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Donít Blind Yourself by Desire for a Bargain
By Mike Thorne, Coins Magazine
May 30, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Last month, I talked about how to bid more effectively on eBay. I suggested that you should bid as late in the auction as possible so you don’t chase other people up. Further, I recommended that you use a sniping service that will place a bid for you in the auction when there’s between five and 10 seconds left to go. Chances are you would never be able to do this on your own. Of course, if you can then by all means forgo the sniping service.

I’ll give you just one example of the use of eBay sniping. My wife had found some diamond earring jackets that she just had to have, no matter what the cost, within reason, of course. The opening bid was $499, which she informed me was a steal, as the diamond jackets were worth well over $1,000.

Naturally, I told her that she should bid as late as possible, using my favorite sniping service.

I asked her how much she was willing to pay, and her response was something like “whatever it takes.” We finally hit on $900, and I set it up. Incidentally, someone had bid the minimum amount (or possibly much more, you never know). Naturally, as soon as it was set in motion, she started having second thoughts. “Maybe I should go to $1,000, or even more.”

Somehow, I managed to convince her to stick with the $900, the sniping bid was placed, and she won the lot for $504.

“That doesn’t seem fair,” she told me. “That other bidder thought he was going to get the jewelry for $499, but he lost out to a bid of just $5 more. Surely he would have paid that amount.”

No doubt. But another way to look at it is that my wife was willing to pay up to $900, and chances are good that the other bidder didn’t want to pay that much.

In addition to using a sniping service, here’s another tip for successful eBay buying: Examine the photos of the item carefully.

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When you study the photos, do so with an open mind. Don’t be blinded by your desire for a bargain. I’ve bought several coins with flaws that were readily apparent in the pictures, if only I had looked carefully. For example, I have a 1911-S Lincoln cent graded MS-64 RB (red brown) by NGC. The problem: It has a rather unsightly “carbon” spot on the obverse that was quite visible in the seller’s photos.

How do I know this? Well, when I received the coin I went back and looked at the pictures in the original sale. There it was, staring me in the face if I hadn’t been so blinded by the thought of what a bargain I would get if I won the auction.

Worse, I once bought an 1892-S Morgan dollar in Extremely Fine on which someone had used a knife to “enhance” the hair on Liberty’s head. Once you were aware of them and knew where to look, the scratches were quite visible. This was a coin graded by one of the off-breed certification services. How could I have missed the damage when I looked at the original auction?

Another thing you should do is examine the seller’s feedback. Unfortunately, this is not as useful as you might think, as most people avoid giving negative feedback because they’re afraid the recipient will retaliate even if it’s undeserved. I admit that I’ve been guilty of this error of omission myself a time or two.

Still, if the seller has a long history on eBay, and all the feedback is glowing, this is probably meaningful. In addition to the brief report, sellers are also judged on the following: Item as described, Communication, Shipping time, and Shipping and handling charges. The best sellers will have 5-star ratings on each of these.

As a psychologist, I think it is worthwhile to read all the seller’s conditions, such as whether or not returns are permitted (some sellers, for example, prohibit the return of certified coins). Occasionally you’ll find a seller who has rules for every contingency, and the rules are often stated is a mildly or even blatantly threatening manner. Personally, I would avoid this paranoid seller.

Communication is very important on eBay. If you buy a coin and find you can’t afford it, or you’re expecting some additional funds to be deposited to your account in the near future, let the seller know the situation. I suspect most of the sellers on eBay are familiar with a temporary cash-flow problem and will be sympathetic to you, that is, if you explain the situation in an email.

However, if you let extensive time pass without contacting the seller, then he or she is likely to be much less sympathetic. Over the years, I’ve encountered a few buyers who didn’t respond to any of my queries until I filed a nonpayment case against them. Although I didn’t give such buyers the negative feedback they deserved because I wanted to preserve my own blemish-free rating, the buyers would have left a much more favorable impression in my mind if they had just communicated early and often.

Also, once you’ve received the item you won, take a few moments to provide feedback to eBay about the transaction. I’ve found over the years that some buyers never give feedback. When I requested such feedback, one seller informed me that she didn’t have time to provide feedback after auctions. Of course, in the amount of time she took to compose the email to tell me that, she could have given feedback for several transactions.

Next month, I’ll tackle some things you need to know to be a successful eBay seller.

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