First, let me start by saying that I'm not entirely sure this is even the write part of the forum to post this. I apologize in advance if there is a more appropriate place.
Second, let me make clear that the following are my own thoughts. I am not claiming to represent other sellers (or buyers for that matter), but I feel compelled to attempt
to share some of the realizations I have come to and the changes in the marketplace I have seen in the past few years. Hopefully, this will be to everyone's benefit.
I have been a frequent buyer (for myself), seller (of my own parts), and sometimes a broker (middleman) of used bike parts for three years. I have seen all sides of the market.
I've seen sellers who bend over backwards to make a smooth transaction (often to their own detriment). I've seen competent people who successfully sell off parts to both their own and their buyers' benefits. I've seen clueless thugs who become belligerent at the mere suggestion that what they want for their junk isn't realistic. I've been burned by scam artists who steal and lie with a straight face.
I've seen buyers who are pleasant, respectful and work with the seller when know when they're getting a good deal. I've seen buyers who try to delay, make partial payments and beat every last penny out of a potential deal. I've seen my share of Nigerian scams. Along the way, I've learned a few things on both sides that might be of some help to the folks around here.
Traditional free market thinking suggests that it's best to put the buyer and seller in adversarial roles. It is through these difficult transactions that equilibrium is achieved and a "fair" price is set. However, it is useful to keep in mind that such a "fair" price is determined (potentially) over months and tens of thousands of transactions. Nothing guarantees
that any single transaction is "fair". It only encourages
predictability on similar future transactions by establishing an average price and observing that the actual value of each transaction (by definition) isn't more than one standard deviation away from that average. This is great for analysts, investors and other wall street types who make ten times what I do, but it certainly doesn't guarantee me success in my efforts to buy a new set of forks before next weekend at a reasonable cost without making an enemy of the person from whom I buy them.
There are many, many
sources of information (some good, some not-so-good) on how to provide good customer service and be a good seller. But there isn't much on how to be a good customer
* in the sense of being attractive to sellers and benefiting from the experience.
I hope the following tips help buyers and sellers alike to maintain this marketplace as an inviting and mutually-beneficial one.
Buyers: the lowest price often translates to a high cost.
What do I mean by this? In the past, I have been fixated on the price of a particular item I wanted. The area of discount retail or used goods is incredibly seductive in this manner. I have literally spent $400 to save $100 (even on new
parts from discount sellers). Used goods are especially treacherous because quality can be a complete crap shoot. Most sellers of used good are oblivious.
Let's say I am in the market for a fuel tank for my track bike (because I don't want to scuff up my stock one if I crash). New tanks are expensive, and I don't care about appearance, so I look start looking for used items. I'm initially seduced by ebay since the current bid prices are relatively low, and then I get it in my mind that the current bid price of an auction that has 2.5 days left is what I should pay for a used tank. After a while, I'm discouraged, because I see that they typically eventually sell for twice what I originally thought, but I slowly grow accustomed to what the actual market price of a used tank is. But I still want a "good deal", so I keep bidding slightly lower. Finally I win one. But what I didn't realize is that shipping was abnormally high for that particular item. That's okay, because I still got a great deal. But oops! It was just the tank (no fuel pump, no cap). Swapping fuel pumps is a pain in the ass, so I probably want one of those too. So I bid on one, and win. Now I pay for that auction (including shipping as well), but then I realize that I have to also buy the bracket. That's cheap enough from my local dealer, but it's still another $10-$15 or so (maybe more with all the bolts gaskets, etc. that are needed). Pretty soon, I'm in it for 20%-50% more than what a reputable guy on R6MessageNet wanted for the whole deal.
Then I actually receive the items. The seller of the tank ships quickly, but the tank has problems. He forgot to mention the complete layer of flaky rust that is currently covering every surface inside the tank. He also forgot to mention the rash on the left side. I couldn't see this when I bid because the picture he had was a poorly-lit, thumbnail-sized, blurry photo of only the right side. I wanted to be careful, so I asked him during the auction, but he said, "it has some paint chips, but other than that, it's mint
!". Well, now I'm in for some trouble. If
I can get in touch with the guy, he may
be nice enough to let me send it back...at my expense
. He may
even be nice enough to refund my money...minus that original $60 shipping fee. So now I'm out an additional hunk of significant change and have little to show for it.
The seller of the pump, meanwhile, has gone on vacation. He doesn't actually ship the fuel pump out until three weeks after I pay for it. By the time I get it, it may or may not be of any use to me since I have long since realized the error of my ways and ponied up the extra $50 for a quality item from a reputable seller. Now I have to sell the extra pump at a loss and eat the cost there too. Pretty soon, I've spent close to what it would have cost me for brand new parts, and that's not including my time and emotional well-being.
The point is sacrificing information, seller reputation, or even personalization (see next point) for price is a mistake.
Buyers: if it involves personalization, pony up the extra dough; it will save you in the long run.
This is basically a variant of the previous point, but if you're buying personalized parts or parts with which there is typically associated some kind of personalized service (e.g., suspension set-up), then you're probably better off developing a relationship with local expertise.
Buying inexpensive non-stock suspension online can be another cash sink. Yeah, you may get $100 off retail buying that Ohlins shock from some garage business, but guess what? You're going to spend another $200 once you get it and find it has the wrong spring. If you're careful, you can get a good deal on components from a similar rider who has taken good care of them and you can still come out ahead by spending the money you saved on someone who can set them up, but in most cases, it's a wash (you might was well get new parts).
Sellers: "mint" means "perfect".
It's a term that comes from coin and stamp collecting. See http://ashrare.com/glossary.html#condition
. If you're a seller, don't misuse it to mean "good condition with normal wear". If you're a buyer, ask for clarification and see if the seller is misusing the term.
Buyers: beware of sellers who are impolite or dismissive.
This may sound like I'm being overly-sensitive, but in my experience, sellers who use phrases like, "no whiners" are less-likely to be receptive to a buyer who points out a discrepancy between the description and the actual item. Avoid them. You'll live longer and have more time for rides and BBQs.
Also, a seller who doesn't answer specific questions about an item is either careless or hiding something. In either case, avoid this seller. One of the common dismissive responses is "I don't know and can't look because it's already packed". I've made the mistake of packing something up before it was sold, and I had to unpack it to answer a question. Some sellers don't have the tools to answer some questions (e.g., "what's the run-out of the wheel you're selling?"), but they should do the best they can to answer the question with what's available (e.g., "I don't have a gauge to measure, but it's only got 500 miles and it's never even ridden over a pothole, so it should
be okay, but I can't tell you for sure"). Avoid the ones who just say, "dunno", or "it's strait [sic]".
Buyers: don't be whiners.
This may seem counterintuitive given the last point, but as a buyer, it is often best to reserve complaints for the complaint-worthy. The culmination of this and the previous point is that a better experience is had by all, even in the face of an imperfect transaction, if all parties are cordial and respectful of each other. Stay friends. It's not worth the anguish of making an enemy on either side.
Buyers: try to resist being tire-kickers.
One of the reasons while sellers become jaded and dismissive is because they get asked many very specific questions by people who aren't really interested in following through or making a purchase. If you're going to put the seller through the trouble of answering a difficult question (although the excellent sellers will likely have already answered it), then at least give that person the courtesy of being serious about purchasing if the answer is favorable. I'm not saying you should make a purchase you don't like just because the seller was friendly, just try to resist wasting someone else's time if you're not serious.
If you are trying to learn more about products, but aren't interested in making a purchase, be up front about it. Good sellers may take the time to provide good information even if they know it won't result in a sale. These are good folks and you should make note of them. Then, when you're in the market to make an actual purchase, go to them first. If they can't take care of you, they may be able to recommend someone who can.
Buyers: don't brow-beat a seller on the issue of price.
If it's a good deal, take it and be happy with it that you saved some money. Remember that no one ever sat around the water cooler talking about all the times they paid 10% more than what they should have. People will tell you things like, "I got this great
deal on SOANDSUCH, I only paid NEXTTONOTHING!" This person is not likely going to tell you about the ten poor transactions they had to endure to find this deal. Don't make the mistake of thinking that these amazingly great deals are the norm: they're not. If you obsess about always getting the absolute lowest price, you'll find that you end up very unhappy (and you'll probably spend more in the long run).
This is one of the things that makes http://sfbay.craigslist.org/
such a hostile place (both for buyers and sellers) for motorcycle purchases. For some reason, every potential buyer on craigslist considers it a duty to haggle, even on the most absurdly low price. As a result, over time, sellers have compensated for this behavior by asking absurdly high
sums for their bikes. This doesn't do anyone any good.
Everyone: if you can read this, please don't pretend you can't.
I can't tell you how many people work very hard at trying to convince me that they are illiterate. Sometimes I make a mistake, but for the most part, I try to be pretty complete in the information I try to convey. I've had buyers go through the trouble of e-mailing me to ask me how much I was asking when it was clearly posted. I've had to re-send the same e-mail three times to sellers because they couldn't bring themselves to actually answer my question(s) in their responses. Do everyone a favor: celebrate your ability to read and do it with pride. You'll save yourself and others a lot of wasted time and effort.
Everyone: Kelley Blue Book is a guideline, not an authority.
If you're expecting to get $3,800 for your rashed-up 2003 SV650 because kbb.com said that was what the Retail price was, then you're being unrealistic. The following is posted on every Trade-In/Retail page that kbb.com serves:
The Kelley Blue Book Suggested Retail Value is representative of dealers' asking prices and is the starting point for negotiation between a consumer and a dealer. This Suggested Retail Value assumes that the unit has been fully reconditioned and is in excellent condition. Mileage/condition and additional equipment may have a substantial impact on the value shown above. This value also takes into account the dealers' profit, costs for advertising, sales commissions and other costs of doing business. The final sale price will likely be less depending on the unit's actual condition, popularity, type of warranty offered and local market conditions.
Trade-in Value is what consumers can expect to receive from a dealer for a trade-in unit assuming an accurate appraisal of condition. This value will likely be less than you would receive from a private party sale because the reselling dealer incurs the cost of safety inspections, reconditioning and other costs of doing business. Trade-in values are based on clean units in good condition, with all original standard equipment. Mileage/condition and additional equipment may have a substantial impact on the value shown above.
Please keep this in mind when using kbb.com to decide how much to pay/ask for a bike.
That being said, as a buyer, one shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that unless one paid less than "bluebook", one got ripped off. There are many bikes that sell for more than "list" that are still good deals. Consider paying more for a bike that was owned by an actual mechanic or one where the maintenance history was logged or documented (meticulous owners often take better care of their bikes). Consider paying more for a bike that is truly clean (not just washed) where it is easy to tell where the nicks and scratches are. If it's a street bike, look for dirt everywhere
. Meticulously maintained bikes will have little to none. Check the area near the front sprocket. Did the seller remove the gunky build-up from the chain lubricant? Take a pressure gauge and check the tire pressure. Check the fluid levels. Check the color/level of the brake fluid. Check the idle (vacuum leaks are notoriously hard to diagnose). Check the plugs and the compression if you have the means.
Buyers: shipping is not free, nor is it of zero value.
Shipping is never free. It's either included in the cost of the good, or you end up paying for it explicitly. Remember getting something delivered to your door isn't worthless. It's a tremendous convenience when things work out. Also please remember to include the cost of insurance and packaging when estimating what you should be paying in shipping costs.
The USPS has recently revised their pricing structure to take into account size (in addition to weight), which brings it more in line with companies like FedEx and UPS. In case you hadn't noticed, fuel prices haven't really gone down recently and shipping companies are passing along that cost to consumers. If, as a buyer, one demands truly free shipping, one has to be prepared to do the math and find that by making such a request, the seller may actually be losing money on the transaction.
Everyone: try to minimize your "special needs".
Wherever possible, try to stay within adopted conventions. For sellers, this means try to accept convenient methods of payment and try to ship within a reasonable amount of time using an accepted carrier. If you're meeting in person, be prepared with a location and directions. For buyers, this means have your PayPal account up-to-date with your current
shipping information. Try not to require special handling instructions whenever possible.
When I hear things like, "Would you meet near my house because I don't have a car, and would you take goats in trade because I'm short on cash, and can you ship it to my girlfriend's house, but only before next Tuesday? Thanks!" I typically apologize that I am unable to meet those needs and move on because I don't want to create ill will by making a mistake. At best, it's a recipe for failure. No one remembers the thirty-seven things you did correctly, only the one thing you did wrong. At worst, unusual special requirements can be an indication of fraudulent behavior.
Sellers (mostly): collecting on insurance is the responsibility of the party that purchased the insurance from the shipping company.
This can be a huge
point of contention among parties. If you are the seller and can't afford to throw the part you're selling away, you should insure the package. If the package is lost, it is your responsibility to get the insurer to pay out. The insurer will only pay the person who directly paid for the insurance. Once it can be reasonably established that the package is indeed lost, then it is considered good form to refund the buyer, even if the shipper hasn't yet paid out on the claim.
If you are the buyer and send the seller a call tag or pay for shipping directly yourself, then it is your responsibility to collect on insurance. This can be quite a pain, so I don't recommend paying for shipping directly if you're the buyer. Pay the seller for shipping and have the seller deal with the shipping company.
Sellers: package carefully.
No shipping company will pay out on an insurance claim for damage during shipping if the item was improperly packed. Last time I checked, insurance on FedEx Ground packages has a maximum
payout of $100. In order to collect on USPS insurance, each seam
of the package must be taped (whether it is glued or not). Familiarize yourself with the insurance policies of the shipping companies you use.
Sellers: present your items with care.
If you're selling something, take the extra 15 minutes and 10 cents worth of Protect-All or brake cleaner (if it's not painted or plastic) and clean up the parts your selling before you take pictures of them. Many parts have tolerances outside of which they should no longer be used. If you have the means, check for these tolerances and make note of the measurements when you list your item for sale. Buyers will appreciate the fact that you've checked and have the added security of knowing
the part will be good.
Take as many detailed pictures as you think is necessary to adequately convey the condition of the item. This shows you're detail-oriented and you've taken the care to know about the items you're selling. It also tells buyers you take pride in the things you're selling. As an added bonus, you may catch a problem before
it goes out the door (which can be a lot
cheaper for everyone involved).
Buyers: don't be afraid to pay more for a better buying experience.
Another variant on the first point, this is a really difficult thing to do from the buyer's perspective. Motorcycling is an expensive hobby and most of us don't have piles of money lying around. As such we want the best bang for our buck. If you have the choice, spend the extra 5%-15% and buy the good item from the seller who is pleasant, works with you, communicates well and has a good reputation.
Everyone: don't horde knowledge of a good partner.
Stories of nightmare buyers and sellers are not hard to come by. We are almost never shy of telling others when some scumbag has taken us for a ride. But we rarely ever share the good news. Perhaps we want to keep it a secret, just for ourselves.
This isn't like sex: if you've met someone who did a good job meeting your needs, tell someone else! Tell everyone you can! I love 58Cycle
. They don't always answer their e-mails, and they're not the most chipper over the phone, but they are good folks who are knowledgeable about their products and their prices are hard to beat.
I hope this has been useful. I reserve the right to add to this list as I think of things. If we all work together, we can maintain the great value of the secondary market for R6s and R6 parts that is here on R6MessageNet.
* I am excluding the cynical mega-corporation view of the "ideal" consumer
, who just sits on the couch, doesn't talk to anyone and spends money needlessly. I'd like to think none of us is that stupid.