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As a shopper I hate a lot of the recent shifts in their strategy. The only thing interesting enough to make me want to deal with all the hassles of eBay are the interesting vintage or collectible one-of-a-kind items: coins, camera gear, art, etc. These things are more work to list and describe but make for an always entertaining browsing experience. I loved eBay back in the day when it was like one big never-ending garage sale.

The catalogization of eBay, moving toward SKU-based product pages with sellers providing fulfillment, ends up feeling like a weird me-too version of the Amazon FBA race to the bottom. Small sellers with interesting inventory have been bled to death with ever-increasing fees and seem ready to pack up the wagon and move on to greener pastures.

The featured products on the homepage have the same bland sameness as every other e-com site and as a shopper I don't feel like I have much reason to ever go there these days. Right now I'm seeing a Patriots ballcap, some men's sneakers, and a small grill. Might as well be shopping at Target.




eBay, yeah it used to be pretty good. Which could have served as their tagline for most of the last decade.

They've scared off the most interesting segment of eBay with their policies that are actively hostile to smallest sellers, and their rubber stamp appeals processes. The most interesting segment were the individuals using it for garage sales or selling grandparent's old collection and bits of Victoriana. I could, and sometimes did, spend hundreds. There's almost none left. The very few that persevere have to walk the very fine line between unacceptable listing and opening themselves to the many possible scams. They killed that niche pretty effectively. I can't imagine using it to sell ever again.

Instead, there's medium scale businesses who can afford some percentage of fraud as "cost of doing business", eBay has become another OK outlet. It's an OK place for run of the mill, boring, ecommerce, especially at the cheapest end of the scale. There's now lots of businesses trying to tread those collectables niches with very overpriced listings or endless listings of old rubbish branded collectable.

Surprisingly, I find I am using eBay a lot more than I did five years ago. It's the place to buy batteries, cables and other trivia under £5 with some confidence there's no forgeries like I've had on Amazon.

As a saver I should perhaps be grateful, but their strategies seem to have been designed to turn me, and my peers, from thousand(s) a year customers to tens. If not intentional, surely they could and should have seen the trend years ago.


The trouble with auction sites is that there are two types of products.

One is high-volume commodities, and for that you're just going to end up with a store. Even if you have a small seller, if a thousand people buy USB cables an hour, you're not going to sell it for more than what competitors are charging and you're not going to have to sell it for less. You ask for the market price and you get it right away. Efficient, boring.

The other is low-volume commodities. The issue there is if you list something for $250 and wait six or eight months, someone pays that. But if you put it up for a seven day auction starting at $250, it doesn't sell. And if you put it up for a seven day auction starting at $1, you get $25.

Which makes that the interesting one, because on the one hand it gives people an opportunity to get rid of their junk right away and make $25 instead of having to pay someone to haul it off, and on the other hand the buyer gets a great deal on something that would otherwise cost $250.

The problem is that it tends to make the sellers grumpy. A novice lists an auction starting at $1 expecting that in a global marketplace they'll get the market price, not realizing that the market price on a time-limited sale of a low-volume product is a lot lower than what you can get by demanding a higher price and waiting longer for someone to pay it. So they get $25 on something they expected to be worth $250 and they're dissatisfied with the auction site, or do something troublesome like refuse to send the item.

Meanwhile the professional sellers have been listing that product in their stores for $250 for months, but since there is only demand at $250 for one such item every six months and the novice just satisfied it for $25, now they have to wait another six months to get it out of their warehouse at that price. Assuming another small seller doesn't list another one before then.

And the auction site wants the sales to go through at the higher price too, because they'd much rather get a commission on $250 than $25. So they shoo away the troublesome small sellers causing all these problems.

Except that occasionally getting a $250 item for $25 was the reason buyers bothered to come to their site.


Three, surely? They forgot, or actively pivoted away from the second hand market that made them in the first place. Like they saw Amazon on 10x their turnover and decided to chase that new product rabbit instead.

Second hand was the interesting segment for so many. There's no $250 seller as it hasn't been made for decades, or someone searches for once-worn, but reduced price, shoes, or the new family looking for almost new kid's stuff. Second hand and junk shop (remember those?), or bereavement and house clearance stuff. The sort of stuff people would have no idea of value, then would throw, donate or clear. None of those went away, they just left eBay, some to landfill. eBay "helpfully" including new and global in every search, and fees increasing to 10%, just hastened the exodus. As did policies encouraging all remaining buyers to be from the "awkward squad" even for your £1 amateur one-off listing.

For a good few years it seemed like everyone put their junk on eBay, sold for decent prices, and as a result everyone tended to look too. Some made a worthwhile side income trading up junk picked up at sales and charity shops. Everyone seemed mostly happy. List a time or two, and if it doesn't sell, donate or throw away.

It's almost like yet another second rate mall/Amazon-alike wasn't what anyone was looking for, so no wonder it's losing ground. Could they have found a way to keep and grow that first market and still gain a commercial market for new products? Should they have stayed out of becoming just another second-rate mall? Good questions. :)


Agreed, The garage sale, family heirloom sellers were quite a gem.

FWIW the appeals process is awful. I've been scammed a few times as a seller when individuals cited inaccurate description after receiving the product (mismatch). In reality there were no inaccuracies just a buyer who wanted something for free or didn't actually read the product specs and was mad. I've been pretty much done as a seller since 2010.


eBay's stance for selling and scammers: fuck you seller


How do you avoid forgeries on eBay? I've seen a good proportion of the listings very obvious counterfeits or fakes (e.g. search for "2TB SD card") and you have to have some savvy to tell the difference between genuine OEM and fake OEM in some cases. I'm not sure I can guarantee always getting genuine goods, so I have avoided eBay for things where that matters.


You can't tell before you buy. Your only hope is requesting a refund and hoping they don't ask you to ship it back.

There are so many converter plugs for sale on eBay that are pretty much impossible for their size and price like USB to 3.5mm converters advertised to let you play music from a USB. Somehow I don't think they have a USB controller, DAC, FAT32 driver and mp3 decoder in a little cable sold for $0.70 free shipping.


I'm sure it's not foolproof, but I've had no problems whatsoever sticking to UK sellers with consistently high feedback. I have no intention saving another 50p getting something shipped from an unknown in the Far East with long lead time, and dubious returns possibilities.

eBay weight disputes heavily in buyer favour, so if I did get caught out a PayPal refund would likely be given without question.


I noticed the same thing. The front page is so boring it feels like a regular stores website. I don't know about the rest of their users but I don't come to ebay to buy sunglasses or phones. I'm looking for that obscure adapter that no store in the country sells. Or that game I used to play that has long since gone out of production. I can still find that stuff but there is no way to just casually look around at the interesting bits, you have to search for it.


To be fair, Amazon has 10 years of purchase history on my account, and they can't manage to put up anything on the home page that I'm interested in. Personally, I'm very much starting to doubt algorithmic recommendations for shopping sites. They work for books and music, but as Amazon has morphed into offering everything they can't recommend anything decent. I just get the same generic recommendations for products similar to my last few purchases, similar to Google advertising products that I've already searched for and bought. Adtech has promised a lot, but in my experience it hasn't delivered on most of those promises.

Oddly, I find the ebay homepage more useful, since it also displays a selection of products from sellers I watch, and has figured out I have a fetish for vintage test equipment. I don't think I've ever bought anything from the Amazon homepage, but I bought at least 3 items that I saw on the eBay homepage (from sellers I watched) in the last year. This relies on active participation from the user, however, and benefits people who have used the site for a long time. And I can't kid myself, eBay can't grow selling used test equipment and motorcycle parts, but they still do the online sale of unique items better than anyone else.

I do miss the 'rummage sale' aspect though, it's now nearly impossible to browse and find weird items, you have to just search for specific items rather than browse.


My housemate recently got a suggestion for a food processor dash button


Haha, brilliant. A good example of "AI" gone wrong. I wonder whether Amazon's recommender has a flag for durable goods, and if so, how it failed.


Perhaps Amazon knows something about planned obsolescence that the consumer does not.


Interestingly, the Chinese equivalent of eBay (taobao) does an extremely good job of recommendations for me. So much so that if I search for something, and can't quite find what I'm looking for, often the exact thing I was looking for is a recommendation the next day (or a better version I didn't know exists).

My suspicion is that they have teams of "professional shoppers" seeding the AI algorithms.


Yes all I get is products I have already brought - yes I have brought that RPG supplement No I am not going to buy it again why even bother sending me that email or suggesting it?


You don't need to doubt algorithmic shopping suggestions and just say they are absolutely worthless. It's amazing how much effort has been put into that concept throughout the industry and it is universally junk. They might as well simplify it: pick ten categories of items you have bought from, pick a random item from each.

That's like ten lines of code, done. It won't be any less useful than what they are doing now


I guess this is what they've needed to do to scale their revenue. A quick google search shows that eBay did about $9B in the US last year whereas Heritage Auctions, one of the premier auction sites for high-end collectibles and luxury items, only did about $900M in revenue. So there's plenty of money to be made peddling generic bullshit.


I think the issue is that many people use eBay less than sites like Amazon or AliExpress where you're out to pick a product - I used to use ebay quite often for buying things like phone cases and electronics components directly from China.

Now I choose AliExpress when I want it cheaper and Amazon when I want it faster. eBay has lost a lot of marketshare in this space - yes, there's business in auctioning collectibles and second hand stuff, but it's much smaller than that direct purchase market and they'd likely have to scale back the site in some respects.


Maybe that signals they need to work on site UX and AI to present useful purchases in a more consistent buying experience than an atomized encyclopedia galactica that drowns the user in a paradox of choice?


Their front page should be just a search box.


Sorry for the plug but you might want to check out HobbyDB, tiny little local startup here in Boulder that also hosts coworking space that I rent, but they specialize in what you're talking about and compete with ebay and are significantly more reasonable.




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