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Buying clothes on ebay – why and how?

A Harris

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Jan 6, 2003
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For those of you who were not subscribed, this is an article I wrote for last month's edition of Steve's newsletter: BUYING CLOTHES ON EBAY - WHY AND HOW? Â DNR's first annual Best-Dressed List (published April 7, 2003) named ten men as the best-dressed in the menswear industry. Only four of those were asked where they like to shop and two named ebay as a favorite spot. Ebay has come a long way - never before has buying clothes at a steep discount been so chic. Â Â A March 2003 DNR (Daily News Record - the dominant trade magazine of the menswear industry) survey contained another shocker. 2800 men were asked to name their favorite internet site for apparel shopping and ebay was named the second favorite site, outranked only by Landsend.com. It makes sense as ebay has in excess of 61 million registered users, 28 million of which are considered active. Over 15 billion dollars worth of transactions were concluded on this truly global marketplace in 2002 (2003 sales are expected to top 20 billion) and apparel is one of the fastest growing categories. Â Â So it seems everyone else is doing it... Should you? Why buy? Â The primary reason men shop on ebay is obvious. PRICE. Never before has such a variety of fine clothing been as easily available at discount to such a large section of the population. You can find ANYTHING on ebay if you look long and hard enough. And you can find it at a great price too. Most NWT (New With Tags) clothing items sell for a maximum of 50% of their retail value and the majority go for less than 30% of retail. With a little persistence you are bound to find items for much less. Also, it's the only place you can buy a Kiton suit in the middle of the night and/or in your underwear. Something to keep in mind - Ebay is not a store with racks and racks of neatly organized, beautifully presented merchandise in full size runs, that you can feel and try on before you buy. Â In fact there is probably much less high-end merchandise on ebay at any given time than can be found at even a small specialty store. Â Buying clothing on ebay requires knowledge, patience and persistence, with know-how being the most important factor. But the payoff can be great so here are a few tips. Â Searching - Ebay categories are very general so you have to use the search function to find the items you want. The best way to search is by name or by size. You could search for "Zegna" or for "Brioni" or for "Oxxford." I just ran a search as I wrote this - "Zegna" returned 936 items, "Brioni" returned 293 items and "Oxxford" returned 141 items. That is a lot of items to look through so you may want to narrow the search by entering, say, "Brioni suit" instead of just "Brioni." You may have noticed that I am using quotes around the brand names cited. You don't have to do that although you may want to in certain situations (to be explained later.) Â Â Let's say that you are looking for a suit and you usually wear a size 42 regular. A primary search you would run would be "42r" - ebay sellers are limited as to the number of characters allowed in an item title, so most sellers will use "42r" or "42L" as a sort of shorthand. Not all follow this though, so you may want to enter "42* suit" instead. The asterisk directly after the "42" tells the search engine to return anything with a title that contains the word "suit" and the number "42" followed by any character or characters. So it would return auctions labeled "42r" as well as "42reg", "42-r" etc. Â Â Â You can of course combine both strategies and search for "42r Brioni", or "42* Brioni suit". There are other ways of enhancing your searches as well. You can check the box right below the search bar that is marked "in titles & descriptions". Â A basic search only looks at the auction titles for the entered search words; by checking the "titles & descriptions" box you tell the search engine to look into the descriptions too. Searching descriptions often returns many unwanted and unrelated results, so you may want to narrow the search further. The first way of doing that is to search for specific "phrases." You do so by entering text into the search bar surrounded by quotation marks. That tells the search engine to only return auctions that contain the exact words/numbers you are looking for, and in the order you entered them. Another strategy is to search within a category. You can click the "browse" link at the top of the ebay page and then select a category, "Men's Clothing: Regular" for instance. Â On the page that comes up you will notice that there is a box checked below the search bar, labeled "only in Men's Clothing: Regular". Any search you run from that bar will look only at items listed under the "Men's Clothing: Regular" category. Â When you find an item that you like it often will be to your advantage to look and see what else that particular seller is offering. At the top of each auction page there is a box titled "Seller information". Click on the the "View seller's other items" link in the "Seller information" box. That will take you to a page displaying everything else the seller has to offer. If you like what you see, you may want to bookmark that page or add it to your favorites. Regularly checking the seller pages of a number of sellers you trust, and who sell your kind of merchandise, can greatly reduce the time it takes to shop on ebay. Will it fit? - By now you may have found an item that you are interested in buying. Only problem is that it's on the opposite coast so you can't try it on. How can you tell if it will fit? With less fitted items such as shirts and sweaters or unsized items such as ties and socks there is little risk. But tailored clothing can present a problem. Â Â The best advice I'm going to give you in this article is DON'T RELY ON THE TAGGED SIZE. One manufacturer's 42 regular may fit very differently than another's, even if the garment has not been altered. You must rely on measurements. It may seem unlikely at first but it is quite possible to know how a suit will fit, before you buy it, and from a few detailed measurements. Most reputable ebay sellers use a standard method of measuring a suit jacket or sportcoat. For instructions on how to determine which measurements you will need, and how to get them I am going to refer you to a link. Go to www.styleforum.net, click "Enter the Style Forum," click the "Men's Clothing" link under the heading "Men's Style," and then click on the link titled "HOF: How to measure for ebay" which is near the top of the page. Â Follow the instructions and you will be on your way. Â Obviously, a knowledge of the brand of clothes you are going to buy is a great help. It may be possible to find a local store that carries that brand, so that you can try a few items on and get a feel for the sizing. If you do this PLEASE don't take the salesmen away from their paying customers, in fact, buy something to assuage your guilt. Â Can I trust the seller? Â - Each ebay seller has a feedback record. The buyer and seller are each allowed to give each other one feedback comment per transaction. If it is a positive comment it adds one point to the feedback score and if it is negative it subtracts one point. If a buyer purchases multiple items from the same seller only one of the feedback comments will count towards the seller's final rating. The fact that a seller has a low feedback rating does not necessarily mean that you are going to get ripped off, but it does increase the risk. Almost all of my really great buys (meaning I got the item for far less than it was worth) have been from low-feedback sellers. But I bought from them knowing there was a possibility that I would be disappointed. As a rule of thumb it certainly is best to buy high-dollar items from established sellers. If I'm going to pay $1500 for a Kiton suit it's going to have to be from someone I trust. Â Also, just because a seller has a high feedback rating does not necessarily mean they are reputable. There are an amazing number of ebay sellers that are outright lying about their merchandise (and a few who are just ignorant) and who still have very high feedback scores. They can sell worn suits that retailed for $250 as "a $4000 suit" or as "bespoke" and get away with it because there are so many men out there who don't know the difference. Also many people are hesitant to leave negative feedback because they fear retaliation. So a lot of their customers could have been dissatisfied and never expressed it. In general though, if a seller has several hundred positive feedback and maybe only 2 or 3 negatives they are very likely honest. Condition - If you choose to buy used clothing (the best deals are always what I call "used but mint" items) then you will have to inquire as to condition. Each seller has his own scale so it pays to look at a number of the sellers other auctions and note how he or she describes them. You can easily get a sense of their scale in this way. And when in doubt always ask questions. Ask questions BEFORE you bid. And a simple reminder that a surprising number of people ignore - please read the entire auction before you ask questions. Nothing annoys sellers more than a string of questions that have already been answered in the auction. Color - It can be a good idea to inquire as to the color of the garment if it is not thoroughly described in the auction. Even if the seller got it right on his screen it may still come out completely different on yours because your monitor is adjusted differently. Retail prices - There is a pandemic of sellers that claim grossly inflated original retail prices for their goods. It is wise to take claimed retail prices with a grain of salt unless you have reason to trust the seller. Also, keep in mind that most designers and manufacturers have different lines and different tiers of quality, so it pays to find out whether the item you are looking at is truly top-end, or whether it is from a diffusion line. Â Paying for the item - In one word - Paypal. Sign up for an account, it makes life easier for all involved. The seller gets their money faster, you get your items faster and there are recourses for both the buyer and the seller if the transaction goes bad. Every now and again I run across someone that doesn't like Paypal but I've concluded thousands of transactions through them and I've never had a problem. Â Unanswered questions? - Post them on www.styleforum.net. There are a number of knowledgeable and courteous gentlemen there that are great at answering questions. Happy hunting.


Distinguished Member
Apr 11, 2002
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Great info from an expert in the field. Wanted to add a link to a very interesting seller on ebay. Actually, had i not just purchased a topcoat, i would have snatched this one up post haste. Take a look at his other stuff, as well: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws....73&rd=1

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