Bye-bye, Beanie Babies

Written by Sarah Patterson

An easy-to-search local market that’s full of competitively priced new goods, affordable used items and hard-to-find products from around the globe. You might call it your dream supplier. Or you could just call it eBay.

The online auction site is no longer the domain of sleep-deprived collectors of Beanie Babies, war medals and Pez dispensers. If you need a backhoe, cash register or a batch of router bits, you’ll probably find it on eBay. According to the California-based auctioneer, business and industrial listings comprise eBay’s fastest-growing product category and account for an estimated US$1 billion in annual transactions.

Darryl Curley looks to eBay when he needs specialty items that are hard to purchase off the shelf. Among the eBay finds by Curley, CEO of Custom Research Ltd., an Oromocto, N.B.-based engineering firm, are testing equipment, software and even a new lathe, sourced from a Saskatoon company for $1,000. While many offline businesses will sell you back-ordered stock, adds Curley, “On eBay, people aren’t selling what they don’t have.”

At least, you’d hope not. As with any long-distance transaction — an eBay seller could be in Timmins or Timbuktu — eBay purchases carry some extra risk. How do you know whether items up for bid are exactly as described, or that the seller won’t take your money and run? eBay Canada spokesperson Alexandra Brown says that less than 0.01% of eBay auctions end up as confirmed cases of fraud.

Still, several safeguards are in place. eBay can facilitate the placement of payments in escrow until goods are delivered satisfactorily, and obliges parties to resolve disputes through Square Trade, a third-party mediation service. Bidders can also read the unbiased customer testimonials that accompany the listings of frequent eBay vendors. And you can feel out the seller, even online. “E-mail the seller prior to completing the sale,” Brown advises, “particularly if it’s a high-priced item.” You have to wonder how many e-mails changed hands during the 2001 sale of a Gulfstream II jet for US$4.9 million, still the eBay record.

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