RISC World

Buying & Selling Online: HelpDesk

If you run into problems buying or selling online, RISC World is here to help. Direct your questions to us at the address below, and David Bradforth will provide the solution.

Following on from the Buying & Selling helpdesk last month, we've got another selection of questions and answers for those looking to get more out of the online shopping experience. If you have any questions of your own, do please direct them to me at and we'll provide the answer to your email and also in the next issues of RISC World and eBay Advisor.

So here we go with our questions and answers.

Bad feedback

Most of my recent experiences with Internet auctioning have been positive, but something happened to me recently which disturbed me. I collect radio-controlled cars. Until about six months ago, I only bought my spares and new models from shops, as I didn’t trust the Internet. I then found out from a friend that a number of shops I visited had been selling bits on online auction sites for a cheaper price.

I bit the bullet and tried to buy a few small parts to test the water. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and received my parts quickly and at a cheaper price. Over the following months my purchases became bigger and bigger, as races often lead to the cars needing spares before they can race again. My horizons began expanding to vendors outside the UK, and I ended up buying some new wheels from the US. After a particularly fraught race, I decided a new car was in order, so I found a good price for a new Monster Truck.

After paying over PayPal I waited to receive my new car. A few weeks later, I contacted the company to find out what was happening. I was told that it was waiting for the model to be delivered from Hong Kong. Many months passed, in which I was forced to spend money on a similar model from a local store. I was reassured so many times that the car was just around the corner, when it wasn’t even in the country. Eventually I asked for my money back, to which the company obliged. I may not be out of pocket in the literal sense, but the effort spent leaves me feeling as if I have lost hundreds. Mark Howes

Your tale of woe isn’t the first we’ve heard Mark, but I hope it doesn’t discourage you from online auctions. Most auction sites do have a degree of trust involved when putting money down for items. Plenty of situations have arisen in the past when this trust is betrayed by either side; the end result can mean that one party is left out of pocket. Look at the feedback for the seller before spending too much, and read any recommendations. Don’t be afraid to email the seller to ask questions, either.


Football crazy
After many years supporting Liverpool, I’ve built up a fair stack of programmes, scarves and shirts. My second son was born a few weeks ago, and it looks like my beloved gear will have to be shifted to make some room for our new arrival. I think most of the stuff is valuable, as I have had most of the programmes signed by legends like Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan. The scarves are a bit tattered and worn, but would do for any visitors to Anfield. The shirts range from 1979 to 1986, and a few more modern ones.

Anyway, over Christmas I saw a lot of adverts relating to eBay, stating how easy it’s supposed to be to sell anything on there. I thought I would have a bash at it myself after looking around the site a bit. I’ve had a quick look at the footy memorabilia that’s already there, but none of it seems to be quite as old as mine. I was wondering if you think they are worth anything, and if people would be interested in them? I have got a 2 megapixel digital camera as well that can take pretty decent photos. Do you think the pictures would be good enough to stick on the auctions? Mike Bloomingfield

It’s a cliché that anything even remotely worth selling can be sold on eBay for a tidy profit. Not to belittle your collection, however – you are approaching it in the correct manner, doing a little research into the potential competition to gauge an accurate price level before selling. A rule of thumb is that anything signed is valuable enough to be sold separately, especially if the match in question was particularly memorable. If there are too many programmes to list separately and time is an issue, the best option may be to list the items of note within the auction, so that buyers have a taste of what’s available.

It may be worth investing in a decent frame for the items that go together, for example a scarf, programme and shirt from the same season. Good presentation can really bump the price up for anything being sold on. A 2 megapixel camera should be enough for the Internet, although it depends on the resolution and speed of your connection. eBay recommends a relatively small file size of 50Kb in either ‘JPEG’ or ‘GIF’ format. Putting the camera on the highest quality setting may go beyond this, so re-save it in a lower quality once it is saved onto the computer.


Skin trade
I’ve been an eBay user for a few years and have thoroughly enjoyed my time buying and selling a number of items, and have been pleased with the overall quality of the site. I have started noticing a worrying trend for so-called joke auctions that could easily develop into something far more serious. After reading about the young man who sold space on his forehead to the highest bidder, I was appalled to learn of the young woman selling space on her upper chest for a similar reason. Most people have dismissed this as a joke or applauded the entrepreneurial skills of these people without addressing the problems that may arise. I’m as much of an advocate for the Internet as the next man, but I feel this is a step too far. There seems to be little in the way of boundaries set by the proprietors of eBay to stop the sale of a body in exchange for money, even if it is for the purpose of advertising. How long is it before people are being sold over an auction to the highest bidder? I apologise for this rant, but I am truly concerned as to the depths that this will drag us down to. Jeff Holmes

Jeff, we fully understand your standpoint on the sale of bodily advertising. eBay is often given the image of a perfect tool for sellers without scruples. In reality, eBay’s owners do set boundaries for users, and although they are often allowed to open an auction, they rarely run their course if the content is deemed unsuitable. As for the auctions you’ve mentioned, reading through the item’s description reveals there was both prior thought and some moral boundaries set. Neither sellers wanted to advertise anything offensive or unsavory, and only allowed the ad to exist for a month. Your argument is valid, although it’s tricky ground to find a happy medium between the right to expression and being offensive. Judging by the majority of public reactions, these auctions fall just on the right side of tasteful. Rest assured though Jeff, if anything does cross the line, eBay will quickly remove it.


Top-up fees
Being an international purchaser of goods, I was surprised recently to discover the proposed increase in fees at eBay in America. It appears that eBay has hiked up the prices for frequent sellers, which will force them to increase prices on the items they’re selling.

As a seasoned online consumer, I feel disturbed by this and think it’s proof that companies with a monopoly over a certain field will be able to get away with more things than those with realistic competition. The only result that I can see coming of this is a push towards the other auction sites like QXL. Personally I’m looking towards Amazon and Froogle to find more bargains. These alternative sites are just as good and, with more user interest, could be a serious threat to eBay. I realise that this may be seen as reactionary and unfair, but this is one in a long line of incidents that have caused me to look elsewhere. Tony French

Your pleas and those of thousands of other eBay users haven’t fallen on deaf ears, Tony. Plenty of petitioning and unhappy posts have appeared on various forums, prompting eBay America to alter certain parts of its proposal. The majority of it remains intact though, which means a 50 per cent increase in some cases. There hasn’t been a mass abandonment of the site as yet, although newspapers prophesied doom as soon as the news broke. Of the alternatives you mentioned, all of them are are blossoming into excellent sites. eBay having decent competition will not only help us by creating more choice, but the competition might force the proprietors to reassess the site and make some changes for the better.

Counting costs
I’m pretty new to buying and selling online, but after a successful Christmas getting a few presents, I’ve decided to become more involved. I’ve seen how eBay can get some much cheaper prices, so a few days ago I thought I’d sign up. I went through the address and name entering stage, and chose a suitably individual username. In the final stages I had to put in my email address, which I did. I then got a message telling me it needed bank information to verify it. I didn’t really want to put my bank number in just to set up an account, so I quit out of it.

Why did eBay ask for my bank details if I just wanted to start up an account? I thought it was free to join. I’m very confused by this, so please advise! Jeff Steckley

No payment is needed to start an account on eBay. It sounds like you may have a Web-based email address, Jeff, some of which unfortunately need verification. As plenty of these email address require no payment and can be shut down as quickly as they are put up, it would be very difficult to track down a scammer if they were using one. Try using an ISP-based address, which you should have when getting your Internet connection. Alternatively, a friend or relative with their own Web site might be able to give you an address from that.


Lost in the crowd
My main problem with selling online at the moment is my advertising. I have a small high street shop that sells rings and necklaces, mostly second-hand. I’m tucked away in a little corner where it is difficult for people to find me unless they are looking in the right direction.

I’ve started selling a few choice items online on a number of auction sites and have run into the same problem with my auctions. People don’t seem to know where I am, and those that do don’t seem to be spreading the word.

I’ve tried emailing a few people, and have printed up flyers, but it doesn’t seem to be making that much of a difference. At the moment I could give up on the Internet side of things, but it would make selling goods far easier if it worked. Any help would be much appreciated. Pete Cooke

You’re finding one of the big problems with online auction sites now, Pete, in that so many people are using them, the smaller sellers are getting overlooked.

One way round this is to start up your own Web site with links to the auction sections. The site can be submitted to search engines such as Google, increasing your visibility. Alternatively, some auction sites now offer the opportunity to put a sale on the first page for a price, allowing interested customers to be immediately presented with it when getting to the site. Try getting in contact with some other sellers as well, so you can advertise on each other’s sites.


Name change
After months of wrangling, I’ve finally gotten rid of a particularly persistent buyer who claimed I hadn’t sent something to him, and he left negative feedback on my profile. I’m a good seller with mostly positive feedback, but this one buyer wanted to tarnish my good reputation.

Eventually I managed to settle with him after it turned out he put the wrong address down on his profile, and he has agreed to withdraw his comments from my profile. I’m still a bit shaken by it, and I was wondering if there was any way of wiping the slate clean and starting all over again? I don’t have too many loyal customers who keep coming back, so I could just delete my current profile and start with a fresh ID. I am worried about people thinking that I am dodgy because of this though, so I was wondering if I could just change username? Lewis Thomas

 A username can be changed pretty easily, Lewis. Going into the profile options allows you to change username to something else, although an icon will be associated to your new profile for the first 30 days.

Your feedback will then be transported over to the new username, and any running auctions will automatically carry the new moniker. If you don’t want to carry feedback over, just get rid of your old username and start up a new one, but all of your good feedback and ratings will be lost. It all depends on how desperately you want to make the change.   


Forum finder
eBay seems a bit daunting to a newcomer like me, but I thought I would start to get involved anyway. I like looking through products, even if I don’t buy them, so I know what to look for if I ever do need them. I’m always asking sellers questions to find out as much as I can about the item, and most of them get back to me quickly.

The last seller was very helpful and suggested I went to the forums to find out about things in general. Not knowing what a forum was, I did a search on Google and found some very varied and often rather obscene content. I decided not to go back onto a forum unless I was completely sure it was all above board, but it was hard to find any that were restricting the use of language. Do you know of any good, clean forums I could use? Gerald Merkin

There are a number of problems with browsing through forums without guidance, and one of them is the relaxed way in which many of them are policed. Because of this, content that isn’t to many people’s taste is often passed into forums.

The freedom of speech employed on the Internet is a double-edged sword, and it would certainly be almost impossible to impart any blanket decency laws on
the subject.

On the matter of a good auction forum, try official Web site forums such as the eBay Chatboards, which are both well-policed and informative.

David Bradforth