In my 20+ years of owning an art gallery I often come across buyers who are leery of doing business because of bad experiences they’ve had elsewhere. They tell me that another business made promises they didn’t keep, didn’t stand behind their items and/or sale, and just plain lied about the item they were selling. No matter the cause, it always ends in the buyer somehow wasting their time, and possibly their money, and ultimately causing the buyer to be overly cautious of any future transactions. I myself just recently had a bad experience that almost cost my business a significant amount of money. Luckily, I followed my own rules and was able to lessen the blow from this bad transaction, but had I not, I would have become very bitter and possibly avoided future transactions with businesses in the same market.
You might expect some complicated steps and trickery in order to keep yourself safe, but my rules for business transactions are actually quite simple.
First, take the time to Google the person or business/company you’re considering working with. Obviously this rule will not apply with garage sales or other more impromptu buying situations, but it could be useful for flea markets or auctions. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start, but unfortunately there are a lot of businesses with good rankings that still are not the best choices. So do keep in mind that while the BBB is a good place to start your research, it certainly isn’t the final word on reviews.
You should keep a similar mindset when reading customer reviews on public sites/forums. Just because one person had a bad experience, does not mean the company/person is a bad choice. The truth is that some people are just never happy. No matter what you do as a seller, these few individuals will never be satisfied. I believe that the customer is almost always right, so I personally try to do everything in my power to make my clients happy. But I’ve come to learn that some clients’ expectations are simply unrealistic. Companies can only do so much, and it’s a good idea to keep this in mind if you see just one or two bad reviews of a company or seller. Those particular reviews could be completely undeserved.
After you’ve done your research and you feel confident in the seller, I recommend using Paypal for payments whenever possible. They have a great buyer protection plan that will back you up in the majority of situations. I also recommend setting up your Paypal account with a credit card, not a bank account. This way, you have the added protection of your credit card company should Paypal not cover a particular situation.
Again, I understand that this rule will not apply to garage sales and other such venues that only accept cash. In these instances, you need to take your time and be sure that you are 100% happy with your item before you buy and leave the premises. Bring a smart phone with you and research the item as much as possible. Try to verify that what you’re buying is the real deal and that it actually works if it’s supposed to have some sort of mechanical function. Once you pay cash to any seller in any venue, there is a 98% chance that they will not refund your money, no matter the reason. Most garage sales, estate sales, flea markets and similar venues have a strict no return policy (it couldn’t hurt to take a moment and find out their return policy before handing over your cash as an added bit of knowledge).
To illustrate my rules and how they work, I’ll briefly explain my recent encounter with an untrustworthy company. I signed a contract with a company that was promising magazine advertisements. The person in charge wanted me to pay the entire amount with a check. I never suggest using a check for payment because once you hand it over, you have no protection; it’s almost the same as cash. I agreed to pay only 1/3 of the total with a check and put the rest on a credit card. After a few months of not delivering their end of the contract, the person in charge skipped town and is now unreachable. I called my credit card company and explained the situation, and all the money I had put on the card was returned to me.
My last piece of advice to buyers is that if you ever have a problem with a person or company, try contacting them first to try to work it out. Hopefully they will make an effort to fix the situation, but if not, go straight to your credit card company or to Paypal. Make sure you do not wait to sort out the problem; the longer the issue sits, the lower the chances of getting your money back.
Be safe, watch your money and happy hunting!