Sunday, January 15, 2012

EBay: The Occasional Deal Is Far Outweighed By This Mercenary's Crummy Treatment To Sellers.

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The Good: You can find virtually anything on eBay
The Bad: eBay is abysmal to sellers.
The Basics: eBay is one of those good ideas that got corrupted along the way. What better idea for the internet is there than an auction where you can find most everything you want? It's not a bad idea.

What is bad is the way eBay goes about doing what it does. It is only a middleman, but it is a poor one at that.

First, as a seller, it is offensive that they charge a listing fee. Simply to put an item up on their auctions costs money. Far better - especially since it costs eBay nothing to let people post - is to simply charge a percentage consignment fee when something sells. eBay does that, too, in effect making any legitimate dealer pay twice for the same item. It's mercenaric and remarkably unfriendly, especially to the small businessperson.

Second is in finding items. eBay's search engine is often terribly imprecise. It either comes up with nothing (when, in fact the exact item you're looking for might be listed and use the exact words you typed!) or an enormous list that becomes impossible to filter through. More than that, the categories are often imprecise, giving rise to huge blocks where things are either ridiculously limited or that force individuals to use a category that is the best match for what is offered (but is not at all what the user wants - i.e. there's a category for non-sports Lexx trading cards, but no category for Lost trading cards) or having categories that are so vague as to be filled with a huge amount of items impossible to delve into.

With the addition of eBay stores, eBay has found a way to plunder more from the legitimate sellers. The eBay stores are nice in that they are often representative of legitimate businesses. As a result, sale prices are usually a little higher than with the auctions, but you are dealing with legitimate businesses that will be around a year or two from now. They are conducive to building relationships.

Unfortunately for the eBay store sellers, eBay was not anticipating the demand of the stores. Thus, they have recently hiked the prices sellers pay from $.02 per listing (for any sale price) to $.05 - $.10 per listing. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is the difference between listing fifty items for $1.00 and only ten. That's a huge difference to the small businessperson. As well, the trade offs eBay stores make include higher selling fees when the items sell out of the store and results of searches do not include items from eBay stores. The ultimate result is a system where eBay makes more money off store sellers when people eventually find one's store. It's disheartening to legitimate businesspeople who want a booth at the world's biggest mall.

It's disheartening to be legitimate on a service that attracts people who are simply dumping excess stock or cleaning house.

Back to the auctions, the actual structure of the bidding is annoyingly problematic. Instead of a sensible "once, twice, sold" method with a time delay between the three (even if it were only a minute between each, this would be better), eBay goes on a strict closing time. That means that when the item closes, it closes at exactly that time. So, if you're interested in actually winning something on eBay, you have to place your bid in the last thirty seconds of the auction. In the last few seconds of the auction, people come out of nowhere and bid the price up. This often leaves the price ridiculously inflated or having a sales curve (i.e. posted for a long period without activity vs. the last few seconds an increase) that is highly skewed. Even more problematic is that the person who is outbid is often not informed when it happens in the last few seconds of the auction. I've had no less than 30 instances where I was outbid in the last ten seconds of an auction and not informed that I was outbid!

In a move that proves eBay is not at all out for its constituents, it recently revamped its site to control contact between any two people. They now restrict access to bidder and seller. That means if I'm interested in your item, but didn't bid on it, I can't e-mail you directly to see if you have more of the same or ask about the condition without going through the Nazi-esque eBay mail service. Furthermore, I cannot approach you if you lost a bid on someone's item and offer you mine at a reasonable price.

EBay legitimately is the largest marketplaces, but the price of doing business with them is too high for too little service. The majority of items sell for well below what they are worth and eBay (and its subsidiary, PayPal) take out fees that only keep going up. For a legitimate business, there are better ways to gain exposure than eBay, though dealing on eBay connects one to the world in a way no other single front can. eBay is one of the biggest disappointments I've encountered on-line and I look forward to a time that there are more sensible options to market products on that are not so blatantly and completely out to make a buck for essentially being a middleman.

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© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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