Steven Stone has recently written about his rules for selling or buying gear online. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in using eBay or AudiogoN for finding a way to deal with used gear.
With this as the backdrop, I have a story to tell.
In November, I got the itch to try out tubes again. In part, this had to do with the great experience I’d had with the Lampizat0r DAC and in part because I’m an idiot. Anyway, I went shopping and found myself an inexpensive and well regarded amp, the Triode TRV-A300SE.
The buyer was helpful and when I asked questions about the amp’s age and condition, all questions were answered promptly and convincingly. All in all, he gave me good reason to believe what I was buying was what I thought I was buying. I was comfortable, the seller was reasonable, so I pulled the trigger.
I got the amp! It worked. It made music. I was happy.
But the manual didn’t come with it. The advertisement said it would have one, but it didn’t. So I contacted the seller, asked after it, and he apologized for not sending it and he said he’d send that right out. I was curious about the features, so I looked it up online, actually found the manual (in English!), downloaded it, read it. And that’s when the trouble began.
The amp looked different than the pics in the manual. Weird.
So, naturally, I called someone. First on the list, the number listed in the manual — the US Distributor for Triode.
Turns out, the amp I had in my possession wasn’t the TRV-A300SE, it was a TRV-A300. The tiny print on the face (obscured in the photos) clearly showed this. Worse, that meant that it was also a Japanese version, made for 100v (not 11ov/120v like the US versions). It also had different binding posts and some minor changes to the internals. Interestingly, the unit also either, 1) predated his tenure as US Importer, which made it 6 years or older. or 2) was imported directly from Japan as a grey-market import. Unfortunately (for me and my level of happy-happy), I’d actually asked questions that should have ruled out both options. So, either the seller was clueless or he was trying to be clever.
I confronted the seller with what I’d learned. The seller was, perhaps understandably, surprised at my concerns. But the amp worked, didn’t it? So, what was the problem?
Well, I explained, this wasn’t what I was told I was ordering.
At this point, I got a bad feeling. I asked for a refund. Better to be done with it and move on, I figured. I had paid for shipping the unit to me in the first place, and I said that I’d pay for the return as well. Net loss to the seller of about $4 for the AudiogoN ad. Me, I’d be out about $100 for the two-way shipping and insurance. Whatever. I was trying to make it easy.
The seller was initially contrite and apologetic. When that failed to get me to back away from a refund, he tried passive-aggressive. What’s the difference? he asked. It was “close enough” to what he told me it was, so, no he didn’t think a refund was warranted, and so, no, he wasn’t going to send me the address of where to return it.
WTF? Close enough?
Time for Paypal.
I opened the dispute in Paypal in mid-Dec. Filled in my details, explaining what had happened (I received goods substantially different from what I ordered) and what I wanted to happen now (send the unit back for a refund). The seller had 10 days to respond, which he did, so then we had to wait the rest of the 30 days Paypal takes to deal with complaints.
A couple of days ago, I called Paypal to see where things stood. Apparently, you can call in at any time and get an agent on the line who’s able to review the case on the spot. My agent did so. He sent a note to the seller, asking for him to send me his preferred shipping address. Once the unit arrived at that address, my refund would be processed.
The following day, I got a note indicating that the Paypal dispute had been closed, since the two parties had reached “an amicable settlement.”
I called in to Paypal again. Apparently, I had already called in to Paypal earlier that day and had, against the advice of the Paypal agent on the line, decided to cancel the dispute.
I explained that this had been my first call-in that day and that, no, I didn’t cancel the dispute, nor did I want it to be cancelled — I was still waiting on an address to return the amp to.
The agent paused. “But you canceled the dispute, against advice, and the issue is now closed”, he said, which meant that I was SOL and should STFU now.
I then, in what seemed at the time to be a Herculean attempt to not reach through the phone and strangle the agent, explained in single-syllable words that “I did not do it, I did not call in, it was not me.” You could actually hear the light bulb click on when the agent said, “Oh.”
He then became very helpful. The case couldn’t be reopened — Paypal policy for his level — so he manually refiled it for me. Given the background of the case, and the fact that it looked like Paypal had either made a rather odd and grievous error or that the seller had impersonated me in some way, then issued me the seller’s mailing address on file. “Send it back,” he said, “and we’ll issue the refund on receipt.”
I asked about what would happen if the seller refused delivery. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “the seller must accept delivery. If he doesn’t, the refund will go through automatically, anyway.”
Perfect, I thought.
Two hours later, I got a note from Paypal indicating that the case had once again been closed due to the fact that the two parties had reached “an amicable settlement.”
Obviously, I picked the wrong year to stop sniffing glue.
I called in, again, to Paypal. I got another agent. I had to explain the case, again. The agent was confused — and couldn’t sort out why the second (or the first) case had been closed. Apparently, the seller had called and complained that this had already been handled — “The amp had been delivered, see? Here’s the tracking number!” The agent concurred, and closed the second case.
My agent then said, “But that wasn’t what the complaint was about, was it? It wasn’t that you didn’t receive anything, it was that what you received wasn’t what you ordered. I see. Huh. Wonder why they closed it?”
The case needed to be escalated to a supervisor, she said. Too many records, too many agents, and the case was now too tangled for her to untangle. It needed a supervisor to be able to go in, listen to the original calls, find out who did what and why — and then make a decision.
I called in the next day and talked to a supervisor. She listened to the calls, found out that the case had been closed inappropriately by the first agent, and reopened the case. She then decided in my favor. “Go ahead and ship the amp. Send me the tracking number. Once it’s delivered, we’ll reverse the charges. And yes, we’ll reverse the charges even if he doesn’t accept delivery.”
Today, the amp was delivered back to my evasive seller. I called in to Paypal and talked to an agent, waiting for several minutes for the agent to sift through the cases and the comments. His comment: “Wow, what a mess.”
My thoughts exactly.
I had already sent in the tracking number, so that was on file. Apparently, the seller had appealed the decision, made over the weekend to rule in my favor, but that was happily trampled over when the agent found that the package had been successfully delivered and signed for by the seller himself.
The package had been returned. The case was closed. 10 minutes later, I had my refund.
What a giant pain in the ass.
Here’s the lesson, kids. Never, ever send money to a seller via anything other than a transaction for goods. If you try to avoid the Paypal fees by sending the money as a “gift”, you have no recourse to Paypal’s dispute resolution team. Not saying that your transaction is anything but above-board, but on the off-chance that something goes awry, Paypal is of huge benefit when your up-till-now nice, reasonable seller suddenly drops his fangs on you and tries to eat your face.
Here’s my list of do’s and don’t’s with AudiogoN.
- No feedback, no sale. Stole that right from Steven Stone and it’s great advice.
- No pics, no bids. Another Steven Stone piece of advice. If the seller can’t get around to taking even a crappy photo to add to the ad, there’s a reason for it.
- All deals must go through the AudiogoN system and be accepted. Learned this one the hard way — if you sell outside the system, you can’t smack someone with negative feedback when they screw you over or use that as leverage to encourage “right behavior.” Yes, AudiogoN-sanctioned transactions cost money, but IIRC, the max fee to the seller is capped at $100. Tell the seller to get over it and move on.
- All deals must use Paypal or credit. This last experience of mine proves the point. Yes, there are even more fees here that the seller will be shouldering, and no, hopefully, you’ll never need recourse to a refund. But if you do, having someone in your court is extremely helpful. Personal checks or cash? Never, ever. All AudiogoN sellers should take Paypal. If not, screw them. Good dealers will take all major credit cards — so use them — and if the dealer whines about credit card fees, feel free to take your business elsewhere. Again, you want the protection that your credit card company (or Paypal) provides — American Express is rabidly defensive of their card holders, which is awesome if you run into problems.
- Ask a bazillion questions. You never know what nonsense a seller will tell you, so ask. Ask about the history of the unit, it’s actual age, how long the seller has had it, how it looks, how it sounds, how it works, did they like it or loathe it, are they the first owner, do they have a receipt, where’s the original packaging, what about accessories, blah blah blah. Even if the ad says a thing, confirm it with a Q&A. You’d be surprised how many ads are cut-and-paste from somewhere else and how many sellers miss things, overstate and understate things in their ads. So — ask. If the seller is anything other than extremely helpful, or doesn’t have good answers to your questions, or if you think the questions are in any way evasive, avoid the sale. If you think a seller is grumpy or short tempered during the sale, imagine how cheerful and chipper they’ll be if something goes awry.