Monday, May 20th

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For sale: Missile-launch facility

ebat~ eBay obsession ~

 

By Tom Burnett

 

What are you looking for? An intercontinental ballistic missile-launch facility, lunch with Warren Buffett or perhaps a 1909 baseball card of Honus Wagner? All have been listed and auctioned off on the internet site eBay.

 

The missile facility sold in 2002 for $2.1 million. The baseball card sold for $1.1 million in 2000 and the annual charity fund raising lunch with Buffett went for $2.6 million in 2010.

 

You can find almost everything on eBay from clothes to cars, engagement rings to vacation packages. There are new items like state of the art electronics and used items, including rare antiques.

 

EBAY WAS FOUNDED in 1995 in San Jose, California, and has skyrocketed into a multi-billion dollar on-line marketplace boasting more than 34,000 employees. Buyers list their items. They describe the item, provide a rating of its condition and whether it is new or used and if it has been tested to verify it works, if applicable. They post pictures of it, set a starting bid, and wait.

 

Buyers pour over the listings looking for deals. EBay helps make shopping easier through the use of search engines. You can look for a particular brand name item. You can search by price or by time left in the auction or a combination – other searchable items including distance from seller in case you wanted to go pick up an item and avoid shipping costs.

 

While items can be listed for days, the actual bidding war is most intense the last two hours of the auction, according to eBay. To ensure you are not outbid while at work or asleep, eBay provides a bidding service. You look at an item and decide what is the maximum you are willing to bid and punch the number into the computer. EBay will then automatically post small incremental bids for you until you reach your maximum limit.

 

But beware! EBay is addictive. You get notices saying, “Congratulations you have won.” “Something got away...but similar items are available,” and the worst notice of them all, “You have been outbid; would you like to increase your bid?”

 

Both buyers and sellers are rated. As a seller, you can earn a blue star after just 50 kudos of prompt payment. In fact, next to your screen name appears (like a badge of honour) the number of auctions you have won.

 

EBay knows how to market. Their slogans include, “Connecting buyers and sellers globally,” “Whatever it is, you can get it on eBay,” “Buy it new; buy it now” and “When it’s on your mind; it’s on eBay.”

 

While most shippers are willing to post packages overseas, it is easier to use a shipping service from Miami such as Safe Cargo Services in Point Blanche, the Mailbox in Simpson Bay or EBS in Philipsburg.

 

Sellers on eBay range from large businesses, sometimes clearing out items, to households opting to use eBay rather than hold a garage sale. It’s a cottage business for many a mom and pop, or part time work for folks that like to comb the local flea markets and estate sales. Pick up collectibles, photograph them, post them on eBay at a slight mark-up and see what happens.

 

Not all items are auctioned off. Sellers can set a price and put “Buy it now.” Thus the buyer only has the option of buying at the set price or looking for something else.

 

Once you have won an auction, you have to arrange payment. Large companies will of course take your credit card, but the small sellers including some entrepreneurs in their teens require you to use PayPal.

 

PayPal is a credit card processing service. You set up an account, list the card you will use and PayPal handles the processing and payments. When your package arrives, sometimes even before you have the chance to open it, you will receive an email from the seller asking did you find the item in good order and did it meet your expectations.

 

Some of the smaller businesses will even include a hand written note in with your item. One seller named Janet glues a construction paper cut out heart to her invoice and writes “Thanks.” Such surprises really make it feel like using eBay is a way of connecting with people. You feel the sale was important to them.

 

Cynics might claim the notes and emails are just fishing expeditions by the sellers to improve their ratings. They are right, of course. EBay places a lot of weight on their rating system. Next to every item listed is the sellers track record, the number of items he or she has sold and the coloured star! But with this emphasis on rating, the buyer is the real winner. If they are not happy, the seller will try to fix the problem. No one wants their seller’s rating to go down.

 

Clever buyers scout out what they want but wait to near the end of the auction to start the bidding war. Some will put an item on their watch list so every time they log onto eBay, they will see the current bid.

 

You do not need an eBay account to just browse. The site can be found at www.ebay.com. Take a look but be warned, eBay makes shopping so easy and fun, you may soon need to open a seller’s account to dispose of all the items you won at auction.