Rules of Shopping: Buying Used and Antique Items Online

When I was a young girl in Oklahoma, my wonderful Great Aunt was an antique dealer. She would scan garage sales and auctions five days a week, all year long. She was the Queen of quality and could spot a fake with the eyes in the back of her head. But that was the 1980’s and although we still go to garage sales, auctions, and thrift stores, shopping online gives us access to thousands of antiques a day. But just because we cannot touch them in person, doesn’t mean that we still can’t spot a fake or a rip off.

When shopping online for antiques it is best to do your homework. Research, research, research, just as if you were buying in person. You need to know exactly what you are looking for and more importantly what to ask the seller. Trust over knowledge never works out well. Just watch one episode of “Antiques Roadshow” and you will hear all about it!

Below is a top ten list of things to remember when buying antiques online. These rules can be used for any item you are actually buying online but should be memorized when it comes to purchasing those precious heirlooms.

  • Shopping from reliable and trusted websites is key. Yes it is tempting to buy that mint condition Wedgwood urn for 4 dollars but trust me, it’s plastic. How do I know? It’s 4 dollars. I am not saying that the internet doesn’t have wonderful real deals to be had because it absolutely does. But using a reliable site is key.
  • What is the sellers rating? Most people have a rating that is based on truth. Look at the ratings. People don’t lie and a good rule of thumb is to google the seller. That’s right, google is a verb and you can look up the sellers name to see what their reputation is off of the site they sell on is. If they are someone that is known for scams or misrepresentation of items, you will find it. No one can hide from reviews.
  • Make sure the person has a return policy, insurance during shipping, and a reputation for customer service. The more a person is willing to talk to their customers the better the chance that they are upfront and honest. Anyone willing to take something back is not selling junk.
  • Look over the ad and item’s pictures with a monocle! If you know what you are looking for than you will be able to spot a fake without fail. If the pictures are not close enough or seem cut and pasted from another site then ask the seller for more pictures. Be specific of what you want to see and any honest seller will comply.
  • Question the seller. If your knowledge is up to date on antiques and in particular the item you are looking at then ask away. If you are not sure what you are looking for and are just starting out in antique collecting then, do your homework. Know what the items condition should be in due to age of item, use etc.
  • Be specific when asking about damage, restoration, or repairs. Have there been any? What was done? Do you have paperwork on it? As a buyer you have a right to all of this information before you buy. Even after you buy it ask the seller for all paperwork that they have on it and if you can at least have a copy.
  • Understand what the grading system is of the website that you are shopping on. Every site and seller has their own standards of what they consider to be standard. Your idea of mint may not be their idea of mint so make sure you understand what they are looking at.
  • Understand that not everyone you are buying from is an antique dealer. The likelihood of them knowing everything about the antique world is pretty slim unless you are on a site that is only dealers.
  • When you purchase an item that is fragile in anyway, talk to the seller about shipping. There is nothing worse than buying a set of 6 vintage martini glasses only to have two survive! It has happened to me and truthfully I can’t blame all of it on the seller. They were packed very well but ALL of the space was not, so although it was tight, they were not packed tight enough. Package handlers are BRUTAL with packages so make sure that packaging is considered and that you insure the package.
  • Go with your instincts. If you feel that something is off with either the item or the seller and you question whether or not you should purchase it, it’s probably better not to buy it. I can’t tell you how many times my gut has told me that what I was looking at was a fake or worse, a reproduction, and I didn’t listen!

An easy way to remember what to do is to incorporate the “Journalist Questions” Who, What, When, Where, How, Why.

  • Who? Research the Buyer! Google their “seller Username”
  • What? Do your homework! Know your dates, colors, and conditions
  • When? When did the seller acquire it? How long have they had it? This could be a very telling answer for you the buyer.
  • Where? Is it a reputable website
  • How? How will it be packaged and sent to you?
  • Why? What is the condition and what are they basing the rating on?

Remembering these questions plus doing your own research on what you are buying should leave you and your checkbook happy and healthy!