Credibility Counts

Credibility…reputation…knowledge…integrity…trustworthiness    –   click to read all
One persons view using a few examples  –   click to read all

Credibility…reputation…knowledge…integrity…trustworthiness. All words that mean the same kind of thing in general. For an online philatelic marketplace, these words should mean something even more. Unlike a personal dealer/customer experience, the online marketplace by its very nature, is limiting to both the customer and the dealer.
For the customer, there is no real way to personally examine an item that may be of interest. Conversely for the dealer, there is no way to really know who you are dealing with and only a few ways to tell if what you are offering is of interest at the prices you are asking.
Since this page is focused on dealer credibility from a customer’s point of view, we will set aside the dealer issues.
What should a philatelic customer look for in an online dealer? Credibility? Of course, but what is credibility and how can one determine if a dealer is credible? Let’s break down some of the components that would make a dealer credible in the eyes of a potential customer…meaning….YOU!
1. REPUTATION: In the current online marketplace, many stores and platforms allow for customer feedback. This is one way to “weed out” dealers who may have a track record of dissatisfied customers. A good track record of positive feedback over enough time can provide the customer with some level of confidence that this dealer has a good reputation and has earned the right for the customer to examine his or her offerings on a more serious level.

Feedback, of course, is only one tool that can be used to decide dealer credibility and has its own pitfalls. For example, there is no doubt that there are some people who are just never satisfied and will, for whatever reason, leave negative feedback when in fact the transaction had no issues whatsoever. This situation is fairly easy to discover when reviewing a dealer’s feedback record.

Let’s say the online dealer has been in business for a number of years and their feedback record is 100% (rounded up) positive with hundreds or even thousands of responses. But there are a small number of negative items in their feedback within a small timeframe or from only one or two customers or the listed negatives are for multiple items from one customer but they only had an issue with one of the items (bulk feedback). It would be reasonable to conclude that it is possible that these negative items are an aberration and not the norm for this dealer and this dealer is a credible one.

Now, to flip that script a bit. Same dealer with 100% (again rounded up) or less than 100% positive feedback but with a consistent number of negative comments over time from a number of different customers for multiple items and/or issues. This could indicate a track record of less than stellar customer service or worse.

So, it is a good first step to check out an online dealer’s feedback record and understand what that record can mean. A reputable dealer knows that a good reputation is hard-earned and works diligently to maintain it as such.

2. KNOWLEDGE: Most people would not consider hiring a plumber to rewire their house. Along those same lines, a stamp collector wouldn’t seek out a shoe salesman from whom to purchase their new stamps.

A credible dealer should be knowledgeable in their field and it can be reflected in how their offerings are presented in their online store. The use of and understanding of standardized terminology is clue to the dealer’s level credibility.

One of the very first things many collectors learn when starting in the hobby is some basic terminology. Condition, centering, gum condition, cancellations, perforations, color, and others all have common and accepted philatelic terms used to describe these features. Some include objective terms like Mint (M), Unused (Un), Used (U), Hinged (H), Never Hinged (NH), Original Gum (OG), No Gum as Issued (NGAI) and other more subjective terms like Very Fine (VF), Fine (F), Superb (S) and so on.

A knowledgeable and credible dealer will use industry standard terms to describe their offerings. For example a MNHOG stamp will be one that is unused and has never been hinged (even in the slightest) and have its original gum intact. In other words, just as one would have purchased it from the post office. Even a trace of previous hinging will disqualify this stamp from being described in this condition by a knowledgeable and credible dealer. As an aside, this is a very good reason many credible dealers online will, at minimum, provide an image of the back of the stamp when offering anything described as MNHOG.

Another thing to look for in a knowledgeable and credible online dealer is the use of “catch words”. RARE! SCARCE! OLD!! Rare and scarce stamps are just that…rare and scarce…meaning there are very few of them in existence and many if not most are in someone’s collections.

Also the word “old” does not connote rarity or scarcity. It just means that the item is old. There are untold numbers of examples of a person inheriting a stamp collection from a relative and immediately thinking it is worth a fortune just because it is old. Most of the time (with very few exceptions) it has very little monetary value and the actual value is in the treasure that it is a family heirloom that can be built upon and enjoyed.

Knowledgeable dealers will avoid the use of these kinds of catch phrases unless they are truly warranted. Most of the time they are not. So it can serve the customer well when deciding whether or not to do business with a given dealer to learn the standard terms used by knowledgeable dealers and be skeptical of the use of catch words designed to embellish an otherwise common item.

3. INTEGRITY: Integrity can be a difficult thing to evaluate in the online market but it really boils down to what does a dealer do when something goes south with a transaction. Maybe a shipment is lost or damaged in the mail stream. Maybe an item has been mis-identified. Dealers are all human beings and as such are subject to making mistakes. But what happens when an error is made is paramount deciding whether a dealer has integrity and is thus credible.

As stated, it can be difficult to decipher integrity but one way to look for it is in a dealer’s store policies including, importantly, their shipping costs, return policy, and even the presence of policy related to stamp certifications and expertizations. Red flags should go up, for example, if a dealer is selling low value items (nothing wrong with that) but is charging exorbitant shipping fees. This is an indication that often this dealer is more interested in making money than making sure their customer is satisfied with their purchase. An analogy would be if someone buys a car for $50,000 and the dealer charges $100,000 as a delivery fee. Different scale but same principle.

Let’s say a dealer makes an honest mistake in a description. It happens and it’s not the end of the world. The customer should make the dealer aware of the error of course and what happens next goes to the integrity of that dealer. Many times, if the value is minimal, a dealer with integrity will simply refund the purchase price and attempt to find a replacement for the item in error. Sometimes the dealer will both refund the item and pay for the return shipping. Any number of things can happen to resolve the issue but the most important thing a dealer with integrity will do is effectively communicate with the customer and find the best way to make sure the customer is satisfied with the outcome.

So integrity can be a difficult thing to evaluate up front but there are clues one can use to decide to take the leap with a given dealer and purchase their offerings.

4. TRUSTWORTHINESS: Trust is an earned trait for most but once established, it can go a long way to forming a great relationship between a customer and a dealer. Trustworthiness can also be implied though really evaluating the dealer’s track record, knowledge, and how they handle issues.

The old saying “Trust your gut” is apropos here. Do your due diligence on reputation, knowledge, and integrity then make your decision. Remember that it is ok to say no to taking a flyer with a dealer if your investigation tells your gut to run away from. It is also ok to say yes if you think that the dealer, after your evaluation, appears to be reputable, knowledgeable, and has integrity and thus appears to have credibility.

So Credibilty Counts when shopping the online philatelic marketplace and if one uses some of these basic tools to evaluate credibility and also some good old common sense, one can enhance the possibility of enjoying a great relationship with some great dealers. Of course the easiest way to find a credible dealer is to always seek out an IPDA Dealer Member and you can be assured of great reputations, excellent knowledge, impeccable integrity, and trustworthiness to a fault.


One persons view using a few examples

Credibility Counts – one persons view using a few examples

Do I make mistakes?  Yes.   I read something wrong or I make a typo.  I guess we all do. The last time I did it was 1992.  Bad error.   No, only  joking 😊    I  make quite a few  every day  if I am honest but  because I proof read very carefully when I am listing stamps to our store I usually pick up the errors.  Yes, occasionally they slip through  but as I often see errors from others it has taught me to be more careful.

And, I learn from the mistakes of others. In fact when I see an error I wonder if I have made the same mistake.  I will usually check a listing if the same or similar stamps are involved.

Here are two examples – perhaps good examples to learn from.  Images exactly as shown in a listing somewhere…….

The first surprises me but I think it can easily be made because when one is listing this period of Bahrain there are usually no or not many images of the stamps in the catalogue as the stamps were from India, as in this example, and the images are found under India.   It takes time to check but it can be worth the time as Credibility Counts.

Simple mistake although in my view not one that should have crept through to a listing from a responsible, let’s say credible, seller.   In fact, just an additional comment here, this is not a one off example of this actual mistake.  A seller who knew their stamps might I suggest not make this error in listing.  

Two stamps with the same Scott listing yet they are different stamps, which surely is easy to see.  The left stamp shows the inscription India Postage, the right stamp shows the inscription India Postage and Revenue. The left stamp is Scott 19 with a catalogue value of $10 while the right stamp is correct as Scott 6 and has a catalogue value of $20. Accuracy of identification is very important, and especially when there are such catalogued price differences.

Here is another example. This one could be the wrong image loaded.  It could be except for the fact the stamp is described in the listing as  “Used”.

Credibility Counts. There are four rather interesting aspects to this listing.

The first was very obvious. It was listed with a buy it now price of USD $43.20.     This is based on a catalogue price of $67.50 as stated in the listing. This is where one could say a simple error as the Mint price was used by accident in stead of the used catalogue price, which is $10

The second point, reading the listing detail more closely one sees there are 2 copies for sale as stated in the “quantities”  section of the listing.  I wonder if I purchased such a stamp what I would actually get?

The third point – well to me  anyway –  and remember Credibility Counts – there is no scan of the reverse of the stamp.  Perhaps there wouldn’t be given there are 2 for sale.  But, even for a $10 stamp I think I would be showing a scan of the reverse. Credibility and all that!


And the fourth point. This one intrigues me.

If you study the image carefully you will see there is a colour distinction between the black background to the right and left (also applies to the top and bottom perforation margins but we do not fully see this as the listing does not show a wider margin of colour) and the black area around the perforations of the stamp.

How can this happen? There is only one answer I can think of. The stamp image has been cropped from another image and then presented again on another black background.

Now one simple error, an oversight ok. Like I say, we can all make a mistake and miss finding it even during a proof read.  But these four together?

Something is wrong, danger Will Robinson!

Credibility counts.  As a collector and buyer do pay attention to the details in the image of the stamp shown for sale and also, what is written, or in many cases, not written, in the description field.  For sellers, please  check and do not make these and similar mistakes. You will lose credibility with your audience, your prospective customers.

Michael Dodd  Michael can be reached at for feedback

Reproduced with permission from  Michael Dodd – this was first published in the UK Philatelic Exporter magazine.