Tag Archives: Technology

eBay – A Buyer’s Market or a Seller’s Market?

ebay.jpg

I love eBay. I hate eBay. I’ve used eBay since 1999.

If you are looking for a hard to find, vintage, used, discontinued or rare item, eBay is the first place to look. If you want to find the latest tech gadget at less than retail, check eBay first. A lot of people won’t even consider buying something online or at a “brick-and-mortar” local retailer without checking the price on eBay first.

With all those “Get Rich Selling On eBay” books and seminars out there, you would think everybody could quit their day job and watch the money pour in when they become an eBay seller. Don’t bet on it. Most eBay sellers hardly make enough to make it worthwhile. When you factor in the amount of time you have to invest to set up an auction, respond to buyer’s questions, deal with deadbeat bidders, and pack & ship the item, and the cost of eBay’s and PayPal’s fees, it’s hard to make a profit. Meg Whitman, eBay’s CEO, and eBay’s stockholders have made fortunes on eBay. If you want to make money on eBay, buy some eBay stock rather than trying to sell on eBay.

eBay has incrementally introduced new features over time that makes it a more secure and useful platform, but eBay has also devolved into an uneven playing field that benefits few but eBay itself. In category after category, you have sellers selling items for pennies, but charging outrageous amounts for “shipping”. Even the majority of sellers who aren’t selling through “Buy-It-Now” auctions for $0.01 are still inflating their shipping charges to try and make some money. This is especially true with sellers from countries like Chins, which have become a larger and larger presence on eBay.

I’ve seen it over and over again… For example, very small items selling for a few pennies, but with a $29.00 shipping fee. Shipping that will cost the seller anywhere from a first-class postage stamp to perhaps a dollar or two. Few buyers or sellers seem to care much about the practice, and eBay is certainly not complaining. There is so much competition between sellers that they all have to resort to this tactic. eBay actually helps sellers inflate their shipping fees by allowing them to build their margin into eBay’s auction shipping charge calculator.

Why is this happening? eBay does not charge a commission (final-value fee) for shipping charges assessed by a seller, so sellers shift all or most of an item’s cost to the shipping fee. eBay appears to have made no serious attempt to curb this practice. Why? I think it’s because eBay also owns PayPal, the bank thru which the vast majority of eBay transactions are paid for. If eBay doesn’t get their cut thru auction fees, it will still earn it’s money through PayPal fees.

If you’re looking for a bargain on the latest high-tech gadget, I doubt you’ll find a bargain on eBay. Items that are in demand usually sell for prices close to retail, especially when you add in the “shipping” charge. Most eBay sellers will not accept returns or issue refunds. Many manufacturers will not honor rebates or warranties on items purchased thru online auctions. While most sellers do a good job of describing an item and it’s condition, some do not. Some are deceptive.

For items like used or out-of-print books or DVDs, eBay is great, and there are many bargains available. I think eBay has done more for the environment by keeping stuff out of landfills than any recycling program has ever done. If you want to get rid of it, don’t throw it out. Put it on eBay.

One of eBay’s strengths is it’s feedback system. I like the very democratic rating system, where buyers get to rate and comment on sellers and vice versa. It encourages people to treat other eBayers they deal with fairly. It also holds you hostage to some extent. You have to avoid giving negative feedback to someone you’ve dealt with, even if it is justified, for fear of receiving retaliatory negative feedback. The feedback system is a double-edged sword.

…When I continue, I’ll discuss some of the issues I’ve touched on in greater detail.

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Filed under China, Consumerism, ebay, Employment, Environment, Home, Life, Money, Movies, Rebates, Retail, Retailers, Scams, Shopping, Technology, The Planet

Sandisk Sansa vs Apple iPod – And The Winner Is…

We purchased an identical set of Sandisk Sansa m240 (1GB) MP3 players in November, 2005. These alternatives to the iPods that most of the world has fallen in love with were less expensive than an iPod of the same capacity, and had some nice features such as an FM radio and voice recorder.

I had problems with the m240s as soon as I started loading music onto them. There were two issues in particular that were particularly problematic. Some album tracks would play in the wrong order (with shuffle turned off), and when I loaded a large number of albums or audiobooks, many files would disappear. They were there when you viewed the contents of the players via a PC, but once you disconnected the sansa from the computer, it could not find the tracks. The shuffled track issue might not be the end of the world when you’re listening to your favorite album, but it is unacceptable when you are listening to audiobooks. Some audiobooks have more than 1,000 tracks, each of which are a few minutes long.

I communicated the problems I was having to Sandisk’s tech support people, who assured me that firmware updates would solve my problems. They did not. I went back and forth with Sandisk via their website, via e-mails and by phone over a period of about six months. I spent hours upon hours editing the ID3 tags in the albums, podcasts and audiobooks I was loading onto the Sansa, to no avail. It did not matter whether files were .mp3 or other formats. The Sansa would still shuffle some tracks. I tried applying several firmware updates. I tried resetting the Sansa. I tried loading different files. I tried using a different USB cable. Nothing helped.

Dealing with their support people was frustrating and infuriating at times. They seemed to be in denial when it came to the issues I was reporting, despite the fact that I found other Sansa owners on the Web who posted identical issues with their Sansas. I would provide Sandisk with details on how to reproduce the problems I was experiencing, but couldn’t get them to acknowledge the problems. They had me doing things that they should have been doing themselves, like preparing sets of test files and sending them to their tech support people. I also came away from the experience questioning whether Sandisk designed and produced the Sansa product line in-house, or whether they are branding someone else’s players with the Sandisk name. I say this because Sandisk seemed to be unable to address problems with the Sansa. It seemed to me like they may be dependent on a third party for resolving those issues. Overall, I would rate Sandisk’s support as poor.

I guess they finally had enough of my calls and support requests, because a senior technician that I was dealing with finally acknowledged they did not have a fix for the problems. They offered to replace my players with another Sansa model, the e250 (2GB), which they assured me would solve the problem. I took them up on their offer, but while I was waiting for them to send me the replacement Sansas, I found reports that owners of those Sansas had posted to various websites, indicating that there were problems with the
Sansa e200 series also. (Actually, Sandisk doesn’t even handle product returns. They have you send the defective products to a third party.)

When I received the replacement players, I decided to sell both of them rather then open the packages and see for myself whether I’d have the same problems with the e250’s as I did with the m240’s. I had little faith in their tech support, and just wanted to find another brand of MP3 player that worked correctly. I was not impressed with the quality of Sandisk’s support, and upset about the amount of time wasted trying unsuccessfully to resolve the problems with their product.

I’ve always been an IBM-compatible PC and Microsoft DOS/Windows computer user. I’ve never owned or used an Apple Macintosh, but I was aware that Mac devotees consider Windows-based PCs to be inferior to the Mac. Status symbols have never been real important to me. I also tend to root for the underdog, whether it’s in politics or MP3 players. I don’t like to pay a premium just so I can have the most popular brand of anything. On the other hand, I knew there were reasons why people love their iPods, and I knew that the iPod’s popularity wasn’t just because of the Apple mystique, but because of the design superiority of Apple products.

I considered buying one of the Microsoft Zune MP3 players which had just been released, but was unimpressed with them. I thought the (first generation) Zune was expensive, large, ugly, received lukewarm reviews, and it was (at the time) version 1.0 of a Microsoft product, which I’ve previously mentioned should always be avoided.

 

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I ended up buying a second generation Apple iPod nano (2GB) in November, 2006. I feel like kicking myself for not buying an iPod in the first place. I’ve had no significant problems with the nano in the year since I bought it. Sure, there are some minor problems I’ve come across, mostly involving Apple’s iTune’s software, rather than with the software inside the nano (the firmware). To be fair, there are iPod owners that have posted some serious problems on various websites, so the iPod is not completely problem-free. However, everything you read about the iPods are true. They have better user interfaces than the competition, whether it’s a scroll wheel model like the nano, or one of their newer touch screen devices such as the iPod touch. Apple is known for their superior design features and the materials they use in their devices, such as aluminum cases. I did give up the FM radio and voice recorder features of the Sansa, which the nano does not have, but I gained an audio player that works correctly. I would have preferred the nano to have an easily replaceable battery, but none of the iPods have easily user-replaceable batteries. Apple wants you to return the iPods to them for battery replacement, if it becomes necessary. Fortunately, there are alternatives… do-it-yourself replacement battery kits, and third party service companies that do iPod repairs and battery replacements.

Now, I want one of the new third generation iPod nanos that play video, and come in memory capacities up to 8GB. Then again, the iPod touch would be even nicer. Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas. I guess Apple has spoiled me for anything else, because I would probably never consider purchasing another brand of audio or video player.

So, as you’ve figured out by now, in the Sansa vs iPod contest, as far as I’m concerned, the clear winner is: The Apple iPod.

Who knows… Maybe my next computer will be a Mac.

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Filed under Apple, Consumerism, iPod, iPod nano, iPod touch, Life, Microsoft, Money, mp3 players, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Portable music players, Routing by Rumor, Sandisk, Sandisk Sansa, Shopping, Technology, Your Money, Zune

Google’s Free 411 Directory Service

1(800)Goog-411

I just came across this on another blog, tried it, and it really blew me away.

1-(800) GOOG-411

It’s totally free!!!

Other directory assistance services, especially from your cellphone can be $1.00 or more each time you use them.

It’s Google’s automated 411 service. Just say the city and state, then a business name or category. For instance, “New York, New York” and “Taxi” or “Joe’s Taxi Service”. I was amazed how well their speech recognition and voice navigation works. I tried about a half dozen requests during a single phone call. The only one I had to repeat a second time was “Mountain View, California” and “Google”. It didn’t understand “Google” on the first attempt. You can’t make this stuff up.

It will dictate the phone number, and can also send the information you requested to your cellphone as a text message. It will even connect you to the number for free!!! How cool is that?

The only similar, but more limited service I know of is (800) FREE-411.

I guess Google is going to do for your cellphone what they’ve already done for your Web browser.

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Filed under Cellphones, Free Stuff, Google, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Telephony

Never Be First In Line

I’m not usually an early adopter**, so it should surprise nobody that it took until now for me to start a blog. Maybe I surprised myself though, since I think I spend at least half of my waking hours in front of a computer.

While I have been a Webmaster as part of my job, and I’ve put up a few websites of my own, their content has tended to be pretty static. More and more lately, I’ve wanted something like a blog, where I could throw up my latest thoughts without a lot of effort. But which blog hosting site should I choose? After a couple of Google searches and kicking a few tires, WordPress.com looked like it would do nicely.

…so here we go.

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** – For instance, you’ll never catch me waiting in line outside a store, hoping to be one of the first to buy the latest version of Microsoft Windows, the latest movie release, or that brand-new, must-have video game console. As they say, never buy version 1.0 of anything, especially if it’s from Microsoft. Case-in-point: Microsoft’s Zune music player.

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Filed under Blogging, Microsoft, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Wordpress, Zune