mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Friday, August 29, 2008

On the continuing increase of the suckyness of eBay..

Back in 2001, I was visiting my parents for spring break from college and looked at one of those circulars from OfficeMax. They had a CD-ROM drive free after rebate. It occurred to me that I could buy it, send for the rebates, and sell it on eBay and make a few bucks. So I did. I sold it for $25, got the rebate, and got hooked on the idea of eBay.

Over the years, things have changed - stores don't offer as many free after rebate items, and the number of people chasing them has gone up, so that isn't a normal source of inventory for me. But I've found other sources - auctions, yard sales, hamfests, and in-person transactions. With new items, it's gotten harder to find them, but there are still vast differences between what people think used items are worth, and that's enabled me to profit from arbitrage in the used-electronics market.

But eBay keeps getting worse and worse. Having discovered hamfests a few years ago, most of my low-value (or high-weight) items go there. I get cash, I don't have to pay transaction fees or write listings, and I don't have to ship stuff.

eBay has made a lot of changes in the past that people weren't thrilled about, including a number of fee increases. But the last year or so has brought a number of really stupid, really bad changes.

The first was to eBay's feedback system, which never was perfect but was decent, and did a reasonable job of encouraging people who don't know each other to behave. A few months ago, they made a major change, introducing something called DSR's - detailed seller reports - which included star ratings for a variety of categories, including shipping. The DSR's were silly - especialy shipping cost, since that's stated in the auction - but even worse - and hurt small sellers, who could have one undeserved bad DSR make them look shitty. But the biggest problem was they took away the ability for sellers - the people who pay eBay - to leave negative feedback. That means if you get a seller who doesn't pay, who claims that your merchandise was faulty when it wasn't, who doesn't read an auction description and then blames you for it, or who tries to defraud you, you can't let the eBay community know.

And now, they are making two other changes. The first is that they will soon not be allowing buyers to pay by check or money order. These were the way all eBay transactions were made years ago, before PayPal existed. While I seldom have buyers pay via cashier's check or money order - maybe 5% - I hate anything that might cause someone who would otherwise bid to not bid. If people don't have a paypal account - don't trust it, don't know how, whatever - I'd hate to not have their business.

eBay is spinning it as a fraud protection, but that's clearly BS. Sellers can choose not to accept them if they don't want to, and buyers can choose to not buy from people who only accept them. It's clear that eBay just wants it's cut of fees from PayPal, which it owns.

The other change is fixed shipping costs. eBay has always hated the fact that sellers often pad shipping, which they don't get a cut of in fees. Now they have fixed shipping costs for a number of categories, including books and video games and systems. The problem is that some of these categories don't have easily fixed costs - people who sell, say, DVD box sets, can't ship them for $3, and the giant $350 NeoGeo I sold a few months ago cost me more than $15 to ship and insure. eBay actually says that sellers should raise their selling prices to make up for this - so instead of eBay not getting their cut, sellers have to pay eBay an extra fee on their costs.

Now, I'm a capitalist. I realize that eBay exists to make money, it's a private business, and they have the right to do what they want. I also realize that had eBay not invented the category of online auctions, it might never have come into existence and I wouldn't have made the money I have selling crap online. And when it makes sense, for unique/specialty items, I'll continue selling on eBay, because even with the fees I can still make money.

But the more eBay keeps charging, and the harder they make it for sellers, the fewer things I will sell, and lots of other sellers will feel the same way. And some sellers will stop selling at all. And if sellers stop selling, buyers will stop looking at eBay, stop buying from eBay, starting a vicious cycle. And in the long run, eBay will make less money because they are forgetting that, even though they provide a great venue, it's the sellers and the stuff they sell who bring buyers to eBay. If people can't find cool things on eBay because nobody is selling them, the venue will die, and everyone loses.


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