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Five tips for buying photo gear on eBay

I love eBay. You can find just about anything on eBay. Specially if you are budget conscious, but who isn't these days?

The great thing about eBay is that it allows you plenty of choices; new, used, re-manufactured, local, global, etc. Since it is a bidding site it also keeps sellers competitive. Even with all these pros you need to be fully aware of what you are purchasing and from whom. The final burden of caution rests with the buyer. Here are five tips I have learned about using eBay to shop for photo gear.

  1. Know what you are buying: You need to do your homework. Buying on eBay is like buying from Honest Abe's Used Car Emporium; they make selling garbage sound good. Everyone and their cousin is trying to make money on eBay. There are individuals selling off unused stuff and individuals trying to make a living selling other people's stuff, legitimate companies extending their retail line past their brick and mortar store, companies bypassing the brick and mortar stores and the international market reaching beyond their normal borders.
    All these people trying to gain a little piece of the market want to make money. Some do it conscientiously while others are less than honest. When it comes to electronics and photo gear there are a lot of counterfeits and knock offs. Weigh your desire to save money against the need to have a quality piece of equipment. As I have mentioned in an earlier article (Save money by buying older generation quality), some pieces of gear do not need to be top end while others shouldn't be skimped on. Unfortunately experience plays in determining where you can scrimp and where you can't. If you don't have that experience talk to others who do.
  2. Compare against local prices: Sometimes the cost of having an item shipped plus the wait time to receive it is not worth it. If an item is available locally, even if it's a couple of dollars more, the ratio of savings to convenience is insignificant. Purchasing some gear locally also makes better sense should anything go wrong with it. Having someone local you can go to with a problem is far better than dealing with a Chinese company through email. That extra cost pays for the convenience.
    Going hand in hand with number one above, there is no reliable way to know it the product you are getting is what is being advertised. While third market items can be cheaper, the quality can be so cheap that you are actually wasting money in the long run. Then there is the whole gray market industry to consider. Gray market items are typically not supported by warranties and the cost to repair any problem falls to you.
  3. Have lots of patience: One of the best things about eBay is that there are some great savings out there. The worse thing you can do with eBay is buy impulsively. Aside from researching a product against local or national retailers is to research against other eBay sellers. It is very easy to browse through one or two pages of listings and start bidding or buying without checking available prices. A bargain can often be found with an individual seller who is looking to upgrade a piece of equipment. The listing can be for a used item that is almost like new. The bargain can also come in the form of free shipping, saving you $10 or $20.
    The impulse to buy can be very alluring. To avoid overspending give yourself a budget. For example; if you know a product you want costs $100 brand new give yourself a reasonable budget and tell yourself that you will not bid more than 80% of list price. Otherwise, what is the sense of buying on eBay if you're just going to spend the full price anyway. Discipline also comes into play as the bidding war gets heated towards the end of a bid run. If there are several bidders on an item the price can easily exceed your budget. Know when to walk away. Another chance will always present itself.
  4. Read all seller descriptions: eBay pushes for full disclosure from their sellers. This means the description of an item needs to be as true to the item as possible. Used items need to have any problem completely revealed so the buyer can make a qualified decision before bidding or purchasing the item. If you are unsure, ask. Send the seller a message with your questions. If they are motivated to sell they will answer promptly and completely. If they beat about the bush then that should be a red flag to walk away.
    Bigger eBay sellers list their shipping, warranty and return policies right in the listing. Make sure you read them carefully so you understand what you are dealing with. Just as importantly, sometimes what is not mentioned can be clues to problems.
  5. Monitor and nurture your eBay reputation: When dealing with overseas companies, specially since a lot of this gear comes from China, you have to really monitor your transactions. I don't mean track the package, you need to track the seller's eBay reputation. Ebay monitors seller (and buyer) reputation through several means. The most common one is through their buyer/seller feedback and scoring system. The closer to a 100% reputation score means the more positive responses that seller has received from satisfied customers. The more satisfied a customer base is the more reliable that buyer/seller is. Legitimate sellers need to maintain a high score otherwise they get banned from eBay. A high score lets buyers know they are dealing with a company that fulfills their transaction contract. The same goes for buyers. So long as you pay on time, resolve problems in a civilized manner and give positive, but accurate, feedback you can very easily maintain a high score.
    Next to the score is a number indicating how many transactions that particular seller has made through eBay. Obviously the higher that number is the more business has been done  through eBay. If an item description looks too good to be true look at the score and transaction activity numbers. If they are really low consider that as a warning. Some sellers will not make a transaction with a buyer who has not made a certain amount of purchases through eBay. That seller is definitely careful about maintaining a reputable standing and shows a level of commitment to their customers.
I have made many purchases through eBay with very few glitches. Brackets, light stands, shoot through umbrellas, utility bags and my recent camera bag direct from China have all been purchased successfully through eBay. If you have never used eBay before and are considering it there are a few rules you need to be aware of that are in place to protect you and also the seller. eBay uses/owns PayPal so until you have built a reputation as a buyer/seller they do not immediately release funds from your PayPal account. When selling, eBay makes things easy to list items however they do tend to nickle and dime you with extras. eBay is huge and learning all the little nooks and crannies takes time. They have a lot of tools to offer both buyers and sellers but they are not easy to find. You have to spend time exploring.
Overall, I love eBay. I can find just about anything on there and with a little patience and understanding of common sense rules, so can you.


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