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eBay…

I had never placed a bid on eBay (or listed anything for that matter) up until a couple of weeks ago. My first bid was on a mantle clock made in the 19th century. I like old-style mechanical clocks, particularly ones that are somewhat ornate, and this one appealed to me. But why did I go to eBay in the first place after years of basically ignoring the service?

I guess the answer is that I’m not a bargain hunter, and that is always the demographic eBay struck me as being focussed on. If I want a gadget, I want it to be in pristine new condition: not nearly new, not lightly used, but new. And eBay has always struck me as being sort of like a garage sale: lots of other people’s junk.

But this time I was intentionally looking for something old. A mantle clock made in 1995 is pretty boring, probably plastic, and almost certainly crappy. But one that was made in 1895 will have real materials crafted in age where “mass production” meant 50 guys working at the same bench. I didn’t really know initially whether eBay would have any quality antiques at reasonable prices, but my first few visits to the site opened my eyes. Some of the items available are crazy: things like 2000 year old bronze swords and first century gold necklaces from Persian royalty (pre-approved buyers only, please- at over $20 million, I guess so 🙂 ).

I’ve found that the whole bidding process preys on some deep, lizard brain part of my mind. Once I see what I want, I don’t want to give it up. I start picturing the item in my house, and in my life, and whenever eBay says “you are no longer the highest bidder”, that dawn-era lizard brain flicks its tongue and scuttles around frantically, making me hit the “increase your bid” button.

So far I’ve been good: I set a maximum threshold, and even went the extra mile and set my initial bid significantly below that threshold. But it was difficult: when someone else bid over my maximum on my first eBay item I had to really fight to not raise my bid. And I succeeded! But I’m back on eBay again, bidding on another clock, and watching Bidder 4 keep raising their maximum to try to take it from me awakens the fight/flight response in that ancient brain.

I think I can understand now how some people become eBay addicts.

4 comments to eBay…

  • Whenever you feel yourself getting into a bidding war, don’t visualize wealthy guys at an art auction in suits raising their paddles … visualize screaming women at the white sale kicking screaming and elbowing each other, ripping apart the packaging and getting trampled, all for the ‘prize’ of mismatched pillow sham at 50% off. It might help you resist the urge 😉

  • Good advice, Chris 🙂 I still have a problem with the process: as soon as I place the bid I start visualizing the item in my house, and how it will make me feel, and what it will look like/sound like. Once that happens, when someone outbids me it is sort of like something has been “stolen”, and I want to get it back. Weird- like I say, it isn’t really rational.

    I just got outbid again- sigh. And that was even after raising my maximum twice. I suppose I can take some solace from the fact that both times I was outbid it was by “premium” bidders with a history of buying antiques- I can pretend that means I have good taste or something 😉 Interesting fact: both of the clocks I’ve bid on so far are in Great Britain. Which means I have to be a bit careful with the conversion from pounds to Canadian dollars, especially on the shipping.

    I just had another thought. Given how few clocks of the type I’m looking for are for sale on eBay, my bids/losses could be single-handedly creating a false increase in the perceived value of these kinds of clocks. Both of the clocks I bid on would have sold for about 100 pounds less if I hadn’t been involved. So the next time I bid, there will be a bunch of folks who saw the prices for previous clocks of this type go higher than expected, and they’ll jump in to further inflate the price.

  • Shane

    I have bought quite a few things from e-bay, but very rarely do I “bid” on them. I guess I have some of the same issues that you do, when I want something, I want it yesterday, and the thought of “losing” the item to someone makes me go mental 😛

    Usually I just find the cheapest price listed in the “buy now” section and buy the item.

    I have found e-bay pretty good, but I don’t really bargain hunt, I use e-bay to get what seems like “hard to find” items.

    For example, I have a pair of manual lawn (edge)clippers that you cannot get anywhere. And you can’t even get them directly from the manufacturer (Fiskars), but low and behold you can find dozens of them on e-bay.

  • Yeah, the “buy now” thing would probably save my nerves… instant gratification for the win! But on antiques like I’ve been looking at, the buy now price can be pretty steep. The fourth clock I bid on I finally won: that means three times I went through that whole build up/disappointment process. But I stuck to my target price, and hopefully I’ll end up with something I’m happy with.

    It is interesting to note (but kind of obvious) that most of the antiques are sold from somewhere in Europe. I bid on four clocks, and only one of them was in North America. Two were in England, and the one I finally got is coming from Germany. Before eBay and online auctions in general, local antique shops would have probably scouted out a few items each month, bought them, and sold them for four or five times what they paid. Now you can go straight to the source… assuming you are willing to take the risk of being burned by a lack of real expert knowledge.

    I’m curious to see how this all works out with shipping and so forth. Now that I’ve finally won my bidding “war” I’ll have to wait for three weeks or so to see the results. I guess, though, for something that is over 130 years old, another three weeks isn’t a very big deal 😉

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