“Hi Quartzimodo, I’m looking at this particular watch from this eBay seller. Do you think it’s safe to buy from him?
I actually get this sort of question a lot from readers quite frequently. In most cases my readers quote so many online sellers of which some of them I’ve not heard of. Some would give me a link to an eBay seller while the rest asked me to check out the websites of online merchants.
The typical questions that they ask is whether I thought the prospective sellers that they wanted to buy a watch from are legitimate, if the seller sold counterfeit watches and whether I would recommend them to buy from those particular vendors.
Truthfully, short of certain sellers that I have had personal experience with or those that I have confidence in (based on other people’s feedback), I have to go through the seller’s website and check out their terms and conditions.
Buy the seller! Buy the seller!
I remembered about a funny signature line that was once used by one of the Seiko & Citizen Watch Forum members. For a brief period (he liked to change his signature often) he had one which said, “Buy the seller! Buy the seller!”
For a while I wondered what his forum signature actually meant and later discovered the meaning behind it after reading certain forum threads that discussed buying watches from unfamiliar persons and sources.
And I give my readers the same advice to each and every one of them: “Buy the seller” and “Caveat Emptor”.
In case you’re not familiar with either term, this is what they mean:
“Buying the seller” means choosing the seller based on the merchant’s service level and reputation, rather than based on the price alone. A seller offering a much lower price does not necessarily mean they’ll give you a good after sales service or resolve disputes amicably.
“Caveat Emptor” is Latin for Latin for 'let the buyer beware', or in Australian-speak, 'you pays your money and you takes your chances'. Therefore it is your sole risk if you buy from an unfamiliar seller with an unknown track record.
Sometimes people do ask for references for a particular individual seller (or buyer) in watch forums. That would be a fair question to ask as not all of them are familiar with the seller. Generally you should have no problems dealing with a private seller with good references, but then again there no 100% guarantees that you won’t be misled or worse still, conned. If you’re buying a watch from a an online seller, always adhere to Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will.
It’s just a matter of time and sooner or later, things will go wrong. In this article, I’ll share with you three actual incidents that I know of, relating to transactions that had gone awry.
Real life incidents
A close WIS friend of mine once purchased three watches from a fellow watch collector in the same country. He had dealt with the latter before and his first purchase had no problems whatsoever. His second purchase however, resulted in total disaster.
My friend paid a considerable sum of money for three vintage Citizen and Seiko divers. This time he used direct bank transfer to the seller’s bank account rather than PayPal to save on PayPal fees on the seller’s part.
The watches never arrived and after a series of communications with the seller, he found out that the seller didn’t ship the watch personally as he did before. Instead he asked his spouse to post the package with the three watches on his behalf as he was unable to do so.
Unfortunately the seller’s wife wasn’t familiar with the safe way of sending packages and she didn’t use registered mail with tracking features, let alone insuring the shipment. Neither did her husband instruct her on how to send the parcel either. So she sent the parcel by regular mail.
My friend assumed that things would go well as they did with their first transaction and he didn’t remind the seller to insure the watches. As it turned out, the package was untraceable by the post office.
Above: Postal services don’t steal packages. Bad employees do.. Photo credit: Getty Images
There was no record of the items being sent, as the watches were shipped via regular mail. I don’t think the seller conned my friend but it was more likely of a case of postal theft. Somewhere along the line, the thief (probably a dishonest postal employee who had done this before) suspected that valuables were in the package and stole the watches.
He (or she) knew that there was no way for the postal authorities to trace the package or to him/her. In any case, there was no evidence to show that the thief stole the watches and if interrogated, he or she could simply deny of any wrongdoing. Could the thief had been a clerk in the mail processing room? Or the postman who did the deliveries to my friend’s doorstep? Nobody knows for sure.
The fact remained that my friend was left with no watch and the seller had received his money. The case was then resolved amicably, with both my friend and the seller sharing the loss equally (the latter refunded more than half the money). Still, it was a bitter experience for both of them. The moral of this story is that anything can go wrong during the shipping and delivery process.
Items being lost in transit due to postal theft or pilferage is more common than an unfortunate case of the cargo plane crashing with your watch on it.
Another watch collector pal of mine who lives in Europe suffered a similar fate, only that in his case it was blatant cheating. He lost a considerable money in a transaction that was never honored. He was interested in a used Omega Planet Ocean diver’s watch which was advertised for sale on a watch forum.
As a newbie to that forum, he asked for references pertaining to that particular seller, who lived in Australia. Members of that watch forum replied that the seller had joined the forum for a year and but had never sold watches on the forum. The seller had over 400 positive feedback on eBay (mostly from buying items, not selling) and referred him to three previous buyers who had previously bought Swiss watches from him.
All three responded to him via email, saying that they received the items and that there were no problems. Except that the seller insisted on bank wire transfer instead of a safer payment mode such as PayPal. Therefore my friend took it in good faith that it was safe to buy from him and that things would go smoothly as planned.
The one that never arrived: A photo of the Omega Co-axial Planet Ocean diver. Photo credit: Omega SA
The seller requested for the funds to be wired directly to his bank account, citing PayPal seller’s fees as an excuse not to accept payment via PayPal (now here’s where things can go very wrong).
After the funds were transferred my friend and the Australian seller exchanged a few emails while waiting for the money transfer to be completed. Shortly thereafter he heard further nothing from the seller. Further emails went unanswered and international calls made to the seller’s phone number never went through. Of course, the Omega Planet Ocean watch that was promised never arrived.
My unlucky friend had to file a police report and the incident was handled by the Australian anti-fraud police. I don’t know if the Victoria Police had solved the case and apprehended the fraudulent seller. My friend never got his money back but he later bought a similar watch from a different private collector. This time he paid using PayPal and he finally got the watch that he wanted.
Another case of a watch gone missing in post. In fact, I have gone through a similar experience in which a watch I bought never arrived. I paid for a nice looking vintage Seiko 7002-700A diver from someone in the U.S. It so happened that it was also my first time buying from a private collector.
After two months’ of waiting, the watch was still a no-show. I decided to file a claim with PayPal and a few days later the seller responded to me. He was first apprehensive about the matter, thinking that the package he had sent had gotten lost at my side.
I told him via email that I had inquired with the Malaysian post office and they said they had no such record of the package. Therefore I concluded that the watch that I had paid would have been lost in the U,S, and that it never left the country in the first place.
Two weeks later, PayPal completed its investigations and sided with me. PayPal instructed the seller to refund the money in full, which he reluctantly did.
Above: The one that got away. A 7002-700A diver similar to the one I bought but never received (borrowed pic)
At the same time, I also felt bad for him as it was also one of his favorite watches and had told me that in case I wasn’t happy with it, I could always return the 7002 diver’s watch to him. It turned out that he had previously experienced a spate of watch thefts with the post office branch that he frequented.
My seller later admitted that he had experienced two previous incidents in which he never received watches that he had bought He also confessed that that he didn’t use a proper packaging to send the watch in and didn’t use registered USPS mail to send the watch. So I gave him back half the money he refunded me as goodwill. I guess some things weren’t meant to be and I accepted the incident as fate
Bank and wire transfers are not the safest way of paying!
Wire transfer services are handy if you’re sending money to someone. But it isn’t the smartest way to pay for an online purchase for the reasons you’ve read above.
Some grey market watch vendors also offer payment methods by direct bank account transfer, postal order, international money order or wire transfer modes like Western Union and Money Gram.
The thing you have to know is that payments made through such methods have no mediators to take care of transaction disputes. Once you’ve initiated a payment, it’s a one way monetary traffic. If you pay by Western Union or direct bank transfer, you’ll have to completely trust the seller, period.
Unlike eBay and PayPal, Wire transfer services and banks have no obligation or role to investigate any transactional problems. What banks and Western Union do is to process money transfers and that’s about it. Although a bank that offers Western Union wire transfer services may note down what the money is used for, it is not their responsibility to mediate disputes.
If the watch merchant or private seller accepts PayPal, use it. You don’t need to sign up for a PayPal account these days – if you have a valid credit or debit card you can use PayPal’s Express Checkout service. PayPal may not be the world’s perfect payment gateway but for what it’s worth, at least they do provide consumer protection for you as the buyer. That’s better than nothing at all.
To recap this post, let’s revisit the vital points when it comes to buying a watch from an unfamiliar source:
- Always “buy the seller”. Whether you’re about to purchase from a private collector or a large online seller, always look for references (try Google first!) first. Do some research on an unfamiliar watch vendor or private seller. If you’re curious about the negative feedback for a particular seller on eBay, use this link to filter the seller’s feedback for non-positive ones.
Check out the merchant’s resume. If you’re buying from a commercial merchant that has its own website, please read their “About Us” section and their sales terms and conditions. Do they offer money back guarantee? How about their warranty terms? If you’re buying on eBay, check the seller’s feedback count and rating. It’s unlikely a seller that has been in the business for years to cheat you.
Don’t pay by wire transfer. Unless you absolutely trust the seller, insist on using PayPal as the preferred payment method instead of direct bank transfer or money wire transfer. Even if you have an existing PayPal account, try to use a linked credit card to fund for the purchase instead of a linked savings or checking account whenever possible. Banks are usually quicker to respond to credit card chargeback claims than funds debited from your bank account to PayPal.
Expect the unexpected. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller or merchant questions relating to their shipping mode. If they’re shipping the item, make sure that they’re using a trackable and traceable shipping mode. Most postal authorities have traceable registered air mail shipping, but not all do.
Consider taking up shipping insurance, if the seller isn’t insuring the package on your behalf. Postal insurance is a small price to pay, especially if you’re buying a high value watch or one that’s very hard to find. Basically if that watch means a lot to you, it’s worth paying a extra for shipping insurance to get that peace of mind.
Well, that’s about it. Hopefully this article will help you in establishing whether that online store you’re about to buy from is safe.
Originally posted 2010-09-26 00:44:27.