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Sam’s Soapbox: Buyer Beware

The News is pleased to introduce reporter Sam Macdonald's first opinion column, which will be a regular feature.

One of the best things about the Internet – much to the chagrin of traditional retailers and malls – is its utility as a tool of commerce. Never before has it been easier to search for and buy stuff online. With eBay, Amazon, Kijiji and the numerous buy and sell groups that abound on social media, a visit to the mall to get something has been rendered almost obsolete.

Its great, but unfortunately, like a lot of other things its subject to the good old-fashioned, low-tech classic forms of human vice, including greed and deceit.

Now, dont get me wrong; I know as well as anyone else that when it comes to the kind of economy that arises in communities like Kijiji and Buy and Sell (insert name of geographic region here, haggling is just a reality of life. You low-ball a price, and then someone makes a counter-offer. Thats practically a force of nature.

Unfortunately, that kind of economy tends to get a little out of control online, in particular. I first started seriously using online marketplaces like Kijiji and buy and sell groups, in the years after the precipitous drop in the value, per barrel, of oil, sometime in late 2014.

I was living somewhere in the Prairies I will not disclose for the sake of discretion, and like any other young bachelor bouncing from city to city, job to job, I decided to see what kind of furniture I could glean on the local buy and sell group, after moving from one province to another.

I wonder what kind of couch I can find on there? I pondered to myself, flipping through scads of thoroughly used furniture with prices running deep in the four-digit range; cigarette-burned leather furniture running for almost the (high) price of rent in that city; tables with parabolic dips in the middle running for prices uncomfortably close to their retail price – and a whole lot of stuff with generously overestimated value.

But it doesnt stop there. Searching for a new winter coat, I think: Whats warm AND trendy? wanting to be a cool dude keeping up with trends. Naturally, I type Canada Goose, searching through buy and sell groups and finding three, four and five-year-old parkas, in less than satisfactory condition, offered for amounts of money with only a couple of hundred dollars knocked off their significant retail prices.

Only online do you find people brazen enough to try to sell their used meal replacements for more than they bought them for.

Whats that, you say, exaggeration? I wish. Im sure Shakeology is really tasty and healthy, but some poor Saskatchewanian on Facebook, about two years ago, was labouring under the delusion that they could sell something theyd opened and used twice at a greater price than youd pay to buy the same thing new, online – with shipping included.

What really lingers in my memory about that is the disclaimer at the bottom of that particular offer: No haggling, please. Price is firm.

What fuels this outrageous kind of hustling that people attempt, when online? I would imagine being on the Internet, to begin with, is a good part of it. Theres a screen between you and anyone whod like to call you out on a rip-off – and the only real face-to-face interaction with anyone you have to deal with is in the event that you find someone willing to pay an inflated price for a particular good or product.

Also, buy and sell groups tend to be monitored by administrators with an iron fist, and often, when you call people out on taking advantage of others, its deemed harassment and youre booted from the group for being a troublemaker. Three guesses how I learned how that works.

Truth be told, it never hurts to haggle. Always have a search engine ready, so you can check the retail or new prices of what youre looking for, for the sake of a handy comparison. Critical as I am of the online marketplace, I have bought a lot of valuable, useful things from there, but buyer beware is a phrase to live by when shopping for used stuff online.


Sam Macdonald is a reporter for The News.


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