Buying Online? - ‘Caveat emptor’

A water professional called me recently and confessed to being an eBay junkie. She happened upon 14,000 feet of coated pipe up for grabs online.

A water professional called me recently and confessed to being an eBay junkie. She happened upon 14,000 feet of coated pipe up for grabs online. Her question to me was what guarantee is there this pipe, or any product sold via such an outlet, can meet specifications if purchased - or, more to the point, that it won’t fail while in use.

Since on eBay, you’re most often not fully aware of who the seller is, I would imagine that this underscores more than ever the concept of “caveat emptor” - buyer beware.

I went to eBay and found a number of industrial equipment lots available for the willing buyer to bid on. Under “water treatment” in the Business & Industrial category, there were three items directly on eBay and 15 more through eBay stores, aggregate sellers or consignment houses with multiple items up for auction. Starting values range from $39.99 for a Bruner softening controller to a $25,000 “Buy It Now” request for a PAC International denitrification skid. (I later found another store, the Water Treatment Equipment Center, which had 237 items - the priciest of which was a $242,500 Worthington pump system.)

The top five among the values listed all had high approval ratings from previous buyers (99.8-100%) and have sold via eBay since ’99 (2), ’01 (1), ’02 (1) and February (1). You can also read comments from previous buyers, although they’re largely blurbs like: “Great deal!” or “Very satisfied.” Auction items may be new or used or, as in the case for the pipe mentioned earlier, unused but left over when a contract fell through several years earlier. Mostly, you have product brands that aren’t sold through the manufacturer. Thus, warranties are limited at best - although you can insure items against damage during shipping.

Comments in the description for a Millipore RO/DI water treatment unit with a “Buy It Now” price of $2,250 points out there’s no warranty, noting: “While the item will be as described before we send it, there’s always a chance something will happen in shipping. If you need service like a new item, go buy a new one. Alternatively, a limited warranty can be purchased on some items. Ask.”

On another item, a seller was very frank: “We are an eBay Trading Assistant. We list items for a variety of sellers, and are sometimes at their mercy about the descriptions and histories. Often, we are researching and listing items we know virtually nothing about.”

Such isn’t the case at WaterSurplus.com, a systems, equipment and components reseller founded several years ago by John Barelli who has over 20 years in the water and wastewater industry. It’s all about managing risk, he says, when you’re looking for equipment via this type of outlet. If it’s a critical piece of equipment or you have to have a long term warranty, you’re better off going direct to the manufacturer or master distributor. If not, you can save a lot of money - but you have to do your homework on what you’re buying. Look for pictures. Sometimes buying sight unseen isn’t always best, which gives Barelli’s business a leg up because everything posted at his website he has purchased and customers can come look at it if need be before cutting a check.

“We want to save you money. We try to manage risk for you and ask questions so you get the information you need to make a good decision. In the end, if we help keep some of this stuff out of the landfill and put to useful purposes, then that’s good for everyone. Most of our buyers are repeat customers and we want to keep them happy,” said Barelli, who admits to selling through eBay also.

Carlos David Mogollón,
Managing Editor

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