With most major music retailers and brick-and-mortar mom-and-pop stores going bust over the last twenty years, buying vinyl on the web has become the norm these days, but can seem daunting and is often risky. When speaking with clients, they often mention past web purchases where they were greatly disappointed with what they received and how it was not really what they expected, usually of the far worse variety. This is particularly an issue when buying high-end vintage collectibles where age, use and storage wear takes its toll on a highly desired item and the seller either does not have the experience and know-how to accurately describe the item (ie, an innocent mistake), or the seller is pumping an item’s condition to get him or herself a higher price (aka, the seller has a vested interest in over-grading). The story usually involves a purchase for some rare record, let’s say it was from a seller on Ebay, that had been described as in near mint condition. The buyer pays for the item, including shipping and after waiting a few days or more, gets the record only to find that it’s got far more miles on it than the advertised description mentions. And the buyer is unhappy and disillusioned.
Audiophiles and collectors of vinyl are prime targets for disappointment because their needs are different than the casual music fan, and have no choice but to rely on descriptions written by complete strangers. Record grading is by no means an exact science nor does every vinyl seller own an actual turntable (or a good one with a decent quality stylus and speakers) to inspect an album’s audio. Also, audio systems differ from one person to the next, as does individual hearing, it’s unrealistic to expect for one person to experience audio in the exact same way as someone else. People with highly acute hearing can hear pops and crackles more prominently than others. Further complicating matters is that even new vinyl can be problematic. Even right from the retailer, out of the shrink-wrap, a record can have some noticeable flaws such as warps, skips, jumps, surface bubbles that cause all sorts of audio disturbances. I’ve been purchasing new vinyl since the 1970’s, and there were many instances when I opened a brand new album, anticipating hearing something new, and sadly discovered a warp or a skip, deflating the experience and muting the excitement of sitting down and enjoying my new record. Not to mention having to postpone listening to it in its entirety until after I was able to get a ride back to the record store for an exchange. Of course, one didn’t expect to buy an brand new album, open it, and then find it fingerprinted, scratched and scuffed, though I’ve heard stories about instances such as these, though not to me, first-hand.
Money back guarantees
Does any Rolling Stones collector really want to shell out £450 to a dealer in Burkina Faso for a supposedly excellent plus mono copy of Let It Bleed Decca LP with poster which in actuality, is only worth £65 because it’s merely in very good condition? And to make matters worse, the poster turns out to be not an original UK printed one but a reissue from Australia that someone stuck in it. And the buyer is now stuck with it because the seller sticks by his description and refuses to take it back.
What can one do to avoid disappointment when buying used vinyl from strangers on the internet? The first, and most important thing to do, is avoid sellers who don’t offer money-back guarantees. I just can’t overstate how important it is for sellers to prove to buyers that they have a commitment to building trust even before a transaction takes place. If a seller is offering something with a serious price sticker on it that is truly desirable enough for someone to click the buy-it-now button or warrant multiple buyers bidding on it to pay hard-earned dollars for it, and is really committed to backing their description of that item up, then why shouldn’t they allow the buyer the option to return it? If it’s still as good as they claim it is and desirable to others, why not? They can just re-list it and get there price.
The money-back guarantee sends the message to the buyer that the seller values more than just their immediate cash considerations, and that he or she also values that their buyers feel about what they purchase from them. Sellers with guaranteed return policies value your trust. Furthermore, the return policy can set in motion a business’ long-term commitment to having happy, repeat clients who spread the word which helps builds a larger client base leading to a more successful venture. Businesses who don’t fully embrace return policies, are essentially conveying the message of buyer-beware; and that you’re just going to have to blindly trust a complete stranger with your money, take a gamble, and hope you’re satisfied because if you don’t, it’s not their problem. Customers should just save their money until they find that item from a dealer who wants them to be satisfied.
By offering a money-back-guarantee, sellers also allow themselves the flexibility of acknowledging the possibility of their own errors. It’s not un-heard of for a vinyl seller, to not have enough time in the day to carefully review every nook-and-cranny of every piece of vinyl that comes in, and write 100% accurate descriptions about those records 100% of the time. Dealers can get fatigued when reviewing dozens or thousands of records. But reputable dealers won’t let valued customers have to “eat” their mistakes.
Many online vinyl listings offer only one or no photos and vague descriptions with nothing more than a grade and there are reasons for this, some innocuous and some not so much. While listing items can be very time consuming, if a business has rare items, it should be prepared to take some time to accurately represent them. Then there are dealers who prefer to not have to be called out for being inaccurate and are therefore intentionally vague and/or coy about their listings. These sellers are hoping that their short description will do the job of selling the item, and that the result of the sale ends without a complaint. And then there are inexperienced sellers on the web with limited to no understanding of records and have no working knowledge of what terminology and descriptiveness is expected by a great many buyers. Regardless, when seriously considering to buy something used off the web, a potential buyer should always ask questions. A forthright seller who answers each and every question and addresses every concern demonstrates that they really want the potential buyer to make an educated decision about whether or not to purchase. And inexperienced sellers who are serious about selling long-term will welcome the opportunity to learn how to make their listings better by being more descriptive. Dealers who don’t respond, or only offer terse answers or don’t answer all questions asked should probably be avoided.
Oh yeah. Don’t send cash to online merchants. If there’s a dispute, there’s little to no chance you’ll ever see your money again.
Large -scale sites such as Ebay, MusicStack and Amazon have feedback systems in place theoretically so buyers and sellers can rate each other per transaction. Generally speaking, this is a good thing for the “if-there’s-smoke, there’s fire” category. Several negative feedback ratings can often, though not always, indicate a pattern. As a rule of thumb, if one person is giving multiple negatives, there could be some other problem going on unrelated to the actual transaction. If it’s more than two different buyers giving negatives, it’s still kind of hard to gauge what’s actually going on but it may not be a great concern. If a seller has multiple negative ratings for the entire year, by different people all more or less saying the same thing; that the seller is over-grading, or inadequately packages their wares for shipping, then I’d consider that a pattern of the seller’s and probably not worth doing business with. Ultimately, if I saw a desired item being sold by a seller with some negatives, I’d go back to the return policy and asking questions before deciding to do a transaction.
I received the record and it’s so-so. So now what?
So you’ve done your due diligence, asked your questions, paid up and the record arrives and it’s not living up to what you imagined. If there’s more than one thing sticking in your craw, the first thing to do is write a list of what’s not right. This way, when you write the seller, you’ve got a comprehensive run-down of the problems already in front of you. Importantly, using a friendly tone in a letter can go a long way towards extending good-will between the trading partners. Nobody wants to receive messages that are sarcastic, nasty or petulant even people who are genuinely sarcastic, nasty and/or petulant. Being direct is fine. Use the messaging system of the site so if there is a dispute, your friendly conversation will go a long way towards having a moderator perceive you as acting in good faith. And, the seller already has the money you want returned, may have made an honest mistake and might appreciate your friendly tone which may possibly lead towards a very positive long-term working relationship between you and the seller. Being nice won’t hurt and it might help.
If the seller is being argumentative, nasty and unwilling to work with you, I would end direct message communications and take the problem up with the website dispute resolution first (in the case of Ebay, MusicStack or Amazon), then next through Paypal (if they were the credit card processor. Or if it’s through a separate business website, the credit card company (VISA, Master Card, Discovery, Amex) or whomever the transaction funds were processed through (such as Paypal, once again). My experience with credit card companies is they want transactions to go as smoothly as possible with no hassle. And if things get dicey, their customer service agents are more than happy to try to work things out so that their customers are happy. Just don’t expect instant or overnight results. And be nice to them as well.
Summarily, buying vinyl on the internet is never without some element of risk. But it does not have to be too intimidating and even pleasurable, especially when you have a good idea of the process, of how to gather information and who really deserves to be trusted and who doesn’t.
And besides, how else are you going to find that UK Mono Let It Bleed album with unboxed Decca labels AND original poster in pristine condition?