Online auctions are great places to find bargains, especially with holiday money burning a hole in your pocket, or when you're trying to find that one unique gift. But unless you're careful, you can get less than you bargained for. The most frequent complaints received from purchasers are that the goods were never delivered, that the item was misrepresented, was damaged in shipping, or was defective.
Here's a checklist of things you should do if you want to buy at an auction site:
Also, ask around at discussion boards, and do some basic research at Web sites you trust to help you find tried-and-true auction sites. (eBay has some wonderful consumer-education tutorials at its site.)
If the site has a seller reviews or feedback page, check it out and see what other buyers have to say about this seller. But you should know that many sellers plant good reviews to mislead buyers into believing that they're reliable. And competitors often plant negative comments, too, trying to steer you away from their competitors. So take all comments in stride. eBay and others now keep track of the feedback and complaints received from buyers and terminate sellers who have a history of failing to deliver. But don't rely on the auction site to protect you from any unreliable sellers. You have to look out for yourself. Also, if you're a member of a certain special-interest collectors' group, you might want to ask the group if any have been burned by a particular seller, or if any members find another to be more reliable. And report what you have experienced, good and bad, so others can benefit from your experience.
Now, get out there and buy that Mighty Mouse PEZ dispenser or Felix the Cat clock you've always wanted. Enjoy your bargain, and your holidays!