A Cautionary Tale on Buying “specialized” items on eBay

I am a big fan of eBay. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve purchased many fantastic things on eBay. And in the past have sold some remarkable things on eBay – a cubby house, pool fencing, some amazing things – very successfully. And in general, with technology related items, I’ve had great success. So when I needed to purchase some accessories for my now aging iPad Pro, eBay came to mind.

My iPad Pro is an ‘original’ 9.7″ model, with ‘maxed out’ storage – as it was then – 256 gb – and as it was at the time, a very powerful tablet. I purchased it way back in April 2016, when it was very, very expensive – just over $1,400 AUD – and to protect it I purchased a bright apricot Smart Cover and matching Silicone Case.

They’d served me very well, and I guess it’s a testament to just how powerful this iPad Pro is, that I don’t feel any need in early 2020 (apart from some annoyance with the lightning connector, which I feel might be starting to show some signs of wear), to consider replacing it.

However, my bright apricot Smart Cover has actually worn out – the spine had ripped at the end – a rip of about 2 ½ centimetres had opened up, and getting bigger by the day. And the Silicone case had become harder and more brittle over the years to the point where a big chunk of one of the corners had broken off, providing much less protection, should the device drop on that corner. So I decided they needed to be replaced.

So off I went to the Apple Australia website. I could still find the compatible Smart Covers and Cases for my 9.7″ iPad Pro – but every one simply came up with a “not in stock” message. Curiously, the Apple US site is much “blunter” in its answer. It simply doesn’t present the products at all – it doesn’t raise your hopes that the products might still be available! I tried other 3rd Party Vendors, but none had any.

My immediate thought after that, was that alternatives might be available on eBay. And that was where my interesting journey started!

There were many “compatible” Smart Covers on eBay at remarkably inexpensive prices. And many of them claimed compatibility with the iPad Pro 9.7″. As they were so inexpensive, I actually purchased two and opted to see which one I liked best. One was $10 and the other $15 Australian, so it was a relatively minor cost.

The first arrived, the cheapest, and my disappointment began. It was very light in weight, and as I closed it on my iPad, I could see that the iPad didn’t “sleep”. Nothing happened. And there was none of the “snap” closure that is so familiar with a “genuine” Apple Smart Cover. After some investigation, I realised that this “Smart Cover” may have been relatively “smart looking”, but the light weight was as a result of it not having any magnets in it that correspond to locations required by Apple.

Upon communicating with the eBay seller, they said they didn’t claim that their cover supported the iPad Sleep / Wake feature – despite using the term “Smart Cover” in both the title and description of their item, AND claiming compatibility with a range of iPads, including my model, the iPad Pro 9.7″. In the end they agreed to refund the purchase price. Interestingly, they weren’t even interested in getting their “product” back. I suspect they don’t pay particularly much for it from their supplier.

The second model arrived, and I felt slightly more hopeful. The cover was heavier – it clearly had magnets embedded in it. Once again the seller claimed compatibility with a range of iPad models, including my iPad Pro 9.7″.

Unfortunately, I was to be disappointed again! This time, the effect was a little stranger. Upon closing the cover, not only didn’t it “snap” into place, the cover was actually being pushed away from the edge of the iPad Pro, which suggested that the magnets in the case were arranged in a way that didn’t align with those in my iPad Pro 9.7″, or were in some way “reversed”. And yes, of course, the iPad Pro didn’t go to sleep when the case was as closed as it could be! Once again, the seller accepted the return, wanted the item back, and refunded the purchase amount.

But what a pain – so far two purchases hadn’t worked, and I still didn’t have a replacement smart cover, or case. My conclusion at this point, was that I needed to go for a “genuine” Apple product, if I could.

A day or two later I did find a genuine Apple Smart Cover – it was described as an iPad Air Smart Cover – but the description claimed it was compatible with a variety of models, including mine – the iPad Pro 9.7. It was in the original box, and being genuine Apple, it was quite expensive, but I felt it was worth it, so I bought it.

It arrived, and I opened the box, quite excited. Fitted it to my iPad Pro – and it didn’t fit correctly. The mounting area on the left-hand side of the iPad Pro was a different length to that of the Smart Cover – Oh no! And what was worse, it showed the same effect as the previous compatible cover – and the sleep / wake functionality didn’t work – so even a genuine Apple Smart Cover for an iPad Air was not compatible with my iPad Pro 9.7″. Fortunately, the seller of this relatively expensive genuine Apple Smart Cover accepted that what he claimed in the description of his item was incorrect – the Smart Cover was not compatible with my iPad Pro – and I returned it.

I was still no closer to solving my original problem! To date I’d been limiting my search to Australian only eBay listings, so with some hesitation, I broadened my search to Worldwide listings.

To my surprise, I quickly found – in the UK – a couple of listings for both genuine Apple Smart Covers and Silicone Cases, specifically for the iPad Pro 9.7″. Unfortunately, I didn’t find “colour matched” items, but I wasn’t particularly worried about that. Nor was I going to get them very cheaply! The prices quoted are always “approximate” conversions from the original GBP prices into AUD AND they then include the postage PLUS approximate customs costs. The totals certainly weren’t cheap! I estimated that I was likely to be paying pretty close to what Apple’s original “new price” was for the items. But both items were new, so I guess it wasn’t much different to me ordering them from the Apple store.

So, I took a gamble, and purchased both, and held my breath! In reality, the purchases from the UK were the smoothest of all the transactions! I was kept informed every step of the way, despatch, clearing Customs, with local delivery agent, etc. etc. The whole process took 8-9 days from date of purchase to being at my door for both the Smart Cover and Case. And given how long deliveries from Sydney to Melbourne can take at times, and these were coming half way around the world, that was pretty impressive!

The items themselves – perfect fit – of course! The fact that the colours don’t match? Not a problem! The silicone case is a “Product Red” one. And the Smart Cover is Charcoal Grey. Not an awful combination, and the “Product Red” case still makes the iPad readily recognizable, should I misplace it!

So overall, my key “learning” from this frustrating process is that for some things eBay might not be the best place to buy some items from. Where absolutely precise compatibility is crucial, and where it can be difficult to clearly determine that’s the case, maybe it’s not the best place to source things from.

Of course, where something is a commodity – hard disks, modems, monitors – that will obviously be fine. But as I found, it can be really, really difficult if the is subtle variability, or some very specific or precise model compatibility issue that is crucial.

But at least now, I have a very fine Smart Cover and Silicone Case – I just hope my 4 year old iPad Pro keeps going long enough to justify the expenditure on a new Smart Cover and Case!

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