So I briefly talked about using Escrow.com to buy my dress (here). I STRONGLY recommend using this service for purchasing anything! Escrow.com is an alternative to the well-known PayPal and, in my opinion, a safer one.
Here's the run-down.
Things you need to know:
First, there is a very small fee (about 3%) that varies based on the dollar amount of the transaction. You can calculate it here. There are two options for fees - one for the standard and one for the premium service. They compare the two services here. The biggest difference for me between them was the types of payments they would accept. The standard service only allowed you pay by check or money order and the premium service allows you to do a wire transfer, use a credit card, or PayPal. To me it wasn't worth the extra charge, so I just used the standard service. You also decide who pays for the fee. Either the seller and buyer can pay or you can split it (that's what we did).
Second, when the buyer pays for the item, that money goes to Escrow.com to hold onto. Then the seller ships the item. The buyer of the item is then given a set amount of time (decided by the buyer and seller) to "inspect" the merchandise after it arrives. If everything looks good, the buyer goes onto the site and "accepts" the item and the seller is paid the money from Escrow.com. If there is something wrong, the buyer returns the merchandise to the seller (the buyer has to pay for this shipping) and Escrow.com returns their money to them. This protection is what made this service so appealing - you don't actually give your money away unless you're satisfied with the product!
How it Works:
Step 1: Buyer and seller agree on the terms of transaction.
First, the seller fills out a form on-line with the following information: detailed description of the item, the cost of the item, who will be paying the fee, and how many days the buyer will have to "inspect" it. Next, the buyer will receive and email with this information. You can either edit the information or accept it as is. If you edit it, then the seller will receive and email and will have the option to edit or accept it. This can go back and forth as needed until both the buyer and seller agree on the terms. (I had talked to the seller beforehand, so we didn't need to do back and forth and I was able to accept it right away).
Step 2: Buyer pays Escrow.com. Escrow.com holds onto your money.
Note: If you are using the standard service, it takes them up to 10 banking days after they receive your check or money order to process it.
Step 3: The seller ships the merchandise.
After Escrow.com has processed your payment they will notify the seller to ship the item. The seller will be asked to upload any available tracking information to the site also.
Step 4: Buyer accepts the merchandise.
After the buyer receives the merchandise, they mark it as received. Then they have x number of days to "inspect" it (whatever the buyer and seller had agreed on). After, the buyer goes online to make that they 'Accept' or 'Reject' the merchandise.
Step 5: Escrow.com pays the seller.
If the buyer accepts the merchandise, Escrow.com pays the seller with the money that they were holding onto. If the buyer rejects it, then they need to ship it back to the seller and Escrow.com returns their money to them.