Buying antiques online has many advantages and some rather obvious disadvantages. The most obvious disadvantage is you can’t touch, feel, and try out anything that is online. I have close friends in the antiques business that will not buy anything that they can’t see in person. But I know other antique dealers that buy many things online. The growing number of internet sales indicates more and more people have confidence in online purchases. There have been months where we sold more antiques online than we did in our antiques store. To be honest, it amazes me what some people will buy online. We sold three quite expensive antique leather couches online and shipped them one thousand miles. It kind of surprises me that someone would buy an antique couch or sofa without first being able to sit in it to see if it was comfortable. These were lovely Victorian leather sofas that had been completely restored in London, so they were definitely not available everywhere. I might add, that all of the people loved the leather sofas and either bought from us again or asked us to find other pieces, like a matching antique leather ottoman and antique leather arm chair. But again the major disadvantage is not being able to see the antique or collectible in person. You have to depend on the photos and descriptions furnished by the online seller to make your buying decision.
I am not going to include buying antiques at online auctions in this article since I included it in the article on “Buying Antiques at an Antique Auction.” But there are so many online sources for buying antiques and collectibles online. Many, many antique shops now have their own online presence. Some of these sites are very complete and others are mainly there to show you where they are located and what they offer. There are also some very large internet only antiques & collectibles sites. Three of the biggest ones are Tias.com, GoAntiques.com, and my favorite, RubyLane.com, where I sell online. Here is a link to my site on Ruby Lane. These sites illustrate some of the advantages of shopping online. Besides the obvious advantage of being able to shop from the comfort of your own home, you can find literally thousands of antiques and collectibles in a matter of minutes. The more unusual or rare the antique or collectible you are trying to find, the bigger the advantage. Say you are looking for a particular piece of antique oak furniture, an antique oak partners desk. This might be impossible to find in antique shops in your community, but you can probably find several to choose from online. Some of those sites mentioned above have thousands of antique dealers registered as sellers on their sites. These antiques dealers from around the world come to the internet because it allows them to market their antiques and collectibles on the world wide web.
As I mentioned in another article, Dallas is a very European city when it comes to the style of antiques they prefer. Here in northern Alabama, they prefer American antiques. But when I list my antiques inventory on Ruby Lane, it doesn’t matter where my antiques are located, other than shipping costs. They can be seen by people anywhere. So if you love English antiques, but live in an area where they have very few of these in the antiques shops and antique malls, you can turn to the internet. You can use the search features on the online antique sites that I listed, or just Google what you are trying to find.
I mentioned shipping costs above. One thing many people don’t take into consideration, is there is no sales tax on items shipped out of state. That is true in most states as I write this, but that policy cam always change. But taking the example of the Victorian antique leather sofa that I sold for $5,000. In our antiques store in Dallas, the sales tax was 8.25%. On that sale, the sales tax would have been $412.50 which came close to covering the shipping cost. So many times the shipping costs will be offset by the savings in sales tax.
You can also use the internet to check out the values of particular antiques and collectibles. Some people still prefer antiques price guides, and there are some very good ones available. My two favorites are Miller’s Antiques Handbook & Price Guide and Schroeder’s Antiques Price Guide. These are two excellent references for serious antique lovers. There also some online specialized price and information sites. These include art sites and more general antiques guides. Many of these are based on auction results fro Ebay and other auction sites. Be sure and check the dates of the auctions because prices can vary widely from different years.
Before buying antiques online you need to do your homework. Ebay gives you some information on their sellers, but many sites do not. Some sites will help settle any dispute between the buyer and seller. Be sure the pictures and descriptions of the items are complete. If you have a question, email and ask for a more complete description or additional photos. Check on the return policies. And please remember that even the most honest antiques dealer can make mistakes. I bought a brass lock that I thought (and was told by seller) that it was an antique and sold it as such on my Ruby Lane site. The buyer was getting it for a present for her husband. He was a collector and immediately recognized it as a reproduction. I refunded the money, including the shipping costs both ways, because it was my responsibility to list it correctly and offered my sincere apologies which, thankfully, she graciously accepted. Most sites will offer refunds if the item is listed incorrectly.
Don’t be afraid to bargain with the antique dealers on these sites, but be reasonable. RubyLane had an option for the online antique dealers to list “Offers Considered” or something similar. People would offer less than half of the listed price, which I might add was a very fair original price. Needless to say, unless an antiques dealer is going out of business, they could not stay in business long selling things for more than a 50% discount. The “standard” discount in the antiques business is around 10%. Some online dealers will not offer any discounts.
Make sure the item has a complete item description and has pictures showing every angle. If there is damage or flaws, be sure they are clearly shown. Be careful of incomplete or vague descriptions. Vintage can mean nearly anything. Style is another word to watch carefully. A Victorian style is NOT Victorian. Try to find similar items online and see if they have similar descriptions. As long as you do your homework and carefully read the descriptions and look closely at the photos, including the zoom features, you should be able to buy antiques online with confidence.