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UK man pays $735 for a photo of an Xbox One, or why I don’t use eBay

Ever disregard a few little words in an eBay description and lose hundreds of dollars? No, me either.

But one UK man did [3]. A19-year-old Briton bid $735 for what he thought was a Day One edition Xbox One for his young son for Christmas. What he was really buying, according to the listing, was a photo of an Xbox One.

Sure enough, as the winning bidder, he was the lucky recipient of a cardboard box somewhat smaller and thinner than the one he expected (I would have used a large one for comic effect if I were the seller), containing one badly printed picture of an Xbox One, signed “Thanks for your purchase.”

Don’t feel too bad for the guy — a British retailer took pity on him and gave him a free Xbox One to make up for it.

But while it’s tempting to make fun of him for reading over the listing too fast and not knowing the flaw [4] before buying, I can actually see myself doing the same thing.

Despite the fact that it can be a fun place to make a few bucks flipping consoles [5], there lots of things I don’t like about using eBay, the caveat emptor-est commerce site on the Web. PayPal is a pain to use and the hassle of setting up shipping arrangements seems to defeat one of the central purposes of buying stuff online: convenience.

But the worst is that eBay is still a playground for sketchy sellers and buyers alike to do things like deliberately bid on items they don’t want buy or, well, sell purplish printouts of consumer electronics to unsuspecting British people. In fact, using the site at all seems to me to be a tremendous act of faith. At the end of the day, all you know about a seller is some username, their rating and whatever they choose to put in their description.

Even assuming the person on the other end of the transaction is acting in good faith, you don’t really know what you’ll be getting from the seller — or when you’ll actually get it — until the box shows up on your doorstop and you can open it. In the case of holiday gifts, it’s definitely possible a seller will get stuff to you when they say they will, but it’s also very possible you’ll end up with some empty spots under the tree come Christmas Day.

And if that sort of thing happens, there’s really no way to hold anyone accountable besides leaving bad feedback, and that only works if you’re buying from an established seller who would actually care.

Of course, if things go really wrong, you can complain to eBay, or try to dispute the charges with PayPal and get your money back. But even if you’re successful, it’s a massive waste of time and effort, when instead, you could just buy from a vendor like Amazon, get a price that’s pretty good, and actually have a real business with a proven track record filling the order.

What do you think? Do you use eBay? Have you ever been scammed on the site?

(Photo: Arthur Caranta [6])