Andrew Breese

Musings of a professional geek

ebay is my curious $2 shop

Over the holidays I wasn’t regularly walking to and from work, and I noticed how it changed my approach to small casual purchases. Previously I’d pop in and out of various stores during lunch breaks and end of day to grab those small widget-things that geeks need to feed their hobbies. Small bags, catches, hooks, cables, connectors, etc. The opportunity to get a small widget straight away was my normal expectation.

Being at home and almost house-bound for the holidays meant that I went looking on the internet. Invariably for each widget I used ebay as a way to see what else is around in a similar vein, and to price the widget.

e.g. The price of importing a bag of 50x Cat5 network cable ends to my house is so much less than what is charged at the tech-chop-shops in the city. It seems at least half, sometimes 5x times less in cost. I now have far more cat5 ends than I think I’ll ever. Thankfully they are really small.

It works exceedingly well for low value items and small things that can be easily posted. For me this is mainly because buying anything unseen is a risk, and buying it from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, etc are especially risky because there is basically no capacity from Australia to return an item or hold the vendor accountable. It might cost $1 to get a small widget into Australia, but it costs a lot more to get it back to China. That is assuming a refund policy is present and that it would be honored.

It works poorly though for high value items, or items which will incur a large amount of postage. This is two very real crunch points of the distance a large item needs to be shipped and how expensive that is, plus the fact of how much more risk adverse I am when larger amounts of money are involved.

e.g. I’d never buy a high end computer item from ebay. As a purchaser I want a point of local representation for warranty and issue resolution. Or another example of buying power tools, where holding the item is part of the evaluation process. Some tools feel “right” when they are in your hands, and others feel like absolute junk. I can tell by look and feel that something is ok, and nobody can tell from a picture.

The items delivered are sometimes poor versions of what I thought I was getting too. One example was some hair-clips for my daughter, which looked fine in the picture, but were really cheap, nasty, and poorly constructed when I saw them. For a few dollars it was not worth the complaints process.

Lastly and probably most importantly of all is the difference in delivery time for an ebay item. Being in Australia means that most international orders take a very long time to arrive. That means planning or being patient. I guess that is part of the cost of a timely delivery, and something which the old $2 shops do provide. They take the overhead of importing some of the crazy, silly, and junky things that ebay provide and I can get them right when I want to.

A few recently items were purchased from Aussie sellers and that was great – a cabin hook arrived to me for $4 and it saved me walking though a Bunnings or Masters store for 30 minutes plus petrol. Easy communications and fast delivery. The postage might have been a little steep, but we pay a premium here for postage because the post generally always arrives.

For now I have 5x items arriving into Australia from various parts of the world, and I’m looking forward to each little present. Ebay is my $2 shop, and also my own little secret santa as well.

Happy shopping.

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