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eBay Wins a Convert

By Amey Stone When I was 16 my mother gave me a special gift she had saved until I was old enough to appreciate it. It was a gold signet ring, emblazoned with an image of the Statue of Liberty. My great-grandmother had given it to my great-grandfather when he became an American citizen, sometime around 1910.

I wore that ring every day for seven years, until I lost it on a dance floor in Boston in 1989. To this day, every time I pass an antique store -- or better yet, a pawn shop -- I look to see if it might be in the window. I've had no luck. But late one recent night, I had a sudden realization: This was a job for eBay (EBAY).

NOT EVEN CLOSE. I wrote an article recently about why I hadn't tried an auction online and probably never would -- at least until my two young children are grown and I have the time (see BW Online, 8/27/04, "eBay, Who Needs It?"). I received a huge volume of e-mail from eBay aficionados urging me to give it a try and sharing tips to make auctions easier and less time-consuming (see BW Online, 10/1/04, "Don't Be a Bitter Bidder").

I decided I owed it to all those readers to see if I could find something for auction on eBay that's so rare and precious to me that it would make the time spent seem inconsequential. So I began my quest for a gold Statue of Liberty ring. While I had no expectation of finding the actual ring my great-grandparents owned nearly 100 years ago, I thought I might find one like it.

After a week of looking, I was a little disappointed. I couldn't find a single ring with the Statue of Liberty on it -- let alone anything close to the ring I lost -- on all of eBay. It took me lots of poking around and finally some help from an eBay staffer before I was able to sign up to be notified via e-mail in the event that any gold Statue of Liberty rings come up for sale. (Again, see eBay users' tips.)

EFFORTLESS BID. I realize that many eBay shoppers aren't looking for something nearly so unusual, so I participated in some other auctions during my week of experimentation to get a more realistic sense of the process. Alas, I found many of my eBay fears confirmed. I mostly placed impulse bids on stuff that I didn't need or really want. I'm relieved to report that I lost every auction. Each time the item was "sniped" in the final minutes.

My experience on eBay wasn't all negative, however. Participating in an auction was relatively effortless (even if it takes practice to get really good at it). I initially thought bidding would be a time drain, but I didn't find it to be so -- once I spent the 15 minutes it took to set up my accounts. Best of all, I did get one item on eBay that I really love -- a gold pocket watch. And it even has the Statue of Liberty emblazoned on it.

This find came out of the search to replace my long-lost ring. I initially looked in the jewelry category, putting "Statue of Liberty ring" into the search engine. No items were found. But when I searched the jewelry area for "Statue of Liberty," suddenly hundreds of items popped up.

PICK-ME-UP. The vast majority were charms for bracelets or necklaces. I scrolled through the items until the pocket watch caught my eye. The auction started at $7.99, but I could purchase it instantly for $9.99 using the "Buy It Now" feature. And that's what I did.

With shipping, handling, and tax included, my new gold pocket watch cost me $15.81. It arrived just four days after I placed my order, and when I opened up the package, I found it shiny, new, in good working order, and all-around nicer than I'd hoped. It's hardly the Statue of Liberty ring that I lost, and I'm not sure it's a true bargain. But I love my watch, and the whole experience was a nice little pick-me-up.

Will I buy myself or a family member another trinket on eBay someday? I'm already shopping. Stone is a senior writer for BusinessWeek Online in New York

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