Friday, January 25, 2013

Righteous indignation and a bloody hand

A customer sent me a nasty gram last week saying that I had sent her the wrong book, and demanded an immediate refund.  Oh, and if I wanted my book back, I would have to send her a prepaid shipping label. She in no way, shape, or form was going to pay return shipping.

Now, I’m not 100 percent certain that I did send her the wrong book, but per Biblio policy, I cheerfully offered to return her money (book cost + original shipping) plus her return shipping once I got the book back.  Several days later, I got another email, mostly in all caps, saying that she absolutely refuses to send the book back, again demanding a refund, and threatening to contact both Biblio and her credit card company.

Did I mention the book only cost $2.69 plus $3.99 shipping?

Anyway, after a couple of pointless back and forth emails, where she grew increasingly agitated at my refusal to bow to her demands, I referred her to Biblio support.  Biblio backed me up at first in an email to the buyer, but apparently after an series of emails where the buyer again threatened a credit card chargeback, they blinked. An email from Biblio support urged me to let them refund the money without the buyer sending the book back.  Their reasoning was that chargebacks are usually settled in the buyer’s favor, and they would have to charge me a $20 fee if that happened, even though I followed their rules to the letter.

Suddenly, irritation turned to righteous indignation. Biblio was going to let this buyer steal $6.68 from me. As laughably trivial as that sounds, it suddenly became the principal of the matter. I ranted and raved a bit in an email, before wisely agreeing to the refund.  It, after all, was the cheaper and quicker option. I may have been indignant, but I wasn’t stupid.

I did however threaten to cancel my bookseller account.

Yeah, I know, that sounds a little extreme, especially over a measly $6.68, and I’m sure Biblio support got a good chuckle out of the empty threat.  However, given how few sales I get on Biblio, I actually had been thinking about dropping the venue for a while.  Since 2008, I’ve only sold 100 items on Biblio, including only nine items in 2012. Right now, due to their bookkeeping practices, my account is slightly in the red, and will be $6.68 redder in the next day or so.  Oh, well, case closed, or so I thought.

Several days later, I received another email from the buyer saying, and I quote, “Biblio refunded my money. Thanks for nothing.”

A proper businessman probably would have ignored it, but I couldn’t resist responding:

“You’re very welcome.  In the future, if you read the website’s return policy, you might make your life a little easier.”

A day later, I get a nasty gram from Biblio saying that the buyer complained that I had contacted her.  I couldn’t let that go unchallenged, of course, so I forwarded her original email and my response, and told Biblio that they shouldn’t take complaints from a con artist and a thief too seriously.

I’m still waiting for the ax to fall.

On a more interesting note, I’ve noticed that both Goodwill and Salvation Army occasionally utilize “community service” volunteers to stock their shelves. I suppose it’s a good business decision; after all, who can argue with free labor?  Yet, some of these volunteers undoubtedly aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer.  Case in point, I was looking at the toys in the Salvation Army store yesterday and found a real compound bow.  Luckily, there weren’t any arrows around.

I also wonder about the training that thrift store employees receive. Again yesterday, this time at Goodwill, a woman apparently cut her hand, pretty deeply, on a broken item, and calmly walked to the register area, dripping blood, and asked one of the clerks for a towel. The clerk, a young woman, saw the blood, muttered something about getting a first aid kit, and dashed to the back of the store.  Of course, had she looked, she would have noticed a first aid kit in full view below the counter where she had been standing.

A small, concerned crowd slowly gathered around the woman, with one bystander suggesting that she go to the ladies’ room to wash it off.  A good idea, except the key for the ladies’ room was missing. After several minutes, with the lady bleeding, the crowd mulling, and the other clerk obliviously ringing up customers, a woman brought back the key, and the bleeding woman and her small entourage headed toward the ladies’ room.  What seemed like an eternity later, especially when you know that you have an injured customer, the manager walked to the front with a first aid kit in hand, and asked where the woman was.  I pointed toward the ladies’ room, and the manager, instead of scurrying to lend any aid that she could, went into her office in the register area and closed the door.

I have a feeling that this may not end well for the manager or the store.

On the actual thrifting side of things, this weekend again is shaping up to be a real dud, with only a few sales, none of which look particularly promising, at least on paper. 

I’ll be glad when spring gets here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Just take it

Last week, I wrote about “Mom,” a tough negotiator who let $5 stand between her and a $50 profit on a cold Saturday morning.  This week, on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning (65 degrees), a mom didn’t care about profit as she gave away the best thing at her sale.

First off, Saturday again was a bust, with few sales, and even fewer bargains found.  It was one of those mornings when I think I could have made more money by staying home and listing some items in my stockpile. Yet, I always feel a twinge of guilt when I stay home on Saturday mornings, so I got up, dragged Ella out of bed, and then hit the thrifting trail.

I’ll spare you the heartbreaking details of the first few barren sales, but by mid-morning, we were grasping at straws, having found squat.   One sale we attended was staged inside a nightclub at a local hotel, and the whole place reeked of cigarette smoke.  I don’t say this often, but I feel fortunate that I didn’t find anything there because I’m sure it would have been unsellable.  Cigarette smoke is almost impossible to remove from most items.

Later, at what would become our last sale of the morning, I happened across a large box of Happy Meal toys, still in plastic bags.  The box was marked $.25 each, and I figured there had to be close to 100 toys.  Now, I know such toys aren’t big sellers, but I thought that if I could get the lot cheap enough, I might eke out a small profit.  So, I offered $10 for the whole box.  The gentleman half of the couple running the sale said that someone had just asked to buy the whole box, and had left to go to the bank.

“Well, I’m here with cash. How much did he offer,” I asked.

“He didn’t give a price,” the gentleman said.

“OK, so how much do you want for the box?” I asked again.

“Ask her,” he said, pointing to his wife, who apparently was the brains of the operation.

So, I did.  “They’re marked $.25 each, but how much for the entire box?” I asked for the third time.

“Oh, I’m not going to make you pay $.25 each,” she said. 

Cool, I thought, and then asked, “well, how much do you want for all of them?”  I was starting to sound like a broken record.

“Just take them,” she said.

Ella and I just looked at each other, and I asked, “Are you sure?”

She just smiled, and shook her head yes.  I thanked her, quickly grabbed the box, and headed for the car.  There was another vehicle pulling up, and I wanted to load the toys just in case it was the buyer back from the bank.

Once we got home, I counted 120 toys in the box, about half of which were Disney related.  I still need to sort the items, and break them into some logical lots for listing on Ebay.  But one thing is certain, even if only one toy sells, I’ve made money.

Speaking of Ebay, I had two big sales this past week.  My Radio Shack PRO-96 Digital Trunking Scanner, which I purchased for $5, sold for $180, which was a deal for that particular item.  However, the scanner was not in perfect condition, and was missing the programming cable.  Also, the battery compartment had some corrosion due to battery leakage.  I tested the scanner as best I could, but couldn’t hear anything on it but the weather frequency.  So, I stated all the flaws in the description, listed it at a bargain price, and kept my fingers crossed that any potential buyer knew more about it than I did, and could make it work. 

Much to my dismay, it sold to a buyer with no feedback.  I shipped it Priority the next day, and the buyer received it on Friday.  On Friday afternoon, I got this email:

“buttons 1 4 7 and 0 also pgm func man pause and mode buttons do not work... also can NOT use the cable i boufght at radioshack to program the latest firmware. I have worked with the pro 2096 mobile which programs the same way as this handheld and there are definately problems qwith this unit... i REFUSE TO PAY return shipping on an item that does not work as description says it does. trunk does nothing or att. or tune or pri looks like the battery leakage you showed in picture actually did an internal damage to the control buttons... immediate full refund requestedand you pay return shipping because you lied and said its fully functional.”

The buyer was apparently fairly peeved about his purchase, as indicated by his judicial use of ALL CAPS.  I told him to return the unit, and I would refund his money plus return shipping.  I then got this email:

“before i send it back my son is going to come and try programming it for me. hopefully its just user error will let you know tonight or tomorrow.”

OK, so now I had hope that I wouldn’t lose the big sale.  On Saturday morning, the buyer sent this:

“Hey sorry for the trouble with last message. all is working great i somehow locked the keylock function and my son came over and told me had to look online and do a hard reset... which i didnt see pinhole on the side of scanner. so he held it in for 10 seconds with a paperclip as described in the literature that comes with it, but all works great now.. THANK YOU for your Patience.”

Crisis averted, plus he left positive feedback.

My other big sale was a copy of Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 for $200, another bargain for the buyer. I sold this cheaper than normal because while it was new in shrink-wrap, you can never be sure about the software license.  Microsoft is very picky. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t get a “not as described” e-mail this week.

I wasted yesterday afternoon watching the Falcons squeak by the Seahawks, so I have to work harder over the next couple of evenings to keep Ella off my back.

Have a great thrifting/selling week.

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Mom" negotiated herself out of a deal

Saturday was a slow day for yard sales, as this time of year typically is.  After all, who is sillier, the person having an outside yard sale in freezing weather, or the person attending said yard sale? I think it’s a toss up, actually.

Be that as it may, I was silly enough to visit a few sales after it had warmed up a bit, and happened across a box of video games and consoles, specifically a Gamecube, Nintendo 64 (with three games), and Super Nintendo (with nine games).  From previous sales experience, I know that Nintendo 64 games sell fairly well online, and after a quick search on my phone, I saw approximately $30 in value in the box.  It was too cold to look up every game, so I thought that if the entire box was cheap enough, I could just grab it, and take my chances.

The young couple running the sale had no idea about price, and had to call “Mom,” who told them that the Nintendo 64 was $30, and the Super Nintendo was $40.  That was too rich for me, especially since I only had $60 in my pocket, and had a couple of more sales to attend.  I asked what was the lowest that they would take, and, again, they placed a call to “Mom,” who said $55.  Better, but still more money than I wanted to pay.

I then countered with $50, wanting nothing more than to grab the box, and get in my warm truck.  Again, they called “Mom,” who then said the lowest she would take was $60.  At that point, I mentioned the lowest price quoted during the last call was $55, and reiterated my $50 offer.  “Mom,” who was still on the phone, declined.

So, I thanked them, and walked away, letting $5 stand between me and the box of games. On the flip side, “Mom” let $5 stand between her and a tidy profit on a cold Saturday when customers were few and far between.

As I always do, I second-guessed myself for a while, trying to rationalize my decision.  The known value of the box was $30.  The perceived value was a bit higher, and the additional $20 was a risk that I was willing to take to make a small profit.  Plus, despite their assurances, there was no guarantee that anything in the box actually worked. Consoles are hit and miss, and while games usually work, you just never know.

In hindsight, I realized that I followed the cardinal rule of negotiating: Set a limit, and be prepared to walk away.

At another sale, I picked up nine new blank cassette tapes for $3, listed them as soon as I got home, and had sold them within a couple of hours for $29.

Earlier in the week, I sold four packs of new microcassettes for $35.99.

The moral of this story is to always pick up new tapes since there are definitely a BOLO item.

Another neat sale this week was a set of “spare parts” from the Game of Life: Twist & Turns Electronic Edition.  I had no idea what they were when I picked them up for $.25, but took a chance.  After some research, I found that the game itself is fairly expensive, and figured that someone would need “spare parts.” I was right, but probably could have priced the set a bit higher.

Have a great week everyone.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year Musings

Happy New Year, unless you follow a different calendar, and are offended by such sentiments. Otherwise, welcome to January 2013.

Some housekeeping first.  Happy birthday to this blog.  It turns one year old this week, and has had more than 20,000 page views since debuting to little fanfare in January 2012.  I know that’s a drop in the bucket compared to some of my readers’ blogs, but I’ve been pleased with my readership.  Hopefully, it will be interesting enough to keep you reading in 2013.

Looking back, 2012 was busy.  I sold, packed, and shipped more than 2100 books, CDs, DVDs, video games, and toys through my main channels (Amazon, Alibris, Half, Biblio) during the year.  That averages to 176 items a month.  Over on the ‘bay, I greatly increased not only my sales, but also my inventory, as I transitioned from mostly media scouting to scouting for, well, everything.

I purchased more than $10,000 in postage during the year, and probably helped keep my local post office open.  Speaking of my local post office, they’ve started weighing and scanning each package that I bring in. Previously, I could just exchange my full mail tote for an empty one. While I appreciate the scanning, the weighing is a little irritating, not to mention time consuming.  

Looking forward, 2013 promises to be just as busy, and I have resolved to not be as lazy when it comes to listing my stockpile.

Speaking of stockpiles, I caught an episode of Extreme Couponing over the holidays, and was both amused and impressed with the coupon clippers’ ability to get $1000 worth of groceries for only the price of the tax on the entire order.  While I have no need for 100 bottles of BBQ sauce, the stockpiles shown contained many non-food items, including shaving products and other items that potentially could be sold on Ebay.  I’m sure such couponing isn’t as easy as they made it out to be, but if I can figure it out, I’m off to Kroger.

I also had the time to attend several storage auctions.  Most of the units were trash, but two were promising.  The first one had items from a closed church, including speakers, mixers, etc., which were mostly covered.  Due to space constraints, this inside unit was to be auctioned outside after everyone had a chance to take a look.  Out of curiosity, I went back inside to take another look, only to discover the owner of the storage company and the auctioneer inside the unit uncovering everything, which is against the rules.  Only a few buyers, including the eventual high bidder, saw this.  As the bidding progressed, it quickly spiraled out of my price range, and sold for $1700.  I’m not sure the buyer will be able to recoup that cost, though. 

The other unit was advertised as having two go-carts, which turned out to be two large dune buggy type go-carts, a generator, some sort of rifle in the corner, and assorted odds and ends.   It was a nice “locker,” as they say on TV, but I didn’t have a trailer to move the go-carts, and thought that the price would be too high anyway.  It sold by secret bid for just over $600.  While not upset, in hindsight, I figure that was a lost opportunity since Ella encouraged me to bid $800, and I declined.

I also heard several bidders bragging about the money they make from the storage auctions, and one in particular stated that he had made $1000 in one week selling furniture at his space in a local antique mall.  While $1000 in one week is nothing to sneeze at, I accomplish this regularly selling on Amazon and Ebay, and I don’t have to give myself a hernia lifting heavy stuff.  Just saying …

Have a productive thrifting weekend, and we’ll talk again next week.