I AM NOT A shopper; I'm a buyer. This is the main reason I don't really browse Web sites that have shopping cart icons and don't ever look at eBay. Ever.
OK, that's a lie. Everyone goes on eBay at some point. I did an office poll, and even senior editor Joe Lorio, whom you wouldn't peg as an eBay shopper, said, "Of course I do."
As you would guess, eBay Motors is our site of choice. We have bought, we have sold. But I have resisted even looking at this site for the past couple of years.
Because this is what happens: I get an e-mail from the jolly, Detroit-based "Motors" PR team in February. They would like to walk me through the newly redesigned eBay Motors site. I avoid them like the plague. I reschedule twice. I have no need to discover the "improved buyer experience." I don't need them to "help make buying a vehicle online even easier." Hmm. I read further. The new site does sound swell, with much better research tools built right into the pages. I could be more polite to them.
I agree to a conference call with the PR and eBay Motors folks. I call in at the appointed hour. The eBay folks are not on the line, but one PR guy is. We talk to each other for five minutes, waiting. The eBay folks burst onto the phone and beg for another five while they attempt to locate their product specialist.
And then I make my fatal error. I decide to log on to the site myself and poke around so I have some pithy questions ready. A family member of mine is going to need a used car soon, and I'm thinking Korean. I click on Kia. There is a pristine, one-owner Rio. The miles are low, the current bid doesn't meet the reserve, and the reserve has been lowered once already. There are only a few hours left in this auction. I type in a bid that's just a little bit higher. Congratulations! I am now the highest bidder! I could cry.
Suddenly, eBay is on the call. They've trotted out a new product specialist, having misplaced the original one, and they're ready to conference. In a hilarious twist of fate, the specialist is one of our favorite old Automobile Magazine motor gophers, Steve Haas. (All the best gophers land on their feet when they leave us.)
"Hi, Jean," says Steve. "I can walk you through our new site now."
"Too late," I tell him. "I bought a Kia Rio while I was waiting for you."
He is incredulous. But it's true. I won the car, news I got the next day when I suddenly remembered to check in. That's when I belatedly decided to use those research tools.
It turns out, the Rio had been in two reported fender benders. But Dan R's Automotive - an eBay Power Seller! - had included plenty of detailed photos on the auction page that made it easy to scrutinize the car inside and out, and there were no visible signs of damage.
I fired off the required deposit via PayPal, a convenient credit tool; downloaded the Yahoo! -supplied map to Oregon, Ohio; and headed out to fetch the new/old Rio.
Other great eBay Motors tools that impulse buyers like me don't have time to use include free shipping quotes, financing choices, and a buyer's checklist that leads you, step by step, to a sound, informed buy. Instead, I just had a "good feeling" after reading the About Us section, written by one of Dan R's owners, president Cathy Reichow. How can you resist, "The trust and loyalty of our customers has been our greatest compliment," for starters? That and the 98.9 percent positive buyers' rating after 829 transactions.
The Rio looked brand-new. It had a recent oil change and transmission service, a new air filter, and two new tires, and it was washed and gassed. Reichow handed us the keys and said (I kid you not), "If I have one piece of advice for these disposable cars, it's change the oil often." Nice.
She attributes Dan R's success - it sells twenty to thirty cars a month on eBay Motors - to its integrity, the use of lots of photographs on the site, and to their policy of representing the car as accurately as possible. "I don't want anyone driving five miles, let alone 500, and finding the vehicle not to be what they expected." She also is adamant that selling cars on eBay as a business can't be part-time. Dan R's has a dedicated, full-time person who takes the pictures, handles the listings, and manages the entire process from beginning to end.
I need to clear the air a little further. I was lucky, right? So today, while researching this column, I open the vintage-cars section of the Motors site. I see "Sunbeam." My husband always wanted a Tiger. I search "Tiger." There are three. I see this gorgeous, pale yellow 1967 Mark II with a 289-cubic-inch V-8, tuned to 320 hp. Yes, I bid. I am the highest bidder, in fact. But to my great relief, I didn't meet the reserve.