Going, going, gone! How to buy at online auctions

Going, going, gone! How to buy at online auctions

Clay, Marianne

Even if you never raised your hand at any auction for fear ;you’ll spend $200 for a musty box of paper plates, you might want to try online auctions. Say “online auction” and you think eBay, the giant of Internet auctions. Certainly eBay, with more than 12 million registered users who come from all over the world to buy and sell an endless stream of items in every conceivable category, dominates. But eBay (www.ebay.com) isn’t the only player.

Yahoo (auctions.yahoo.com) and Amazon (auctions.amazon.com) also host auctions offering wide variety. Should you want a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible or a piece of 19th century folk art, you will want to visit the online homes of Sotheby’s (www.sothebys.com) and Christie’s (www.christies.com). Dozens of other sites run specialty auctions, such as the travel auction site, Bid4Vacations (www.bid4vacations.com), and the collectible auction site, fairmarket (auctions.fairmarket.com). But quantity–some five million items on any day, including teddy bears–and a trusted reputation make eBay such a favorite.

Of course you cannot hug a bear online, and that’s the drawback to buying a ted at any online auction. That said, online auctions offer some advantages. First, unlike real world auctions, you don’t have to sit on a folding chair for 10 hours while you wait for the 10-second opportunity to bid on the one item you really want, only to watch it zoom out of your price range. Online, after you find what you want to bid on, you might have days before the sale closes. Time you can use to gather the facts to make an informed bid.

Second, if you’re on the hunt for a specific, hard-to find item–let’s say the cinnamon mohair Gund bear you received on your third birthday– your foraging could go faster. Instead of combing shops, shows, and yard sales in the hope you’ll find THE bear, you key, “1950s cinnamon mohair Gund teddy bear,” in the search box. On eBay, you can sign up for a Personal Shopper that will send you e-mails when a bear matching your search terms is offered for sale.

Third, you can sometimes snare an incredible bargain at an online auction, especially if you establish and stick to your top price to ward off “bidding fever.”

But first, even before you begin your online hunt, you must register. This process takes no more than 10 minutes and is free. Just be sure to print out, write down, or send yourself an e-mail noting your user LD. and your password. Registered? Great, now start looking for the longlost bear via the search box. On eBay, your search has returned a list of 15 bears, and one could be YOUR bear. Click to read the description for the bear. Study the bear’s picture. (If the bear isn’t pictured, e-mail the seller to request a photo immediately.)

Now note the auction time remaining for this piece. Let’s say you have six days and six hours before the bidding ends, and let’s suppose the current high bid is $4. Since you have six days before bidding closes, slow your heart down and do some research.

To begin, read what other buyers have written about this particular seller. On eBay, you’d click “view comments in seller’s feedback profile” to read what others have written about their dealings with this particular seller. While these comments do not offer proof of a seller’s reliability, they put you on alert should you discover a lot of negative remarks. You might even decide not to deal with this individual and resume your search elsewhere.

But let’s assume the comments are good, and you’re going to keep pursuing this bear. Now click bidding history to discover how many others have bid on this bear, how much they’ve bid, and how many times they’ve bid. Next, note where the seller lives. This information is important to you since you’ll be paying the costs of shipping the bear from the seller’s home to yours. Remember, should you “win” this bear, you must tack on the shipping costs to the final cost of buying the bear.

Now return to the original description of the bear. Does the description include all the information you need? Do you know, for example, the size of this bear and whether it has any tags or marks? Is there a good, clear picture of the bear? If not, request one. Would you like to know how the seller got this bear? If so, ask. How about the seller’s policy on returns? Will the seller insure the bear when it gets shipped? E-mail the seller and get all your questions answered.

Okay, let’s suppose you got a satisfactory response to all your requests, and you’re ready to enter to bid. Enter your bid. Also enter the maximum price you’re willing to pay should the bidding continue to increase. This way, if bidding goes up, eBay will raise your bid up to your top price. (You can always raise the price later, if you must.)

Your bid is in, the auction is about to close, so let your heart race. May THE bear soon be yours!

Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Mar/Apr 2001

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