E-bay = easy way?

Some go online for gifts, others make for the malls

Many shoppers go beyond what is considered humanly and financially sane to put smiles on loved ones' faces during the holidays. Malls are hectic with consumers and people become desperate for gift ideas and last minute must-have items. However, in today's technologically advanced world, people don't need to resort only to malls for gift-buying. With a poor economy dragging along and traditions to uphold, many are turning to the Internet's bargains to fulfill people's wish lists, with eBay being one of the major sites visited.

"eBay has both streamlined and globalized traditional person-to-person trading, which has traditionally been conducted through such forms as garage sales, collectibles shows, flea markets and more, with their Web interface," said business professor Ben Gomes-Casseres of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Gomes-Casseres published a profile of eBay in spring 2001, which he later posted on the Brandeis University Web site. "[eBay] facilitates easy exploration for buyers and enables the sellers to immediately list an item for sale within minutes of registering."

And they do. There are more than 16 million items listed on eBay on any given day. In 2002, eBay members transacted almost $15 billion in annualized gross merchandise sales. Virtually anyone with an e-mail address can register with eBay to sell, browse or buy on the site. It's one place that people can sell used handbags, electronics or an ashtray full of cigarette butts deemed art and place a price tag on it.

"It's great," said Craig Weinstein, a sophomore in the School of Communication. "It gives people an opportunity to buy anything from cars to computers."

Weinstein's list of purchases include a signed Vince Carter poster he bought for $8 and sneakers infused with designer logos such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

"These are shoes you'll never see in the store," he said.

Melissa Ferrara, a senior in SOC, has heard things, good and bad, about eBay over the years and her thoughts still waver during the holidays.

"The mall is a bitch during the holidays so it is tempting," said Ferrara. "But I would still have to investigate whether I'd use it [as a gift source] or not. Also, there is the possibility that you could buy it and it not get there in time for the holidays."

Pete Miller, a senior in the School of International Studies, feels similarly about buying gifts on a site which auctions off goods that could have been used before.

"I just don't trust things that I don't see unless it's in packaging," Miller said. "I don't like buying used stuff for people."

Though Ferrara may not use the site herself to purchase gifts, she says she wouldn't mind receiving them from the site if that's where her friends were to get them.

"It's the thought that counts even though they were too lazy to get off their asses and get to the mall," she said.

Those hesitant to participate in Internet commerce like Ferrara should understand that it's not guaranteed that all transactions will end in satisfaction. Though some say deals gone bad are few.

"In the three years I've been on [eBay] I've never been ripped off or overcharged," said Chantal de la Rionda, a senior in SIS, who has shopped on the site since September 2000. "Some things will come like a dress that's not the right size or may look a little different than I expected, but I've never been flat out ripped off."

De la Rionda's purchases from eBay are a little wider in scope but, like Weinstein, she's always in search of unique items.

"I buy clothes, memorabilia, bootlegs and hard-to-find items," she said. "No one sends me mail so I like getting packages, even if I have to buy them myself."

The site credits its success to trust between the user and the site, but also between the buyers and the sellers.

As a person who does a little buying and selling, de la Rionda is aware of the consequences for falling short on a deal.

"They have a policy agreement that all buyers have to sign that's legal and binding that makes sure all your credit card information is secure," said de la Rionda.

To further aid in the exposure of negligent sellers and buyers, the site created the "Feedback Forum," which essentially gives the parties involved with the trade a chance to leave either positive or negative comments associated with that user's name. Additionally, eBay offers customer support 24 hours a day via e-mail and chat boards. There is also a "TRUSTe-approved" privacy statement that outlines how eBay protects users' privacy.

However, some people are still skeptical of eBay's validity, especially during the holidays.

"I don't do a lot of Internet shopping," said Cole Strom, a senior in SOC. "I like to buy gifts in person." Strom, like Ferrara, would not necessarily shop on eBay for gifts, but would not have a problem accepting one from the site "as long as it's authentic," Cole said. "I worked in luxury retail for 11 months so I would know the difference."

Jillian Savani, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, had a similar response.

"I've never purchased stuff on eBay," Savani said. "I don't like to shop online. I like going to the mall," she said. However, Savani added that she has visited the site to look at footwear. "They always have the shoes that are [hard to] find in the stores," she said.

Megan Mamulah, a graduate student in SIS, and another non-eBay shopper, says that she's never found eBay "convenient for anything I need." Though Mamulah's mother offered to pay her one summer to go around the house and take pictures of stuff to sell on eBay, it never happened. "I think the whole auction thing is a hassle," she said.

Still, Mamulah is not completely averse to using the site. "Maybe for hard to find items or if there was an extremely good deal," she said.

Alyssa Misner, a senior in SIS, shares a similar account with Mamulah. Though she's never taken time to explore the site, her father has.

"When I was a sophomore I told my dad I had a toothache. Two weeks later I got a set of dental tools in the mail," she said. "My dad calls and asks 'Did you get the dental tools? I discovered eBay!'"

Misner added that she may use the Web site now that the holidays are coming up.

"I would use eBay to find unique gifts for people," she said.

For the most part, eBay has gotten mixed reviews but continues to remain popular among some for the holidays and everyday use. So whether people shop on an auction site such as eBay or attempt to face the malls, the holidays are not just about gift giving. It's a time to spend with family and friends and to receive the gift that's impossible to wrap and just as hard to express: love.

Never miss a story

Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

More from The Eagle