I joined eBay in 1997, and I have bought and sold countless things on this great system through hundreds of transactions. When other voice talent tell me that they don’t have money to get their voice-over demo produced, take a class with a premier teacher or invest in their studio equipment, I ask them if they have considered selling things on eBay to raise some fast cash. If you don’t need it, someone on eBay wants to buy it. By the same token, if you’re looking for something, someone on eBay is selling it.
In fact, whenever I am looking for something, especially equipment for my voice-over studio, I see if I can find it on eBay. I bought my Neumann TLM 103 microphone and DAT recorder from eBay sellers. My mic was brand new in the box, yet I purchased it on eBay at a price much lower than the retail rate quoted by several leading supply houses. However, many people are reluctant to shop on eBay, though, because they fear losing their money to unscrupulous dealers.
An article in yesterday’s Atlanta Business Chronicle fuels this kind of fear and was the propelling force behind this post today. With almost 10 years of eBay experience to my credit, I offer these tips for safe shopping on eBay:
1) Always look at the seller’s feedback rating and read the comments. You need to click on the feedback number and see if the seller is maintaining positive comments from buyers. A high number doesn’t necessarily mean that the seller is currently providing good service.
2) Be wary of sellers who do not provide a picture of the actual item. Some people will use pictures from other sellers’ listings or from vendors’ web sites. You want to see a picture of the actual item under consideration. If a seller can’t provide a picture of the actual item, I move on to another listing. With millions of things for sale on eBay at any given moment, I can wait until I can see the thing that I’m buying.
3) A strong, detailed description of the item indicates the seller’s knowledge. Whether I’m buying or selling, I want to see more than a single line of description on the item. As a sidebar to this tip, make note that if you decide to sell some items, you should be aware that a description that tells a story will make your buyers more attracted to your item. People love to be told a story, and you will get more money for your item if you can make that connection. I’m not saying “tell a story” as in “tell some lies”, but rather add adjectives and background material that make your item sound interesting to the reader.
For instance, when I have sold some of my Barry Manilow collection to pay for studio equipment, I wrote about hearing Barry sing a particular song at a concert and how that song is on a rare and valuable CD. When you can make the connection to your audience, you build trust.
4) Ask questions before you bid. Note how rapidly and thoroughly the seller responds to your questions.
5) Research prices in the closed listings before placing your bid. If you’re buying something common like equipment for your voice-over studio, chances are great that somebody has recently sold the same item. You can learn a lot by reviewing the closed listings to determine how many bidders were interested in an item and the prices paid. Obviously, if you are looking at something unusual like a piece of Dresden porcelain of a woman playing harp (yes, I’ve bought some of those on eBay!), you might not find any comparison listings.
Also compare the eBay prices to those at your favorite dealers. Many of them actually sell products on eBay. My Neumann mic was offered in this manner; an audio specialist with a brick and mortar building also posted items on eBay. Depending on the item, you may need to take service into consideration. For instance, I once bought a notebook computer from someone who only ran eBay listings. Given the nature of that item and the abundance of computers available, I think I would try to find one locally or direct from the manufacturer rather than shop for one on eBay.
6) Ask about the warranty. If you need warranty repair, your warranty coverage won’t be worth much to you if the warranty on your new studio equipment covers the European Union, and you live in the United States. When you see a significantly lower price on a piece of electronics, it may be a “gray market” item. You have to decide how much the warranty is worth to you or whether you’re willing to risk buying an item that may not have warranty coverage for your country.
7) Never, ever agree to pay someone by Western Union wire transfer. The buyers in the Atlanta Business Chronicle story were cheated by sellers who were paid by wire transfer. I learned in a transaction that had nothing to do with eBay that someone using wire transfer is preying on your emotions. If they insist on a wire transfer because they are in a hurry to do the deal, you need to run in the other direction!
They may say things like they are under a bankruptcy order and have a strict deadline, so that’s why they need the money so fast. You should know that once you transfer the money out of your account and into theirs, you can’t reverse the transfer unless they have enough money in their account. They will never have enough money in their account for a reversal!
PayPal is a safe form of payment. I will use it for immediate payment, but I still make the payment on my credit card so that money is not immediately transferred out of my checking account. I should have received the item by the time I receive my credit card bill. If I haven’t, I can always put the item in dispute with my credit card issuer.
8) If you have any uneasy feelings about the seller, you can request their contact information through eBay. You have to be involved in a transaction with someone before you can get their contact information. If you have paid for something and a seller becomes unresponsive, you can request their contact information from eBay.
9) If you decide to pay by check and don’t receive your merchandise, your Postmaster General may become your new best friend. Did you know that mail fraud is a federal crime? The definition of mail fraud from the United States Postal Service site is:
U.S. Postal Inspectors investigate any crime in which the U.S. Mail is used to further a scheme–whether it originated in the mail, by telephone, or on the Internet.
The use of the U.S. Mail is what makes it mail fraud.
Before you file the claim form on that site, you can advise the seller of your intention to start a mail fraud investigation. That action just might make them either cough up the goods or refund your money
I definitely don’t purchase everything on eBay. It’s just another source for me. After consulting with an audio engineer 3 weeks ago, I decided to change my studio components from a PC-based system with an Akai DPS DAW to an Apple MacBook Pro and a Digidesign Mbox2 Pro with ProTools LE. While I looked on eBay, I didn’t buy anything from there this time. I bought the computer directly from Apple since Drew gets a great company discount there, and I found a fantastic deal at Musicians Friend that includes a CAD GXL3000 condenser microphone and Fantom 120GB firewire hard drive. I haven’t tested the mic, but it looks well-made and might be a decent mic to take with me when I travel.
I have used eBay extensively in the furtherance of my voice-over career. I have bought equipment for my studio, and I have sold things in order to raise funds for my demos, training and equipment. I hope these nine tips about buying equipment on eBay give you the confidence to try it for yourself. Feel free to post your comments about how you have used eBay to further your voice-over career or other dreams or any other tips you want to share!