Whitman’s retiring means changes for eBay’s Antique Auctions

To be fair, it means change for the entire business, but I needed a way to get you reading.

As was widely reported earlier this week, Meg Whitman is stepping down as CEO of eBay. While there she oversaw phenomenal growth in the business, making the company a household name and turning on countless thousands of people to the business of auctions – even if they weren’t strictly antiques auctions. The impact of eBay on the antiques business, as noted earlier this week, has been huge.

The last few years, however, eBay has seen a precipitous decline in its listings, its sellers and its overall business, so Wall Street was expecting Whitman’s resignation for a while, and – as reported here in a good article from Fortune Magazine – her successor John Donahoe will most likely be making some significant changes to the online auction giant to make it more competitive with other sites like Amazong and Google, where a lot of sellers are going to market their goods.

Some have blamed eBays diminished status on the yearly hike in seller’s fees, while others in the media have speculated that eBay has lost market share because it didn’t focus on buyer’s needs. In the print version of Antique Trader our Web writer Gabe Constantine has written about this before. And it does indeed seem that eBay is already trying to make itself more customer friendly in light of its problems.

Here’s what the real change is going to be, and its ramifications on antiques will be interesting to watch, considering how good it’s been in the past for many dealers and buyers. Basically, eBay, under Donahoe, will emphasize its auctions less and put more into its Marketplace where you can “Buy it Now,” and not have to wait.

For many, I imagine, this will be great, because you will simply click and buy and await the arrival of your booty in the mail. It does, however, fundamentally change the nature of what antiquers on the eBay have come to expect. NOt to mention the many people and services that make a good bit of do-re-mi from sniping software – the programs that allow you to get a last second bid in as time expires.

I can hardly blame eBay for wanting to change and be competitive with the other online retailing giants. This is America and anything is fair game. Also, antiques and its varying subsets have evolved in the past decade themselves, with sites like Ruby Lane and others, to conduct eBay type auction and Marketplace business in a quality-controlled atmosphere run by people with actual expertise in the area. We’ve all heard stories, and experienced it ourselves, where what you got was not what was represented in the sale – a fake, fraud or something of severaly diminished quality – or the price was artificially inflated by scamming dealers looking to fleece excited buyers caught up in the heat of the moment. With the ability to control our own sites and quality, the need for eBay among hardcore antiquers is certainly less. It should be interesting to see ow eBay weathers the transition.

Personally, I wonder if it isn’t too late for eBay to make up that ground. The company enjoyed so much success and such heightened status in the last decade, that it seemed that it thought that – because it was the industry leader – that it didn’t necessarily need to change and that the busines would follow it instead of the reverse. It’s a classic mistake, one that’s been made countless times over the centuries.

What does everyone else think?