The future of buying and selling stamps on Ebay

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My name is Kurt Maxted, I am a 25 year old stamp collector from New South Wales, Australia. I graduated University in 2013 with a Civil Engineering and Business Management double degree from Griffith University, Gold Coast and I am currently working as an accountant. I have been collecting stamps since I was a boy but over the last two years I have increased my purchase and study of stamps as I have transitioned from uni to work. I enjoy stamps for all the same reasons as many of you, the history and provenance, the art, and of course knowing that someone also enjoys your piece enough to buy it when you choose to sell. But when it comes to selling or buying stamps the market place can be like a wild forest filled with trolls and traps- it is a hunger games scenario where everyone looks after themselves first.  From purchasing stamps through Ebay, stamp fairs and dealers, I have discovered the process of stamp collecting and dealing is quickly evolving. Ebay is the present and future of stamp buying and selling because it makes the whole process transparent and fair provided you know what to look out for. 

The stark reality is that a stamps true value is not even close to what is being quoted by the mainstream catalogues out there. And yet dealers continue to quote obscene prices straight from the book with little regard to condition and rarity in order to trip up unaware buyers into coughing up huge sums of money. The most important economic idea when it comes to purchasing is that something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Indeed this value differs when it comes to supply and demand but as the buyers and sellers amass in a market, prices begin to even out to what is fair. Buyers and sellers are aware of what is selling and for what price. Thanks to the Internet, the days of devious one on one deals that would rip off buyers due to the seller holding all the knowledge are all but gone.      

Ebay is a consumer driven market where the buyers have complete power. Never before has there been a market where you can compare the same item across different shops from all over the world. Buyers have power because they can purchase an item at the lowest  possible  price which drives sellers’ prices down (unless they are not planning to sell anything at their shop). After completing a simple search with the filter 'sold items' buyers can tell what the item is worth from examining the average price it has sold for in recent time. The buyer should then try to find an item that undercuts this value for the best deal. Valuing a stamp is of course a skill in itself especially for Victorian era stamps however, it is not necessary to be an expert evaluator to buy stamps from Ebay. Stamp collectors generally have a high attention to detail and regardless of the worded description a simple side by side comparison of a high resolution image will suffice. And at the end of the day anything is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it- throw out your Stanley Gibbons and Scott catalogues- they are irrelevant. The most they can help you with is a rarity comparison between stamps of different dollar values- hence an expensive stamp will be proportionally rarer compared to a less expensive stamp. You could probably work out a mock system for your country by selecting a rare stamp you know the average value of on Ebay and then find a ratio between that and the book value. Next you could extrapolate to discover other values of stamps purely based on a function of rarity. In the same breath sellers looking to sell stamps on Ebay should consider the average price of a similar sold stamp because the vast majority of stamps online are overpriced and remain unsold. Unfortunately buyers who have bought stamps at a premium and now trying to sell them on Ebay are left very disappointed.    

From the premise that something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it, collectors and dealers need to adapt or perish. Unfortunately the few stamp fairs I have been to are filled with older gentleman snapping at the heels of fair goers trying to sell the toxic and worthless stock they have accumulated over the years. And when the buyer shows interest but does not buy anything the seller openly becomes grumpy and huffs loudly. When I have seen this happen I have felt embarrassed for the seller and sorry for the potential buyer. Ebay is supplying so much fantastic material that in my opinion Australian stamps for example are worthless unless they are in fine used or mint condition. I can imagine this would make the dealer quite anxious and indeed grumpy! 

In my opinion stamp dealing prior to this past decade has been a shady occupation because it had allowed the dealer to take advantage of the buyer. With reference to the now irrelevant major catalogues the dealer can quote any price and any condition the stamp is worth and if the buyer was not savvy enough they would be ripped off left right and centre- in the same way a vehicle mechanic is able to rip off unknowledgeable motorists. Buying stock and then selling at a higher price is what everyone looks to do but to what end?  Buying and selling stamps on Ebay has become a revelation for the stamp collecting community and anyone that tells you otherwise is one of the above mentioned shady dealers.
Buying and Selling on Ebay is hugely transparent, anyone doing the wrong thing can have their actions advertised and their reputations tarnished through a negative comment. If the item is fake or damaged on arrival and does not meet the listed lot description, the buyer is protected (at least in Australia) by strict consumer laws. The seller should refund the buyer because Ebay is likely to be their livelihood and their account will not stand up to many negative comments.  Otherwise Ebay and PayPal become liable if the seller does not refund because they have been paid by the seller to facilitate the transaction. Worst case scenario all the buyer needs to do is lodge a complaint with Ebay and follow the process along to completion. But all this can be easily avoided by only buying from members with a good track record.
Opportunities abound for collectors on Ebay because many of the items for sale are those that have been dug from picks, inherited collections, and items of value that are being sold at a price in between what they paid for it and what someone is willing to buy it for. This means that both sellers and buyers can side step the hefty auction house premiums some totalling at more than 30% (15% each for buyers and sellers) to get a great price at either end for seller and buyer. This is because you take on the handling and advertising yourself and Ebay only changes comparatively small listing fee and an insignificantly small sellers premium- and no buyers premium! As a seller you do not need to pay for the printing and mailing of coloured advertising booklets and the all overheads associated with the auction house and the auctioneer and staff for handling. The trend of selling online is only going to strengthen as more and more collectors become computer savvy and sell their stamps online. Basically auction houses will always dominate sales of world class collections however, Ebay can be a place of sale for >99% of stamps out there.

Ebay is the largest supplier of stamps in the world which comes with the fantastic assurance that you can find any stamp in any condition at a price lower than any single stamp dealer can offer. Old minded dealers have become grumpy by the way power has shifted from them to the buyer and will do everything they can to put people off of buying from Ebay (even though that is probably where they got their stock from in the first place). The best way to become an expert at anything is repetition. Seeing enough stamps on Ebay of a particular issue can make anyone an expert evaluator of it. Trust yourselves to find great items online because all you are doing going to a dealer is paying them a premium for you being lazy and not putting in enough research to buy from Ebay. Now collectors become dealers themselves because the internet has granted us with a vast library of knowledge. Use it so you can enjoy your hobby and know that one day if you decide to sell you will at least get back what you spent. 




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