Second-hand shopping online

CHOICE explores risks of shopping and swapping second-hand items online.
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  • Updated:14 Sep 2009

01 .Sites for buying and selling

Online swapping

In brief

  • Buying used items online can save you money but doesn’t provide the same consumer protection rights as when buying new.
  • Swapping services and products is a creative way of getting what you want without spending any cash, but is limited to only a handful of sites.

Despite the credit crunch, the second-hand trading market is booming as bargain-hunting consumers turn to buying quality second-hand items online, from the latest plasma screens to designer togs. Popular online trading sites eBay and Trading Post both report a spike in trade of second-hand items since the global financial crisis hit. Swap sites that allow you to trade goods for services and vice versa – without money passing hands – are also seeing a similar boom in membership.

CHOICE outlines some of the sites to consider if you’re in the online marketplace for a second-hand bargain or simply want to make some cash selling items you no longer need.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Second-hand sites

Undoubtedly the best-known space for anyone looking to buy or sell online, this massive auction site sells everything from ovens to car navigators. There are about 50,000 commercial sellers in Australia regularly listing second-hand and brand new items at on eBay. eBay operates on a bidding system, where the highest bidder gets to buy the item. Auctions can last for up to 10 days. Sellers can offer a “Buy It Now” option which cuts the auction short, but this is not offered on all goods. The site’s powerful search engine lets you search by product or category. It can further refine your search to what’s in your locality and within your budget.

Buyers can also ask the seller questions about the product before bidding. As a confidence guide for potential buyers, sellers are rated by previous buyers on their service, delivery and condition of products sold. Interestingly, eBay says more luxury goods such as cars, boats and jet skis are being put up for sale since the financial crisis hit.

OZtion was founded in Melbourne in by IT engineer Philip Druce and university student Kelvin Yip in 2005. They saw a market opportunity in creating an online trading site for Australians who did not like Ebay’s high fees and charges. It is now the second largest online auction site in the country with more than 400,000 members. Last year, OZtion was acquired by public-listed media company Jumbuck Entertainment Ltd.

The range and number of items may not be as big compared to Ebay’s, but the site is user-friendly, allowing you to search for items by category, auction type, item condition, price, distance, and even postage options. You can choose to bid or the BuyNow option. OZtion also has the option to search items by which members are selling or bidding on them. Another unique search function OZtion has is search suggestions. As you type in the search bar, OZtion gives suggestions and makes it quicker to find what you’re looking for. There are no listing or photo fees for sellers and this is a big plus for buyers as well, especially in CarBuddy, Oztion's used cars category.

Trading Post
For years, the Trading Post newspaper was the weekly bible that anyone in the second-hand market would purchase to snag a bargain. Now it is also available online. The website lists everything from caravans to gardening equipment. Its online classifieds are always listed with the sellers’ phone numbers so potential buyers can contact them directly. Buyers can also arrange for personal inspections of the goods before purchase and have some room to haggle, which is not possible on online auction sites. Auction items are limited, compared with those on eBay. In contrast to eBay, Trading Post has seen an increase in smaller items being traded, such as baby products, sports equipment and books.

This site has a large community of individual sellers who put up items for sale. You can also often find garage sales and what’s selling in your area. Its search engine allows you to filter by products and price range. If you're looking for a specific item, you can also sign up to alerts via your email address.

Craig’s List
The site began in 1995 – the same year eBay was launched – in San Francisco when software developer Craig Newmark started an online classified site that also listed nearby social events. Then a newcomer to San Francisco, his vision was to create an online community through the site that would bring people together in real life. Through word of mouth, spread around the world and now has online communities in 570 cities across 50 countries.

The Australian chapter, first launched in Sydney and Melbourne in 2004, is now in every state and territory. This site lists everything from jobs to furniture and has an active online forum. Although it offers far fewer items for sale compared with other sites, it’s worth bookmarking.

Grays Online
Discontinued models, display items, previously leased products (such as computers) and leftover goods from businesses that have gone bust are listed on this auction site – everything from golf carts to coffee machines. This is a good pit-stop for those thinking of setting up their own business or looking for office equipment or machinery at a bargain. All products have a “lot description” that tells you if the items are seconds, demonstration models, reconditioned or previously leased.

It also lists the original retail price and tells you what could be missing from the item, such as its user manual. Some of the items also come with warranties from the seller. All bids start at $9, but there are minimum bid amounts. When CHOICE last checked, a reconditioned Sony Bravia 40-inch LCD TV was sold at $1509 (the original retail price being about $2699) .

This online retailer specialises in selling refurbished and discounted new IT equipment such as computer desktops, laptops and monitors. Recompute is located in Sydney but sells online and couriers items to customers anywhere in Australia. The company buys equipment previously used by large corporations, test and refurbish the products before selling them. All its second hand products come with a one year warranty. There are some really good deals if you’re looking for a second computer in your home. The last time we visited, you could grab a desktop systems (processor, monitor, keyboard and mouse) for $329.

Why buy new books when a second-hand one reads just as well? AbeBooks, is an international online marketplace for books and lists a huge range of new, used, rare, and out-of-print books for sale. It was started in 1995 by two couples living in Canada. The online store expanded into the German, French and British online bookselling markets.

The Australia/New Zealand site lists almost all second-hand booksellers – mostly stores that have physical shops – in Australia. All you have to do is type in an author or the book title and a list of which bookstores have the books comes up. The upside of this website is that it has a huge range of books from specialist books to general fiction and it also lists sellers who deal in textbooks books as well. The downside is that the prices are listed in US dollars though there is a currency converter on the site that helps solve this tiny hitch. Postage and handling costs for each book start from $6.

I Do Gowns
Getting hitched and looking for a second-hand gown to save money? The team behind this site is based in Launceston and hooks up sellers and buyers. Bridal gowns and bridesmaid dresses from sizes six to 24, halter-neck dresses for the after-party, tiaras and veils are all available. You can contact the seller directly via the website as there’s an online store for each state and territory. Some of the items – usually worn once – are at least 50% off the original purchase price.

Second-hand Posh
Just by looking at the items up for sale in their online store, you’d never be able tell that the clothes, shoes and handbags in this posh-looking online store are second-hand. The designer wear and accessories for women appeal to the brand-conscious who may not want to pay full price. Its physical store, Recollections, has been in Perth for 25 years and went online a year ago to allow purchasing from anywhere in Australia, as well as overseas. Despite the current climate, store manager Helen Swift told CHOICE they have hundreds of members online and many have put themselves on waiting lists for quality seconds. Ferragamo shoes in the mail, anyone?


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The attraction of this site is that it offers a huge range of used items for swap, sale or auction. This international online swap marketplace has a sizeable community in Australia and allows members to swap products for services and vice versa; it’s not unusual to find professional pest control services offered in exchange for household appliances and furniture . You can also haggle until both parties are happy with the swap or price of the item. The site allows you to swap or buy items instantly by contacting the swapper or seller, instead of having to wait for the outcome of an online auction bid.

This bartering site was launched last August, and now has more than 2000 members nationwide . It works like SwapAce, except it specifically caters to mothers who list products they don’t need or services they can offer in return for something they want or need. Fathers are sometimes included in the services – such as handyman skills – the women list as part of the swap offer. Services range from haircuts to chiropractic sessions, and products range from books to pets. Artist Jessica Gronow even made a living out of it. She joined Mumswap last October to save money on baby clothes and offered drawing portraitures in return. People started to offer payment for her to draw, creating a job that now earns her $1000 a month.

Baby products such as cots and seats are very popular on this site. However, you should always be careful using second-hand baby products. Older products may not meet current safety standards and may pose potential hazards. Go to for more on what to look out for.

Clothing Exchange
Fancy making over your wardrobe without spending a cent? The site was set up for women who have clothes and accessories they may not need and are looking for a wardrobe makeover at very low cost. Swap events are organised in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide ; simply sign up to their mailing list to find out when and where the event is happening and bring up to six garments or accessories you wish to swap. Entry to the event usually costs $25 at the door and $20 if your buy entry tickets online.

Oz Recycle
This recycling website is just that – it offers freebies to be reused. All you need to do is contact the person who’s giving away the item and collect it. It can be anything from a 1930s pianola to a cupboard. The site’s search engine lets you find out what’s available and near you just by keying in your postcode. The waste-reduction concept to recycle goods works both ways. If, for example, you want to give away a dining table you no longer need, simply put the notice up on the website for free and wait for someone to contact you.

03.Purchase checklist


When buying second-hand items, you’re not covered by the same kind of consumer protection laws as when buying them brand new.

  • You may not always get to examine the goods before buying them.
  • The individual seller may not agree to a refund if the product is faulty, and this could be complicated if the items you bought require interstate postage or delivery.
  • There is also no such thing as a cooling-off period when buying second-hand items or swapping.

Buying second-hand online checklist

Take these steps to protect yourself when buying second-hand goods online:

  • Ask the seller about the condition and quality of the product. The photos posted online give you the complete picture. Sellers may put up stock or catalogue photos that may not reflect the true condition of the items.
  • If possible, arrange to examine the item before you commit to buying it.
  • Familiarise yourself with the website’s security guidelines. Each website will usually have an advisory section where tips for trading safely are listed as well as a dispute resolution policy.
  • Check the payment mode and if it is secure. PayPal, for example, is widely used because it allows you send payments securely online using a credit card, debit card or bank account without giving sellers your financial details. It also has a buyer protection service in case you don't receive your item or the item is significantly different from its description in the seller's listing.
  • Check if there is a refund policy and what it entails, such as the refund conditions and who bears the postage charges if you have to return it by post.

Swapping online checklist

When swapping second-hand items:

  • Check the product before accepting it. Just because you don’t have to fork out money for the product doesn’t mean you take it if it’s not in good condition.
  • Check for labels indicating the product is certified to the relevant standard.
  • Make sure the product works before accepting it.