Is eBay ditching collectibles?

The rumors about auction site eBay abound on the Internet – fitting considering that the online auctioneer has a large user base that can often be described as having a love-it/hate-it relationship with the Web site.

Among the most common rumors currently circulating are that eBay will transition to a full-blown e-commerce site along the lines of Amazon.com, ditching small sellers in favor of large “Power Sellers.”

 Likewise, the chatter online says that eBay is going to ditch the collectibles, antiques and other one-off items and instead move to a direction that encourages boxed and new items.

“I haven’t heard or read anything officially, but there is that sentiment out there that this is the direction eBay is moving,” said Kevin Boyd, author of eBay Business At Your Fingertips. Boyd says that he agrees that eBay is making some changes that hint that way. But he stresses that this is because the auction site has been struggling a bit. “Amazon.com is kind of kicking eBay’s butt right now. [The online retailer] is seeing 40% growth to around 8% growth right now for eBay. That’s how I see it, but I haven’t seen anything official.”

Boyd says that some of the moves eBay has made do seem to point to big changes, which, he said, is making it more and more difficult for some sellers, and as he sees it is discouraging for both buyers and sellers alike.

“There used to be a division devoted to antiques,” says Boyd, adding, “They shut that down.” As to whether eBay is going to ditch the collectibles Boyd can only say, “EBay is making changes that tend to hint that way.”

However, the online auction site has been quick to respond to the various online dialog, with representatives often joining the discussions to reassure everyone that eBay isn’t changing the core business model.

Usher Lieberman from eBay Inc.’s corporate communications department says that there are some who may be “concerned that we might do away with the category. For the record, this is absolutely untrue. Collectibles represent a significant part of eBay’s core business and we have absolutely no plans to eliminate the category.

“In fact, there are no changes for auction sellers in any category,” adds Lieberman. He did stress that one change has been made, making it easier for some sellers – notably those who do sell new merchandize instead one-off items. “For fixed price sellers, we have further rebalanced our fees and made it easier than ever to list multiple quantities.”

Long time sellers on eBay are feeling somewhat turned off by eBay’s moves. “As a business owner myself, I respect the idea that eBay has the right to take the company in any direction that the board and shareholders feel appropriate,” says Jeff Shrader, owner of Advanced Guard Militaria, an online site devoted to the sale of military antiques. As a long time eBay seller Shrader say that he finds the moves eBay has made have created a very hostile environment in which the sellers must operate. “If one looks at the changes individually they do not seem to make sense, but when viewed together as a series of carefully planned incremental steps toward ‘reinventing’ the eBay marketplace, it appears that alienation of the small sellers is not just an unhappy consequence of these changes; but rather was the goal all along. If the management at eBay believes that driving away the low-volume sellers is necessary to achieve their ends, they could not have possibly thought of a better series of policy changes to accomplish this.”

Electronic Payments The Future of eBay

One significant change that has been made to the online auction site is in what forms of payment will be accepted. EBay is now requiring that all transactions be completed via electronic payment. This too has resulted in a slew of online rumors considering the reasons, and of course online dissension. There has been resentment about this move, and many users are claiming eBay simply wants to “stick it” to its users, by getting more fees.

PayPal, the online payment service, is of course owned by eBay and is being made the preferred method of electronic payments on eBay. This much eBay will officially acknowledge, and actually this is probably a wise move for the service to make.

“In terms of payments, we are moving away from paper-based payments because they represent a greater risk for buyers,” says eBay’s Lieberman, who also wanted to clear up a very common misconception. While eBay requires sellers to take PayPal, it is not forcing buyers to use this method. “Should a buyer insist upon paying with paper, a seller – at their sole discretion – can choose to accept paper. Sellers at no time may solicit a paper payment, but again, should the buyer ask, the seller may accept paper. We believe this provides sufficient protection and choice for buyers, without asking sellers to turn away business.”

 The rationale for this move makes sense according to Boyd. He agrees that this move was made for the purpose safety of eBay users. “Some folks are saying it is a move to get people to use PayPal so eBay can get yet more fees, but frankly eBay is sick of the fraud.”

So now those that decide to go out of the system, and insist on paying with a check must accept that they are out of the system and they can’t go to eBay to complain about it. Fraud has been a major concern with e-commerce since practically the beginning, but the move to electronic payments is generally seen by the industry as a way to reduce scams.

The issue, some argue, is that eBay is making these rules without actually asking anyone’s opinion, but Boyd agrees that electronic payments can certainly reduce fraud – at least on the part of the seller. “This really protects the casual users, and those tend to be buyers more often than sellers.”

One example of this is in how sellers will no longer be able to state the shipping costs prior to an auction’s end. Sellers will no long be able to list an item without including a shipping cost up front.

These changes, cry some users, may have good intentions, but there is a feeling that it will drive away the smaller sellers. That, of course, leads back to the original points – and rumors – that it may seem that eBay is trying to reduce one-off items in favor of a move to become big box retailer.

“They want to improve the buyer experience, and they want to still try to protect the sellers,” says Boyd. This takes a careful balance, but eBay’s biggest move is clearly to reduce fraud. “I think at the end of the day it all comes down to safety.”

However, sellers are now saying that they could be victims of fraud, and have lost some of their safety net. What once was a two way street for buyers and sellers has shifted very far in favor of buyers.

“Sellers were promised that buyers would be permanently banned from eBay after three NPB (non-paying buyer) strikes; yet having recently attempted and unsuccessfully to deal with a non-paying bidder through eBay’s system, we find that the ‘consequences’ are considered only after a buyer receives ‘too many’ NPB strikes within ‘too short’ a time,” says Shrader, whose eBay activity involves more selling than buying. This give buyers greater confidence, he adds, but rather than translating into higher sales, it has become the catalyst, which allows unscrupulous buyers to run amok. “In our eBay business, we are now seeing significantly increasing numbers of non-paying buyers, demands for postage far below actual cost, chargebacks and PayPal disputes for non-receipt of goods filed only a few days after payment is made, etc.”

The policies haven’t completely turned Shrader off eBay either, and he believes that there are still plenty of outstanding members of the eBay buying community who he says are a pleasure to deal with, but as with many facets of life the small minority can ruin it for all. This is especially true says Shrader since there are no longer any checks and balances in place to make them think twice about their actions.
Live Auctions to Live On Without eBay

And while much has been made about eBay’s moves towards electronic only payments, another change has garnered less attention. eBay Live Auctions will close at the end of 2008, ending one possible option for collectors of one-of-a-kind items. However, LiveAuctioneers.com, which was founded in November 2002, and has between 60,000 and 100,000 lots listed at any time on eBay, will live on.

“LiveAuctioneers.com, in association with more than 740 auction houses and galleries worldwide, offers auction bidders more than 100,000 lots up for bid monthly,” says LiveAuctioneers.com CEO Julian Ellison. “These lots include a wide variety of fine and decorative art, antiques, quality collectibles and much more.”

So while eBay Live Auctions will cease operations Dec. 31, consumers will continue to have access to all of these auction lots on LiveAuctioneers.com. That means – for both buyers and sellers – it can be business as usual, and auctioneers can even host auction catalogs on LiveAuctioneers.com to expose sales to bidders worldwide, and bidders can source, and bid on, the best collectibles offered by international auction houses and galleries.

One key point that Ellison wanted to stress was that LiveAuctioneers.com is not responsible for either payment or shipping. “Each individual auction house creates its own terms and conditions for online buyers,” says Ellison, adding that, “all auction-house information relating to payment, shipping, insurance and any other applicable transaction details are offered on each auction lot posted on LiveAuctioneers.com, and a bidder is prompted to read, and agree to, these before signing up for a sale.”

Additionally says Ellison auctioneers will further have freedom of choice when determining buyer payment options – certified check, money order, credit card, online payment and others – and this will remain the same with the launch of the new LiveAuctioneers stand-alone platform. “Payment-option flexibility is important to online buyers when making purchasing decisions, and therefore it is imperative that online sellers offer various options.”

Shipping Collectibles: Sellers & Buyers Beware

The facts of hat’s covered, what’s not, and who should spring for insurance

If you’re a collector of antiques or other bric-a-brac, you’ve likely had those stressful moments filled with worry that an irreplaceable item is lost. Days, possibly weeks, have passed and yet the item hasn’t arrived. As the buyer you can only wait … and possibly hope for the item to arrive.

This worry can be especially trying if you didn’t pay for insurance, and in hindsight trying to be penny smart and pound-foolish was far more than foolish. However, all hope isn’t lost. If you paid with a credit card you might still be in luck even if you didn’t opt for insurance.

Whether it is on eBay, a purchase from a collectible forum or just from a distance antique shop, you’re likely covered for losses if you decided “to charge it.” Simply by using a credit card – as opposed to a debit card, which takes money directly from a savings or checking account – could at least get you the money back if the item never arrives.

“When you buy something and use your credit card you’ve entered into two contracts,” says Professor Ralph M. Stein of Pace Law School at Pace University. “The first is the contract you enter with the person selling, who may offer insurance. But you also have a contract with your issuer, so that if you have a complaint you can resolve the problem with Visa or MasterCard.”

Smart sellers should therefore consider opting to require insurance for large purchases, so as to cover themselves for large ticket items, even if the buyer refuses.

When Shipping Collectibles

When things go wrong and an item is lost or broken, buyers and sellers need to work together to resolve the problem. It is very easy for a seller to simply do a chargeback when plastic was used to buy an item, or for a seller to claim no responsibility when a money order was used – but only together can the problem be addressed.

Most importantly, buyers and sellers should both realize that legitimately lost and broken items are not either of their faults. The biggest miscommunication typically starts when buyers and sellers point fingers at each other, rather than the shippers.

Tips for Buyers:

• A credit card gives you the most protection. When used, a credit card essentially protects your investment. A check can be cancelled but this carries a fee and internationally not all checks can be canceled.

• A money order is essentially the same as sending cash with one exception. If the letter is lost you can file a claim to get a replacement. However, if the buyer cashes it and does not send the item you have no recourse.

• Registered mail is generally the safest way to send a package, but because an item is so closely guarded it can make tracking it extremely challenging and all but impossible for the recipient.

• Registered mail only covers up to a set value – typically around $1,000 per item. So if you’re buying an especially valuable item you should talk with your credit card company about insurance they provide.

• Be patient when registered mail is used, especially internationally as it can take time to clear customs and make it to your door.
Tips for Sellers:

• Many private shipping firms, such as UPS, FedEx and DHL will not cover antiques, as these items cannot easily be replaced. Even with proof of purchase, sales receipt and appraisal these items are not covered by insurance.

• Even with common items the replacement value can be quite small. Most third-party, private shipping firms will let you pay for the privilege of declaring the value but don’t confuse this with replacement value or even insurance. If the item is lost or broken the shipping may still claim liability of $100.

• Registered mail is the safest way for sellers to ship expensive items, especially as a signature is required.

Tips for Both Buyers and Sellers:

• To file a claim should an item be broken, regardless of whether it is a government postal carrier or private carrier, you need to retain all of the materials you received. Take photos and make copies of all documents. It is important to note that only sellers as the sender can file a claim for a broken or lost item.

•   If an item is lost, buyers who used a credit card can often do a charge back simply because the item did not arrive. If an item is lost and the buyer paid with a check the seller can choose to ignore the problem. For this reason to keep both sides honest and to avoid a bad situation turning very ugly, a wise move is to send especially valuable items via registered mail, where they are typically under lock and key while in transit.

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