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Sunday 12 June 2011

Buying Typewriters, eBay-style, 2011

Buying typewriters through eBay is something close to all our hearts. It has become the primary means by which we find and acquire the typewriters we want, sometimes even believe we need (or convince ourselves we need), to add to our collections. Occasionally we might glean some information about typewriters from this source.
There are other ways to buy typewriters:, The Vintage Typewriter Shoppe, Mr Typewriter, or through a specialist auction house. But that can get pretty expensive, take my word for it.
There are much less costly options, such as recycling centres, the Salvos, St Vinnies, Anglicare, and other op-shops. But the opportunities - at least in this neck of the woods - appear to be diminishing. It seems that increasingly, people who make a habit of haunting op-shops are more active and savvy than those of us who might periodically go looking specifically for a typewriter. These people are aware of the growing demand for typewriters, snap them up as $5 or $10 bargains and list them on eBay for five or six times what they paid the charity. We can't condemn them. We might not necessarily profit from charity, but we will grab a $10 typewriter bargain if we see one.
From time to time, though all too rarely, there are other ways and means. Many of us hastened, for example, to pat Adwoa on the back for the serendipitous way in which she came by her gorgeous cherry red Everest, and shared in her delight with such a find. There are also other online auctions, such as New Zealand's Trade Me, through which Richard Polt chanced upon his Moya 1. Nonetheless, for American buyers shipping from New Zealand, or paying high fees for bank transfers (PayPal is not commonly used in NZ), the costs can add up.
So, to a very large extent, we are at the mercy of eBay sellers, and of eBay itself. And that is becoming more hazardous by the day. A few years ago, someone made the comment that eBay started out as a worldwide fleamarket, and that the people who traded on it back then treated one another with something approximating the mutual respect and regard one might find in a real fleamarket - or any marketplace for that matter. The sort of polite behaviour that, as paying customers, we still expect, but not always find, in any shopping venture. The person who wrote nostalgically about what eBay once was, how it originated (to sell Pez dispensers?), was bemoaning the intrusion of big business and store selling, with a much heavier emphasis on profit-making. From a place where one could get rid of unwanted items and make a bit of money at the same time, it become an example for all the ills of rampant, poorly regulated capitalism. My concern is the lose of innocence, and in its place the growth of inconsiderate, insensitive sellers, traders who are purely profit-motivated, and who often use underhand selling tactics.
I say we are at the mercy of eBay as well as its sellers because it seems to me eBay is either powerless or disinclined to deal with some of these tactics. eBay will tell you it is investigating your complaint, but refuses to divulge the result of that investigation - and nothing changes. Removing the ability of sellers to leave negative feedback was, by and large, a step in the right direction, although sellers retain the right of reply to negative comments. Buyers once avoided honest appraisals because of the fear of seller reprisals. I have always believed sellers must either leave feedback the moment an item has been paid for or none at all. Some sellers now do that. But these days PayPal can be a tool with which sellers abuse the system, and there is no surefire way of gaining complete satisfaction through PayPal.
The latest apparent development is profiteering through packing and postage costs. When I sold items on eBay, packing and postage charges were precisely what I actually paid in postage, no packing costs were involved. I hold eBay at least partly responsible for what is now common practice. The last time I tried to list an item, the process insisted on including the size and weight of the package, and a means of postage, leading to an automatic charge coming up with the listing. This was, in fact, way over the actual cost, so I had to include in my listing description a warning to buyers not to pay the postage amount which came up with the listing, but to wait for an invoice with the real cost. Often, however, when I query a postage cost, I get the reply from a seller that, "That's the amount that came up on the calculator." Like, $38 for an empty typewriter ribbon tin? Yeah!
Let me give you a few examples of some of my more recent and regrettable experiences:
1. Typewriter packing and postage costs from Queensland to Canberra, $38.96, actual amount paid on postage $17.30, difference $21.66.  The seller's breakdown - "$17.30 (for postage), $2.98 (for registered post), $1.95 (delivery confirmation), $5.60 (person to person), $2 (driving to post office and spending time packing it), $9.13 (laptop bag - for the record it is worth $80 when bought new early this year) = $38.96 total postage cost."
Let me explain the seller packed the typewriter in a laptop bag, put it in an old plastic shopping bag, and posted it like that. I hasten to add I did not want another laptop bag, did not ask for it, and certainly did not agree to buy one for $9.13. I was given no choice in this matter.
Worse still: Delivery confirmation? Person-to-person? What the? Driving to post office? Time spent packing?  Why is this person allowed to sell anything on eBay if he is not prepared to spend time packing the item and taking it to a post office?
Upshot: Negative feedback. His response: "Obviously you don't own a car and don't notice the recent fuel prices. Postage and handling cost includes for those costs. You have the responsibility to find out what the postage cost consists of. But no, and you want to act like a child behind a computer screen and complain about it. You had a choice to bid on the item free will."
Yes, I had a choice. So does the seller. His choice was: List an item, put a starting price on it, and include in that starting price a hoped-for profit margin (not based on what the item MIGHT sell for), taking into consideration costs, including time, effort and sundry expenses such as bubblewrap, tape etc. A seller does NOT have the choice of profit-making through postage and packing, or through postage and packing charges bringing the total cost to the buyer up to the level of an anticipated sale price.
2. Typewriter packing and postage costs from Victoria to Canberra, $22.70, actual amount paid on postage $15.10, difference $7.60.  The seller's breakdown - "Most of the protection is for the sides and corners of the typewriter which are the most vulnerable [WRONG!]. $2.90 registered post, $1.90 insurance, $2 packing fee, including sticky tape [STICKY TAPE!!!]. There is also a discrepancy between the Australia Post website and an actual post office that you can't always account for. If you would like me to refund you the remainder 80 cents, please let me know."
Upshot: No feedback and marked down as never-to-buy-from-again.
3. A man called Michael Hensley in Waterford, Michigan, runs an online store called "comebackpowermemory" through eBay. He lists a toy typewriter for $9.95. Nobody else bids on it so I win it for that price and pay for it, plus $60.65 postage. Hensley decides the $9.95 is not enough (like, who listed it at that price?) so, without so much as a word of consultation, refunds me my PayPal payment and refuses to enter into any communication. His pathetic excuse (remember, no consultation here): "Hello I am very sorry but I must cancel sale and refund as I took item to PO and shipping is actually $102 and I do not believe that you would want to pay additional $40 and I would prefer not to chance its not arriving?" He made the decision for me, without asking. His response to my negative feedback? "Smart move is to block vindictive bidders, maybe stop internationals altogether?" Yeah, real smart to call me vindictive when I had followed all rules, regulations and procedures all the way, to the letter!
4. Another US seller uses PayPal in another way. Again, not liking the price his item sells for, he simply accepts payment then doesn't post. After the mandatory 45 days (during which time he has held on to your money) he refunds you your money and claims, "Oh, it must have got lost in the post ..." No discussion, no dispute - a seller simply accepts without question that the item went missing and refunds you in full. Like, yeah!  There's no comeback to this sort of tactic. Upshot: Neutral feedback.
5. A seller, again running a store on eBay, lists two almost identical items, one for 1 cent (yes, one US cent, which is actually less than one Australian cent!), the other for $70. I ask for a quote for a total cost to buy both and combine postage, expecting to pay $150-$160 and be happy. He quotes me $320. I say no way, I'll bid at the starting prices. I'm the only bidder and win both items, for a total of $70.01. He decides he can't combine postage and charges me $80 postage. I contact the courier, to be told cost of shipping (the seller DID put both items in one package) was $40. The seller refuses to refund me, saying, "The item you have got is free as you have paid US $0.01 and the actual cost is 117 dollars. I am at loss with this transaction. You can calculate yourself. 20 per cent fuel and 10.36 per cent tax."
Upshot: Negative feedback.
I have to ask myself here - who listed the item for one cent, me or the seller? Why? If it sells at the starting price of one cent, who is responsible? Me or the seller? Where does it say that if a seller lists an item at one cent, nobody else bids on it and it sells for one cent, the buyer must pay extra through postage? Show me, I'd like to read it.
Anyway, enough of all this. I won't even start on the way typewriters are actually packed in most cases. As they all too often say on eBay feedback: BUYER BEWARE!


Ton S. said...

I definitely can relate. Two not-too-pleasant transactions in a row. But I really appreciate the free ebay buyer insurance; they intervene on your behalf when you "open a case" against a seller. Works really fast and I've gotten refunds because of it.

Ton S. said...

Correction: I meant "ebay Buyer Protection"

notagain said...

I haven't bought anything through ebay in several years. It sounds like it's all conflict and no commerce. has the same wonky shipping calculator though.

Robert Messenger said...

You're not wrong about conflicts. It's just a steady stream: poor packing, and packing charge rip-offs. And I haven't touched on the thorny (at least it is for me) subject of "pick-up only" yet.

teeritz said...

I've been reasonably lucky with eBay so far, except for the Remette that I got recently. Seller was hazy about the typewriter's 'working' condition. But I always get steamed about sellers who inflate the postage cost to an unrealistic price. You'd swear that Brangelina were going to deliver the item to your door.
Very informative post, Robert!