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The untold origin story of eBay that I lived (2018) (cake.co)
237 points by GoRudy 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments



It’s funny how Amazon feared eBay, and then failed to beat them — in 1999.

But when I worked at eBay in 2003, they had the mailroom put a sticker on every amazon box that said “Next time get it on eBay!”

And now the tide is swinging back a bit as people get fed up with fakes and commingling at Amazon. At least with eBay you know the product you’re getting is actually from the seller you bought it from.


At least with eBay you know the product you’re getting is actually from the seller you bought it from.

The likelihood is generally higher, but I've received drop-shipped items from eBay that come directly from Amazon & Walmart warehouses. Took me by surprise at first, but it was still the lowest available price. Unsure if they are still cracking down on that.

eBay has always been fantastic for used/refurbished electronics compared to anything else.


> At least with eBay you know the product you’re getting is actually from the seller you bought it from.

> The likelihood is generally higher, but I've received drop-shipped items from eBay that come directly from Amazon & Walmart warehouses. Took me by surprise at first, but it was still the lowest available price. Unsure if they are still cracking down on that.

> eBay has always been fantastic for used/refurbished electronics compared to anything else.

This is a method used to cash out stolen credit cards as well. Buy the item with a stolen card and ship to the unwitting purchaser. This is why they can afford to sell at a perceived loss.


>This is a method used to cash out stolen credit cards as well. Buy the item with a stolen card and ship to the unwitting purchaser. This is why they can afford to sell at a perceived loss.

Also a method used to make a few % margin on a discount code. Amazon and Walmart don't give out re-usable flat X% discount codes (AFAIK) though so that isn't the case for when something is drop shipped from those sellers.

But yes, this is a common method used to liquidate stolen CCs info.


I tend to cross check both Amazon and eBay and can often find items lower on eBay (with FREE shipping!). Glowing seller reviews like "SUPER FAST DELIVERY" typically indicates drop shippers. So I'll take a chance and often, a day or two later, the expected arrives - an Amazon Prime box!

But it makes me think -- Are they taking a hit on the sale to offer the item lower on eBay? I canceled Prime a few years back, but with a list of known eBay dropshippers, I can take advantage of Amazon Prime like prices at-cost (or lower) when compared to Amazon.com. And all without paying the Amazon Prime fee (obviously, I don't get the other benefits, but it's the 2 day shipping I'm primarily after!)


that's usually a seller that has Walmart or Amazon fulfilling all of their orders and has multiple storefronts connected to that fulfillment program. Shopify is one, but there are many others i don't know about. I've been looking into it to resell some small parts in small quantities. just bag and tag them with an SKU that matches what you give Amazon, and they will pack and ship it for you.


> they had the mailroom put a sticker on every amazon box

you mean when eBay employees received a package from Amazon at the office?


Yeah exactly.


> And now the tide is swinging back a bit as people get fed up with fakes and commingling at Amazon.

That isn't actually happening at all. That comes across as what you wish were occurring. Unless you're referring to eBay's share of online commerce persistently contracting as they stagnate. It isn't a new problem, eBay as a force in ecommerce has been eroding for many years now.

It's why eBay has a $22b market cap and their market platform has entirely stopped growing. Their stock multiple is so low because nobody believes in their growth story (it doesn't have one). Over four years they've seen an average of about 6% annual growth, although that includes other non-auction businesses they had acquired. It's also why they're a juicy takeover target: the lack of growth gives them a cheap valuation, combined with good margins and a difficult to remove quasi-monopoly position in auctions. There is no future for eBay other than in the belly of someone larger, and soon.

Amazon of course has been going gangbusters on growth during that time, becoming ever more dominant in online retail. The exact opposite of what you're describing.


There is no future for eBay other than in the belly of someone larger, and soon.

Why is that the only option? What's wrong with a stable, profitable company staying a stable, profitable company?


And now the tide is swinging back a bit as people get fed up with fakes and commingling at Amazon. At least with eBay you know the product you’re getting is actually from the seller you bought it from.

I rarely use Amazon for this reason, and order from Target, Walmart, and Ebay instead.

Amazon also plays games, like not letting you sort search results by "Best Selling."


> At least with eBay you know the product you’re getting is actually from the seller you bought it from.

This is a great video showing how stolen credit cards are laundered through eBay “Nina Kollars - Confessions of an Nespresso Money Mule”

https://youtu.be/4fYZpRBuh-s


At least with eBay you know the product you’re getting is actually from the seller you bought it from.

Wait, how is this different with eBay compared to Amazon?


On Amazon, you don't know which seller's goods are being shipped to you, if it's "fulfilled by Amazon" or from Amazon directly.

So if two sellers are selling the same item, with the same exact SKU, and both send their inventory to Amazon to be warehoused and shipped, Amazon will happily send you either seller's item, depending on which is more convenient to send. (Perhaps seller A's stuff is in a warehouse closer to you.) This sounds good in theory, because all those products are identical, right? What if seller B's products are all counterfeit? So you buy from seller A who you think is legit (and for the example is), but you get seller B's fake crap, and seller A was powerless to stop it.


> seller A was powerless to stop it

They could select the "Amazon barcode" option (instead of the default "Manufacturer barcode") under "Barcode preference" which prevents commingling (but requires the seller to apply seller-specific barcode labels to all units).


Had no idea this was possible. I wonder if some more judicious process to make it easier for sellers to use this could stamp out the issue at the source.


Yeah, I’ve never understood why companies aren’t doing this. Not commingling inventory seems like an easy fix to the increasingly widespread fraud issue.


I was under the impression amazon does not commingle it’s own inventory with FBA inventory. Is that false?


This is false based on my impressions which were based on twitter / medium outcries for help type messages confirming this.


I am unable to parse that sentence.


He's saying it isn't true based on customer complaints on Twitter.


So I've seen several folks say that they do.


If nothing else, the UX makes it hard to keep it straight. eBay has always been more consistent with this, since they're solely the broker.


On eBay, purchase and shipping is in the context of the seller, their name is prominent, etc. with a little eBay branding around the edges.

Amazon's checkout process is 99.99% in the Amazon context, only showing a "sold by" on the order page itself in a 12px font. There is no mention of the seller at all in Amazon's order notification emails.


"In 1995 the ebola virus had its second major outbreak, 19 years from its first, and I discovered a fascinating website about it called eBay. It turns out Pierre owned it and wrote the ebola information. The traffic it drew would help his new auction site get off the ground."

wow. Seems relevant today.


I thought that was a typo and that he meant “20 years before the second major outbreak...”

But no, there was an Ebola outbreak in the mid 70s. Kind of scary to see a disease that can keep popping up.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ebola_outbreaks


Amazing to see the picture of the BEST Internet server facility .. that was certainly a pivotal and interesting company in the history of the Valley.

I worked there on contract a couple of times, got to know some of the folks - and it sure seems like it was a breeding ground of interesting Internet ideas. Matt Dillon, who has clearly proven his mettle in the time since, was developing his keen sense of social stewardship by keeping BEST's internet services up and running - I'll never forget the shock of discovering that they ran the entire thing on a database system Matt had developed himself...

I wonder what other things came from that incubator. It was a wild scene, indeed.


Smugmug was also there around that time.


I thought the guy built it for his wife to sell pez dispensers? I seem to remember hearing that 20 years ago.


I was a tiny tiny competitor to eBay some 20 years ago and the pez story was pure BS.

The reality is that eBay (that is AuctionWeb) got its initial traction from spamming Usenet as the story correctly states.

Very quickly they moved from spamming themselves to letting their users spam Usenet.

This is the "growth hacking" model still followed today by many. The question is there any moral middle ground?

If you can search Usenet archives you can find remnants of that AuctionWeb spam and people complaining. Soon others tried to copy them but it was too late.

This was in mid 90s after the first mass spam from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Canter_and_Martha_Sie... .


Being "born from spam" really explains a lot about how most eBay sellers communicate to this day.


Never seen that over the past 20 years (I have 3,000 feedback, so I would know.)

However:

- You can sign up for a store newsletter

- in the past few months, ebay is sending auction time notifications, and pinging sellers to offer discounts to viewers. That's the only thing that has the spam smell, but the discount offers do help distinguish who wants to make a deal :)


To be clear, I didn't really mean "spam proper", moreso the flea market / carnival barker language, eg "REAL 100% HD VIDEO BRAND-NEW CANON REBEL 5T QUICK SHIP WITH ORIGINAL LENS KIT", that often obstruct the info I'm actually searching for.

I'm sure folks who use the platform consistently either know how to avoid that content or are much more efficient at sifting through it (or my anecdata of its frequency is way off!). I agree in my limited experience there isn't much in the way of "true spam" itself.


Hahaha, that story really caught on but Pierre confessed it was made up for the purpose of getting people to relate to eBay. Netflix's story about late fees was same.


Companies typically make up their creation stores after the fact because a nice crisp story gives people something to hang onto.

The reality is always much messier, more diffuse, and too much of a long story.


That story was invented by a PR agent to pitch eBay to the press.


And the press is not in the journalism business so no one bothered to ask around. Their job is to publish the PR apparently.


eBay is a fascinating story for their early impact to the commercial internet. It is also fascinating to see how they've fared: it is still around but now it is being eaten up by competitors like Facebook Marketplace in the US, MercadoLibre in Latin America and others.

PayPal is on a somewhat similar trajectory.

The lesson here is to keep your customers happy or someone else will.

Also found it interesting to read about the people and companies who thought eBay wouldn't work for various - good - reasons. You can always make something work!


keep your customers happy or someone else will

That seems trite. Why couldn't ebay/paypal keep their customers happy?

It looks to me like these companies epitomize the management philosophy of "software doesn't matter". Having established a lucrative niche with strong network effects, they offshored their software development. The CEOs are pure managers without software backgrounds; they could just as easily be running Proctor & Gamble. And so they run it like Proctor & Gamble.

Stripe, Amazon are run by people with software backgrounds.


eBay has not added many new features in years. There are problems with the platform, like auction sniping, that they have not addressed.

PayPal as well to a similar extent. There are a litany of problems that its users have been complaining about for years that have not been addressed. I see PayPal rolling out certain new services but ignoring existing services. If PayPal was ahead of the curve, there would be no need for services like Venmo (now owned by PayPal!) Or even Stripe.


eBay has a lot of attackers: You have FB Marketplace on the local C2C side. They own kijiji (annihilated CraigsList in Canada at least), but it probably cuts into their eBay revenue.

Then you have Amazon on the B2C side.

And Aliexpress doing their damage on the low-margin direct-from-Asia side.


Aliexpress increases ebay listings (and Amazon).

Facebook Marketplace competes with kijiji/craigslist. Doesn't really compete with ebay.

Amazon, Wallmart take brand name product sales. Ebay is left with what is rare. Ebay's problem is shipping.


Would you be to expand on why EBay’s problem is shipping?


Most people are stuck paying USPS rates. Amazon’s network of delivery crews is/will be cheaper.

And ebay shippers can’t consolidate shipments. They’re stuck at many-to-many. Amazon is one-to-many.


I think shipping is where vendors push price markups. One price like Amazon for shipping would change the game.


I wish ebay wasn't so buggy. Mysterious failures, absent error messages-- both as a buyer and seller.

Aliexpress has much better software in my experience. :(


Yeah, the shopping cart performance has gotten so slow lately, I've gone days without being able to complete checkout. Or some items would complete and others would still be sitting there, lather rinse repeat, and some simply vanish without actually being purchased. Some get purchased twice...

If I were buying anything expensive, I'd care, but it's still better than Amazon for many things.


ebay doesn't have those problems in California, aside from adding items to the watchlist sometimes.

You might want to try:

- using 8.8.8.8 for DNS

- a different browser in case there's a plugin problem

- traceroute

- a different location in your city, like an Internet cafe


I've experienced some those issues in California, though not quite as severely as it sounds the prior poster has experienced them. I've never had a doubled order, that I've noticed, but things silently disappearing the carts without being purchased at purchase time seems pretty common to me (and not due to items being sold out).

It's been compounded by the sales that force use of the shopping cart when I otherwise might not use it (because the discount is one time).


But at this stage, I feel Shopify has better chance than eBay on branding... The long term value and potential scaling effect is still the mainstream before we live under universal basic income era.


I still don't understand why eBay hasn't leveraged eBay, Skype and Paypal into something like WeChat.


Microsoft bought Skype, and Paypal is independent now.


Indeed. Yet they had everything in their hands to create something big. With their accounts and profiles, they could even have become something like Facebook.

I am fascinated by how many key technologies they had without those parts being integrated into something bigger than their sum.


eBay has its chance. It should help build the tool for the community to provide customized service easier and cheaper.

Marketplace is also based on the abundance and quality of contents (merchandise). Scale effect is good at the globalization period but not sure for the next era.


<3 portmasters


I liked the original title of the story for what it is worth.

As Chris MacAskill wrote:

In 1995 the ebola virus had its second major outbreak, 19 years from its first, and I discovered a fascinating website about it called eBay. It turns out Pierre owned it and wrote the ebola information. The traffic it drew would help his new auction site get off the ground.


Actual (and better, IMHO,) title:

> The untold origin story of eBay that I lived...


We've reverted the title. Submitters: "Please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait; don't editorialize."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

(Submitted title was "The untold origin story of eBay and Ebola that I lived...")


> In 1995 the ebola virus had its second major outbreak, 19 years from its first, and I discovered a fascinating website about it called eBay.

I think the original title is much more interesting and also correct.




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