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Consumer - Tina's Tips on safely buying and selling on online auction sites

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Online selling can take time, but it can be fun. Before you start here's what you need to know about buying and selling on internet auctions.

This item is a follow on from Dearbhla's item on Tuesday where Ann-marie O Connor shows us how we can sell and buy online to make the most of your wardrobe.

Tina Leonard, our consumer expert

Buying Tips

1 Register

To buy on any auction site you have to register, giving personal information and thinking up an account password. Then you will have an account through which all communication should be made. Keep your password safe and use different ones for different online accounts. You may also want to set up a PayPal account for making secure payments.

2. Know your seller

Once you have found an item you want to bid on, get to know the seller. You can do this by reading all feedback about the seller; comments; their score and rating. You should also ask the seller questions about the item, and make sure your questions have been replied to before committing to buying.

3. Know the item

Make sure you know what you are buying. Look at the photo and ask for more photos - maybe of the soles of a shoe or the stiching on a bag. Compare the price with that of other similar items and be aware that if a designer bag is selling for €50 it may be a fake. Ask if there is a returns policy (there may not be), what the postage costs are and how long delivery will take.

4. Pay safely

Ask the seller what payment methods are accepted and follow the payment guidelines of the auction site. eBay's preferred method is PayPal or their named escrow company. If you are asked to conclude the transaction off site do not do it! You will then be outside the protection of the site. If you are asked to pay via wire money transfer don't do it. This is banned by eBay as you cannot trace where the money has gone. Remember that if you pay via PayPal on eBay you may get a refund for a product that has never arrived. You can also buy more protection if necessary. PayPal is an online payment system. It allows you to make and accept payments for purchases and sales online. You open a PayPal account and put money into it just like any regular bank account. You can then pay for something from this account and also accept payment from someone else. A PayPal account comes with added protection, is secure and handy.

5. Disputes

If you have a complaint you should first address it to the seller to try and resolve it. If this doesn't work use the dispute resolution mechanisms provided by the site itself and read their rules carefully. For examle on eBay you have to open the dispute with 45 days and if their is no satisfactory response form the seller you must escalate the dispute and look for a refund within 20 days.

Tips on selling

1. Register

You must register to sell and you will also have to pay a fee for every sale you make. When registering you'll have to give your credit card details for verifaction and again if you register for a Pay Pal account so make sure you follow the safety advice given on the auction site.

2. Fees

On eBay it is free to list items with a starting price of up to €1.49. This isn't a lot of money to be selling something for, but they say that if you start with a small price you will encourage more bidders. For items listed above that price you will pay 25c up to €6.99 and €1.40 for pricing an item between €50 and €149 for example. You will also have to pay a flat 10% Final Value Fee when the item sells. If it doesn't sell, you won't be charged.

Starting Price Fee
€1.49 or less 0
€1.50 - €6.99 €0.25
€7.00 - €19.99 €0.35
€20.00 - €49.99 €0.70
€50.00 - €149.99 €1.40
€150 or more €2.00

Ebid Fees:
3% of final sale price

3. Describe your item carefully

Make sure that you give a good, clear and honest description of the item you are selling. Include information on its conditions and any defects. Being honest and managing expectations will ensure customers are satisfied and that you won't get any negative feedback - you need to cultivate and protect your reputation as a seller. You are not allowed to misuse brand names, for example describing something a Jimmy Choo style shoe, so be careful. Be sure to add photos of the item and send more if requested. You also have to choose the length of time you want your auction to be, the average is 5 to 7 days. Don't despair if your item doesn't sell, you can always list it again.

4. Choose your price

Decide how much you want for the item and research the prices other similar items are selling for. You will probably want to include a few Euro in this to cover your charges. Make sure to clearly state the cost for post and packaging. Check at to calculate how much your package will cost to send; it will depend on parcel size, weight and destination and then add in an amount for the box or paper on top of this. Don't forget to advice your customers of the time frame in which you will dispatch i.e. next day or within 3 working days etc.

Using the shoes as an example here are an example of the fees of Ebay and Ebid and how much profit you can make selling on each:

Selling Shoes on Ebay
. Listing these shoes at €30

. Ebay Fee will cost €4.20

. Final Sale price €35

. Profit excluding fees €31.20

Selling Shoes on Ebid
. Listing these shoes at €30

. Ebid Fee will cost €0.90

. Final Sale Price €35

. Profit excluding fees €34.10

5. Accepting payments

Read the auction site's advice on accepting payments carefully and complete every transaction on site. Tell your customer what payments you will accept and send an invoice promptly. PayPal is the best option. If you decide to accept cheques or postal orders, make sure you allow them to clear before dispatching the item. Remember that just because you have lodged the cheque to your account it doesn't mean the money is there - it may take 5 days to clear. Do not accept money transfers. Do not accept 'overpayments'. This is where someone offers a cheque for a greater amount and asks you to return the difference, usually via money transfer. Inevitably, the buyer's cheque will bounce, and you will have sent the product and the additional amount. Instead report this to the auction site.
Once your item is sold you can request the buyer's contact details, including a telephone number so contact them if you have any doubts.

Tina Leonard