The Etiquette Guide to Buying Antiques Online

Every year, more and more people turn to the Internet for their shopping needs. There is a whole world to browse and it can be hard to know where to look and who to trust. Both the buyer and the seller have responsibilities when entering into a sales contract and I hope to offer guidance so that you (the buyer) can make smart choices and get the best deal from your online purchases.

Know what you’re after

This sounds very straightforward but there is such variation in handmade goods that it is sometimes hard to find exactly what you’re after. This is especially true when looking for replacement pieces, such as wine glasses. If it says it’s a ‘wine’ glass, check the dimensions against your own to ensure a good match. You wouldn’t want to buy another red wine glass when you need a white wine!

Where do I look?

Search engines such as Google or Bing will give you the top answers according to their search engine algorithm. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the top result is the best. It is worth looking through the first couple of pages of your search to ensure you see the variety of items on offer from various vendors. An online marketplace, such as eBay, has a huge range of items available but also means that you’ll have a lot of inexperienced or amateur sellers to sift through.

Who can I trust?

It is always recommended that you source your items from a reputable vendor. You can certainly buy antiques online through private sellers on eBay for, in some cases, half what you might pay a professional seller, but you are taking a risk. Is their information accurate? Have they provided good, clear photos? Have they thoroughly checked the item over and written a clear and concise condition report? I should mention at this point that there are plenty of very capable amateurs out there, who are conscientious and thorough in their research. However, many people just want a quick sale and whether the item is accurately attributed and described is not of great concern to them. Misattribution can be a bonus if you stumble across something that is far more expensive than it has been valued at. Unfortunately, in many cases, new collectors are duped out of their money if they do not do their research.


If you aren’t 100% sure of the object and require further information, then contact the seller; we don’t bite! The key point here is: never assume anything. If you’re unsure, just ask before you commit to purchasing.


How can I get the best deal?

Cheaper is not always better. In fact, in many cases, you get what you pay for. There are many ‘bargains’ to be had via online auctions, but there is often a trade-off in the quality of the product and the service provided. When dealing with professional antique traders, although you may pay more than in an online auction, you are not only getting exactly what you want, but you’re also getting years of experience and knowledge. You’re paying for a service, not just a product.

There is a certain degree of variation in online prices, and although many pieces are listed at a fixed price, there may be room for negotiation. There is a degree of tactfulness required in negotiating. My number one rule must be ‘Don’t insult the seller’. If you feel that the item is highly overpriced then it may be worth looking elsewhere. If you’re thinking of offering more than 20-30% less than the asking price, don’t be surprised if you’re refused or even ignored!

If it is maybe slightly more than you’re prepared to pay then it is worth asking if there is any flexibility. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It may seem obvious to state that the way you approach the situation will yield different outcomes, but I can assure you that with some of the emails I’ve received in the last 12 years some people need to be told. I would always recommend messaging the seller and asking them if they would consider an offer. If they say yes, then give them your offer and lay out your terms. Is your offer including or excluding the shipping cost? Is your offer for one lot or multiple lots? Make this clear when contacting the vendor so that you both know your position.

I have dealt with my fair share of rude buyers in the past and trying to haggle by insulting someone will get you nowhere. A few years ago, a buyer contacted me and told me that the item that he was interested in was overpriced because he had recently only paid £12.50 for one similar. Bear in mind, that the piece was only priced at £17.50, with shipping of £5.90 via a secure signed-for method. He said he was only prepared to give me £12.50 and that would include the shipping. He also suggested that I should be grateful for his business. As you can imagine, as I read his message I found myself feeling less agreeable with every sentence. I do not ignore messages (even of this nature), so I replied saying that he had indeed got a bargain at £12.50 but that my price was a fair market average. I told him what I could do it for but that this revised price was the bottom line. Unsurprisingly, he did not wish to pay more than his initial offer and we ceased negotiations. Now if he had come to me and asked what my best price would be including the shipping, I might have been more flexible (not £12.50 flexible though!) Manners cost nothing and are a key point in getting the best out of your online bartering.

The small print

Hopefully, now you’ve found what you want, you’ve negotiated a good price and have agreed to buy it. You have now entered into a contract with the seller. This is an easy thing to forget when buying is at the click of a button these days, but every sale comes with terms and conditions. It is always advisable to read through a seller’s terms and conditions before you enter into a contract with them. After all, by clicking ‘buy’, you have automatically agreed to whatever they have stipulated in the description and terms and conditions. It is your responsibility as the buyer to ensure that you’re happy with these. A good seller will have a comprehensive set of terms; although these can be lengthy, they are in place to ensure that both the buyer and the seller are protected. Unfortunately, many vendors do not have legally ‘sound’ terms and conditions, and especially where antique and second-hand goods are concerned, many believe they can write their own rules.

Paying for your goods

You’ve jumped through all the hoops and now you must pay. Since I started trading in 2005 there have been massive advances in the way we send and receive payments. Security improves all the time, so it has never been easier to buy online. The clear majority of buyers are happy to pay with a card over the phone or through an online payment system such as PayPal. It is always worth checking beforehand that the payment methods the seller offers suit your needs. If you are unsure, it is advisable to contact them before you enter into a sale contract. The most secure way for a seller to pay online is using (specifically) a credit card. Credit cards normally cover you in case of any disputes or problems relating to a sale, so if you have a problem, your card company will likely back you up. The same can be said for using any type of card via PayPal. PayPal seems to work very much in favour of the buyer, offering great security and excellent mediation services if problems should arise. Other payment methods that work well but are less common are BACS and personal cheques. Finally, many people will happily accept cash on collection of the goods. This is a great method for sellers because it is fee-free but the buyer should always insist on a receipt as proof of purchase and payment.

Playing the waiting game

‘Your order is being processed’. We all love receiving this message; it’s second only to ‘Your order has been dispatched’. As previously mentioned, you have agreed to the terms of sale as per the vendor’s terms and conditions, which should include details of shipping times and services. If a seller stipulates that they ship within three working days, make sure this works for you. If you require an item by a certain date, make sure that you let the seller know. We may suggest an expedited service, which will often come at an additional cost. You should also let us know of any special instructions, for example, if it’s going to a different address or if we should leave the receipt out if it’s a gift.

If you order something close to the date it is required, make sure you have assessed the ‘worst case scenario’. If you order something just days before you need it, what if it doesn’t arrive on time due to delays in the post? What if it arrives and isn’t quite what you wanted? These are all things to consider when buying from an individual or small business; we’re not all like Amazon with same or next-day delivery!

While your order is ‘being processed’, the seller will be carefully packing your item or items to ensure that they survive what can be a turbulent journey in the postal system. At Legacy Antiques, I specialise in glass, and over the last 12 years, I have fine-tuned the tailor-made packing to endure trips all over the world with contents ranging from £5 to many thousands of pounds. All items are treated with the same care and respect, no matter what their value. But, how do you know this? Well, the greatest indicator is via a seller’s reviews or feedback score. Sellers really should display feedback so that potential customers can see what level of service they can expect to receive. It is worth bearing in mind that feedback can be somewhat skewed; often people will leave feedback if they’ve had a very negative experience or a very positive one. Those in-between don’t always make time to leave reviews, which is why you’ll often see the two extremes but not always much in the middle.

Your item has arrived!

Hurrah! The wait is over and your item(s) have arrived. You now have a window of time in which to check your item and let the seller know if everything is alright. Visually examine your parcel; does it look ok? Is it making any alarming noises when you move it? If you’ve bought anything breakable then open it with caution. Assuming everything is okay, go ahead and unwrap it. Give it a good examination. Does it match the description? If you’re not sure, run through the details again before contacting the seller. If you have any questions or concerns, get in touch immediately. Most issues can be resolved quickly and amicably. If you are not 100% happy then see if the seller can help you before you leave feedback. I strongly believe it is unreasonable to leave negative feedback without giving the seller a chance to rectify the situation.

If your item has arrived damaged, then you must handle the ‘remains’ carefully to ensure you don’t hurt yourself. In addition, you must retain the object and the packing and contact the seller to obtain advice and instructions on how to proceed. Quite often the seller will require photographs to see the damage to then be able to proceed with an insurance claim. It is worth noting at this stage that is not the responsibility of the buyer to claim for a damaged piece. Any experienced seller knows that the goods are their responsibility until you (the buyer) are satisfied. If an item is damaged in transit, the seller should negotiate the best resolution with you, for example, returning it for a full refund.

In 12 years of online trading, I have sent thousands of parcels to destinations all over the world, and, though infrequent, I have experienced loss or damage in transit. It is par for the course when dealing with breakables. It is not necessarily down to the packing, but the fragility of the piece. No matter how well-wrapped something is, if it is launched by the delivery company like a rocket then the subsequent shock wave going through the parcel may affect even the slightest flaw in the glass and cause it to fracture. This is just bad luck and bad service on the delivery company’s part.

However, whatever the reason for the damage, the buyer should judge the seller not on the situation but, more importantly, how they handled it. On the handful of occasions that I have had a lost or damaged item, I make sure that the buyer is not out of pocket. You are already facing the disappointment of not receiving your highly-anticipated goods; why should you lose money too? This situation often reminds me of the phrase ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’. How have I felt when something that I’d bought has arrived damaged? Utterly disappointed. How would I want the situation resolved? Well, ideally, a replacement would be sent out, but in the case of antiques, there aren’t always spares of duplicates just lying around. If a seller can’t offer you a suitable replacement, then they should offer you a partial or full refund (depending on whether part or all of your order was damaged or lost). Of course, any returns or refund information should be detailed in the terms and conditions.

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