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Tips For Buying On The Internet

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Tips For Buying On The Internet

Part I: tips for buying on the internet. 

Internet shopping has become more the norm than the exception. While some people are still wary of buying on the internet for fine antiques and jewelry, many shoppers have taken the plunge. Often, the deals out there are way better than anything that you will find anywhere else. The merchandise is great, the service often wonderful. So what's the problem?

There are many potential pitfalls when you buy from any source. When I began selling on the internet in the 1990's, it was like the Wild West - anything goes and anything went. Since then, I've watched the process metamorphosis from its infancy to a more ordered, legitimate resource.  I've been at the other end of some of the problems and mistakes that buyers can make.

The biggest problem, to state the obvious, is that you are not seeing the actual item with your own eyes and holding it in your own hands. A good seller should do his/her best to compensate for this with clear, detailed pictures and an informative verbal description (not a lot of emotional superlatives). I know that my pictures sometimes show flaws and details that are not usually visible to the naked eye. While it's not always in my own interests to show them, it is part of the total package that the item should be as good, or better than what the buyer anticipated.

So what goes wrong?

The biggest problem is that people don't put the pictures and description into perspective. I can show pictures of a ring on a finger, again, alongside a ruler measured in inches/centimeters and then describe the measurements verbally in the text.

However, the pictures are showing this ring right across the screen. Some people have difficulty making the jump between the size of the picture and reality. More than once, I've had returns because "it was smaller than I thought". There is only so much that a seller can do to convey the appearance of an item. At a certain point, the buyer must make an active effort of imagining it in its true dimensions.  If it is difficult for you to do so based on the description alone, take out a ruler or measuring tape in your house. Mark off the measurements and imagine the ring inside that area. Look at one of your own pieces of jewelry, measure it and compare dimensions. When the item arrives, you want it to be exactly as you imagined it to be. A ring is not going to be the same size as your computer screen.

Pictures, no matter how accurate, can be a problem. There is no intention to mislead. The opposite is also true: there is no intention to detract from an item by a boring 'photo. Yet, a photograph can be misleading. For example, I have two very similar items. One is slightly more valuable than the other because of extra workmanship and slightly more valuable gemstones. Coincidentally, I put them up for sale at the same time. One has a flurry of interest and the better one, priced the same, no interest at all. This set me to wondering. If there was to be a difference in public interest, it should be the other way round. What happened? Why?

I believe the pictures of the one just turned out to be prettier than the pictures of the other. Serious buyers: go beyond the prettiness or poor quality of the 'photos and imagine the item in reality. Think about the text and what it is telling you about the value of the items. Yes, buying jewelry is an emotional experience, but you want years of enjoyment and to make a good investment. Try to be as coldly analytical as possible before you move on or stick with an item.

Part II: tips for buying on the internet. 

We already talked about getting a grip on the true size of an item. Also, in general, to avoid being influenced by the prettiness / lack thereof of the pictures. You must actively envisage the reality of the jewel.

What else can put you off track?

Colors: even with digital cameras, sometimes it is extremely difficult to achieve the exact tone a jewel shows in reality. It may be a gem that catches the light in very subtle ways that the camera can't pick up. Your computer might show color differently to mine. The 'photos don't do that item justice. You need to use imagination and ask the seller lots of questions.

Again, what is the buyer to do: read the verbal description carefully and ask questions.  For example, I had a wonderful pair of amethyst cufflinks: it took me ages to get the correct purple hue. For some reason that I don't understand, the amethysts kept coming out looking royal blue instead of purple. It was a real struggle to get the color right.  Perhaps not all dealers would spend hours, moving from location to location and changing light sources, to get an accurate depiction.  It would have been all-too-easy to show the amethysts looking more like sapphires and thus misleading a potential buyer.

Something I've noticed in some people's listings is that the pictures are very fuzzy. This is a problem on many levels. First and foremost, you cannot get a good grasp on what you are seeing. The item is not accurately portrayed. What is missing? Is the seller intentionally hiding something? Secondly, it shows a lack of professionalism and sketchy attitude of the seller. They are selling an item like a cat in a sack: you don't know what you are getting and that smacks of dishonesty. I would be very careful of buying from such a person. With today's digital cameras and even smart 'phones, most people can get good, clear pictures and there are few excuses to legitimize a lack of information.

Make sure that you get a view of every angle/perspective of the piece. Anyone, including myself might forget or leave something out in error. So, ASK the seller for more pictures, explaining what you are looking for. It is the seller's job to provide them.

Remember that enlarged pictures are going to show details that are not visible with the naked eye. This includes hallmarks, maker's marks and other important details.  It also includes flaws. While I call any noticeable flaw in my verbal description, your best means of getting a good condition report is use your own eyes and look at the pictures.

On this topic:  You cannot be unrealistic and have unfair expectations. I sold a wonderful early 20th century ring, made by a famous jeweler. The person complained that the 'opal was worn'. Not only was this untrue, but the pictures showed the opal hugely magnified and if there was any wear, they would have seen it there.  Was it a case of buyer's remorse?

If you feel you can't see a particular aspect of an item, you know what to do by now: ask.  

Try to imagine what the jewel will look like when you wear it. I try to photograph items with a model, sometimes, using my own lined hands to show off a ring. You might have beautiful hands or your fingers may be longer/shorter/lighter/darker/more or less wrinkled than the models. A model is a great help, but you should still imagine the piece on yourself. No model at all: ask the seller to take a picture of them-selves wearing the piece. As an addendum to that advice: please only ask if you are serious about the item. The seller has to hunt for the item; set up the 'photo, get it onto the computer and put it in the right format; transfer it to the internet and finally, to their listing. This takes up a LOT of time and it's not fair to make frivolous requests when you have no real intention of buying.

Part III: tips for buying on the internet. 

It's very important to have realistic expectations when you are buying on the internet. You don't want to inflate the image of the item in your imagination and land up sadly disappointed.

Be realistic. We already talked about making sure that the pictures don't mislead you in any way. We repeated the advice to ask questions when you aren't sure about something. When buying on the internet, many people miss or ignore one of the most vital parts of an online item for sale: the text / verbal description.

I know that a lot of sellers go into superlatives about their item. It's amazing how kings, queens and museums passed up these extraordinary items.  Realizing that this is a lot of hot air, you look for some factual information. But sadly, all-too-often in these cases, there's very little meat to the description. Even worse, sometimes a seller will deliberately fudge the description. They may gloss over a defect that should be pointed out or imply that an asset exists when it does not. This is all part of the fluff that misleads and gives the internet a bad name as a source of good antiques and jewelry.

It's not always so. I do my best to stick to the facts. When buying on the internet, you need to know what the item is, what it is made of, where it was made and when. You need to know the dimensions and measurements. You need a verbal description of what it looks like. You need to know what marks and signatures exist and of course, you need to know about the condition. Naturally, when we only buy pieces that we, ourselves love, we might allow a few words of wonder to slip in, but on the whole, the description should convey information on a nearly scientific level and not emotional fluff.

Be very careful of people who seemingly give information that is not more than an implication and cannot be verified.  For example, are they using dimensions that were carefully and scientifically measured or are they deliberately vague?   When you see 'appraised at...', ask the question: appraised by who? Is it someone in their own business, even themselves, who has a vested interest in exaggerating the item's value? I ship all of my gemstones to an independent appraiser who will stand up in court to confirm her measurements. For that reason, if she errs, it is often on the side of caution. I like it like that. Let the buyer be pleasantly surprised, not the opposite.

Having pointed out the necessity of accurate descriptions and dimensions, we should not go crazy in the opposite direction. The truth is that some gemstones are so small as to be virtually insignificant. You can't expect a dealer to fork out good money to measure a 0.02ct garnet. Remember that old stones do not have the same clarity and cut as new ones. When you ask for a measurement, do you really understand what you are asking for? You have every right to know about important measurements, but be realistic. Don't demand information that is not exactly relevant.

Finally, what you already know: everyone and anyone can make a mistake, regardless of how hard they try. So, use your own common sense and don't hesitate to ask questions when something doesn’t add up.

Part IV: tips for buying on the internet. 

Here is more advice about successful buying on the internet:  Discussing the price.

You have all of the information you need about the item. You love it and you want it. The buyer has set a price. I can't talk about other sellers, but I try to set my prices at an amount that I think is fair. Naturally, like most buyers, you want to pay the very least amount possible. Yes, even big, important and rich people want a bargain. No-one is above a little bargaining.

Be nice!  Don't assume that as the customer, you are 'entitled'. I have a jewelry dealer acquaintance who owns a truly magnificent collection. This gentleman is not short of money. When someone is arrogant or pompous because they are rich, he refuses to sell to them. It is not negotiable. When they realize that he is serious, they might offer him any amount of money. Nothing, and I mean nothing, budges this guy. If you are rude and obnoxious, you will not have the pleasure of enjoying one of his jewels. No amount of money can buy you everything.

Not every dealer is amenable to price negotiations. Most are. Tread carefully. Here is some advice about price discussions online.

Don't nickel and dime the seller. Everyone wants a bargain, but be reasonable. Online sellers are subject to a huge list of expenses.  I don't want to list this litany of costs, but you should be sensitive to the fact that a seller needs to earn a living too and most of us work very hard. Think what it's like to get an offer of $10.00 for an item you paid $1000.00 for!

Don't use the tactic of denigrating an item in order to make it look worthless and thereby push down the price. If it's so distasteful, why are you interested in it in the first place? The dealer knows what you are doing and you are just being rude and insulting.  This tactic is not conducive to positive price discussions.

In a similar vein: some items take a really long time to sell on the internet. Inexplicably, they may wait years before the right person comes along to buy them. That does not mean that these items have no value. I can't count the number of times an item has languished, ignored by all, for many a year. Suddenly, equally inexplicably, in one week, I'll have 4 people who want to buy the same piece. I find it amazing. How does that happen? Coincidence? I have no idea. But it does happen.  I still get emails from people about items that were sold long ago. There is no explaining timing when it comes to buying on the internet. This long-winded prelude is to ask you, as a buyer, not to pounce on the fact that you've been watching an item for a few months and 'it's still not sold'. Like the direct denigration of an item, this is not conducive to getting a better price. The dealer knows exactly how long he has owned the piece and you don't earn kudos by reminding him.

Lots of people email me "what's the lowest price you'll take for this item?".  No prelude, nothing else. Just what's your bottom line? What am I supposed to think? I have learned that the vast majority of these emailers are not at all serious about buying the item. I could give them a bottom line of 2% of the value of the item and they won't jump at the opportunity. Tire kickers? Competition trying to work out their own price? I have no idea.

If you are serious about wanting an item, here is my suggestion for how to proceed in getting the best price ever: email the seller that you really like the item, but would like to discuss the possibility of a better price. Ask if they mind if you make an offer. The ball is in your court. They have already set their price. Now, let's hear what you would like to pay. Naturally, you should not make it a ridiculously low and insulting amount. Give an offer that you truly think is fair. You'd be surprised how often I react positively to such a situation. The offer might be less than I would like to get, but I appreciate the effort made by the buyer. I go all out to meet them.

If the offer is a little below what I can realistically accept, I will reply with a counter-offer. Many times we work it out. Sometimes, we just can't meet. In most cases, when there is genuine goodwill on both sides, you make the deal.

Don’t forget to take shipping costs into account.

The bottom line is to be sensitive to the seller's situation, make a realistic and fair offer and always, always be nice and polite. As they say: you get a lot more with sugar than vinegar. Antique and jewelry dealers work very hard to make a living.

Part V: tips for buying on the internet. 

Give a thought to the way you make your payment for your antique jewelry.

Now you found the ultimate jewel to add to your collection. You have clarified every aspect of its appearance and lineage. You have even agreed with the seller on the price. So now we have to talk about payments, because without payment you won't get your item. After nearly 20 years as a seller, here is a little advice from me about payment terms and conditions.

There are a number of methods of paying for online purchases. Every seller has the right to accept or deny a particular method of payment. You need to know what methods of payment and what terms are acceptable to the seller.  Be very careful as many sellers demand up to 3.5% when you pay with a credit card. Some may not accept all credit cards.  I recently had a nasty shock in Paris when a large company would not/could not accept Master Card. I was left scrambling for ways of paying. It could have been insoluble, but fortunately, someone owed me money and someone else could help out with a Visa and I had some cash to pay the balance. It certainly complicated my life.  Some sellers might have a financial ceiling for the amount they will or can accept via a credit card. Many, especially overseas sellers, expect you to pay both your and their bank fees when you make a bank transfer. There are sellers who might hold a check until it clears.  Smaller dealers like myself, are often the most flexible when it comes to online purchases.

There is an old adage: Cash is King. However, we are rapidly approaching a world where not only is cash a rarity, but it is often viewed with suspicion. You genuinely saved up that million dollars under your mattress over the last 75 years, but does the government believe that?  Honestly, I rarely found that cash was a great advantage to me as either a buyer or a seller.

While many of the online selling resources don't have facilities for payments in instalments, I feel it's important to facilitate people who don't have very deep pockets and help them to own something that will give them so much pleasure for the rest of their lives. For that reason, I am happy to facilitate a payment plan of instalments. But, if we agree to an instalment plan, please stick to it. O-so-often, someone HAS to have a particular piece. They tell me that they must have it, but they don't have the resources to pay for it in one go. We agree on an instalment plan. They send me a small deposit and then forget about it. After that, I have to chase after the person for the balance. I find this totally distasteful. I do not want to chase you for money that you owe me. If you committed to something, please be responsible about it. I have also committed to the same transaction and I have put that item away for you. It has happened that once I've committed to one person, I've been offered more money for the same item by another buyer. I always stand by my promises.  Not only can I not sell it to anyone else, but I am responsible for looking after it until you have completed payments.

One solution to this problem is for the buyer to send me a number of post-dated checks. That way, there is no problem of them forgetting or me nagging about payments.

For similar reasons, I believe it is best to pay off as quickly as possible. Try not to drag things out for a year when, with a little effort, you can complete the payments in a few months.

Remember, the way you pay can make a significant difference to the price you pay. It might make a difference to the amount the seller will get. If I don't have to pay 3.5% commission, we can talk about splitting the difference. That goes for all kinds of fees.  Buy directly from the seller and you might save yourself a lot of money.

Part VI: tips for buying on the internet. 

Maybe you have never given the topic a thought. Sadly, we do not always get what we wanted or expected. With all the good intentions, maybe your purchase just doesn't work for you. It's very important to check the seller's return policy before you make a purchase. If you have some doubts about the item, even after asking every conceivable question about it, you might want to protect yourself by discussing the potential of a return.

Who will pay the shipping both ways? Is it fair to expect the dealer, who has already lost the sale, had a number of expenses such as commissions to pay, in addition to pay for shipping? Besides, relisting an item or putting it back into circulation might involve a lot of work and expense.  For the seller, a return may not be so simple.

Check whether the seller accepts returns and under what circumstances.

Does the seller proclaim that all sales are final?

Many sellers, including the big auction houses do not accept returns under any circumstances. 

Most sellers on the internet will accept returns if the item is not as described.  In the former case, the buyer may have to prove that the item was not as described and this could become complicated, expensive and tricky. I remember the days when sellers, to accept a returning item, had draconian demands on the buyer to prove by hosts of independent, well-recognized authorities that the item was deficient in some way. In my opinion, they should have been mortified to have made an error in their listing. Fortunately, those days are over for the most part. 

What happens if you bought it and for personal reasons of taste you just don't like what you bought?  It is as described, but not what you had in your imagination. Well, this is your mistake. Will the seller accept it back? I have had customers complain that a jewel did not match their curtains; did not match their complexion and once that their hot water heater broke. I could go on, but you get the idea. There are frivolous reasons to buy and return an item.  Buyer's Remorse is when the buyer didn't think through a purchase in advance and expects the seller to bear the brunt of their irresponsibility.  Personally, I accept returns (within time limits), regardless, as I want every customer to be happy with their purchase.

Some sellers accept returns, but charge a restocking fee. What is this? They feel that they will be out of pocket and the return involves them in a number of expenses. For this reason, while they do accept the item back, you will not get the full payment price refunded. Restocking fees can be as much as 25%, so pay attention.

Don't abuse the seller's returns policy. Don't use the item and then return it. I know that it takes exactly one look - within a minute the buyer knows whether the piece is right for them. So, do not procrastinate. If you are not happy with the item you chose, notify the seller immediately. An apology is in order. Remember, you are putting the seller out and they do not have to accept the return. Make it as pleasant as possible for both of you. You never know, you might find something else that you like and can't live without.  You don't want to burn your bridges. We all want to enjoy the process, so play nice.

Part VII: tips for buying on the internet. 

The following advice about buying on the internet might seem like a no-brainer to you, but it also might make the difference between a fun, successful transaction and frustration, aggravation and even financial loss. You want something unique and beautiful that you can enjoy forever and then pass on to your children and their children. So here is some pen-ultimate advice about buying on the internet to help you achieve those aims.

Don't ask the dealer where he got the item. It's none of your business. Be tactful.  The item might be similar to something your granny had, but it is not yours and don't imply that the seller stole it from your family.

In general, there is nothing you can't say to a dealer if you do so politely and with respect.
None of us is infallible and we often miss details or information and often the people 'out there' know a lot more than we do. I am truly grateful when someone points out an error in a listing. When someone shares additional information - such as who a maker is - it's a great bonus. I am very happy to hear opinions, even if they detract from what I wrote. But please do it nicely.
Do check that the seller ships to your country. For personal / historic reasons, some sellers will not ship to people in particular countries. They may have had bad experience doing so in the past. Maybe, it's not fair to you, but it is their prerogative not to sell to a particular place.

On the topic of shipping: Don't forget to check SHIPPING costs before you assume you have finalized the sale. For both you and the seller, the price of shipping must be taken into account. Be realistic about the price of shipping. Sellers get numerous emails demanding a lower shipping cost for items that have to be sent around the world, insured.  They do not set the price of shipping and certainly not the enormous cost of insurance. Then, there are the costs of the packing materials, the trip and time taken if we need to go to the post office and the cost of delivery confirmation. In many cases, shipping should be upgraded to avoid the chances of loss or damage.

In my case, I decided to avoid this issue and simply pay for shipping, lock, stock and barrel. (Free shipping).

Before buying, check what shipping costs to you might be involved in the purchase.

Part VIII: tips for buying on the internet. 

Finally, let us talk a little about ethics when buying on the internet.

In a class on ethics and behavior, I learned that it's not nice to mislead a seller into thinking you will buy from him/her when you have no such intention. If you don't mean to buy, don't put the seller to a lot of unnecessary trouble. For sure you should ask for information such as extra pictures and details when they are missing from a description and you need to know to make an informed choice, but if you are not going to buy the item anyway, why put the seller to all that trouble?

Is it ethical when buying on the internet to drive a dealer crazy with a million demands if you are not genuinely interested in buying the item?  What are your intentions?  I've had people request countless extra pictures, measurements from strange angles and a host of other work-intensive questions. Very often, I rightly guess that this person has no real interest in actually buying. If the description lacks relevant data, all is well, but often we get tire-kickers: people who simply waste my time. I see this as a serious part of ethics when buying on the internet.

Is it ethical to return items for made up reasons? At best, give the true reason. Don't buy if you don't mean to keep the item. Obviously, do not wear / use it and then return it. I accept returns for any reason (within a reasonable time frame) as I don't want unhappy customers. There are those who take unfair advantage of my policy. Believe it or not, I've had returns because: it didn't match the curtains; it didn't match their complexion; their hot water heater broke. One return even I did not accept was 3 years after buying an item, the person decided to stop collecting and return the item. 

Buying on the internet has many advantages. From the comfort of your home, in you ‘jammies’, you can buy the most magnificent antique jewelry at great prices. You often have much better terms than when you buy from a brick and mortar institution or auction house. Most sellers on the internet are reputable and ethical. However, there is some responsibility you must take to ensure a successful transaction.

Happy hunting.

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