Friday, April 20, 2007

FedEx it to Malta, please, all for $1.98

EBay has always been a little adventure, most of it good, but some of it a pain in the ass.

The pain very often comes when buyers want a different kind of shipping than advertised. I always tell them in my auctions exactly how much the shipping will be to U.S. destinations, Canada, and other international destinations, all by common mail service. Some want insurance, some want FedEx or UPS, some want signatures on the other end, just so they can be sure to get it and that it's not too destroyed. Many have reported angry federal workers posing as courteous postal workers who love to fold up their mail as destructively as possible and shove it into their boxes.

I bought a new digital camera a few weeks ago. It does everything my previous Kodak camera did, even with the 10 times zoom, but in a smaller package. So I thought I'd list the 3-year-old Kodak on eBay. I didn't exactly do it right first time out of the box, but thanks to the easy-to-use "revise" button, I could add some things. I didn't predict, though, that within hours of the posting, it would already have bids. I guess that's in response to the $9.99 start price. (I paid $300 for the $400 retail camera three years ago.) Once the item is bid on, you can't change things in the auction; you can only add. So when I figured out I had the charger and the battery, and they were no good to me separately, I added those on.

Seven days later, the camera that I thought I'd get $20 for -- I mean, how do you know how a used camera is going to perform? -- sold for $113. The guy was in Malta. I had estimated $20 for shipping to international destinations other than Canada. I thought that would be high.

Then started a series of emails back and forth about shipping. Can you ship it FedEx? He wanted a tracking service and signature required. I said no, I don't do FedEx, as it's too hard to get to, but I will do UPS. So, before he answered, I went down to my local UPS store, where I receive all my mail (so it wasn't really out of my way), and asked Charlie for an estimate. I didn't have the address, but I figured "Malta" would do it. Charlie gave me an estimate of $167. Can you believe that??!

Obviously the Malta guy turned that estimate down immediately, and started refiguring how we could do this so that he could still be assured of delivery. He sent me $13 extra on PayPal "for all my trouble." "Please insure it if you can," he added.

I hate postal insurance. I've been doing business on eBay since the mid-'90's, and it's nothing but a hassle. So I don't advertise that as an option. Some eBay sellers demand it, which seems foolish. In fact, some demand it, get the money, and then don't use it, swearing that they'll make it up to the person if they receive it damaged or don't receive it at all.

Insuring with the U.S. Postal Service is like self-flagellation. You pay the money, but when it comes time to claim it for damaged merchandise or lost merchandise, you're in trouble. The post office will not believe the item was lost, and will ask you to wait months before you make the claim. They may not approve it even so. If it's damaged, the guy in Malta would have to ship it BACK to me because only I could make the claim! He would also have to include the damaged packaging so that I could include that when I filled out the voluminous paperwork. And then they would probably also insist on proof that the camera was worth $100, which I don't have. So I try to discourage anybody from insurance, but sometimes they just don't listen to you. So I either say yes or no, depending on the value of the item.

This time I said yes. The total shipping to Malta with insurance was $27. Let's hope it makes it.

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