If It Was Not for the Bad Customer Service,
You Probably Would Never Buy Anything from an eBay Seller

If Debbie and Randy Coe (coesmercantile.com) lived down the street, I would be privy to an endless supply of “Rinker on Collectible” column ideas. Alas, they live in Hillsboro, Ore. Whenever my travels take me to or through Portland, I make every effort to visit with Debbie and Randy, at the very least to share a meal together.

Linda, my wife and provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Western Connecticut State University, Danbury, Conn., attended a NASH conference held at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash., a 40-minute drive from Portland. Her conference ended at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, and our red-eye flight back east departed Portland at 10:10 p.n. Pacific Daylight Time. Debbie and Randy agreed to meet us for dinner.

Debbie and Randy are among the shrewdest dealers in the collectibles trade. They sell on eBay, at general and specialized antiques and collectibles shows, and at antiques malls. Randy maintains a detailed analysis of their selling patterns. They constantly adjust their merchandise to reflect the latest buying trends. At our dinner, Debbie and Randy shared the proofs of the 15th book they have authored for Schiffer Publishing, a book about Corning ware.

Our conversations are staccato and freewheeling. Stories flow fast and furious. Every collecting category and aspect of the antiques and collectibles game is fair game. By the end of our conversation, I have made notes for several future “Rinker on Collectibles” columns. Usually, I allow the ideas to germinate for a few weeks or months. Not this time, I had roughed out this column in my mind before I boarded the plane.

After exploring a number of topics, Randy, Debbie, and I started telling customer-service stories. Customer service is a scarce concept in the antiques and collectibles trade. Buyers are so used to the lack of customer service that when encountered, it is a shock.

Randy talked about two experiences at an antiques mall. He had bought a large quantity of material and noticed a pile of cardboard boxes in a corner behind the sales counter. “May I have one of those cardboard boxes to transport my purchases?” Randy asked. “No,” replied the sales clerk, “We use them for our eBay customers.” There stood Randy with cash in hand to pay for his purchase. He was a customer, just not the right kind.

Although Randy and Debbie deal in a wide variety of material, they specialize in glass products. Randy had selected and paid for several dozen glass pieces. As the sales clerk was handing Randy his change, he remarked, “I suppose you want me to wrap them, don’t you?” Well, duh! Randy certainly knew better than to throw his glass purchases in a box and trust God or who or whatever that the pieces would arrive home unbroken.

Randy’s stories inspired me to launch into one of my pet peeves regarding eBay sellers—their abject failure and desire to make the “second” sale. I buy on eBay. I do not sell antiques and collectibles. I keep what I buy. My eBay feedback is more than 1,200. When I send payment or use PayPal, I specifically indicate that I collect “x” and that I welcome direct quotes. I can count on two hands and maybe a toe or two the number of times an eBay seller offered me additional items. Occasionally, I receive an e-mail indicating they have posted an item for sale on eBay which I may be interested in buying. This is not what I want. I offer the seller a chance to deal direct, to sell an item quickly and without any extra added sale expense.

I was in a soapbox mood by this time. “The only customer service eBay sellers care about is getting their money as fast as possible and padding their profit with excessive shipping costs,” I protested. I decried eBay sellers’ failure to build long-term customer relations. eBay sellers, like so many antiques show dealers, adhere to the philosophical principle that if I do not buy it, someone eventually will come along who will. I need them more as suppliers than they need me as a buyer—so much for the old “money talks” cliché.

Randy sat there with a Cheshire cat grin on his face. “Okay,” I said. “Let me have it.” Without hesitation, Randy responded, “If it was not for the bad customer service, you probably would never buy anything from eBay sellers.” And, you think I am blunt.

The more I thought about Randy’s remark, the more truth I saw in it. Suppose every dealer/seller in the trade did give a damn about customer service and “second” sales. As soon as they acquired merchandise for which they had customers, they would be on the phone or sending e-mails attempting to sell it “on the spot.” The merchandise would never appear in their booth or be offered for sale on eBay. As much as I would have been a willing buyer, I was effectively removed.

I trust you see the irony in this. Bad is never good. Okay, there may be exceptions. When I was a bachelor in the early 1960s, I was not looking for “A Few Good Men” like the Marines, but “A Bevy of Bad Women.” I wasn’t a hippie in the ’60s, but in my early 60s . . . well, that is another story.

Sellers often confuse standard service, i.e., what a customer has a right to expect, with good customer service. In the case of an eBay seller, the buyer should expect an accurate description, one that includes a list of all defects, a sufficient number of photographs to allow proper inspection of the object, a clear indication of payment and shipment terms and cost, a prompt response to e-mail questions and purchases packed properly to avoid breakage during shipment. This is standard service. Good customer service is when the eBay seller goes beyond this.

One example is method of payment. I am not a fan of the eBay Payment Nazis who accept PayPal, money order or cashier’s check. I have read numerous articles, letters to the editor, e-mails and lengthy diatribes in the listings as to why they do this. Life is so much sadder when you lose trust in your fellow man.

I prefer to pay with a personal check. Most eBay Payment Nazis spell out their dictatorial payment terms in their listings. Hence, if I do decide to bid, I do so knowing full well what I am facing .

However, given my feedback, the relatively low cost of my purchases (yes, I am cheap) and my position in the trade, if I am the successful bidder, I e-mail the seller asking if he or she will make an exception. As a good customer, I make it clear that I have no problem with them waiting until my check clears before sending the merchandise. I credit those who respond, no matter what their answer, as practicing good customer service. I accept their right to refuse. The eBay sellers I detest are those who never respond and then send dunning e-mails asking why I have not paid. The answer, Stupid, is that I was waiting for a courtesy response to my e-mail.

An example of good customer service is when an eBay seller only charges for postage plus the cost of packaging material when adding shipping and handling charges to the bill. I keep careful track of what I pay versus the service I get. In a majority of cases, the cost of postage (including delivery confirmation) and packaging is less than half of what I was charged. Those sellers who think the buyer should pay for their packaging and trip to the post office are mistaken. These are part of the cost of doing business. Whenever the cost of postage and supplies is less than half of what I paid, I make a point to click the “unreasonable” star when leaving feedback.

I am looking for a few funny bad customer service stories, such as the two Randy told me, for use in lectures. Send your contributions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Thanks.

Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?,” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT?” streams live and is archived on the Internet.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web Site.

WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles


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  1. Phyllis Wayne says:

    I generally have good luck with eBay sellers for the the items I collect. ‘Airedale’ items, many of which are sold as scotties, or just terrier, or Fox Terrier.

    eBay also discourages the non auction chatter, the, ‘say, if you have any other Airedale items I would be interested’ type of conversations. Also if I miss an auction, eBay discourages me contacting the Seller to see if they are going to re-list it since it may seem like I am trying to do an off line dea.

    But I wanted to remark on PayPal. I think eBay these days pretty much requires that you use PayPal.

    What I don’t like is eBay’s grading system. If someone offers me free shipping, they get 5 stars, but if they don’t and the shipping is reasonable, I give the 4 stars, which should be a good rating. But to the sellers, too many 4’s knocks down their ratings.

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