EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 38 - May 19, 2001 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 6

A Buyer's Guide to Online Auction Etiquette

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If Amy Vanderbilt were still alive, she might be tempted to write, "Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Guide to Online Auction Etiquette." Ms. Vanderbilt, for those of you who were born AD (After Disco), imparted such vital information to America as: "Keeping Your Elbows off the Table," "What to Wear to a 4pm Wedding," and "The Proper Way to Eat an Artichoke."

Unfortunately, Ms. Vanderbilt passed away in 1974, so the task falls to me, a person who for years thought that artichokes were simply small pineapples. So strap yourself in as I present some basic, common sense guidelines if you're thinking about buying from online auctions.

I've broken the process into four steps, and there is a bit of overlap, but the basic tenet of the guide is simple: COMMUNICATE!

1) If you're serious about bidding and you have questions about the item, email the seller BEFORE you place a bid. Reputable sellers are more than happy to answer questions. Don't bid first, ask questions later and then retract your bid. (Sellers have memories like elephants!)

2) Carefully read the Terms of Sale (TOS) included in the auction description. If you win the item and the auction states that the seller does not accept a certain type of electronic payment, only ships within the U.S., or uses Priority Mail exclusively, don't expect them to change their terms. If there are no terms listed, email the seller and ask what they are.

3) EBay states that buyers and sellers should contact each other within 3 days after an auction closes. Respond to a seller's End of Auction (EOA) message in a timely fashion.

4) If a seller sends an EOA email requesting your shipping address, include it in your response. Many sellers like to have that information so they can package your item and prepare the shipping label. It also gives the seller a clear, typewritten shipping address.

5) Send payment in a timely manner. Sending payment within 5 days of auction close is reasonable.

6) When you send payment, realize that each seller has different schedules for shipping. Some ship daily, some ship 3 times a week, some ship weekly. Usually it's stated in a seller's TOS or their EOA email. It's certainly within your rights to ask how quickly an item will be shipped after payment, but allow the seller an opportunity to work within their schedule.

7) Somewhere along the line, you HAVE to give the seller your shipping address. I can't tell you how many times I've gone days without hearing from a buyer, only to receive a money order in the mail with no return address and no auction number. Kreskin does not sell on eBay. (Well maybe he does, and in that case, none of these rules apply to him.) A seller cannot ship without your address. I prefer to receive it after I send my EOA message, when I request it (see Rule 4). That way I have it neatly typed, not handwritten on the bottom of a Money Order.

8) Include the auction number with your payment. One of the easiest methods is simply printing out the EOA message you receive from the auction site.

9) Let the seller know that you've received the item. I love hearing from my buyers and knowing that the item got to its destination safely. I also like to know if the seller liked the item and found it to be as good as advertised. That's when I feel comfortable entering it in my database as a completed sale.

10) Leave positive feedback for a good transaction. As a seller, I generally leave positive feedback as soon as I receive timely payment. (If it's a money order or electronic payment, I leave feedback immediately. If it's a check, I wait until the check has cleared.) Leave positive feedback as soon as your item has been received and meets your approval.

11) If you have a problem with an item, contact the seller, state the problem and wait for a response! Don't immediately run and post negative feedback. Reputable sellers VALUE their rating. If there is a problem, try and work it out via email or by phone to your satisfaction. Negative feedback should be left only as a last resort.

12) One last thought, in deference to Amy Vanderbilt: always be polite. There's a person at the other end of the modem, and people respond better to courtesy.

A successful transaction relies on the cooperation of both parties. If you run into a disreputable seller, by all means you should leave appropriate feedback, contact and the proper authorities. But make sure you give them time to respond to your problems. By and large, sellers work hard to make a transaction successful.

Let me hear what you think...have I missed anything? Do you disagree? Do you know how to eat an artichoke? Let me know at

About the author:

David Steiner is President of Steiner Associates LLC, publisher of and the merchant directory. David, a former television producer, handles business development and advertising for EcommerceBytes. You can reach him at

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