We need an eBay competitor

Problems on the Auction Block

eBay is the biggest auction site on the internet. This has generally worked well for people. More sellers provide more products to buyers. More buyers are better for sellers. But eBay has taken unfair advantage of this near market monopoly.

Over the last several years eBay has regularly increased fee percentages. For example, if you are a seller and your item ends at $150, then your ending fees will have increased over 40% in the past years. Most recently the final value fee changed from 5.25% to 8%. eBay has tried to hide this by lowering insertion fees, but the overall fees have increased dramatically. eBay also owns PayPal now and takes a cut from that transaction too. See this Fee Calculator for exact fees.

No greater service has come with these fees. eBay still has rampant fraud. Invariably people will email me as a seller asking me to end my auction early in exchange for their paying me early. It’s a Nigerian Prince type scam.

Buyers are still regularly defrauded by sellers who have built up a good reputation by numerous bogus low-cost auction transactions.

eBay has also made things bad for sellers by not allowing them to leave negative feedback for buyers. That’s right. You can leave feedback, but it has to be positive. I recently sold something on eBay and the buyer just didn’t pay. I can’t leave that person negative feedback. eBay has said that this is so that sellers do not have an unfair advantage. But all this has done provide an unfair advantage to buyers.

Competitor Please

Because of eBay’s arrogant attitude toward its customers, it is time for them to get a real competitor. The nature of an auction is that it needs lots of buyers and sellers to work. So it would be easiest for a big company with existing traffic to offer auctions.

Google is the biggest kid on the block. If they started auctions, eBay would be forced to lower prices. However, eBay is Google’s largest customer for its ads. Google has also been slow in moving into the content business, afraid to scare off its advertisers who might be competing with them. Still, Google could easily compete with eBay.

Yahoo gave up on their rival auction site about a year ago. It was odd that Yahoo search engine didn’t feature their search results over those from eBay. Still, Yahoo has many content sites and could try again to advertise a new auction site on its other websites.

Amazon’s Selling on Amazon could be a strong natural competitor. It sells at a fixed price, but has higher fees than eBay. Amazon also has a payment system that is somewhat of a PayPal competitor, but it costs even more and is difficult to use.

An unknown could also compete. But these sites have to do things like offering fixed-price auctions for fear of not enough bidders.  Etsy is for selling handmade goods. ePier is a small and simple auction site.  Overstock.com also has an auction site.

Someone should step up. There are numerous forums with people complaining about eBay’s fees and behavior. People are getting fed up and are ready for a real alternative.

Operating System re-installs installs for virus ridden computers

Infections Beyond Repair

Most people say that once a machine is infected with a virus, there is no practical way to know for sure if it is ever truly safe. You could take out the drive, attach it to a Linux machine for scans, and run all the latest tools. But this doesn’t guarantee success.

Think of it as an arms race between the virus writers and the anti-virus writers. Many viruses re-write parts of the Windows operating system. They are written specifically to sneak past popular anti-virus software, namely Norton and McAfee.

The solution, especially for machines with nasty viruses, is a clean install of the operating system. This can’t be done from within Windows. The important data should be backed up and the drive should be formatted and a clean install should be performed.

Before the old data is put back on the computer, it too should be scanned. Even documents can contain little programs (Macros) that could contain viruses.

Client Story

A recent client in Virginia had a computer that was badly infected. After the computer booted up, supposed anti-virus software popped up indicating that there were viruses. This was certainly true, but the anti-virus software was bogus. It just asked for his credit card info to fix the problems. If he had provided his credit card, I am sure that the virus would not have been removed. He would have probably just gotten many unauthorized charges.

His computer was no longer his. He had no administrator privileges. He had no “My Computer”, no CD drive, and no task manager. His system tray in the bottom right corner only had the words “VIRUS ALERT!”.

Without much hope, I initially tried Windows is Avast! 4 Home Edition.  One feature that Avast has over the previously mentioned AVG is the ability to scan Windows before booting into Windows machines.

Unfortunately, much of the operating system had been modified, so Avast could not fix it. I removed the drive, placed it in a Linux machine, backed up and scanned the important files, and then ran Darik’s Boot and Nuke to wipe the drive.

The desktop was an HP that did not come with a restore disk, so we had to purchase another copy of Windows to install.

I told the customer how many viruses use social engineering to work. Messages appear in an email or browser pop-up window and they appear legitimate so users click on them. He asked me how to tell the real pop-ups for the fake ones. Without computer experience, it is very difficult to know.

Windows Vista has made this worse. By constantly asking people to approve even small tasks, it conditions people to just click “Okay” for everything.

His computer now is up and running again. It is behind a router with a firewall and has the Firefox web browser and Avast anti-virus.  Hopefully that will keep him safe from viruses and malware. At least he can rest assured that his machine is not currently hi-jacked after a clean operating system install.

Where to buy electronics

While Best Buy may be popular for electronics, they are rarely the best buy. Their staff is known to make up answers. Their online prices are not as good as other Internet stores. And their in-store prices are often higher than their online prices, despite what their in-store website shows. Their Geek Squad is poorly trained and could try to take a video of you taking a shower. So instead of driving to Best Buy, first look around online.

Amazon has decent prices, but is also just a good place to shop around for what you want. Between Amazon and Amazon’s third party sellers, their selection is huge and their reviews can help you figure out what is best for you.

Newegg has long been a favorite electronics seller because of their great prices. They are usually one of the first places I visit. They sell lots of electronics, computers, computer parts, accessories, and software.

Cables, such as HDMI cables for HD TVs, are a huge rip-off in most retail stores. Best Buy and Circuit City will charge $40-$100 for a cable that is no better than a $5 cable from MonoPrice. MonoPrice’s cables are so cheap that you might suspect that they’re selling stolen goods. But MonoPrice has been around since 2002 selling quality cables and parts for their real price.

Although their site is not as attractive as MonoPrice’s, Blue Jeans Cable also offers a good deal on cables, especially if you need something special that is custom made.

While their prices aren’t the most competitive, Crutchfield offers a comprehensive site for home theater equipment. Their phone sales people are also knowledgeable.

There are times when you need a real physical store. For example, laptops have different “feels” and are good to play with before purchasing. Luckily, in the D.C. area, we have a great store for electronics.

Micro Center, with 21 stores nationwide, has a store here in Fairfax, Virginia. They have good prices and a wide selection of computer equipment and software. They have a television section for large LCDs and Plasmas. Unique today, they have a section just for selling Apple products. Micro Center is great for geeks too because they sell everything you need to build a computer from the ground up. MicroCenter also has a bookstore and a game section for PC and console gaming.

Micro Center‘s employees are generally quite knowledgeable, especially compared to those at Best Buy. They make money on sales commissions by putting a sticker on items that they help you to find. On checkout, those stickers are scanned for comissions.

If you’re shopping specifically for an Apple product or accessory, Apple’s retail stores are great and have an intelligent staff. Since Apple keeps prices the same everywhere, you won’t feel ripped off shopping there. There are only a few ways to get prices slightly better than the standard list price from Apple. You can get an Educational or Government discount from Apple. Or you can go to a third-party seller that might offer a small discount or combo package that Apple does not have. Amazon is the best of the third-party sellers now. They offer $100-$150 off of most current iMacs.

Although Best Buy is ubiquotus, there are many better alternatives. Give some of these other electronics stores a try.

Is Google AdWords worth it?

Google has virtually made all of its money from AdWords. Those are those little ads to the right when you search on Google listed under Sponsored Links. Every time an ad is clicked, Google is likely getting somewhere between $0.10-$1.00. It is the ad owner that pays Google for each and every click. The advertiser defines the ads and bids on keyword search prices. But are the results really worth it?

The shortest answer to that question can be found in the real search results. When you search for your keyword phrase on google right now, do you show up in the top 3 pages? If so, then you probably shouldn’t even consider AdWords. In my experience, visitors that come through an ad link are far less likely to buy than a visitor that comes through the normal search results. I believe that’s because visitors consider the ads to be junky. They trust the real search results more so if you come up well there, that’s far more valuable and you pay nothing for those clicks.

If you are nowhere to be found in the search results on google.com, then AdWords may be able to help you but there are a few things to worry about. A very disturbing thing seems to have happened with Google AdWords this year: price increases. The system is supposed to be an open bidding process. You would think that means you bid whatever you want and then you show up worse if you bid poorly relative to competition. Unfortunately, Google sets minimum bids and if you don’t bid high enough, you won’t show up at all! This mob-like mentality goes against the Google credo “do no evil.” On several occasions, I’ve seen keywords that had low bid prices but were showing in the top 3 ads on average but then get their minimum bid requirements increased. Considering the ads were already showing well, it makes no sense for the minimum bid to be increased unless Google is doing something it shouldn’t be. There should be no minimum bid prices. If you bid relatively low, your ad should simply be shown less frequently and lower down. This is my biggest complaint about AdWords by far.

The worst part about all this is Google’s got you. You have only 2 choices: advertise with them or advertise with no one. They dominate the online search market. Competitors like Yahoo are sadly a joke. My advice is to make sure your site has the keywords you care about repeatedly. Then make sure you submit your url to Google so it can show up in search results. To help your search result placement, you can add your site to directory sites such as the most popular dmoz.org. AdWords may be worth it for some but they will never be as valuable as simply coming up on the first page of the real search results.

Anti-virus Software

If you are running Windows, you should have anti-virus software. One of the best is free for personal use. It is:
AVG Anti-virus Free Edition

It includes free anti-virus updates and does a great job of finding and stopping viruses.

The only downside to AVG is that every year or so AVG comes out with an update that requires a fresh install of the new version. And on the website, you need to look for the free version. AVG does push their paid version.

When installing, you don’t need to install their browser plug-in which can needlessly slow things down. Instead, for safety, you should use Firefox when browsing the Internet.

Compared to standard anti-virus software from Norton and McAfee, AVG does both a better job finding viruses and is less resource hungry in my opinion. Often I will find a system that is completely bogged down, not by viruses but by Norton’s rediculously large Internet Security Suite of software.

home and office computer support for D.C., Virginia & Maryland