The eBay Problem

When eBay was fresh and shiny and new, I spent a lot of time there. I bought things that I needed, sold things that I didn’t need, and had good experiences. It was like going garage saling without having to get in the car, with a few perks like the ability to search for something I wanted, and to compare prices on comparable items. When I got married ten years ago, I paid for my wedding dress with proceeds from eBay sales of things I didn’t need anymore. eBay was the first place I looked when I was looking for a specific item.

Ah, those were the days. Now, when I head over to eBay, it’s mostly “power sellers” that are really just big warehouses of closeouts, lots of over-priced Chinese knock-offs, and plenty of businesses in the business of buying crap at flea markets and reselling it on eBay. It’s not the first place I go to anymore when I’m looking for something. Searches I’ve done recently for simple items like netbook cases or sewing patterns have brought up mixed results at best. One of the things I dislike about the eBay search model is that it doesn’t allow you to search within your search results to narrow down your choices. And what I really dislike is how overpriced things seem to be. In my search for a netbook for my daughter for Christmas, I of course took a look over there, but found that the prices were higher than purchasing the same item through a more traditional online retailer (I ended up with an HP Mini 10.1 from OfficeMax for an unbelievable price, for those that are interested). I haven’t seen a reasonably priced computer on eBay in years.

I don’t doubt that eBay still has its value. If I’m looking for a particular thing, like extra-long jeans of a certain brand, or a collectible teapot, eBay is still a great resource. But that is so specialized, and I don’t believe that that is where eBay is making its money in sales fees. A $400 netbook when I can get the same one for $250 delivered from a big-name retailer is not a bargain, and dilutes the value of the eBay brand, in my opinion. Yes, everyone wants to make a dollar or two, I understand that, of course, but when making a dollar borders on gouging, I have to wonder about the business practices of the organization running the show.

What does eBay want to be? Is it ready to devolve into a place full of out-dated closeouts and overpriced Chinese knock-offs? Because that appears to be where it’s headed. And how do they fix what is broken to clean up their act (or the act of their sellers)? I wouldn’t know where to start, but if they want to be Amazon (their main competitor at the moment) then they need to find a way to fix what is going downhill in a hurry.

Ah, eBay. I knew you when…