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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 23 - Seller Netiquette

If you go into a store, do you pay a fee as you enter to help cover the owner's insurance?

Of course not.

If you buy a blender at the store, take it home and find the box is empty, do you just accept that as your fate?

Of course not.

If a dealer tells you he'll have some stamps for you at a stamp show, but someone steals the stamps before you get to the booth, do you pay for them anyway?

Of course not.

So why do so many amateur and semi-professional Internet merchants claim that it's your problem whether the package arrives or not?

Logic tells me it's the seller's responsibility to get the merchandise to the buyer.

Now, if sellers stipulate in the terms of sale that the buyer must pay a fee to insure the package, that's legitimate, in my opinion: The buyer must decide whether the total price for the item, including the insurance fee, is acceptable.

There is no cost effective way to ship stamps and covers that is absolutely guaranteed to prevent damage. When I send first day covers, I could put each cover inside one of those "zip-lock" plastic bags, then put the bag between two sheets of plywood screwed together. Then I could personally drive several hundred miles to deliver each.

Of course not.

So for valuable stamps and covers, we who sell stamps and covers by mail may insure them, either with the U.S. Postal Service or with the two firms that specialize in philatelic insurance.

For not-so-valuable material, I take my chances, which is called "self-insurance." In effect, I'm betting that the U.S. Postal Service will deliver the cover in good condition. If I lose the bet, I replace the cover (as I did recently). It doesn't happen often enough to make the other sort of mailer's insurance cost-effective for low-priced items.

It's a good idea to take a careful look at the postage and handling charges on any auction lot in which you're interested. Some sellers post items at ridiculously low minimum prices, then charge a stiff "P&H" fee to make up the difference. If the shipping terms aren't specified in the listing, contact the seller before bidding, to prevent an unpleasant discovery after you've won.

When I bid in an auction, Internet or otherwise, I figure in the add-on costs in determining my maximum bid. If something is $25 plus a 10% buyer's premium, then the cost is $27.50. If $25 is the maximum I want to spend, then I won't bid more than $22.72 (25 divided by 1.1). Similarly, if the P&H charge is $3.90, and I don't want to spend more than $5 for the item, then my maximum bid is $1.10.

(You laugh, but recently on Yahoo, an uncacheted first day cover was offered at a minimum bid of 99 cents — and $3.90 Priority Mail shipping. Oh, and the first bid of 99 cents didn't meet the reserve!)

The term "netiquette" refers to how one should behave on the Internet. You don't make fun of someone's typographical errors in a chat room, you remember to include "emoticons" (symbols that indicate your mood, or emotion) when you post a joke somewhere that might be taken seriously, and you don't copy an entire long email message into your two-word "I agree" reply.

Buying or selling over the Internet involves netiquette, too, and it seems to me that promptly contacting your opposite number in a transaction is polite, too, as well as a good idea.

The major auction sites all stipulate that buyers and sellers contact each other within a short period after the auction ends. I have a mail-merge system, using Microsoft Word and Microsoft Access, that generates the basic message to my buyers, which I then customize as needed.

Yet often the first I hear from the buyer is the payment, a week or more later. In the meantime, I'm left wondering if my message got through or if I'm going to be stiffed.

Recently, I didn't hear from a buyer in western Europe after a sale. I sent two messages, then, a month later, started the complaint process with eBay. (The service requires you to file the first notice within 45 days.)

Of course, the buyer's payment arrived later the same day I filed the complaint. I felt like a goon, but if he'd just sent a message that said, "I got your message, and I'm sending payment by way of Borneo," I'd have been more patient.

I have to assume that anyone making a purchase online has at least basic Internet service, and can acknowledge the transaction.

Speaking of outside-the-U.S. transactions, don't be surprised if your payment from another country is made in U.S. cash. Many overseas stamp collectors seem to keep American currency on hand to pay for their purchases.

Others will use credit cards (either directly or through one of the payment services, if you accept them), which takes care of the exchange fee problem.

Panama uses U.S. coins and bills as its official currency. In many other countries, including Russia, your U.S. paper money will be at least as welcome as the home currency, and perhaps more so.

U.S. paper money is truly a world currency.

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