly, if you read their negative feedback, you'll see that they have a habit of shipping things not packed properly.

Have I made my point? Read every seller's negative and neutral feedback, and you'll probably have the same experiences. eBay's feedback system is your most powerful tool to predict your luck, if you know how to use it.


Green Electronics and E-Waste Recyclers

Places offering "free green electronics recycling" don't always send your old computers off to India or China to be scrapped for their raw materials: these places resell whatever they can on eBay, which is also recycling!

Avoid buying from these places, since by definition anything they are selling is someone else's trash. The previous owner knows what intermittent problems the items have, which is why they trashed them. People drop cameras and stereo equipment into these bins, and these are resold every day on eBay for profit.

Recyclers keep the fact that they are reselling other people's trash a secret in their listings — there's no legal requirement that they do. You won't know until you see complete business name and contact information after the PayPal transaction is complete (PayPal doesn't show you the names and addresses of people to whom you send money until after it's sent.)

I bought an Apt Power Amplifier 1 from athomemarket, and it didn't work. It cost me $375 to send it off for an overhaul. The eBay ID and listings launder the fact that the seller is not an individual named Doug, but indeed is a recycling company. This is obvious after buying and paying where a link to the seller's real website was provided, but that link was never shared in the listing.

I bought a Sony CD-X303ES CD player from tvrsales, and it also didn't work. I scrapped it for parts. At least this seller gave me a fast apologetic refund, but they should have disclosed that they were selling other people's cast-offs. This seller is really Tri-Valley Recycling. Sure, that's what TVR means in their eBay ID, and it deceptively hides the fast that they're a recycler unless you already knew that. TVR's all-green website really kicks it to us, prominently claiming E-cycling for all sorts of high-value items like plasma TVs, stereos and laptops, but not offering to E-cycle paint, old refrigerators (too heavy to ship) or motor oil, and of course you never see a link to a recycler's eBay store at their "collection" website.

These operations use one front to buy, and a very different one for selling on eBay. You'll notice that they never link to their eBay store from their green recycling websites, and never link to their recycling site from their eBay listings.

This eBay "recycling" industry is completely unregulated, and no one is letting anyone know that their personal items are reappearing on eBay. That's the last thing that the recycling industry wants anyone to know — that they are an eBay drop-off site, but they are keeping 100% of the proceeds. Clever.

The best way you can tell is to look at the pictures. Items sold by recyclers are dropped in bins, and often have physical dings and scratches from what's dropped on top of them. If you see scratches in unusual places that an owner never would have scratched it, like the front panel of a piece of stereo gear, it usually is being sold by a recycler.

The good news is that the seller's feedback tells all as always. The guys from whom I've bought undisclosed recycled items needing repair have always cheerfully and immediately offered partial refunds or returns if I've asked — unless sold "as is" as they often do.


The Seller's Name (User ID)

I've found no correlation between the clarity of the user's ID and the quality of merchandise.

Whether the seller uses an anonymous ID, like herpesman69, or a clear name like Jack's La Jolla Camera Store, the only thing that matters is his feedback.


People Who've Been Kicked Off

As far as I know, eBay accounts never expire.

I registered back in the 1990s, and even when I didn't login for four years at a time, my account was still alive and well.

If you see "no longer a registered user," that means they got kicked off.

You won't see these folks buying or selling through those closed accounts, but it is fun to see the euphemism "no longer a registered user" pop up now and then.


Next: How to Read a Listing

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