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The eBay Problem

Posted by susabelle at 7:32 AM on December 15, 2009

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…

7 Comments

  1. From mark at 8:27 am on December 15, 2009

    I’m not sure what you buy on eBay but it hasn’t changed that much for me. I buy computers, computer parts, backpacks and other miscellaneous items and it still is fine. The powersellers are valuable for people like me if I’m buying a laptop I buy from someone with thousands of feedbacks and I’ve never been burned.

  2. From Nickspat at 9:27 am on December 15, 2009

    Not true ibought Sony laptop for 549 which was for 475 with tax as bf deal in bestbuy. eBay is still the best place to buy. You can filter your search results, better than other sites like amazon. I am a geek and big shopper on Internet . Spent hours on deal hunting and eBay is still beating other sites. I also feel secured due to paypal. I think eBay is best place to buy most items if not all.

  3. From yarngirl at 2:05 pm on December 15, 2009

    I’m not sure the writer has enough business and economic background to distinguish the difference between something that is peculiar to ebay and something that is pretty general to merchandise selling overall. Bootlegs and knockoffs are common on ALL the other sites like Overstock and Amazon as well.

  4. From Philip Cohen at 4:57 am on December 16, 2009

    Why is ‘Noise’ Donahoe trying to destroy eBay?
    http://www.auctionbytes.com/forum/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=6502877

  5. From Martin OConnor at 6:46 am on December 16, 2009

    I think that this article illustrates why Craig over at craigslist has such a restrictive policy regarding his site. He wants to keep a local community feel and not have it build up to become like ebay. It is a point worth considering.

  6. From tinman at 8:11 pm on December 18, 2009

    Ebay still has low prices. So low in fact it is hard to profit much on most items. As for gouging….. don’t buy if it is too high.

  7. From Jason at 6:57 am on December 20, 2009

    I just wanted to counter the above comments. I totally agree with Susabelle, as does everyone I know. Good post. Case in point is the ratio of “buy it now” items. Used to be rare. Now it is about half. So Ebay is just another online store.