If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Some eBay successes

Fleabay. What used to be a community of buyers and sellers, where remarkable bargains were to be had and unlikely things to be sold, is now a virtual car boot sale, full of dodgy traders, bulk resellers and scam merchants, where bargains are few and far between and the chances of the unwary being ripped off are high.

At least, that's what the general mood is now. But I keep going back. The thing is so damn' useful. If you live in an urban area, with a large population within easy reach, then perhaps the utility of eBay is not so great. But living out in the sticks as I do, it's massively useful. I can reach an audience of millions with a single listing, and all I have to worry about is getting the item to the winning bidder. The cost to advertise is minimal, and a successful sale attracts a fee which obviously varies with the final price, but it compares well with an advert in the local paper, which can reach only a few thousand. Frankly, I wouldn't consider a local advert these days. And where would I be without Custardgrub (David Lambert)? He holds spares for all the old Yamaha XT models at reasonable prices, and offers expert advice too.

I'm in the middle of a big de-cluttering operation at the moment. A lot of stuff I have had hanging around has got to go, and eBay is the place it's going. Before eBay, I would have had to risk £15-£20 on a local paper advert, and no guarantee that anyone reading it was interested. Now, I can bung a listing on there for a few pence and if eBay takes 10% or so for the pleasure, well, that's better than not selling at all. Frankly, a lot of the stuff I am getting rid of would have been taken to the tip or given away, so even a few quid is better than that, and I have done a lot better in some cases. Here's a few recent punts:

Flip-front helmet from Lidl

I bought this a year or so ago, mainly to see if I got on with the concept of a lid that I could wear while talking to people. The low, low price (I think it was a shade over £30) tempted me to get something that was slightly too small, and it was unwearable. I think I rode in it twice, and had a splitting headache both times. Perfect condition, but no-one I know wants one and it was far too good to throw away. That went for a fiver - which is a fiver more than the council tip would have given me.

GenMar handlebar risers

These came with the Sprint, and I realised quickly that I didn't want them on the bike. They were stretching the throttle and clutch cables, and the bars were hitting the fairing on full lock. Once I had ridden the bike for a week I realised that I didn't need the extra height, so they went on eBay. They made £75, which isn't bad for an item that can be bought new for £90.

Motorcycling rucksack

Another Lidl purchase. When they have their bike-specific days, I always get there and I usually buy something. Their inner gloves have been fantastic, and I bought a waterproof oversuit there that performs brilliantly, even if it looks fairly naff. I bought a motorcyclist's rucksack there for the daily commute, which has loads of straps and pockets, plus a hard shell so that it keeps an aerodynamic shape. For some reason, it was never 'right' - the closures were fiddly and the shape was somehow wrong (if you have ever put your underpants on back-to-front you will know what I mean). I think I paid £15 for it. It went on eBay for £31.

Campervan rooflight

Back in 2006 I bought a home-converted Ford Transit campervan (on eBay, naturally). There was no roof ventilation, so I bought a rooflight to fit to it. These are the hinged canopies that stay down for travelling, but fold open like a vertical window to let in the fresh air when you are stopped. I have one (a full-sized one) in the caravan and it is a superb bit of technology, and one of the few bits of caravanning kit that I actually admire: well-designed, well-made and works brilliantly. This was a mini-size one, suitable for a campervan. The campervan had its troubles, mainly a clutch that didn't, and I spent a few weekends getting it to work properly and fettling a few minor issues. We spent one night away in it, and it was such a hassle to make the bed up out of a 3D jigsaw of about 20 ply panels and supports that we never tried it again. That was sold for what I paid for it (plus a bit; I think I covered my costs on the clutch parts), curiously through an advert in the local paper. The rooflight, unopened, went into the garage. I had a vague thought to fit it to the caravan, but Anna decided that she was happy with the existing arrangements, so that went on eBay too. It has just sold tonight, for 5p more than I paid for it.

I've only had one bad experience. I was selling a Nikon 35mm camera in the period just before they became obsolete curiosities. I had specified the postage cost, and at the end of the listing I said, in large letters, 'overseas bidders please ask for shipping cost before bidding'. It reached a reasonable price, I had checked out all the bidders, and then in the last seconds it was won by a snipe bidder from California. He emailed asking for the cost of shipping, I did the research and told him - I think it was over $50, as it included a case and accessories and was quite heavy - and that was the last I heard from him. I emailed him several times, then filed a NPB report and after two weeks left him a negative feedback comment. I can't remember what it said, but it included the word 'avoid'. He left me a negative comment in reply ("wants $50 shipping for one camera, bad seller" - that's word for word, though I am not bitter), which stayed on my feedback record and broke my 100% rating for a long time. I asked eBay to remove it, but they wouldn't without his agreement, and although I tried to contact him he wouldn't respond. It had a happy ending, though. I sold the camera to the second-highest bidder, who was in the area a week later and picked it up in person. He was a Major in the Army and was a really nice guy with a charming (and extremely glamorous) wife, and I counted that as a bit of good karma to wipe out the bad.

So you could say I was a fan of Fleabay. And, to be honest, I enjoy the whole process - writing the listing and taking the photos, then watching as first the watchers and then the bids come in, and finally the vinegar strokes of the last few minutes as the snipers get to work and try to outbid the regular guys in the last seconds.

Now, I have the rest of the garage to clear out, and then I am starting on the study. I can see a lot more going out there before too long. It's all going in the 'bike luggage' fund, for when I finally decide what to do for carrying capacity with the Sprint. There are a lot of options that need thinking about, and having a ready-made Paypal balance to pay for them will be very pleasant.


  1. I've long been a fan of ebay. Excellent service and an example of what can be achieved efficiently and cheaply on the free market. I have a house full of tat that I bought on a whim from ebay over the years. My favourite being the haunted German WW2 helmet! Therein lies a story in its own right... lol

    Paypal I am not such a huge fan of. Their customer service is shit.

  2. Bought my past 5 cars on ebay too. Every one a good, reliable bus for the few shekels paid. I'm still driving an ebay MPV that I will sell in a few months for the same money I bought it for 3 years ago. Now that's cheap motoring!

  3. "...now a virtual car boot sale, full of dodgy traders, bulk resellers and scam merchants, where bargains are few and far between and the chances of the unwary being ripped off are high."

    Nothing wrong with boot sales! Well, not if you know what you are doing.

  4. @bollixed - totally agree about Paypal. It was one thing when it was a separate company and you had the choice, but now offering Paypal is mandatory and the charges are getting intrusive. I've never had to deal with their customer service, and I don't want to.

    @Julia - I've never done a car boot sale (although that may change soon, as I have stacks of books to rehome), but the impression I get is of fat middle-aged couples in campervans touting the same load of tat round the country. I could be wrong - of maybe I am right? Only you would know :)))

  5. @bollixed - OK, let's have the German helmet story, then!

    @Julia - sorry, of = or.

  6. It rather depends - some (usually the bigger ones) are crammed full of tradesman using the weekend to dispose of stock cash-in-hand, no questions asked.

    Also lots of dodgy counterfeit stuff (down here, Armarni sunglasses, Dr Dre headphones and Polo clothing predominates).

    But some are more like church jumble sales that are being held in the car park rather than the church hall! I've even seen tables with tablecloths on at those... ;)

  7. I think I have seen more of the first type. The local hospital turns over its car park to hold one every Sunday, and it is huge. Never felt remotely tempted to go. The smaller ones that are more like jumble sales are fine (I have been to a couple of those) but there are nevertheless a good number of participants who seem to be doing the rounds - usually selling ghastly 'ornaments' or tasteless cuddly toys, and obviously semi-professional. Yuk.

  8. I'm still a big fan of eBay meself. True, they prefer virtual e-shops over individuals these days, but that's not so very different from using Amazon Marketplace. I gather it's not so much fun for sellers, but as I only buy stuff, that's not a problem! Still plenty of bargains to be had, and a great way to actually track down some of the world's more obscure commercial products.
    The only downside is explaining to the wife that all those jiffy bags arriving in the post for me don't represent a significant financial outlay, honest - and in any case, it simply isn't possible to own too many gloomy Scandiwegian gothic death metal CDs...

  9. I probably sell/buy in a 30/70 ratio these days, and it is true that eBay has loaded the dice against sellers recently: you can't give negative feedback to a buyer no matter what stunts they have pulled, for example, and the Paypal chargeback system is very worrying for a seller. Basically, you can receive opayment through Paypal, confirm it on their website, send the goods, and then have the money taken back from you at a later date if the buyer makes a complaint. Ebay/Paypal were so keen to reverse their 'dodgy sellers' reputation that they have swung totally the other way. Now the buyers hold all the cards. I have the same problem with the unexplained jiffy bags, by the way, and I haven't yet found a satisfactory response.


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