eBay sellers revolt!
January 29, 2008 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Whither Google Auctions?

After the bomb dropped on eBay sellers today (Lower Insertion Fees! Free Gallery! Oh, and much higher Final Value Fees! By the way, you can't leave negative feedback for buyers anymore. And PayPal may be holding your money until you received positive feedback, or 21 days. Sheesh.) me and hundreds of other sellers are looking for a way out.

In the past few years there's been talk of Google starting an auction site of its own. Anyone know the latest on that project's status?

And if not Google, where do we go from here? I've come to expect the worst from eBay, but this is beyond.

(My personal business is small but provides a nice buffer. I'm not really looking into expanding much, so my own website, buying advertising, etc. doesn't seem right for me. I'm looking more for established or growing marketplaces with decent traffic. Advice for those looking to build their own webstore will not be refused though.)
posted by yellowbinder to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you just got an idea of how to make your next few million dollars. Act fast before someone else creates it.
posted by The World Famous at 6:53 PM on January 29, 2008

Yahoo tried. And failed. Amazon tried. I can't find any evidence they still have auctions on their site, but I also can't find any official announcement that they killed it. This was five years ago, when eBay was a bit less ubiquitous.

Basic issue: When there are no sellers, no buyers check the site. If there are no buyers, sellers don't bother to list anything. Competitors to eBay try to work around this by having very low listing fees, but it's still hard to get buyers. And auctions don't work unless you have two buyers. If you only have one, the sellers get lowballed and leave. You have to spend a vast amount of money to get any traction here.
posted by smackfu at 7:05 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I used to use ebay, now I sell my art on Etsy, which does seem to have a lot more traffic than it used to, though not as much as ebay. It's only for handmade stuff and vintage items though. It's not auctions but when I left ebay a lot of my stuff was selling for the minimum bid or in my ebay store anyway. I'm hoping there will be more sites like this but for more types of items.

I'm really hoping that ebay won't buy etsy and ruin it.
posted by Melsky at 7:11 PM on January 29, 2008

smackfu, I know it's obviously a risky business competing with the monolith of eBay, and I'm sure that's why they have no real competitors. The time is ripe though, I think sellers would leave on mass if they had somewhere to go.

I would think Google has the resources, good faith and media savvy to actually steal a piece of the auctions pie. They're certainly one of the few outfits around that could possibly pull it off.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:13 PM on January 29, 2008

If Google built a system that searched Ebay auctions as well as their own auctions, they could do it. However, iirc, Ebay won some legal battles to eliminate meta-auction-search systems five years ago or so. Perhaps someone has clearer memories of it than me.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:19 PM on January 29, 2008

eBay spends vast amounts of money advertising on Google; they'll often be the only AdWords advertiser for a number of search terms. There's a golden goose problem there.
posted by sachinag at 7:47 PM on January 29, 2008

Dude, every time ebay changes something, "hundreds of sellers" revolt, and never accomplish anything.

Bidville is the only general auction site left competing with ebay (that I know of), but they... suck. There's no traffic there -- very few items every receive a first bid, let alone a second one. Which is the problem with any plan to run away from ebay -- ebay has all the buyers. Even if hundreds of sellers jump to another site, they're going to be at a site with no customers. Any money the sellers save on listing fees will be canceled by having fewer people bidding things up.

So, my honest advice: Calm the hell down. Ebay isn't out to get you; they're trying to equalize the relationship between sellers and bidders. That's not going to kill you.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 8:10 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth I happen to know that the owner of Auctions.com has repeatedly approached eBay about selling the domain name to them. They don't want it. Auctions.com gets 8k-10k worth of type in traffic each month with zero promotion. It's a category killer domain name. Put a business around that name much like the folks behind Chocolate.com did and you have a fighting chance.

The price of the domain name is substantial, but if someone had the business plan and wherewithal to approach the owner and partner - perhaps?
posted by FlamingBore at 8:48 PM on January 29, 2008

The issue I see is trust. eBay has built up a big ratings system and the folks who do the most business (those with huge positive ratings) will not want to move to another auction site and start their rating over again.

Although this point seems to be less important now because eBay has had such a big problem with fraud.
posted by yellowbkpk at 8:53 PM on January 29, 2008

Ebay isn't out to get you; they're trying to equalize the relationship between sellers and bidders.

Yes, by tipping the scales in favor of the bidders at the expense of the people that actually pay the bills.

eBay's also changed their system so that sellers who have built up that trust over the years can have their feedback rating totally screwed up by a couple of angry buyers, because now feedback older than 12 months doesn't count toward a seller's feedback percentage.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:58 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not only that, listen to this new seller-punishing rule:

"Also, for a small number of these transactions paid with PayPal, when eBay suspects the transaction may result in a dissatisfied customer, PayPal will delay release of the payment funds to the seller until the buyer has left a positive feedback or 21 days have passed without a dispute."

In other words, Paypal holds on to your money for three extra weeks because eBay may have arbitrarily decided that the category you are selling in is "high risk."
posted by MegoSteve at 9:07 PM on January 29, 2008

I really hate to say this, but there just isn't a viable alternative to eBay. I had a business on eBay back in the day when they didn't dominate the market quite a much as they do now and I tried other services (Yahoo!, Amazon) but they were a complete waste of time. Ebay raised prices many times over the years and many sellers complained, but I don't think many left for that reason. Many people were very angry when eBay bought Paypal, but there just wasn't any alternative. Ebay has its sellers between a rock and hard place and there isn't much you can do about it.

That said, the new higher fees are the same for everyone, so at least with respect to your eBay competitors, you aren't at any disadvantage. It will probably take a while for prices to rise to take account of the new fees, but you will eventually be able to pass those fees on to your customers. I wouldn't worry about it too much. If Paypal holds your money for 21 days, you'll just need to save up 21 days worth of cashflow to make up for it. I wouldn't worry about negative feedback either as my experience was that few sellers were willing to risk a retaliatory negative, so the feedback system didn't do much. Those who are going to scam you will scam you anyways.

Any new entrant in the market would need massive a advertising budget, much lower fees than eBay, and a whole lot of luck to make any dent in eBay's market share. You can bet that if a competitor is doing everything right and attracting enough buyers to make listings worthwhile, you won't need to ask to find out about it.
posted by ssg at 9:22 PM on January 29, 2008

Problem 1:

eBay has the biggest name recognition, and it's where buyers are going to go. That can't possibly change overnight. Without buyers, your auction prices are crap and you can't sell anything at a reasonable price.

Problem 2:

Maybe eBay is making these changes out of necessity. While PayPal is profitable, supposedly eBay is not so much... They also ate a huge $1.4 billion chunk of cash when they acquired Skype.

If eBay, the masters of the auction domain, cannot make auctioning profitable - there's not likely to be anyone that can. Not even google. At least not without first buying eBay so as to take all of the audience with them.

Devil's Advocate:

Google Checkout never really seemed to take off. If Google could somehow form a decent auction site that could compete reasonably with eBay - it could be a great vehicle for finally making Checkout profitable/ubiquitous. Not bloody likely, though.
posted by twiggy at 10:00 PM on January 29, 2008

It seems to be specific to what you're selling. GothAuctions and Gothic Auctions work well for that subculture, and Laundromatic is highly popular for the teenage/20-something fashionable crowd. A lot of them also do LiveJournal auctions (this is particularly true in Malaysia, where eBay would be too expensive and PayPal too inaccessible for them).

Australia has OzTions, and Malaysia has Lelong.
posted by divabat at 10:05 PM on January 29, 2008

There is no alternative to eBay.

There are however, plenty of alternatives to Paypal, starting with old fashioned cheques and money orders. A hassle yes, but I would not accept these new terms.
posted by fire&wings at 3:49 AM on January 30, 2008

Man, I listed an item for the first time in a few months on ebay yesterday and while it was much easier than it used to be, it was also very limiting (I never could figure out how to add buy it now). And now my years of positive feedback (no negatives since I started my account 8 years ago with more than 480 positives)... That's messed up I tell you.

It might be possible to fight ebay. Because they're so big they can't change quickly, you just have to find an area where they are known for sucking, or appeal to a very specific audience... Say, start with an auction site that excels at allowing sales in one very specific category.
posted by drezdn at 6:18 AM on January 30, 2008

Thanks all for your answers. Unfortunately I think ssg has it right, especially when s/he says if there was such a replacement I wouldn't have to ask for it.

Re: every time eBay changes, people claim to revolt but never do... It's true, but they really have no option. I know I have to stick with eBay until I can make something else work. But these changes are more than a fee increase, they give all the power to the buyer. I know eBay is courting buyers, but they need to stop screwing over the sellers, who they make all their money off of. But with no viable alternative, eBay can do whatever they want and we have to deal.

I'm going to try an eCrater store. (free webshop and hosting, no fees, all free or so they say.) Try some Adwords, see what happens. Now even if I can't convince Google to launch an auctions site, maybe someday they'll allow me to have a Google Checkout Merchant account in Canada. Not that Google Checkout is widely used. And why not? Because Ebay refused to accept it that's why.

Damn you eBay!
posted by yellowbinder at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2008

Don't look for Google to do it, look for someone like Amazon, who has the experience in selling.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:30 AM on January 30, 2008

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