Technology Consult

November 4, 2005

Need equipment? Think eBay

Pediatrician Anatoly Belilovsky is on his way to creating an office by eBay. Over the past few years, Belilovsky, who practices in Brooklyn, NY, has bought approximately $5,000 worth of medical and office equipment from the giant online marketplace. His purchases include an ECG machine, a pulse oximeter, computer monitors, printers, and light sticks that he hands out to his pint-sized patients. "Three-quarters of it is brand new or practically so," he says. "I've saved about 30 percent in the process."

There's no fee to bid on items for sale at eBay: You enter the usual personal information about yourself, choose a user ID and a password, and you're ready to go. If you submit a winning bid, you'll be responsible for shipping and handling costs in addition to the price of the item. Some sellers include an estimate of these costs in their item description. Others will provide a ballpark figure while the auction is "live" if you supply them with your address and ZIP code.

One vendor that's expanded its operations to eBay is Booth Medical Equipment in Alexander, AR. Founded in 1986 to sell new and used goods to local doctors, Booth has dispensed with its salespeople and now sells everything from ECG machines to autoclaves worldwide, both on eBay and its own Web site (it still maintains a showroom in Alexander). "eBay is an awesome marketing arm for us," says president Michelle Booth.

Booth says her merchandise sometimes costs a little less on eBay than on her company Web site since she's competing with other eBay sellers. "If someone else lists what I'm listing, I have to match their price," she says.

Although companies like hers may set a higher price than an individual seller for used gear, that higher price includes a comfort factor. "The company's likely taken the trouble to repair any defects and store the item properly, and may provide a 90-day warranty," says Santa Rosa, CA, practice management consultant Keith Borglum.

Worried about buying a lemon? To calm your nerves, eBay recently introduced a protection program that will reimburse buyers for up to $20,000 in bad deals involving eligible capital equipment. Diagnostic imaging machines qualify, as do devices for aesthetic procedures (unfortunately, computer hardware doesn't). The reimbursement kicks in when you pay for something but don't receive it, receive an item that doesn't match what you ordered, or find that it has undisclosed damages.

There's protection for items that don't qualify as capital equipment, too, but it's not as generous. Goods purchased through PayPal, eBay's online payment service, are covered for up to $1,000, provided the seller meets certain requirements, like a positive feedback score of at least 98 percent. Almost everything else falls under eBay's standard protection program, good for $200. Of course, equipment companies themselves may offer warranties of their own.