I was an eBay seller near the beginning. I saw it go from a kind of curiosity that fed the popular press with stories of unusual and bizarre items for sale to a a wide open and profitable collectibles marketplace. Some strange articles offered for sale included a U.S. Navy F/A-18A Hornet jet fighter, a man’s kidney, and Britney Spears’ chewed gum (note the past tense). At it’s peak a seller could make something like a living wage. I used it in conjunction with several stands in antique malls and occasional consulting jobs for antiques dealers who were anxious to get a piece of the ebay pie. Today I can’t help but wonder what has happened to the pie.
The simple answer is, to borrow a political catch-phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The same economy that has wreaked havoc with everything from blue chip stokes to hog futures has brought us an eBay that seems to be winding down. In the last two weeks I have sold only one thing and the buyer has not answered his email or paid what he owes. So the item will wait until such time as the funds arrive.
In conversations with other users I have heard a generally critical tone aimed at eBay itself. I don’t think that eBay has endeared itself to sellers over the years. rising fees and more restrictive rules have chased some people away. Personally I was irked way back when they added the Buy It Now feature. The auction fever aspect of eBay was part of what gave me unexpected chunks of cash. I had no idea what that JFK campaign poster I sold back in 1997 was worth. I paid two bucks and there seemed llike plenty of gravy left over. There were JFK poster reprints all over the auction site but none like mine. By the second day the poster was up to $50. It top out at $200. That kind of thing was not unusual but it hasn’t happened to me in a long while.
Once upon a time I used a simple formula to estimate my sales total for the week. It was simply 10 times the number of auctions listed. If I listed 30 items I would sell $300. No science was involved, no analytics or deep thought. It was what I observed when I first started. It held for about four years, better around the Christmas season. There were big dips when Clinton jumped on Microsoft with both feet, The dotcom “bubble” burst, and when a beautiful morning in September was ruined as airplanes crashed into the heart of America.
Lately eBay seems to be making some efforts to improve the situation with such things as free listing periods. I guess they have figured out that they are not a store with their own inventory. It is the many individual sellers who bring the goods to market. Furthermore it is the people who know antiques and collectibles that bring the unique and desirable items that make this market exciting. One more electronic gizmo starting at 99 cents with an overcharge on shipping is not thrilling. Even if it’s a bargain it is a dead common bargain. The thrill is in finding something that you don’t see every day or that you can’t by within a days driving distance of home.
Let’s face it there is a lot less loose change in the average American’s pocket in the present day. Inevitably eBay will scale down. It looks like it already has. The company I work for has become leaner and probably yours has too. Let’s hope our favorite auction site leans itself down to a vigorous marketplace with exciting merchandise that will continue to be worth our time. and effort.