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Big spenders find big satisfaction through auction site

| Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2004

Not even a Wal-Mart Super Center can offer as much merchandise as eBay, billed as the World's Online Marketplace.

At any given time, more than 29 million items are available on eBay worldwide, and 3.6 million new items are added every day. More than 430,000 people in this country make a full- or part-time living selling on eBay Inc.

As of the second quarter of 2004, eBay reported having 114 million registered users, according to company spokesman Jamie Patricio. They buy everything from car speakers and real estate to tropical fish food flakes and celebrity autographs. Pittsburgh has contributed its fair share to the growing numbers.

Dan Meyers of Ingram bought three cars and a truck on eBay since he started shopping online in 2001. The most expensive purchase was a classic 1987 Mercedes Benz 560 SL that he bought from a seller in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He also found a 1970 Jaguar XKE in Sandusky, Ohio, and a 2001 Tacoma truck in West Palm Beach, Fla.

In each case, Meyers flew or drove to the seller's location to check out and test-drive the vehicle before turning over a cashier's check for the full amount of the sale. He says each purchase was a positive experience for him, but buyers need to do their homework and be well informed about items before they venture into bidding.

His only eBay mistake was when he won an auction for a 2.5-carat emerald bracelet for his wife. "The photos of the emeralds had been magnified," he says, "and the 2.5 carats were divided among about 20 miniscule stones." Fortunately, the seller agreed to refund his money less the cost of shipping after he called him to complain.

"I probably won't buy jewelry online anymore," Meyers says. "You should only buy what you know about."

Matt Austin of Charleroi admits being wary at first of spending a large amount of money for a sports car on eBay. When he bid on and won a 2001 Mazda Miata "with all the ground effects and amenities," he was worried until he spoke to the Chicago owner on the phone and "got a good, comfortable feeling" about the car. He has since bought a motorcycle on eBay from a New Jersey seller.

"I haven't bought anything in a while," Austin says, "except maybe some car remotes for my Honda and a set of martini glasses."

For one Wilkinsburg woman, who prefers anonymity, shopping on eBay is a good way to relax. She figures she visits the Web site at least once a week, "although I'm more of a looker than a shopper." She does find deals on cosmetics and diet foods. She says she bought a full-size bottle of a favorite face cream on eBay for $20, when a trial-size bottle retails for $45 in department stores.

Lenore Olinger of Canonsburg and her son, Wayne, both sell items on eBay as a part-time hobby. She sells linens and tablecloths, and he sells designer costume jewelry and vintage silver items.

Listing an item to sell can be time-consuming, Lenore says. "You have to provide measurements and weight for shipping costs, and it's important to list any imperfection or defect in the item.

"It takes time, but it's fun. I've sold to people in England, Israel, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada."

Olinger says she enjoys watching people get into a bidding war for one of her items.

"It's fun when two people start fighting over an item and the price goes higher than you ever dreamed of," she says. "The last five minutes of an auction is always the best."

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