Can eBay remain relevant?

In the interest of space, I’ll make it brief: The changes to its business model that eBay proposed in late January confounded a lot of buyers and sellers. There’s “reduced” listing fees and much higher “Final Value Fees,” along with a seller’s inability to leave neutral or negative feedback.

Antique Trader Mailbox.jpgReader reaction is mixed, but mostly negative. Here’s what Trader wanted to know: Can eBay remain a relevant force in the marketplace?

We’ve put in as many responses as we could, editing many for space. The rest are posted online at our Web site, www.antiquetrader.com.

Readers posted their answers to the new Antique Trader Blog at www.antiquetrader.com/atblog, and sent their responses via email.

To join in the online dialogue, sign up for our weekly e-newsletter at www.antiquetrader.com.

Noah:

Like many antiques dealers who routinely used to sell on eBay, I have become more than a little fed up with eBay’s anti-seller policies.
The latest in a long line of discriminatory anti-seller policy changes involves the updates to the feedback system. Now buyers “will only be able to receive positive feedback.” Are they kidding?

EBay seems to forget that the sellers are the ones it derives its entire income from. I feel that eBay is the most disgraceful corporation I’ve ever encountered with regard to its appalling treatment of sellers, epitomizing the example of “biting the hand that feeds you.”

I hope and pray on a daily basis that another online auction company has the wherewithal to set up in competition – I will be the first of the rats leaving the sinking eBay ship.

Susan Mesick
West Brookfield, Mass.


Noah:

Greed will be a determining factor in eBay’s future. It’s bad enough, with all the extra selling fees charged, that I have to wait longer for my eBay items page to load due to all the pop-up ads. This extra load-up time takes away from my viewing the seller’s auctions.

Glenn Scott


Noah:

First, you need to take a look at what the future will be with the new eBay plan. EBay is not lowering fees, as it would have you believe. The fact is that eBay is raising fees. The percent for selling items is now higher, not lower. This translates to a direct stab in the back to loyal sellers who list legitimate items that are priced correctly in the antiques world, the items that sell on eBay.

The items that are listed and do not sell are a huge portion of eBay income and now under the new system these will increase. It will be harder to sell inexpensive items and now eBay bidders will have even more junk to weed through as the cost to list junk just got cheaper. Other listing fees will be slightly lower but eBay has already figured out it can get this back by taking the extra money from its good sellers in higher percentages for actual sales. Bad idea!

Your question is will eBay survive? Once the eBay percentage gets too high dealers will go back to their regular channels: auctions, shows, shops and markets.

It’s unfortunate that no one has been able to give eBay a run for the money. At best it is a poor system with poor customer service.

Spencer Gorman
Philadelphia, Pa.


Hello Noah:

As a seller on eBay for quite a number of years, I am actually pleasantly surprised that eBay, as of Feb. 20, will lower fees to Powersellers as well as providing Free Gallery.

I was sorely accustomed to fee hikes over the years and this comes as a welcome benefit to my bottom line for costs on listing on eBay. About time they focus on the sellers importance to their business!

As to the feedback tweak, I am not quite as happy with the fact that buyers can only receive positive feedback. What’s the point of leaving feedback at all in that case?

Despite the tremendous amount of work involved, I still choose selling on eBay over the limited alternatives to employment in my area.

I see eBay continuing to play a major role in online marketing, due to the basic fact that people simply enjoy this type of shopping and the excitement it generates.

Kathy Shane-Brinkman


Noah:

My opinion is that this change is both good and bad.

The good part is addressing and improving the search engine basis. The bad, if there is one, is the unknown effect of fee changes. I will wait to see on that one.

The most important part of a successful eBay business is the same as any other business. However, taking a professional approach, doing your marketing and business homework, and follow-up still lead to better sales. After reviewing my costs for 2007, I only wish my sales to expense ratio at shows was the same as it is for eBay. EBay is maturing and as such, the successful seller will need to be more savvy, hard working, and professional. Shows are also maturing. Perhaps there will be a new venue to sell our antique wares soon. We all need to welcome and address change as it comes. Otherwise change will pass us by.

Thank you,

David Mueller


Hi Noah:

As a current Power Seller on eBay, we read your latest column with much interest.

While we are enjoying quite a bit of successful steady growth selling on eBay, we have been reading quite a lot of negative feedback on eBay’s Power Seller-only discussion boards concerning their recent changes to the fee structure and feedback system.

The new fee structure seems to be designed to effectively eliminate sellers of low-priced items, as the final value fees have increased a little more than 60 percent for the first $25 of the realized sales price. If you look at the math, it seems that those selling low-priced, low-margin items with a high sell-through percentage will bear the brunt of these changes.

EBay is also changing many of its feedback policies. In reality, this doesn’t make much of a difference to a lot of eBay sellers, as many of them go above and beyond in terms of customer service. EBay appears to be interested in becoming more like Amazon, which has enjoyed a steady increase in market share.

I really think that eBay will remain relevant in the near future, but I do not believe the changes that they are currently making will have any real effect in the long term to regain their market share by attracting more buyers.

EBay does not, and never did, have any kind of sustainable strategic advantage in the marketplace to keep other e-commerce sites from entering. EBay simply was the first kid on the block and in the right place at the right time.

Sincerely,

Greg Talbot


Noah:

How many people look at a buyer’s negatives when selling them something? My guess is about zero. The only time you look at a buyer’s feedback is when they don’t pay.

A seller’s feedback total is something most people look at. I’ve sold thousands of items on eBay and do not have a negative. I’ve bought hundreds of items on eBay and have very seldom left a negative. I’ve left a few neutrals when the dealer overcharges for postage. Sometimes when I do this I am left a negative by the seller, but I reply to the feedback with the reason why. Negatives can really hurt a dealer, but they don’t really hurt a buyer.

Now eBay is punishing the majority of good sellers, to try to get rid of the minority of bad sellers. While most sellers and most buyers are honest people, it is the deadbeats in both categories who ruin eBay. Completely eliminating the ability for sellers to leave feedback is a problem. Now buyers can hold dealers hostage. I have perfect feedback as a dealer, because I am ethical. Allowing buyers and sellers to leave feedback is the only fair way to handle it.

Greed is going to hurt the site. When they raise the fees, it doesn’t raise the price I sell the item for. It just costs everyone more money.

Of course eBay is the biggest and, basically, the only game in town, but they’re opening the door for some smart people to start up a site with much lower fees so they can get a foothold.

A 40 percent increase in fees is too much!

Rick Rann
Oak Park, Ill.


Noah:

Number one, the small reduction in listing fees is laughable. The fact that only the buyer can give a negative feedback is stupid. The fact that eBay says a seller will be rated by how fast an item is shipped does not take into account waiting for a check to clear.

The real reason for all this is PayPal. If a seller, in eBay’s opinion is weak, or does not rate high enough on its scale, the seller will be forced to accept PayPal.

Walter Kraus


Noah:

EBay’s listing fees are going to be minimally less, but final fees are quite a bit more. Not being able to give buyer feedback leaves all sellers vulnerable.

Bev Persson


Noah:

EBay is not the same game as it was five years ago. As a player since 1997, eBay has changed to the point that it wants you to try another playing field like Amazon or Google.

As far as lowering the listing fees, that was a joke. Lower the fees by an average of 5 cents, then up the exit fees by 3.5 percent. That was just to get headline exposure. That is not making it attractive for the seller who brings the business to eBay. It’s a turn off. Bring on the new teams. Go Amazon! Go Google! Boo eBay!

Ray Roy


Noah:

EBay has made collecting and selling fun again. No more trudging through malls and coming up totally empty-handed. Dealing with nice people on a worldwide basis. Easy to shop, easy to buy, I love eBay for both buying and selling.

Thanks,

Hal Ottaway


Noah:

It should be noted that the change in listing fee was accompanied by a change in sales percentage. EBay has been good for antique dealers in the short run and bad for the entire business in the long run. The sooner eBay hits the wall the better.

Now that granny’s attic is mostly tapped-out, a tradition is over. EBay’s inventory has gotten lower and lower in quality due to so much recycling of bad antiques and the low availability of fresh items. The writing is on the wall for the entire antique industry.

I hate to say it, but it is a good time to start thinking about reinventing your existence.

David Spahr
Washington, Maine


Hi Noah:

I was a seller on eBay and there was this nasty ring that took advantage of several good sellers out there. I sold a lot of antiques and collectibles. I now am on the path to getting my antique certificate thanks to an ad in your magazine.

I really don’t like eBay and don’t think they will be a relevant force due to fraud and other problems. There will be better antique sites on the Web for sellers and buyers to bid and sell.

Keep up the good work!

Patricia Deleon


Noah:

Fortunately or unfortunately, eBay will remain the 800-pound gorilla in the corner.

It’s the site everyone who wants to buy or sell something seeks out initially, and it will continue to be the site for a long, long time to come. This is not to say there aren’t better sites, but the vast majority of (new) buyers and sellers will go to what they’ve heard of and can find fast on the Internet: That’s eBay.

I think eBay’s problems may have more to do with market saturation than its own high rates.

All businesses peak and decline; eBay has reached full market penetration and many people have sold what they wanted to sell, but it’s hard to believe that it won’t be the first thought in folks’ minds when they want to buy or sell something.

Jim Bahler


Noah:

The “lower fees” were actually a huge fee increase. They got a lot of free publicity, but eBay’s walk does not match its talk with the huge increase in final value fees. The only people who will see lower fees are those whose items do not sell. Everyone else sees another massive fee increase.

Sincerely,

John Leckrone


Noah:

Sure eBay will sustain itself. While change has occurred and will continue, we sellers and buyers – big and small – will find other positive aspects of what eBay has brought to the collecting world.

For one, the learning process that goes on while shopping at eBay. We have learned that our collectibles are not as rare as we thought, that many other collectors/sellers have what we possess or want. This has certainly affected the marketplace and no new leadership will change that attitude. Leadership can enhance the technique we buy and sell.

Getting new collectors to buy is one tough call for any leader simply because most people already possess those rare and difficult items and are saturated with extra items that don’t bring a price any longer.

Dennis Ellison


Noah:

I think that the decline seen with eBay is driven by seller and buyer dissatisfaction with the way eBay has greedily positioned itself in the past several years.

The ever-increasing fees, the requirements that pushed sellers to use PayPal and PayPal only, the lack of policing fakes, forgeries and stolen and pirated images from legitimate auctions, the politically correct nuancing of its requirements in selling, the lack of customer service for all but the power sellers and the sheer vastness of the site are all things that drove people from the site.

Meg Whitman is a smart lady and is saving her bacon by bowing out now. Five years ago I opened a storefront on Ruby Lane and have been absolutely delighted with the site as an alternative to eBay.

Carolyn Martin


Noah:

Now that we have new young upstarts in eBay trying to make a name for themselves, it will probably go to hell in a handbag!

I am a seller, and all eBay cares about are the buyers, many who should not even be allowed on eBay. Unless eBay smartens up, I’m afraid they will be a thing of the past as many sellers are leaving and closing their stores. They, along with me, fear non-paying bidders, from whom – after February of this year – we will have no protection from.

Judith Brooks
Daytona Beach, Fla.


Hi Noah:

Let’s get down to reality concerning eBay’s decline in the market. It has been well known and documented by many of us that the percentage of successful auctions is far outweighed by the percentage of failures (those that don’t sell). This is because of several factors:

1. EBay’s bid increments do not promote any reason to bid early.

2. EBay’s definitive auction endings do not give the seller a chance to maximize prices as in the “going, going, gone” scenario in real auctions.

3. EBay has put an excessive charge on reserve auctions.

4. Too much software out there that allows sniping and discourages people who might be real buyers at higher prices.

The remedies are obvious but eBay has chosen to ignore all of them.
EBay has never been a relevant force in the antique market – perhaps the junk market of used furniture, but not the prime stuff.

At best eBay auctions are a cheap advertisement. Buyers do not like the format, sellers cannot optimize their prices, and eBay, who should understand what I have written, has chosen to disregard the handwriting on the wall.

Mark Slotkin


Hi Noah:

My hobby is dashing around to tag and estate sales and flea markets, looking for the overlooked bargain. I’ve played around with selling on eBay for nearly 10 years, mostly antiques and collectibles of all sorts, primarily as a deal with my long-suffering minimalist wife.

I think it’s all wonderful stuff, but even I have to admit that she’s right – I can’t keep it all. Until the last few years, eBay was a great venue for selling low to mid-range antiques and collectibles, those things worth from $25 to a few hundred dollars. For the truly rare item, it offers an uprecedented exposure to bidders around the world. It seems to me that those high-end items continue to bring fine prices because the people who can afford them will always do very well. It’s the middle-class buyer who used to try to fill out grandma’s china set or buy the piece he remembers fondly from his childhood who has disappeared from the bidding because he or she is more worried about being able to buy fuel oil and gasoline and pay property taxes than about buying something not really needed.

If there is once again a thriving instead of a struggling middle class, eBay will prosper as well. It’s that kind of marketplace.

Mike Lally


Noah:

The marketplace is ripe for a decent site to sell for the sporadic seller. I am now looking for an alternative site. Craig’s list is one.

Bob Hay


Noah:

Enjoyed seeing the short note on eBay.

It and you are mentioning its new lower listing fees, but lets look at the whole picture. Seems to me eBay is going for the throat. A 66.666% increase – or is that just 2/3 on the final fee? – seems huge to me, and unmentioned in all of the articles.

It’s been interesting to read all the press, but there’s never any mention of the final cost if you are lucky enough to sell your item.

Terry Hoeman


Noah:

Lower listing fees? So EBay has lowered its listing fees by 5? per listing. It also “adjusted” (its word) its Final Value Fees, up by 61%.

EBay, please don’t spit on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Michael McMorrow


Noah:

Reducing listing fees and raising Final Value Fees doesn’t equate to a benefit. Not being able to leave negative feedback for buyers doesn’t either. There are several calculators out there that demonstrate that the so-called reduction actually results in quite a hefty increase in fees. For instance, the Final Value Fees for EBay store sales have been raised to a whopping 12%.

Arlene Chemnitz


Noah:

I have been a registered eBay user for nearly 10 years. While my selling has been fairly limited, I planned to increase it in the coming years when I retire. My area is mostly antique toys in the $75 to $800 range (at a few dozen per year, a very small dealer in eBay terms). So I look at every strategic and revenue adjustment at eBay from that perspective.

I don’t really think that the site thinks of me as a member of one of its most important revenue categories. If that turns out to be increasingly true, then I may go over to listing quantities of items with traditional auctioneers (some of whom also use eBay or some other Internet auctioneer anyway) to appeal to a wider range of buyers. It all comes down to dollars. If it’s a wash, who needs the hassle of packing, shipping and the occasional non-payer?

The decision will be an easy one.

Frank Madsen

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