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Tips for Buying and Selling Gadgets

Be smart and careful to make the most of the eBay electronics market


Tips for Buying and Selling Gadgets

The right gadget can be an eBay steal, but do your research before placing a bid

Photo: Maddrat / Dreamstime

Gadget buying and selling is popular on eBay but is it a good idea? What should you know before you auction off your AT&T iPhone or buy a used Kindle? Here are some key things to consider in order to ensure that your gadget buying and selling goes smoothly.

Buyers Should Consider

  • Warranty status. Most consumer electronics devices are protected by a manufacturer's warranty, but these are of varying lengths and many don't transfer or are void when the purchase is not made through a particular retailer. Check with the manufacturer in question about warranty policies for the device you're considering.

  • Amount of use. Watch for devices that have seen relatively little use if possible, since consumer electronics devices, too, have finite lifetimes-particularly when it comes to things like buttons, controls, and screens. Buttons can stick or become less sensitive, while screens can dim or become scratched or cloudy.

  • Original software/accessories. Too often consumer electronics and computing devices being sold on eBay don't include needed accessories like AC adapters (chargers), USB or data cables, needed software (such as Windows or Mac OS) or documentation. These can be expensive and in some cases extremely difficult to replace.

  • Risky "untested" and "does not work" items. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, a device listed as "untested" or "does not work" really does not work. Don't put your time and money at risk buying or bidding on these unless you're willing and able to make repairs.

  • Service plans or tie-ins. Many current consumer electronics devices require a service plan or contract of one form or another in order to be used to their full potential. Be sure that you're clear on the service provider you'll need to use or that is compatible with your device and the cost(s) of the services that will be required for your device to be operational.

  • Battery age and performance. Many of today's hottest gadgets depend on rechargeable batteries for their operation. Rechargeable batteries, however, can only be charged and discharged a finite number of times before they fail. Watch for sellers that don't guarantee battery life, particularly for devices (including current devices from Apple and Amazon.com) that don't have user-replaceable batteries. Service costs to replace a dead battery can easily eclipse any savings you might otherwise have earned.

  • Legal and intellectual property issues. Devices that are being sold "loaded," whether with software, music, ebooks, or other kinds of content often do not include such content legally. While you may get a computer with a lot of "free" software this way, you could quickly find yourself subject to heavy fines or other kinds of enforcement activity. Furthermore, some devices will automatically erase themselves when the device is "deregistered" from the original seller or user and "reregistered" to you-a fact of which sellers may not be aware.

  • Knockoffs. There are a certain number of clones and knockoffs of popular devices in the eBay marketplace, often with listings that are very similar to or even indistinguishable from those for genuine items, though the goods themselves are generally of their inferior quality. Read listings extremely carefully and note the slightest differences in product spelling or appearance. Be very wary of listings claiming to sell brand new items for considerably less than they're worth.

  • Incorrect specs. Because sellers create their own listings, there is no guarantee that the information in any item listing is accurate. Look for a detailed model identifier (a model or serial number, for example, and a revision number if possible) and then do your own research, usually at the manufacturer's website, about the device's specs, rather than relying on claims by the seller.

  • New or refurbished items. When possible, purchase new or refurbished instances of very valuable items, since these can generally be insured for their value by a third-party extended warranty seller like SquareTrade or Mack, and since they often come with a brand new manufacturer's warranty that starts when you make your purchase.

  • International versions and differences. Be very wary of goods that weren't intended for sale in your own home country. At best, you may find that the manufacturer's warranty for the item is void, even if it is new. At worst, you may find that the device functions incorrectly, inconveniently, or even not at all outside of its home country due to differences in standards.

  • Quirks and "hardly noticeables." Items that are listed as having particular quirks (power buttons that have to be pushed twice, discolored or garbled corners of displays, the need for periodic reboots, etc.) should be given a wide berth, even if the seller claims the quirk to be "hardly noticeable." In most cases, the emergence of the quirk indicates that failure of the component in question is imminent-likely the reason that the device is being sold in the first place.

  • Overpriced items. Don't assume that the prices you find on eBay are the best to be found. Do your homework by visiting the manufacturer's website and competing marketplaces like those at Amazon.com and Google.com. Surprisingly, in some product categories eBay prices are significantly higher than those in stock and available at your local big-box store.

  • Pending releases. Finally, don't overspend on a device that's about to be refreshed or updated. Before buying, do a quick online search to see whether a newer product will be taking this product's place in coming days or weeks, particularly if the prices are slated to be similar. Many devices see a selling boom on eBay just before they become obsolete, as overstock sellers try to liquidate inventories and upgraders and gadget freaks prepare to fund their purchase of the latest version.
While this list seems long, in practice it only takes a few minutes to check each of these points in a listing you're seriously considering. When the costs involved can run into hundreds of dollars or many hours of frustration, the small investment in time and peace of mind is worth your trouble.

Of course not everyone is out to buy a gadget on eBay-some just want to sell one. Read on to see tips for sellers.

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