Copyright Linda Marcas 2003 - All Rights Reserved

Crank's Corner

                                 To eBay, or Not to eBay?

   In a few weeks. we'll be having city-wide garage sale days here in NB
(I hope!) and in the surrounding Tiny Towns, too.  These are some of my
favorite springtime events; I love going sale-ing, and I usually have friends
from Toledo and Bowling Green come down to join the fun.  It's not as
though I actually need more stuff; in fact, hubby threatens that, one of these
years, instead of shopping at yard sales, we'll have one of our own.  I, of
course, resist this idea; holding a sale is work, but going to sales is fun.  We
spent a good deal of our courtship going to flea markets, thrift stores, and
antique malls, and sale-ing stirs up fond memories.
    During the past couple of years, I've noticed that my lust for stuff has
been subsiding somewhat, and that I don't come home from thrift forays
with the multiple bags of goodies that I'd drag home in former days.  Maybe
I'm getting old, maybe the building is filled to capacity, or maybe all the
"good stuff" has already been collected, although I doubt that.  I think,
instead, that my hunting instincts have been dulled, or perhaps stunned, by
the sheer volume of merchandise available on eBay.
    I've had only a couple bouts of eBay fever, and have escaped
relatively unscathed, compared to friends of mine who refer to the web
auction site as "the Tool of the Devil," a merciless whirlpool of goodies that
sucks them deeper and deeper into debt.  I've bought reproduction Russian
advertising posters, old sheet music, a Moxie bottle opener, and some other
cool things that I probably wouldn't have found at local sales.  But that's the
haunting, tantalizing kernel of the problem: maybe, just maybe, I would
    EBay makes it too easy to find what one is looking for, which is great
if you're out for something specific, that one example of an item that you
absolutely must have if your collection is to be complete, but not so hot if
you're just browsing, without anything specific in mind.  Maybe I just have a
contrary nature, though, because, while I'll chortle with glee when I find a
vintage Chinese Checkers set that I don't already own at a yard sale, looking
at dozens of unfamiliar boards for sale on eBay makes me feel dazed and
depressed.  Where is the thrill of the chase, the joy of discovery?  It's too
much like shopping at the mall, where the endless multiples of any item tend
to make me lose interest in owning any of them.
    Having thought about it, I've decided that the main attraction in thrift
shopping and garage sale-ing, for me, lies in the activity of shopping more
than in the stuff I might buy, and the stuff means more to me because I had
to work at finding it.  It's so much more fun to find a single piece of art
pottery hiding among the flowerpots and cheap florists' vases under a table
full of baby clothes at an otherwise dreary sale, than to have the eBay
database show me thousands of selections at a single keystroke.  Plus, on
eBay, you'll never have the experience of shopping a sale where nothing is
priced, and the seller just says, "make me an offer!"  While I prefer clearly
marked prices on things, so I don't have to keep asking, "how much is this?",
at "priceless" sales I've learned to gather my selections and then offer a
semi-scandalously low price for the entire mess, which the seller almost
always cheerfully accepts.  I think that people who don't want to price
individual items are more concerned with getting rid of the stuff than with
making money, and that whatever doesn't sell will end up in the trash or
donated to the local thrift store.
    With an eBay purchase, you always pay shipping charges (often
extremely inflated ones), you have to wait for the item to arrive, you hope
that it won't be damaged in transit, and you must trust that it'll be what you
expected.  I prefer being able to inspect things in person, to ask the seller, "is
this your best price?", and to take my treasure home with me right away, so I
can admire it and feel pleased with myself for getting such a good deal.  I
seldom suffer "buyers' remorse" over items I've purchased in person, but I've
often unpacked parcel-post boxes and thought, "oh, this is smaller (flimsier,
rustier, less interesting) than I expected, but not so much as to be worth the
trouble of returning it."
    Another drawback to shopping on eBay is that you'll never find that
great thing that you're not looking for, unless you sit down to hours of
looking through everything a particular seller has to offer, and doing this at a
computer is much slower and more boring than glancing over a seller's
wares at a flea market.  As any experienced "sale-er" can tell you, sometimes
you can hear a great item "calling" you from a distance, psychically
demanding that you find and buy it, because it's meant to be yours.  "Bend
down, look under the table to your left!  I'm over here, under the motheaten
souvenir sombrero!"  You'll never be able to do that on a computer.
    EBay is great for getting an idea of what a thing might really be
worth, as opposed to what a pricebook or a single antique dealer claims it's
worth, because you can comparison shop many similar items and see what
they eventually sold for, or if they sold at all.  I learned that my armadillo
handbag is worth the $15 I paid for it at a yard sale, but it's not worth much
more than that, and I didn't get the deal of a century on it.  For a seller, eBay
is probably better than sitting at a card table in a garage, because you can
reach more buyers, you don't have to be there all day, you can sell all year
'round, and you don't have to pack everything away again if it doesn't sell the
first time you list it.  But, if you enjoy shopping for things at yard sales and
thrift stores, you might be enjoying the act of shopping as much as the
purchases you make, and "to eBay, or not to eBay?" isn't really the question.

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