Buyer Beware : The Perils of Online Shopping


I don’t intend to use this blog space to point out particular individuals or companies by name as I want this to remain a friendly place but recently Naomi and I have been discussing prices of items we see on eBay and I wanted to take the time to remind people who may be new to collecting or new to buying online how important it is to do your research before you buy anything.

Not everything that is old is valuable and if you are going to pay high prices for something you really want do make sure you know that what you are being charged is a fair price. In other words shop around just the same as you would for anything for yourself or your home.

In a previous post we talked about how important it is to make sure that items that are advertised as vintage actually are and to think about whether you are prepared to accept a less than mint item in order to get a good price. This time I want to talk about comparing prices of similar items online.

You will often find that something that is cheap in the USA will be much more expensive in Europe or Australia and vice versa. I found this a lot when I was first collecting because some things were only sold in certain areas. Twenty years ago when I joined eBay I bought a lot of things from the USA that I had never seen in Australia. There was no eBay Australia at that time so not many local sellers. I looked at exchange rates and shipping but generally I found even with those things taken into account I could still get a good deal and a lot of my first Barbies came to me that way including  most of my African American Barbies and the dolls who are now Midge and Anna who would never have been sold in Australia.

 

Now however, things have changed. There are eBay sites in many countries with local sellers as well as alternative sites like Etsy, shipping costs from the USA have gone through the roof and exchange rates will always fluctuate. These days I prefer to buy from Australian sellers where possible but if the cost of the doll and shipping from the USA or UK is less than what I would pay here I will still buy from overseas. Some things, like our vintage dolls houses, we just pay the shipping because it would be very hard to buy a big wooden English dolls house in Australia these days. Naomi buys a  lot of things from overseas and she has become good at knowing which sellers offer a fair price for shipping to Australia.

foreground Dolly Mix house and next to it the Triang 61

Then there are dolls which are what we call collectible but not vintage. I’m sorry but I can’t think of something made in the eighties or nineties as vintage.  So, collectible dolls, there are a lot of NRFB Barbies around from the eighties and nineties when there were big production runs and it is possible to buy them for a reasonable price so don’t be fooled into thinking that because it is twenty years old you have to pay hundreds of dollars for it.

As an example Naomi was telling me the other day that she had seen the 1996 Star Trek Barbie Gift set advertised for several hundred dollars by some sellers where others were much cheaper. I remember this set coming out. Barbie and Ken in Starfleet uniforms standing next to a cardboard cutout Captain Kirk and Mr Spock. I remember reading that the set did not sell as well as expected so there are still a lot of them about today.

I took a screenshot of a page on eBay and you can see the big differences in price and shipping. When you see big differences like this it is really important to compare descriptions. Is there a reason for it?

Screenshot from eBay

When you are looking for a particular item do compare prices including shipping as well as condition. Try to compare apples with apples. Things to consider:

  • Are the items in the same condition? Eg. NRFB, MIB etc
  • Is the seller in the same country as you?
  • Currency exchange rates. Is it a good bargain in your currency?
  • Shipping costs, if all else is equal who has the better shipping rate? Customs duty may also be an issue although it hasn’t been for me.
  • Feedback. I always read feedback. A seller may  appear to have a good rating but it is interesting to see what sort of things people complained about and how recently. If slow shipping or non delivery comes up often that is a red flag. I do expect a business seller with lots of sales may have a certain amount of negative feedback. Mistakes happen and some buyers just like to complain. A new seller may not have much feedback to go on, you just have to decide if they sound trustworthy.

We hope that anyone who is new to collecting will find these comments helpful. I just hate to think of people being ripped off by dishonest sellers or just having a disappointing experience buying online because they didn’t know what to look out for. Naomi and I will continue to occasionally write pieces like this if there is an issue we think needs to be looked at.

 

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12 comments

  1. Excellent advice! Thank you for posting. Most dolls are cheaper for me to buy from the USA than at home in the UK and I have started using a consolidation service which saves on shipping and customs charges. I can only imagine what shipping to Australia from the USA must be although I buy things on Etsy from Australia and they’re often quite reasonable. I just removed a doll from my “basket” on eBay when I found that the domestic shipping was almost as much as the doll!

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  2. Great advise, especially for the beginner. I see tons of Barbies still in their boxes at yard sales and I get so tired of the sellers putting outrageous prices on them and brag about them being “collectibles”! Just because people collect something doesn’t make it valuable. If you think about it everything is collectible but it’s only the rarity that makes people pay more for it.

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  3. Thanks for informative post. I would add make sure you know exactly what you are getting. Be suspicious of few or dark pictures. Ask seller questions and to post more pictures at different angles. Don’t be tempted by cheap cost, be sure to know condition of the item before placing order. Also the popularity of an item will affect it’s cost: supply and demand. Be patient, place your item on an watch list to ne notified by ebay when it becomes available, and you may get a good price. If you lose an auction, don’t despair: other sellers may soon offer same item. Success on eBay results from vigilance and patience.

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    • Quite right Dani. I won’t buy an item that doesn’t have a decent photo and often there wil be runs of the same item being sold so it is a matter of having patience and waiting for the right one. Naomi and I don’t have a lot of money to spend on our hobbies so we’ve always shopped that way but even if we won lotto we’d still be cautious I think.

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  4. Well said. Always good to be cautious when buying online, and remember patience is a virtue when looking for the best prices. I was recently able to get a NRFB Sea Holiday Midge for a great price on ebay, but I waited quite a while before one came up that I could afford. BTW, which doll is that in the top center photo with the roses? She’s beautiful!

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    • She is the African American version of 40th Anniversary Barbie. Never sold in Australia although I actually did not get her from eBay but from someone I knew on a Yahoo doll group in the USA at the time.

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  5. I’ve “stolen” some treasures on eBay at affordable prices when other buyers not looking. Use a free online bidding service that will place your bid at the final moments of an auction. The advantage is other bidders won’t bid up the price. The disadvantage is you may lose the auction if your bid is not high enough. This forces me to have discipline and not over spend.

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  6. Very well timed.. I also point out to family and friends to do research as many high inventory items are worth waiting to get the better price. I got the Star trek dolls ten years ago at a Salvation Army/op shop for $15. More lately I got a fishing pole for Barbie’s picnic set, but buying used/non-mint and reproduction not vintage it was a steal of a deal! What was, not a deal was a Gold football helmet that was not the right size for ken. It will still work as a prop but I missed out on a vintage paper-doll, for the cost.
    Off the point a bit, but I think it is brilliant you and your sister shop and share with each other, I have a few close friends I share vintage dolls with when I get lots with a few dolls not on my list.It helps me not have to store so many too, a win-win!

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