A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Hooptedoodle #273 - eBay - Going Cold Again

Hate it or love it, I have to admit that, without eBay and the availability of old, out-of-production wargame castings which it brought about, my own previous interest in wargaming and the collection of the paraphernalia associated with that hobby would never have been rekindled.

I'll say that again, just to emphasise the point - and the emphasis is for my own benefit, because I find this very easy to forget: without eBay, my former involvement in wargaming would have remained a closed book. The question of what else I might have done with my time and pocket money is a separate matter, strictly for discussion in the pub.

All well and good, but I have become aware of some changes in eBay - the markets have changed quite a bit, the systems and the procedures and safeguards have evolved in such a way that they now suit online dealers - people who really are doing this for a living - and my impression is that it has become harder-nosed. You have to be on your guard more, there are more tales of rip-offs.

That's only to be expected, I guess. As more and more people use eBay, the range of experiences will increase, and public appetite for tales of scams and doom and gloom will also grow. I read things and I nod, or shrug, or whatever; I experience things at first hand and I take serious note.

My experience of eBay over the last 15 years or so (I think it's about that) has been really very positive. Apart from buying and selling stuff that I've been interested in, I've also made a number of very solid friendships with people who share my areas of interest. In my case, this has mostly been miniature soldiers and military history books, and it is possible that these categories of buying and selling are dominated by older fellows who are reputable and straightforward; whatever, they seem to be less attractive to the crooks of this world. No-one, as far as I know, ever became rich quickly by buying and selling second-hand soldiers (though a few of us might feel that we have become somewhat poorer by the same process!). The dodgier bits of online auctions seem to be the mass, low-cost markets (like used clothing, for example), but also expensive stuff like computer games and technology and musical instruments - fields where enthusiasm and gullibility can outstrip caution and commonsense.

We recently sold an unused, unopened Sony PlayStation through eBay. It was a competition prize for which we had no real use, since my son's interests have moved on from such devices. The final sale was fine - the item was bought for a decent (though fair) price by a very nice fellow in Manchester, who bought it for his own son's birthday. Everyone was happy, but the risks are there to see. Two of the bidders we had cancelled their bids and pulled out during the course of this auction - something I cannot recall seeing before. In each case, remarkably, the bidder claimed to have accidentally entered the wrong amount - a justification for cancellation which is currently accepted by eBay.

Even more remarkably, each of these two bidders put in multiple bids, to cover themselves against subsequently being outbid (so they managed to enter the wrong amount several times), and each waited a few days - three days for one and four days for the other - before realising their error. We all know that what really happened was that they managed to buy one of these PlayStations elsewhere for a better price, and then cancelled the bid on our auction. Presumably this has become an accepted way of proceeding - if eBay allows it then we cannot complain - but it's outwith the spirit of eBay as I knew it, especially since other watchers and bidders (and there were quite a few) would be impacted. To me it seems, if not actually unethical, then certainly contrary to the traditions and spirit of eBay as a marketplace based on trust. If you attempt to welsh on a bid at Sotheby's, I promise you will be mightily embarrassed for your trouble.

It also became obvious that a good proportion of the people interested in our PlayStation were dealers - people who buy and sell for profit - which is fair enough. I'm glad it went to a private punter who actually wanted it - I realise that my approval is outmoded and probably irrelevant in the overall scheme of things.

Also recently, I attempted to dispose of a portion of my mother's vast library via eBay. I've bought and sold a lot of books on eBay in the past, happily and mostly fairly successfully. Whoa - not so fast. First of all, the market appears to have changed - prices for and interest in books have dropped - and most of the (relatively few) potential buyers were, in fact, dealers just looking to make a profit on resale.

I'd prefer to swerve the inevitable lectures on economics, so please give me a break if you suddenly feel such a lecture coming on - if that is the current market, then so be it. There may be all sorts of underlying trends which explain this, including demographics - oversupply generated by an ageing population with an increasing legacy of old books to unload onto a world that is possibly less interested in collecting or reading hard copy (or anything longer than a Tweet) - we will probably be forced to acknowledge the same trends in the toy soldier market one day soon. Whatever the reason, I gave up - nearly all of mother's books went to the Heart Foundation shop. It's a good cause after all (assuming the money finishes up in the right place - another topic for the pub), but the chief reason was that the effort and the minimal return of persisting via eBay, added to the hassle and the potential risks, made sale by auction impractical. I am no longer prepared to be messed around so much. Not for that kind of money, anyway.

Anyway - let's get to the point. I read in the Guardian of some poor chap who sold a guitar on eBay for well over £1000, it was paid for by Paypal and the courier delivery was signed for, but the buyer subsequently claimed that the case was empty on receipt and raised a dispute, which resulted in the Paypal payment being refunded - in these cases, it is simply a matter of the buyer's word against the seller's, and eBay and Paypal will normally find in favour of the buyer. Ah, you say, but the courier has the recipient's signature. That's not too promising either - this is only for receipt of some sort of package - damage or missing contents would not normally be discovered until later, and - maybe worst of all - if the buyer claims it is not his signature, there is not much can be done about it. There is a lot of this sort of stuff around, apparently. Worrying.

In how many ways could you be dissatisfied...?
I think I am finally convinced that my use of eBay will be firmly limited in future. I shall continue to look out for cheapish wargame items from established sellers, and I will happily continue to trade with people I know and trust, but the selling of valuable items is becoming unattractive. I can always insist on payment in cash on personal collection, of course, but since I live on the backside of the moon that is not really going to work.

I realise that my career on eBay has involved more retirals than Frank Sinatra, but I think this time I really am convinced that the game is pretty much up.


  1. I have generally experienced satisfactory transactions on eBay over the years. Most of my transactions, though, have been as a buyer so my experiences may be biased.

    A few purchases arrive with a surprise but those instances can be counted on one hand. Wargame purchases of the hex and counter variety and wargame/history books rarely fail to deliver as advertised. A counter to my generalization happened this past week on a Funcken purchase, though. Nevertheless, for the price paid I was still satisfied with my purchase.

    I agree with your assessment that "professional" sellers (and to some extend buyers) have taken over eBay often leaving the little guy out in the cold.

    Don't get me started on the use of "sniping" software and losing a bid at the last second. I have a few thoughts on how to deal with those pests.

    Over the many years of trading, I find our fellow wargamers a trustworthy lot.

  2. I confess that I would not be comfortable buying or selling anything expensive over any online auction, doubly so if it wasn't a transaction with someone I knew.

    As for the withdrawn bid, it might well be change of heart as you say but it does have an auto bidding thing where if you enter a large amount it will bid the minimum for you and automatically increase the bid a $ at a time as needed until you are winning again or your maximum is outbit I did actually do something similar one time and bid much more than I intended and was profoundly grateful when someone out bid me.

    The only real complaint I have now about selling is that they insist on postage costs in advance although one never knows till you get the package to the postoffice what the real cost will be. A 10 gram difference in weight can mean a doubling of costs turning marginal profit to loss.
    Well that and the difficulty these days in finding a buyer who wants to pay enough for what I have to make it worth my while to package something and ship it. But that's not actually ebay's fault.

  3. In my experience auctions in the real world are also mainly attended by those aiming to resell at a profit. You must have heard the joke about the dozen antique dealers shipwrecked on a desert island with only one chair - they all made a living. When setting up my post-divorce household I found it relatively easy buying furniture at auction precisely because those bidding against me had to consider their scope for a mark up.