Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tales of eBay

My first husband used to refer to me as a "world-class shopper." He meant it as a description, not a compliment.

Fortunately, he was long gone when on August 16, 1997 (10 years ago today) I discovered a whole new universe of shopping: eBay.

I can't remember what the first item was that I bid on. Most likely it was a piece of 1930s Stangl dinnerware. (That's because I was still painstakingly rebuilding the collection of family Stanglware that had been shattered in 1986 when a stag party hosted by my first husband got a bit out of hand.)

My memories of my early years on eBay include:

  • Several nasty bidding wars with a fellow from Washington D.C. who collected green Stanglware. The "fellow" turned out to be a woman, and she turned out to be a friend of a friend from journalism school. We started buying large lots of china together and spitting them. When I visited D.C. in 1999 for business, she took me out to lunch.
  • Running 10 blocks from Green Lake to our old house because I'd forgotten that an auction on a Stangl cigarette box was about to end. I didn't make it in time, and lost the item.
  • Winning one of the few Stanglware pie plates still in existence. Unfortunately, our cat Sheba later used it as a toboggan in the kitchen; it didn't survive.
  • Helping my mom, then in Cape Cod, sell my late Aunt Helen's frou-frou collection of antique European tea cups. My dad took, printed, and numbered the photos; I scanned them and uploaded them to eBay with coordinated descriptions. (This was before cheap digital cameras.) I had carefully impressed upon my parents the need to pack each teacup and saucer in oodles of bubble wrap for shipping long distances. So we were all surprised when the first sale was to a woman who turned out to live a mile away from them on Cape Cod. She drove over and picked it up.

My more recent sales on eBay have involved old technology (cameras, Treos, etc.) while my more recent purchases have been clothes. If I like an item I've purchased from Nordstrom, J. Jill, or Eddie Bauer, I find I can usually pick up a second item (new with tags, or in like-new condition) for less than half that price on eBay. This works particularly well for buying seasonal clothing off-season, for getting a style of jeans that has been discontinued in the stores, or for tracking down an obscure designer label. I conduct and refine a search, then save the search so eBay sends me email whenever the item appears in my size.

According to eBay, I've bought and sold 456 items in the past 10 years. Forty-five transactions a year is not much in the world of eBay power sellers, of course, but it's really worked for me. In that whole time, I've only had one "problem" transaction, and that was fairly easily resolved.

My favorite eBay purchase? That would have to be the electronic locator beeper systems we use on Sheba, our deaf cat. Discontinued by the manufacturer because they were so fragile, they turned up in a liquidator's shop on eBay. After a few bidding wars with some guy from Atlanta, I was able to snap up 44 of them. We figure those should last Sheba for a lifetime. But just in case, I still have an active eBay search for them.

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