Online auctions on Ebay, Priceline can bring surprises or disappointment
Assistant Scene Editor
It is a universal truth about college students that we always seem to be short on cash. We have no problem spending it — it's making it and keeping it that we struggle with. Our mailboxes are flooded with new credit card applications every day. When opened along with pitifully small bank statements or other credit card bills, a brand new Visa credit line can suddenly seem like a brilliant idea.
But what does this handful of credit cards mean for a college student, other than years of debt and a poor credit rating? When combined with 24-hour Internet access and a strong need to procrastinate, it can only translate into one thing — online shopping.
As the first generation to grow up with the Internet, we have experienced the marvels of having information at our fingertips and on our computer screen within seconds. The Internet has made papers easier to write, kept hometown friends and family in touch, and provided hours of enjoyable procrastination.
But as more and more companies go online to promote their products, buying and selling goods on the Internet is one more way to spend money and valuable time.
Besides the usual clothes, books and CDs available for purchase online, more net-surfers are using the Internet to plan trips and find great deals on travel plans. Priceline.com is one of the earliest and best-known discount travel sites. At this site, you can name your own price on anything from airline tickets to rental cars to hotel rooms, and Priceline will search to match what you're willing to spend.
At first sight, it seems like a brilliant idea — you've scrounged up some extra money, and there must be some airline out there willing to fly you to Cancun for $60. And indeed, you may be one of the lucky customers that Priceline boasts about. But experience shows otherwise.
The annoying thing about Priceline is that you must enter in all of your personal information, including your credit card number, before the site will find you a deal. This means you are locked into making the purchase if Priceline can find you the service you want at the price you name.
For all those dreaming up exotic spring break plans in the middle of February, Priceline does not provide any way to search for discount prices without an obligation to buy what you find.
Priceline does provide some interesting options, such as the opportunity to name your own price for long distance service. But besides travel accommodations, the other services provided are not too useful for the average college student, such as deals on home financing and new cars.
Unfortunately, two of the services that would be extremely useful — discounts on groceries and gas — will no longer be offered. In this way, Priceline is designed for those with specific needs, and doesn't cater to those who want to shop around for the best bargains.
For those who are looking to make money rather than spend it, the phenomenon of Ebay.com is the place to go — "the world's first, biggest and best person-to-person online trading community." Like a virtual garage sale, Ebay allows you to dump all your old junk on someone else.
After registering on the site, you merely provide information on the item you want to sell and then sit back to watch your own online auction.You can also search for anything to buy yourself.
Simply type in what you're looking to find or browse the provided categories. Ebay will provide you with a huge list of all the items that meet your request.
You can then peruse pictures and descriptions of the items — everything from antiques and collectibles to computers and cars. Then you can bid whatever you're willing to spend on the items, and hope no one outbids you before the item's bidding deadline ends.
Ebay.com is the perfect source for obscure gifts or wild dorm room decorations. As Ebay's mission statement declares, "We help people trade practically anything on earth."
Unfortunately, some Ebay traders have taken this a little too literally in the past. Among the bizarre items and hoaxes that have been put up for auction in the past are 500 pounds of marijuana, an unborn baby, a human kidney, a missle, and Ebay.com itself. The site has quickly moved to prevent such prank bids, and otherwise offers only legimate goods and products.
As a whole the prices on Ebay are reasonable, and the ability to name your own price and then buy with the click of a mouse is hard to pass up. The searching and bidding can become addictive, though — if you find yourself cursing at your screen at 4:30 a.m. because some punk outbid you on a vintage Monkees album, you may need to seek help.
Overall, though, both Priceline and Ebay provide a unique and intriguing auction format. The Web sites are large and complete, but clear and easy to navigate, with detailed tutorials explaining procedures to first-time visitors.
Both sites are well-known and reliable — they provide information on the security of the services they offer and on the safety of making online purchases at their site.
So the next time you're hunting for discount airfare home, or need to buy your mother the latest Beanie Baby in time for Christmas, gather up those shiny new credit cards and start bidding. You never know what deals you might find.
All Scene Stories for Wednesday, November 1, 2000