Saturday, March 28, 2009

You have an enormous, inexpensive international bazaar at your fingertips.

It's eBay.

While eBay is best known for being a gigantic virtual flea market, what a lot of people don't realize is that there are thousands of sellers who run virtual stores specializing in every product under the sun, and a great many of those happen to be stores featuring new clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories. It's like having access to an enormous import/export mall that's open 24 hours a day.

It'll take some searching to find the stores you like, but once you do--assuming you have an eBay account (hint: GET ONE if you don't have one)--you can save the stores to your favorite seller list, which allows you to find them again easily whenever you want to shop with them again. Over the years, I've become a regular customer to several sellers who carry consistently high-quality, reasonably priced items. One of my favorites, pictured above, specializes in handmade silver and gemstone jewelry imported from India, for sale at a fraction of what you'll find similar items priced at in catalogs or department stores.

I also have favorite stores that I go to often for handbags, shoes, and scarves & wraps. One of the regular features of this blog will be frequent features on some of my favorite eBay sellers (or your favorites, if you'll be kind enough to pass along your suggestions). You can easily find designer wear at deep discounts off retail; one of my best buys last summer was a pair of brand-new-in-the-box Carlos Santana strappy sandals that sold for almost $100 at Macy's, but I picked up on eBay for $30.

Some general caveats for those who aren't regular eBay shoppers:

1. Make sure you're aware of the seller's return policy; most sellers won't allow returns unless there's a defect or damage of some kind. Once you buy it, you're probably stuck with it.

2. Always check the shipping charges before bidding. Most sellers charge reasonable shipping and handling fees, but some are outrageous and out of proportion with what you're buying. You may think you're getting a great deal on the item, but when you see a $20 or $30 shipping charge, it's not such a great deal after all.

3. If you have any questions at all about an item, ask the seller before you bid. Most are happy to answer questions, and it helps you be sure you're bidding on something you actually want.

4. Always, always check a seller's feedback. The eBay community is its own better business bureau, and buyer feedback is very dependable. If a high-volume seller only has 98% positive feedback with a lot of recent negative marks, you might want to think twice before bidding on anything from their store. As a rule, I look for 99% or better feedback if I'm buying from a high-volume seller.

And one tip unique to anybody shopping for clothes on eBay: there are many sellers who carry clothes marketed directly from Asia (usually Hong Kong). I've never been disappointed in the quality of the garments I've bought from those sellers, but be aware that sizes on clothes coming from those countries tend to run small compared to U.S. sizes (sometimes much smaller). The better sellers include the measurements on garments they sell, so that leaves it up to you to know what your own measurements are, and whether that gorgeous blouse you're lusting after is actually going to fit when it arrives in the mail.

eBay is one of the best resources for somebody shopping on a budget. You can find absolute steals on designer clothes and shoes if you're a diligent shopper, and you'll also find really unique and beautiful items--especially from the international sellers--at great prices.

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