5 sites where you can buy for less, or free

25th Apr 2009 | 09:00

5 sites where you can buy for less, or free

eBay explained, plus four more money-saving alternatives

Buying safely on eBay

When money's tight, there's no reason to pay store prices: buy through eBay instead.

A quick review of goods on offer reveals brand-new RAM that's 20 per cent cheaper than Crucial or Kingston, perfectly usable secondhand laptop drives from as little as £2 and brand new Pentium dualcore PC base units at £150 a pop.

Although some people are nervous about getting ripped off by fraudsters, eBay has a level of protection that you won't find at your local jumble sale.

Every time you buy goods from an eBay seller you get the chance to leave them feedback, whether it's positive, negative or neutral.

As a general rule, we'd advise that you steer clear of anyone with a feedback rating of less than 96 per cent. Make sure that you read through the comments in their feedback section before buying, too.

eBay gives sellers the right to reply to their critics, so take note of both sides. Recently – and controversially – eBay revoked the ability for sellers to leave buyers negative feedback.

The company say this was to stop tit-for-tat attacks on buyers who had left truthful, negative feedback on sellers' profiles. In other words, eBay truly is a buyer's market.

Some sellers have special 'Powerseller' status. They're eBay's big hitters, trustworthy members who make sales of at least £750 a month, have 98 per cent positive feedback and ship winning items within three business days. These are people you can trust to deliver – so buy from them with confidence.

Problems with eBay sales

When things go wrong, eBay provides methods of officially complaining. You can report buyers and sellers who don't pay up or dispatch goods in time through the Resolution Centre. You'll find a link to this in the Help menu.

The good news is that if you buy goods on eBay, you have the same rights as you do when buying from a traditional shop. That means that if something you buy doesn't work when you get it home, is the wrong size or model or fails to meet the original description, you're entitled to a refund. Current rules mean that buyers also get extra protection on items bought using PayPal.

If items are undelivered or are significantly other than as described, and dispute resolution doesn't work, you'll receive a refund. The seller may offer you a replacement instead of a refund, but it's up to you whether you accept it.

You don't have to take a credit note, either, even if the seller tells you that it's not their policy to give refunds. You are entitled to your cash back. If all goes well, eBay offers several ways to pay – but the seller is the one who decides which options to offer.

Online payment is by far the most popular method; cheques, postal orders and cash account for only 21 per cent of transactions on eBay. You're able to deposit payments into a PayPal account from your bank or pay for items with a credit card.

In the case of larger items, like cars and computer systems, you may be able to use an escrow service. This is an intermediary payment system that holds on to your money until the goods have been received and you are satisfied with them. eBay supports the use of www.escrow.com.

Your eBay rights and responsibilities

Your eBay rights and responsibilities

As a buyer, you have some responsibility to make sure that the goods you're purchasing are being legally sold. eBay can't police all of its listings, so you may occasionally find pirated DVDs and software for sale. You lose your consumer rights when purchasing such items.

Many of us cheerfully sell the odd knick-knack on eBay without giving the legislative impact a second thought. However, as well as sticking to consumer law – and abiding by the Sale of Goods Act – you may have to give the Inland Revenue some consideration, too. Don't start worrying about it too soon, though: the law gives you quite a lot of leeway.

If you're only selling personal possessions without the intention of generating a profit, you're only liable to pay capital gains tax. Fortunately, you can sell up to £9,600 of your own bits and pieces before you have to let the taxman know about it. If you start to earn real money from your sales – especially if you're buying items specifically to sell on eBay – then you're a trader, and you will have to pay income tax.

According to UK tax law, you must inform the Inland Revenue that you've set up a business within three months of your launch date. If you're using eBay as a shopfront then you're definitely in business. From that point on, all of your income from the site beyond your personal allowance (£6,475 in the current tax year) will be subject to income tax.

You'll need to keep a complete record of all your earnings and your expenditure, including hosting payments and postal costs. If you expect your income to be more than £67,000, then you'll also have to register for VAT.

For a full guide to the ins and outs of your responsibilities, read the free lealet The No Nonsense Guide, which is available to download as a PDF document from BusinessLink here.

Whether you're a buyer or a seller, eBay is a mature platform with dispute resolution and security honed down to a fine art, and you should feel confident to buy and sell online with the law on your side.

If you can't find what you're after, check out four eBay alternatives below:

Madbid review
The Freecycle network review
Amazon Marketplace review
Ebid review

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First published in PC Plus Issue 281

Liked this? Then check out 10 killer apps for eBay buyers and sellers

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