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Making the Leap to Online Trading

by Mike Silvia
February 13, 2005

Online trading of sports cards has become the medium of choice for thousands of collectors. While the true numbers are difficult to tally, it is estimated that between 25,000-40,000 traders used the Internet within the past year to complete deals and this number is expected to double over the next few years as collectors realize the safety and benefits to online trading.

So, let's learn more about online trading as well as cover recommendations to make your online trading enjoyable, safe and rewarding.

Need for Online Trading

When I was a young baseball card collector, my card trading was limited to two of my best friends that lived down the street. If we wanted to complete a set or buy more cards, we had to rely on one of the local card shops. If the card shops didn't have the cards we wanted, we were out of luck unless we were lucky enough to get to a card show. The Internet has changed all that.

"I trade online because there is more variety," said Larry, a member of an online trading community. "I run a hobby shop [in New York] and all my customers want is New York Yankees stuff. I'm a Vladimir Guerrero and Randy Johnson fan. Thanks to an online trading community, my collection went from around 50 of each [player] to over 250 of each in two months! I never could have done that just trading with local collectors."

Henry, a moderator at an online trading community adds, "I trade cards on the Internet because it is the easiest way to access other collectors for transactions, knowledge, stories and more. The Internet has changed the way millions of people do other things, so why shouldn't card collectors be taking advantage of the opportunity as well? Card shows are either few and far between or [typically] small in size. It is often cheaper to trade online than to pay gas/entry fee to access a major card show."

Today, it is easy to complete sets or get additional cards of your favorite players simply by using an online forum or message board system. There are two basic types: hobby boards and trading communities. You should carefully choose which type you use for trading or you may part with your collection faster than expected.

Hobby Boards

Many of the large manufacturers and service companies within the sports card industry provide message boards on their web sites. However, in general, they have focused minimal attention to the trading forums within those boards. In addition, they often offer little to no moderation and maintain a basic site with limited functionality. For the new online trader, making deals on these boards can be like walking down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood with your sports card collection. On my first online trade, I was robbed for almost $200 in cards.

If you believe WWW stands for the "Wild, Wild West", then by all means, use the hobby boards for trading.

Trading Communities

As an alternative, you may want to visit one of the online trading communities such as SportsCardForum.com, SportsCardSheriff.com or The Bench (www.teamsr.net). At these sites, moderators are available to answer questions, keep the site free of spamming and swearing and assist with disputed trades. At SportsCardSheriff.com (SCS), for example, our members have completed over 13,000 online trades with only about 100 problem trades that required full moderator attention in just over two years.

Let me briefly explain how trading typically works on a trading community. Members use the forums to meet other online collectors. Most start in the sports forums - forums dedicated to a specific sport like football, basketball, hockey or baseball. Traders then post wants or list cards they have to trade or sell. Other traders read through and search these forums and reply to posts if a need can be met. When traders come to an agreement, they post all of the trade details as a contractual agreement between the two collectors. When both collectors fulfill their part of the deal, feedback is left for each trader.

Protecting Traders

Trading online can be extremely enjoyable and safe if precautions are taken. There are several steps you should take when finalizing a deal with someone online. First, know the person you are trading with. The Internet is full of scam artists lurking around the corner for their next unsuspecting victim. If you go against my advice and decide to trade on hobby boards, then at least request references from the trader and talk to the trader on the phone if possible.

At online trading communities, it is common to have a more formal feedback system. For example, the SCS feedback system is similar to eBay's feedback system, but specifically tailored to sport cards. When negotiating a deal, research of a trader's history is only a click away. You can see how many trades a member has made (positive, negative and neutral), condition accuracy (did the member send as described), shipping rating (did the member send right away and packed the card(s) well) and a listing of all the member's past trades.

Another benefit to trading communities is the assistance the moderators can provide if a trade goes bad or a question arises. Each site has their own policy on assisting members. At SCS, we have a "courthouse" forum dedicated to resolving disputes. The courthouse forum has dedicated moderators whose sole purpose is to settle disputes and retrieve cards for collectors.

More Than Just Trading

In addition to the safety they provide, online trading communities have become places to build collections and socialize. I have gained many friends (whom I have never met in person) through trading cards on the Internet. As a general rule, I treat all my fellow collectors with respect. The true measure of respect when trading on an online community is following through on your trades, using good communication skills and treating others they way you would like to be treated. When you find the community of traders that best fits your trading needs, spend the time to read the rules and guidelines established by the site and you will become a successful online trader.

Collectors have been trading sports cards through the Internet for several years now. Many have become seasoned veterans and have achieved special status on these trading communities. For example, SCS has a five-tiered "Elite" trader recognition program for members that have proven their abilities on several different levels. They have completed a specific number of trades, followed the trading community rules and guidelines and have consistently represented the spirit of the hobby. SCS has over 150 outstanding members that have reached Elite recognition and enjoy an exclusive forum and contest area.

In closing, online trading can be extremely fun if precautions are taken. I have seen collectors from the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, England, Germany and France complete successful trades and enjoy the hobby. I have helped manage over 13,000 successful trades on the Internet, but have also seen thousands of dollars of cards stolen. If you trade sports cards online, use a trading community with a feedback system and you will avoid the dark alleys.

About the author
Mike Silvia is the general manager/part owner of SportsCardSheriff.com. Sports Card Sheriff is the #1 most visited sports card forum (according to Alexa.com) with over 5,270 members. The site has over 70 moderators with 10 sport forums, a feedback system, a live chat system, a courthouse, a card gallery, a private message system, a through-the-mail autograph forum and more.

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