This is the story of a man who had traded stamps, first day covers and postcards on eBay since October 2000. He asked me not name him other than by his nick name, GeeBee, due to recent email abuse he’s received which will be explained later.
GeeBee is in his forties, works from home, and I started off by asking him what volume of sales he had done in his time on eBay; “I’m only a hobby trader I guess. Since late 2000 I’ve done about 3,000 sales and my feedback record on the site is 99.9%”.
What did GeeBee mean by hobby trader? “I probably spent as much as I earned on eBay as I also collect the subjects I traded in. Over the years, under various eBay IDs, I must have been a buyer of as many items as I’ve sold. When I say hobby trader, I guess I mean I used the site to fund my hobby more than anything else.”
So why are you calling it a day now? “About nine months ago, like many others, I realised the auction format was no longer working. Too many items were selling to opening bidders. Often I was losing money. The buyers had learned not to get in to bidding wars and sniping in the last few seconds was becoming the norm. You can’t trade properly for long in those conditions.”
We talked about the trends he has seen in recent years and he continued; “About a year ago I decided to use an eBay Store. The monthly subscription was affordable and I could list my items at realistic prices. I’d wait, sometimes for a few weeks, until the right buyer came along. It worked. But, although the recent fee increases may not seem much, it does mean some of the lower value items are priced off eBay now as you can’t load handling fees to the extent you must to make anything.” What did that mean? “That meant listing fewer items, getting less value from the monthly subscription and, in the end I realised my shop listings were being excluded from almost every search. Where I may have sold items within days or weeks, it was looking as if it was going to be months and years from now on. The relisting fee every 30 days was making the whole thing unworkable.”
He gave me a few examples and explained the math. He was right in my opinion. While I could see how he had worked previously, it was uneconomic to sell items for a couple of bucks to fellow collectors now and, indeed, there is no future for him on eBay it seems.
I asked how he would pursue his hobby now; “It’s no real problem. Yes I’ve enjoyed eBay but there are still plenty of collector’s fairs and markets I can go to. I’ve also moved on to eBid where I’ve taken lifelong membership entitling me to list for free. It’s good, the internet shop stuff is all done for me and all I have to do is list my items just like I did on eBay. When I go to fairs I publicise the eBid site, build my email lists and eBid serves as my online shop again, just as eBay did.”
But eBay is where the buyers are isn’t it? “Not as much as you might think. Yes, a year or two back it was the only place to be, but not any more. There are good specialist philatelic sites I can use for auctioning better items and I have built a huge customer mailing list I can email my eBid listings to. If a collector knows something he wants is available at the right price he will go to any trustworthy site. It’s not a problem.”
So did you protest about eBays ‘hike and hide’ moves recently? “Not really. I did put a comment in an eBay petition forum when I closed my eBay shop and all I got was attacked by amazingly childish people who maliciously reported my last remaining items on the site. I was annoyed at the time because eBay cancelled most of the listings for no real reason other than these silly vandals but, as they refunded my fees, it was easily forgotten.”
Do you still buy on eBay? “Yes, very occasionally, I buy cartridges for my printer. Guess what? I snipe the auctions and wait until I get one really cheap!” GeeBee laughed at the irony of doing the very thing that had stopped him listing on auction format. He continued; “I don’t buy for my hobby now. While I’m sure I could probably pick up a few things cheap I don’t have the time you need to find possible bargains, wait a few days and hope a snipe works. I tend to use local real life auctions, trade at fairs, that sort of thing. I still do OK”
Did GeeBee think eBay had done things wrong? “No, not really. I was annoyed at having to move but I just accepted it in the end. They have their business to run and I’m not the kind of seller they want any more. They’ve grown so big now, they’re more about cars I think. Expensive items where they can earn much more from a sale. They don’t want the little guys which, sad as it is, I suppose I can understand.”
We finished the interview and I was left confused. Why wasn’t GeeBee upset? He should be angry. But I realised he had simply got on with his life.
Do I think eBay should be losing this type of seller and buyer? I must admit I don’t know. There is a gut instinct telling me eBay is wrong to let the type of trader go. These are the very people that built eBay in to the goliath it now is. Will they now help a new eBay competitor emerge?
But, on the other hand, I can understand eBay saying they want to raise their average sale price, it makes business sense on paper. But then I see penny eBooks selling by the thousand on the site? It just doesn’t make sense.
While I can respect the analytical view, in fact I know it is usually right. I just feel eBay is not the typical animal to apply an economics text book to. It was one of the businesses that broke the rules when the internet opened up. Like many other internet giants now, a few bytes of information can be processed automatically at the click of a mouse to make a penny. By clicking millions of pennies there is good money being made. I sense, down the line, eBay will regret losing the GeeBee kind of user more than GeeBee will regret losing eBay.
It is as if eBay are giving away their very foundation blocks to allow other kids a chance to grow up and challenge their dominance.