Buying Trains On-Line

Have you ever surfed the net and saw something that you really wanted, but just couldn't bring yourself to buy or bid on-line? It's happened to everyone at one time or the other. Let's face it, there are some bad apples everywhere you look, whether it be on-line or in person. But on the other hand by being to cautious, you could be missing some great deals and items needed for your collection. Hopefully these tips will help you feel more confident about buying on-line.

The first rule of thumb is know who you are dealing with. What information can you get from or about them? Do they offer a return policy, or would they rather not bother with that inconvenience?

I have a good friend and he was considering selling some trains on-line. I asked him what his return policy was going to be, and he replied, "I'm not going to do that, I know they are graded correctly, so there is no need".

The last thing that I would ever do is purchase a train on-line from someone who didn't offer a return policy. Whether it is an auction, from a major dealer, or an individual, you want to make sure that if you aren't satisfied, that you can return the item for a refund. If they can't offer a return policy, then I don't care how good their grading is, they don't understand business. If they are offering good merchandise, then they don't have to worry about a return. However if they don't offer a return privilege, sales will be much slower for obvious reasons. Don't trust anyone that is not willing to offer a return privilege. They may not be dishonest, but at the same time, they may not have a brain in their head either!

Find out if there are any surprise charges such as shipping and handling, sales tax, etc. We charge a straight 7% with minimum of 6.00 and a maximum of $17.00, which puts us around even with UPS and the USPS every month. Some people charge more, some less. It has always been a common practice for the buyer to pay this fee. Most likely it will be on your bill when you receive the item. However if there is nothing in writing, ask what these charges are before ordering or bidding. If you don't take the time to find out, and you are receive an unreasonable charge, but it was in writing, you won't have much recourse of action after the fact.

Who is this guy you are buying from anyway? Is he a dealer, or possibly an individual selling his collection? I once received a list of a beautiful American Flyer MPC collection. The seller was a woman who left no phone number from the Reno, Nevada area. Her asking prices were around half of retail, and I was interested. She just wanted you to send her a check for the items you wanted. Instead I sent an over night letter, telling her I would purchase the entire collection, and haul it away. I never heard back from her. Neither did the others who had sent her checks!!

I think most people involved with electric trains are very honest. However there is always the bad apple, so you have to use caution. But don't be so cautious that you let every opportunity pass you by. Like I said, most people are very honest in this business.

Take advantage of email lists. You will come across dealer's web pages that offer a form for you to fill out, and then you receive news and deals. We actually offer this, which you will find on our first page. At any rate, you can get some deals that no one else receives by signing up. Sure some may be spam traps, but you can always have your name taken off the list if that is the case. If you aren't signed up for ours, you are missing extra discounts that everyone who has signed up for receives. And you never knew it!

On-line order forms, are they really secure? If you see the little lock on your browser, they are. There is no way anyone can get that information other than the seller. At least that is the way our shopping cart system is set up. Use caution, but if you see that little lock, you are safe when ordering on-line.

I've had several people tell me that they don't like on-line auctions because they are so time consuming. Actually, if you know the system, you don't have to sit by your computer waiting to bid once you are outbid. Most on-line auction sites use a bid by proxy system which allows you to make one bid on an item, and forget about it.

This is how it works. OK, say you find an item at choochooauctions.com for instance that you would really like to own. The starting bid is two dollars, but the item is worth $300.00. Ok, so let's say that you decide you want to bid only once on that item, and not be bothered again until you either win or loose, what do you do? Well, say that it is a key piece for your collection, and you would really like to win it. Simply determine the most you would be willing to bid, and place that bid. Will the item go immediately to your bid of $290.00? No, absolutely not. The bid will go up in increments as others bid. You will be the high bidder until someone bids above your $290.00 bid. But let's say that the auction has ended and the most someone else was willing to bid was $125.00. Well, this means that you won that item for $130.00 if the increment was $5.00, as the program bids for you by proxy. So you are the happy winner for some $160.00 less than you actually bid. This saves a lot of time sitting by that computer bidding things up by 5 and 10 dollars, which is usually fruitless anyway.

And you would be surprised at the deals you can get especially this time of year bidding on-line. Of course, some things go for a good buck also, but your attitude when bidding should be, if I win, I win, if I loose, I loose'. Under no circumstances unless you absolutely have to have it ever take the attitude I have to have it'. All it takes is two people bidding on an item with that attitude, and well, then you are talking over paying. To be honest, I love it when that happens to my items on choochooauctions.com. (Maybe I should leave this paragraph out of this article!)

The most important thing to do with auctions is have fun. They truly can be a lot of fun. And like anything else, make sure that you know who the seller is and what their policies are. Pay attention to their positive or negative feedback. But don't just rely on feedback. Check out their policies also as you would any other perspective seller on-line.

So please be careful, cautions, and find those good deals!


If you have comments or feedback regarding this article or any subject having to do with electric trains, please feel free to visit our message boards, where you can discuss topics related to trains with other train enthusiasts.

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Revised 06/12/01
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