Today I sold an £80 violin from the Bargain Basement - new but with a couple of small blemishes, hence the reduction (why people worry so much about blemishes when the instrument is for a child at school beats me!)
Got it ready to send and found a twang on the E string. Well no-one wants one of those so I needed to fix it. But what caused it? Nothing loose so nothing easy to fix. Suspected a problem with the bridge. Tried lubricating the bridge. No change. Tried lubricating it a bit more. No change. Changed the string. No change. Changed the string again to one with a string protector. Success! Time taken? Probably about 20 minutes.
Will you get that from a large online retailer? Or would you have the choice of putting up with it, seeing if the teacher could work out what the problem was, or sending it back probably at your own expense?
I will leave you, dear reader, to answer that one. Also consider this:
I bought this violin (more than a year ago - this is how reluctant people are to buy anything that they perceive as faulty even when the fault consists of two minor blemishes!) knowing that it was "seconds" - the wholesaler clears these once a year. I shall not bother again, they stay here for months or even years with no interest. Now, how does the wholesaler come to sell goods with minor cosmetic blemishes? I hope no-one seriously thinks that when a wholesaler gets a container load of goods from China some staff member has the job of opening every single one and checking it? No, what happened was that some shop (I don't know who, but it will have been a bricks and mortar shop and not an online giant) bought a batch of these violins and checked them and found the blemishes and so returned the blemished instrument to the wholesaler. In this case, only cosmetic, yes, but some I have seen have the most amazing cover up work done, very visibly, such as cracks glued at the factory, large parts of the scroll knocked off and reglued (badly), and similar things. The factory in China just sends them out as perfect(!)
So, if you buy from an online giant where the goods are not checked (look at the description, they will tell you what checks are done if any are because that of course is a selling point) you are the one who does the checking, you are the one who has to return the instrument if you find a fault (yes of course you have that right in law, but still you are the one who is going to have to arrange it). Worth the risk for the saving you will get by buying from an online giant? Well, only you can decide that.
Now to be fair there is one online giant who regularly sells "B stock" on ebay. I find it difficult to believe that goods are checked before sending - it is a general music and sound type shop, not a strings specialist - so I assume they are customer returns. These turn up on ebay with huge faults such as cracks where they are listed for far more than anyone would ever pay for them. Why? I am sure the shop concerned has no expectation of selling them, I guess it's just a cheap way of advertising and perhaps makes more sense in their business model than getting the faulty item sent back to the wholesaler. Who knows?