Saturday, June 16, 2007

eBay: Steals or Shams?

From 2002 to 2003, eBay was my go-to web site for buying designer items at discounted prices. I had a lot of good experiences purchasing authenthic designer clothing and accessories at prices that were very reasonable. I assumed that most of the sellers I purchased from had either bought the items at store sales or shopped at outlets in order to be able to sell their wares for lower than retail prices.

Recently, I've found the site to be very disappointing. There are several obvious designer fakes being sold as "guaranteed authentic" and the prices are far from a bargain anymore. I have read that many sellers have taken to auctioning off knock-offs of designer bags from China that strongly resemble the real thing. After I got burned on a fake Marc Jacobs bag last year, I decided I would need to change how I shop on eBay or not shop there at all. Here are my suggestions to other eBay shoppers.
  1. Know what you're buying. If you are going to buy a Gucci bag, go to your nearest store that is an authorized seller of the brand such as Saks Fifth Avenue or Bloomingdale's and check out the Gucci selection. Take note of things like the zipper brands used (ie. Coach and Marc Jacobs use Riri brand zippers which are embossed on the bottom portion of the zipper pull), the lining or other details the designer uses repeatedly. Once you've taken a close look at the real thing, you can do a better job evaluating the pictures from eBay. If you know that Marc Jacobs uses Riri brand zippers on his bags, don't buy a purse where the seller shows a closeup with a YKK brand zipper.
  2. If the price is too good to be true, it's probably a knock-off. If someone is selling brand-new "with tags" high-end merchandise for an absurdly low price, you should be very suspicious. Even discounters and outlets mark items up to make a profit. If a seller is selling a Stella McCartney shirt for $19.99, how much have they paid for it to make a profit? And how could it be real at that price?
  3. Check reader feedback and the other items the seller has sold. I once saw a seller who sold diapers in bulk and Marc Jacobs handbags. While it's possible that the bags were authentic, something just didn't seem right. Vendors who sell high-end merchandise tend to stick to this type of item exclusively. If the vendor has repeatedly sold designer merchandise in the past and has gotten good feedback from their customers, the vendor may actually be reputable.
  4. You are better off buying used items than brand new. I have found that it's safer to buy used designer clothing and accessories rather than things labeled as "brand new." I would rather buy the "gently used" designer shoes of a fellow fashionista who has just grown tired of the item she bought from a legitimate retailer than chance buying something new that could be fake. Also, don't be afraid to ask to see receipts, tags or other documents that will prove the authenticity of the item and the seller's claims.
  5. Go with your instincts and ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask the seller to see more pictures or for more details about the item. If the seller is slow to respond or doesn't want to give more information, don't buy from them. You have a right to want to know exactly what you're buying before you shell out your hard earned money for the item. If the seller does not respect that, I would avoid them. And if your contact with the seller gives you an uncomfortable feeling, go with that. Your instincts are usually right.

The most important thing about eBay is to look at everything with a slight feeling of suspicion. There are a lot of good vendors out there. (Including me! I have sold many of my old clothing and accessories on eBay with good results.) But there are also a lot of people out there trying to scam innocent shoppers. Let the buyer beware.