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Safe Buying on eBay

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eBay is the world’s largest online marketplace, but how do know which items are safe to buy — and which to stay away from? In this article Michael Miller, author of Sams Teach Yourself eBay in 10 Minutes, shows you how to shop safely on eBay — and tells you what to do if you do have a bad transaction.
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"eBay is the world's largest online marketplace, where practically anyone can buy and sell practically anything."

That's how eBay describes itself, and it's a fairly accurate description. eBay is indeed an online marketplace where sellers offer all manner of merchandise for auction or sale, and where buyers flock to find and purchase said merchandise. If you're in the buying mood, it's a great place to find just about anything your heart desires, from the latest brand-new items to used and rare items.

That said, many potential buyers are wary of purchasing on eBay. You are, after all, purchasing from individual sellers, not from eBay itself. How do you know if you're dealing with someone legitimate or someone out to take your money and run? How do you ensure that you'll receive the actual item you intended to purchase? How do you make buying on eBay as safe as possible?

In spite of what some might think, eBay is actually a fairly safe place to buy (and sell) merchandise. eBay itself has a lot of built-in buyer safeguards, and there's a lot you can do individually to protect yourself online. Read on to learn more.

Seller Feedback: The Line of First Defense

Shopping safe on eBay is really just a matter of shopping smart. You need to be smart about what you're buying or bidding on, and about the sellers you're buying from. While most sellers are perfectly legitimate, there are some fraudulent sellers out there who'll try to sell you inferior goods or just take your money and not ship anything at all.

The first line of defense against these fraudulent sellers is eBay's feedback system. This system tells you what other buyers think about a given seller, and can alert you to potential problems—before you buy or bid.

What is eBay feedback? Put simply, it's an overall rating compiled from individual reports from other buyers a seller has done business with. The higher the feedback rating, the more satisfied this seller's buyers are.

You find a seller's feedback rating next to the seller's name on any eBay item description page. The feedback rating consists of both a number and a colored star. The larger the number, the better the feedback—and the more transactions that user has participated in.

Figure 1 Viewing a seller's feedback and star rating

To calculate a seller's feedback rating, know that every new eBay user starts with a clean slate of zero points. For every positive feedback received, eBay adds one point to the rating. For every negative feedback received, eBay subtracts one point. Neutral comments add zero points.

Comparing two similar sellers, the one with the higher feedback number has conducted more and more successful eBay transactions. If you're dealing with a shooting-star user (of any color), you know you're dealing with a trustworthy—and extremely busy!—eBay pro.

As a smart buyer, you should always check a seller's feedback rating before you make a bid or purchase. If the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, you can feel safer than if the seller has a lot of negative feedback.

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