Saturday, May 11, 2013
Buying Perfume on Ebay: Things to Keep in Mind
Over the last several years, I've purchased something like 50 bottles of perfume on Ebay.
For the most part, my transactions with sellers have been good experiences: the product I receive is essentially the product I believed was on its way. I'm not an extravagant buyer on Ebay, whatever the number 50 might lead you to believe. I have a policy with myself. I generally have a limit, which happens to be under thirty dollars and often falls below twenty. I also have a bit of an advantage, because while some people go online looking for precious vintage bottles of My Sin or Coty Chypre, I'm more apt to consider a discontinued Avon fragrance like Patterns or Perle Noire a costly treasure. I rarely set my aim too terribly high and even more rarely bid on an item I expect to be surrounded by stiff competition. These things alone minimize my sense of risk.
That said, I know many perfume lovers who avoid Ebay altogether, either because of their own bad experiences or because they've heard horror stories from others. I won't tell you there aren't dishonest people on Ebay, or that you'll never get burned, but there are ways to mitigate those mishaps, and ways to hold duplicitous sellers accountable.
The following are only suggestions, based on my own shopping history. They aren't an endorsement for or against buying on Ebay; however, if you're curious and haven't taken the leap, some of these things are things I wish I'd known when I made my first purchase, and you might find them helpful too.
1. Ask questions...
Don't be afraid to clarify anything you're uncertain about when it comes to a listed item. Has the seller tried the atomizer? Is the item for sale the item pictured in the listing? First read the description thoroughly. Then read it again. If you still have questions, contact the seller directly or post your question under the listing. The speed with which the sellers answer will tell you something about what to expect from a transaction with them. Their willingness to take the time to answer you thoughtfully and comprehensively will too. Pay attention to your gut about all that. While a prompt and thorough answer doesn't necessarily indicate that shipment will be speedy, it does reflect something about how efficient and serious the seller is. A seller's patience is a good indication that not just this sale but your repeated business is of value.
2. Never assume...
You know the saying. Unfortunately, when assuming on Ebay, only you end up the ass, stuck with something you might have avoided had you read more carefully or asked the right questions. I've made many assumptions, and many of them have cost me, causing either inconvenience or disappointment. First and foremost, don't assume that the seller has listed everything you need to know about the item - let alone that the seller KNOWS things a seller SHOULD when it comes to this or any other item up for sale. Do not assume that the bottle must be a spray, using the logic that if it were a splash this information would be indicated explicitly. Do not assume that vintage means old (see number 3). Do not assume that the seller knows much if anything about perfume (refer to number 1). Do not assume that the photo depicts the actual item up for sale.
3. Vintage doesn't always mean vintage...
Some perfumes can be counted on as vintage simply by virtue of the fact they haven't been manufactured in years. My Sin is going to be vintage (whether it's authentic is another issue entirely, and one of utmost concern when shelling out big bucks). Tabu might or might not be. Do some research - not just with the seller but through sources online. Take Tabu as an example. Vintage is quite a different thing than the stuff they sell now. Sometimes you can distinguish old from new by scrutinizing the packaging. This is where asking questions comes in handy - maybe the bottle pictured is old packaging but the seller isn't using an image of the actual bottle on sale; can the seller tell you what the ingredients list looks like, helping you determine the age? Most sellers won't photograph the back of the box, where not only the ingredients but the manufacturers are listed, but they can tell you what the back says. Some sellers sell regularly, but rarely perfume. These can often be very good deals, but that seller might not know to list certain things that other more perfume-centric sellers would know to be necessary information. As far as they're concerned, they haven't seen a bottle of Tabu in a good two decades, until this bottle they found at an estate sale; therefore, to them, it's vintage, hard to find, rare, and just short of the golden fleece.
4. Check the seller's ratings...
Read the fine print. Great, the seller has overall good ratings. However, most highly rated sellers have disappointed customers now and then, and usually those customers will voice their complaints through negative reviews. A seller with a lot of negative reviews is iffy no matter how you slice it. Most often the complaints have to do with false advertising. Pay attention. Have a policy with yourself. Mine is that only on very rare occasions will I buy from anyone whose rating is below 99.7%. If customers complain that items are received three weeks later, and you're fine with waiting periods, go for it. If they complain often that the perfumes seem to be weak or don't smell as they should, you might want to save your money. Even when a seller has good ratings the complaints are instructive and indicate what to expect. When a high ticket item I really want seems too good a deal to pass up, I will only move forward with the transaction if I believe the seller is reputable. By the same token, if a seller is listing a rare bottle of perfume at far below the average asking price, I will not automatically assume something is fishy (see numbers 2 and 3). I look at the seller's ratings. Most of the real steals for me have come from sellers who are more likely to list fishing tackle than perfume. Every once in a while, they find a vintage bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew bath oil. They don't charge a lot for it often, not just because they got it for very little to begin with but because they know they aren't qualified to distinguish its true value, whatever the "going rate", and can't have such a conversation with any kind of confidence or authority. Another thing the ratings will tell you is what kind of character the seller has. I've avoided certain sellers who had pretty decent ratings simply because the way they responded publicly to their customers seemed like a pretty safe indication of their abilities to handle and resolve conflicts. See number 5.
5. Try to resolve conflicts privately...
Most sellers will want to maintain high ratings. They count on the fact that other buyers will read the reviews in order to determine whether doing business with them seems smart or stupid. Sellers who care about their reputation do whatever they can to resolve conflicts harmoniously. When trying to resolve a conflict, first look at whether you in some way contributed to the problem. Did you fail to read all the descriptive information? Did you make assumptions? Fail to ask pertinent questions? I don't blame a seller when I'm at fault for not buying responsibly - which doesn't mean I don't try to resolve the misunderstanding. It simply means I try to be honest with myself about what contributed to the situation. A good, reliable seller will appreciate the opportunity to satisfy the buyer. Handling the conflict through a private exchange allows them to preserve or improve their rating through one on one customer service. Your posting a negative comment publicly before giving them a chance to make things right doesn't tend to breed mutual respect and consideration. Save the Oh No You Didn't attitude for your Maury Povich appearance, even when you suspect you're dealing with a fellow traveller. Keep in mind that some sellers will choose not to SELL to buyers with poor ratings, which means that for every negative rating you leave you might earn one of your own. I have only ever resorted to a public/negative review when I feel I've given the seller the opportunity to respond and the seller continues to deceive, make empty promises, or refuses to resolve things in a way which is fair. I do this not to be mean spirited but because these are things a buyer deserves to know before dealing with a seller - things I'd want to know myself in hopes of avoiding problems. When I do this, I count on the seller responding defensively, so I think carefully about what I will post and how I will respond to what I can expect that seller to say in return. Expect that seller to accuse you of child neglect, so stay focused and avoid personal attacks. Stick to the basics of the transaction and the source or your dissatisfaction.
6. Bid strategically, not systematically...
A big part of successful bidding is the element of surprise. First and foremost, decide how high you're willing to ultimately bid, and commit to that. Avoid impulse bidding by being clear with yourself what the value of the item is to you. When you make that decision, don't immediately enter that number as your high bid mark. Consider this: say I'm bidding against you, and I've decided I'm willing to pay four hundred dollars for the item. Say you're willing to pay 100. Obviously, you'd prefer to pay far less if you can - as close to the opening bid as possible. Entering your high bid of 100 right off the bat or even at anytime during the main portion of the bidding window will result in a few possible scenarios, none of them advantageous to you. Say that I decide I'm going to try to outbid you, and I take my bid up to 95 eventually, then get bored and forget the whole thing. You will be stuck with paying a lot more than you might have, had you bid more strategically. Say, on the other hand, that I feel the competition for this item is stiff: I'm going to watch that auction like a hawk, and you're unlikely to get anything by me. If you wait until very late to increase your bid, you don't give me much time to outbid you, which means you could not just win but walk away paying less as opposed to more.
Here's what I tend to do. I first determine how long the bidding is open, putting the item on my watch list. If I really want it and intend to win, I wait until the last day to bid at all. People tend to operate by suggestion. If nobody seems to want it, they feel less pressured and sometimes less attracted. Their impulse triggers aren't activated. When I make my initial bid and I am then outbid, I do not immediately raise my maximum bid. I wait until the last forty seconds of the auction, at which point I enter the maximum bid I've decided on, leaving the other unsuspecting bidders very little time to outbid me. When the competition doesn't seem to be anywhere near fierce, people aren't likely to bid extravagantly. Like you they want to get away with paying as little as possible. If only one other person has bid during the auction before them, and no one bids after, they feel confident and aren't as likely to raise their maximum bid to what they're really willing to pay "if it comes to that". There seems no reason to. If you alert them of the competition too early, they are more likely to enter their maximum bid much higher, and at the last minute, when you try to outbid them, you will keep hitting the wall of their maximum bid, losing to them ultimately.
You can still be outbid this way - I've lost two out of ten items regardless of this strategy. However, I believe it would have been more otherwise. More than anything, relax. You win and you lose. It's fun to approach an Ebay auction with a poker face and a strategy, as long as you can take losing in the spirit of fair play. If you're the kind who gets your panties in a wad with the least provocation, trying to outsmart an auction opponent - which is just as likely to fail as succeed when all is said and done - probably is too big of game for the weapons in your holster. You probably want to save your competitive streak for boardgames with people who are used to your temper and will react predictably and reassuringly to your little pistol.