Why have internet auctions fallen out of favour?
June 15, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

"Today, auctions are a smaller portion of ecommerce than they were in 2001, and even on eBay they are a dwindling . . . [t]hey now account for just 31 percent of all sales on the site and are no longer at the heart of the company’s business model."
Why have internet auctions fallen out of favour?
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (107 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Two words: Craig's List.
posted by sammyo at 8:08 PM on June 15, 2011 [9 favorites]

Bidding bots.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:10 PM on June 15, 2011 [25 favorites]

$20 shipping on a $.99 item
posted by radiosilents at 8:11 PM on June 15, 2011 [33 favorites]

Because eBay is the largest shady business that directly exposes its shadiness to its customers?
posted by schmod at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

D) All of the above.
posted by secret about box at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

(damn. that should've been E. grumble grumble.)
posted by secret about box at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Because paypal sucks.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:15 PM on June 15, 2011 [30 favorites]

Because you can claim that I sent you a nicely packed bag of rocks, and there's nothing I can do about it.

I use to make a living on eBay, but you literally couldn't pay me to try selling on it anymore.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:15 PM on June 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

eBay is losing sellers to Amazon - and has decided that fixed price listings are a main reason. So they have been disincentivizing auctions with their fee structure for some time now.
posted by Trurl at 8:17 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Because paypal sucks.

I totally agree with that.

But, I was astonished to read in the article, "eBay is now remarkably diversified, making money through its ticket reseller, StubHub; its bargain deals site, Half.com; and especially through PayPal, the preeminent online-payments system that last year posted a staggering $3.4 billion in revenue and is expected to do twice that by 2013."
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 8:18 PM on June 15, 2011

eBay sucks, PayPal sucks, and there's no alternative that has the buyer/seller base to compete with them. I still buy the occasional item on eBay; I used to sell pinback buttons on there when times were rough, but agreed that it's way too much hassle to go back.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:18 PM on June 15, 2011

Former CEO Meg Whitman famously joked that “a monkey could drive this train.”

And apparently carried this philosophy over to her gubernatorial campaign.
posted by Trurl at 8:23 PM on June 15, 2011 [21 favorites]

Two words: Craig's List.

Two words: There's always somebody out there less to do and who is willing to spend more.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:23 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by tumid dahlia at 8:24 PM on June 15, 2011

Too much fraud. Everyone knows someone who has directly been hosed by an unscrupulous seller/buyer.

Also, it's not 1998 anymore. No matter what the media says.
posted by Sphinx at 8:26 PM on June 15, 2011 [16 favorites]

What about the recent popularity of those scummy penny bid auction sites?
posted by reiichiroh at 8:28 PM on June 15, 2011

Increasingly bloated w/scams and junk merchandise, progressively more terrible + unstable UI, ever-shadier user base - I bought and sold a lot of CDs, LPs, and other collectibles on eBay ca. 2002-5, but eventually it just wasn't worth the stress anymore.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:28 PM on June 15, 2011

I'm sure the crappy economy has something to do with it as well. Hard to have disposable income when you have no income.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:30 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

What exactly is the point? You set the price you're willing to pay and leave it... and discover that unless you happen to be free and just sitting at your computer in the last five minutes, someone will bid it up to just *over* your generally-pretty-arbitrary price and your time and effort is wasted. Who has that much time to spend on shopping for anything? When I buy stuff, I know what I'm willing to pay, and I want to know what it's being sold for. The only time I don't think this really applies is with rare/unique items. I would participate in an auction for something like that, where just setting a price might be difficult anyway and my interest in the item was actually *worth* the time. For anything else, if it's available anywhere else on the web at a fixed price, I will not participate in an auction for it. And I'm quite sure I'm not the only one. But a marketplace for sellers who don't have their own online or offline storefronts has its place.

When you factor in the fraud, too, well, that's the reason I don't use Ebay at all, anymore, but I don't think Craigslist is really that much better in some respects. I gave up posting stuff there, too, after it became obvious that most of my responses were from people who were obviously somewhere in Africa.

If I want used stuff, I'm starting to think combing garage sales was actually a good way to go. At least that felt sociable and involved getting out of the house.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:35 PM on June 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Used to be easy to post items to EBay, and their cut was reasonable. Now it's hard, their cut is unreasonable, and there's virtually no accountability when a deal goes bad.

I used to make a pretty respectable second living on EBay. Can't be bothered anymore.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:37 PM on June 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

The Internet? Is that thing still around?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:40 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I won't go near ebay; everyone I know has a fraud story from there. And as a buyer, it's hard to see how an auction format helps me, at least for things where I know the price.

The real surprise to me is that papal hasn't been displaced, given all the problems users have.
posted by Forktine at 8:41 PM on June 15, 2011

As someone who paid pretty close attention to a category (Mego action figures) for a long time, it became apparent that eBay really didn't care a whole lot about the fraud that was going on on its site, because they could still profit from it. I remember a few times where I pointed out various auction frauds going on (shill bidding in particular) where I would have to argue back and forth in emails with their fraud/support people with clear cut evidence, and they just didn't seem to care. My theory is that eBay didn't care because they made more money when the bid was high, so whether it was legitimate or not was not a concern.

Once, I reported someone who was kicked off eBay for fraud, and their response was something along the lines of "we like to give people second chances." (Anyone else remember the airnxtz saga? It took eBay six weeks to do anything about him, while he scammed more people all the while, and then they allowed him back on...)

Since then, eBay's made it even harder to uncover shill bidding scams, because they hid all the names of the bidders, under the guise of protecting the bidders from being contacted by fraudsters.

The final straw for me, as a seller, was when they eliminated the ability for a seller to give a buyer negative feedback, which meant that any unreasonable person had carte blanche to make whatever crazy demands they wanted from a seller under thread of a negative feedback, and the seller had virtually no recourse.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:41 PM on June 15, 2011 [15 favorites]

I've been using ebay for a long time - almost since the start, I think. I've only sold a handful of items on ebay but all those transactions have been fine. I still buy pretty regularly and have only run into one issue in all those years. Guess I'm lucky... I didn't realize so many people were having a problem with ebay!
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:43 PM on June 15, 2011

I was never a big eBay buyer or seller, but I used to be able to find a lot of good information about the pricing of various used items, mainly woodwind instruments, by looking at the listings. For example, a search of Selmer alto sax would show mainly - Selmer alto saxes. They appeared to be mostly real items for sale. Now any such search will require you to wade through all kinds of keyword-stuffed junk listings. The "pros" have learned to game the system, with the result that you can't find anything anymore.

The shady bidding situations are discouraging too.

I agree with the others that say they screwed the pooch when it comes to helping arbitrate dishonest dealings. As in, they don't do it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:45 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personally, I find Amazon to be a great buying experience. I agree with the article where it says, "[f]or instance, Wingo, the ChannelAdvisor CEO, contends that a crucial moment in eBay’s history came when Amazon decided to put some of its marketing money into free shipping instead."
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 8:49 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I still buy old comic books on Ebay, there's a couple dealers I trust that have huge selections in their stores, I get neat old stuff with buy it now for $1 to $8 that used to go for a lot more than that. Spend $25 and get free shipping, hell yeah. I'd much rather pay a fair price with buy it now or from a Ebay store than jerk around with an autcion. I get old 60's and 70's fanzines with Wrightson, Frazetta, etc. art for $5 to $10, these were going for $10 twenty years ago and impossible to find.

That's something Ebay has been great from a buyer's perspective, it's brought a lot of stuff out that has sitting in someone's basement for years.

The biggest ticket items I buy now are some old toys for maybe $100 to $200 and those have all worked out. A lot of the problems seem to be with buying electronics and laptops.

I sold a bunch of stuff back in the 1990's and had a blast and made a buttload of money, but God now, to be a seller, it looks pretty bad from that perspective. I understand and believe all the problems folks have, especially as sellers. I did sell one thing recently, good lord the fees.
posted by marxchivist at 8:50 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The internet is over and now you damn nerds will have to work for a living, and [...] the REAL WORLD [...] global collapse [...] decadence of modern America [...] Ron Paul [...] revolution is coming.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:51 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use ebay all the time - as a buyer mostly, but also as a seller. I have never really had a problem outside of the occasional grouchy human. I have been a regular user for at least 7 years.

The fact is, it is simply not worth it anymore to sell something for less than 15 dollars. When I liquidated a book collection back in '05, I made a mint on $4 and $5 sales. These days, after ebay and paypal fees are deducted, it is pointless to list anything that low. I can see a shrinking userbase of people like me who have dozens of dvds and cds to get rid of at 4 and 5 dollars a pop, but can't justify the time investment and fees to make it worth while.

posted by archivist at 8:53 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I hate auctions. "Buy It Now" makes eBay useful anyway, but I never participate in auctions. It's like gracedissolved said above, auctions are more like a pastime for people with nothing better to do, not an efficient way to buy stuff you need.

eBay is really good as a "buy used stuff" website, and I just wish everyone would enable "Buy it now" and ship internationally. It's invaluable for buying older video equipment you sometimes need to work with old archive material, for instance.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:13 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Craigslist is you want to deal with people and their haggling.
Amazon if you can find the item on their store, then you set the price and the listing is up for six months -- and their take is reasonable (8% on electronics) plus they partially fund shipping.

eBay is good for Buy It Now on aftermarket/third party accessories and for what it originally was useful for: stuff people like to collect but has no inherent or perceived value. For example, I bought three film camera on eBay for a steal (OM-1n, OM-2n and an AutoReflex T3).

eAuctions are stupid for all reasons cited above.
posted by linux at 9:16 PM on June 15, 2011

I'm reading this while on day 3 of waiting for a high bidder to pay me for the laptop I sold. If this goes like the last time I dealt with a non-paying bidder, I'll have to wait a full week after I report him to even put the thing back up (I give buyers a week to pay). I tried selling it on Craigslist, but you have to price everything so low before you even get any interest, and even then you have to deal with flakes. It's like damned if you Craigslist and damned if you Ebay.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:17 PM on June 15, 2011

I think that article (and a lot of comments here) miss the point entirely.

I do agree that auctions are a waste of time for items that are easily priced. However, snipping is no more prevalent today than it ever was, and fraud is quite low. Also, bargains are probably easier to find nowadays, as customers ignore auctions for common items and allow them to end at very low prices.

I'm sure Wired is right that there is a real dollar decline in auction volume, but it probably isn't much. Saying auctions are only 30% of eBay's business looks like a huge decline, but that is mostly due to growth of other listing formats.

eBay has tons of problems though. I still buy and sell a ton of stuff there, but I do it begrudgingly. My biggest complaint as a seller are fees--they are becoming outrageous. My biggest complaint as a buyer is spam--spam listings make it impossible to browse a category for something that interests you (if I am looking through a test equipment category, I do not want to see listings for photocopies of old patents).
posted by Chuckles at 9:20 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ebay is still a great place to go for the really obscure stuff that you can't find anywhere else; I mostly only ever used it for collecting cards from an obscure out-of-print collectible card game, and it was pretty great for that. But I have to imagine that kind of stuff's not enough commerce to keep the place going.

Chuckles is right about the spam though, that's one big turn-off. I think a lot of the issues Ebay's got these days, spam, fraud, etc., all come from the fact that once it had been around long enough, people figured out how to game the system.

The real surprise to me is that papal hasn't been displaced, given all the problems users have.

Not gonna lie, this typo made me laugh.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:35 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now it's hard, their cut is unreasonable

It is crazy, how much eBay now charges for auctions, about 15-20% of the final selling price. That doesn't include various fees tacked on for the smallest setting (a $1.50 shipping calculator charge? really?) or PayPal's greedy double dipping.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:36 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I get the impression that the eBay of today is like a giant poker game, where on one site you have 60 year olds who just bought their "How To Make A Fortune Selling Stuff On The Internet" DVD from an infomercial, and on the other side seasoned fraudsters taking advantage of their naivety.

Also, dealing with humans sucks. When we downsized out of our old house I had a crapton of stuff to dispose -- unopened wedding gifts and such. We tried Freecycle, but it turns out Freecyclers mainly want to call a dozen times to ask questions and chat endlessly about the $14.99 retail value stationary set you are about to toss in the garbage.

Craigslisters seemed glad to just pay cash and get the heck out, especially if you underpriced the item. I really should have just listed all the random junk on CL for $0.99 with a "no questions asked" policy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:36 PM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

eBay has become the Internet's version of Florida--a haven for scammers and hucksters. As long as eBay gets their cut, they don't bother keeping order because I suppose those scammers are a necessary source of income for the company. They just shrug and say, "Hey, buyer beware".

Combine that with the jerks over at Paypal, and craigslist looks better and better everyday. With craigslist I've gotten great deals, met the seller in person, got to see the merchandise as if I were in the store, and never once had to deal with shipping (though I guess getting to the meeting point was on me). I suppose it wouldn't be as convenient if you're not in a large city, but you can get lucky; once I sold something on craigslist and the seller happened to live 3 blocks away. That was a fast transaction
posted by zardoz at 9:45 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me I suppose there are a few key reasons it's really begun to annoy me.

1. Bid snipers.
I'm one of those annoying bidders that waits until the last minute, but at least I'm a human. It's one thing to be outbid by a human with one minute left, and another thing to be outbid by three bots with five seconds left.

2. Unscrupulous sellers.
Several times in the last few years, I've had to deal with jerks who will decide not to ship me something because the auction didn't end at a high enough price, or because they've suddenly decided that the demand is big enough that they'll ignore my payment and relist the item for a higher price.

3. Most importantly... they have no intention of getting rid of fake, pirated, and fraudulent stuff.
There are chumps out there that will pay for it, and ebay will get money off fees, so why would they want to take down the piles of garbage that they make everyone sift through. You can flag bad listings all you want but 95% of the time, nothing happens. From their perspective, it's like throwing money away, because some chump will buy that fake football jersey for $50 and they'll still get their cut. I collect football jerseys (lame, I know). For every one legitimate cool jersey out there, there are ten or twenty fakes. In my unscientific opinion, the problem with spam and junk listings has gotten worse recently.

It's imperfect, but I still find amazing things, about two or three amazing things a year. That's enough to keep me looking every now and again.
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:49 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to use ebay regularly to buy and occasionally to sell. I'd had just a few problem with respect to fake antiques, and stuff broken in shipping. I'd always paid with paypal backed by a credit card, and with one exception found that either paypal's dispute resolution setup or my card company's reversal/recovery options worked just fine.

The exception was a lot of fairly carefully faked vintage goods (painted to look like more valuable patterns). They were purchased at auction, and in Australia, most jurisdictions don't allow misrepresentation claims on auctioned goods. You can't complain directly to the authorities that the goods were not as described. So I lodged a INAD/Fake claim with paypal, with about thirty pages of supporting documentation and photographs attached. Paypal initially refused to refund my money because I didn't have enough expert opinion to prove the case that the goods were fake. As far as I know, I'm the only expert in that particular collecting sub-field, and paypal had accepted my opinions in previous cases lodged by others. I suspected they hadn't even read my carefully crafted documents. I was bit miffed.

So I stewed on it for a few days. And then lost my temper. I laid a criminal fraud complaint against the seller, lodged a further claim with the New South Wales department of fair trading concerning the fact that the seller was dealing illegally in other items, then proceeded with a paypal appeal in which I threatened to complain about paypal itself acting as an accessory to fraud and illegal trading. The appeal was conducted in a single phone conversation lasting about ten minutes, I got bumped up to higher level supervisors twice, then I got my money back. I'm almost certain paypal paid it themselves, and didn't recover it from the seller. They're still trading.

Which is all well and fine in a sense. I did get my money back, and I neither had to return nor destroy the fake goods. So right there was all the vengeance I really need against the dodgy seller. Except that I spent a solid 15 to 20 hours fighting a battle worth no more than $200. If I was billing for that time, or I had to offset it against my profits in an ebay trading business, the time and effort would have been coming out of my rent and my cookie jar.

An environment where that is how things work is not one that I particularly wish to trade in. To cut a long story short, that one auction left a sour taste in my mouth that has since stayed my hand when it comes to auction listings. I'm content to keep buying it now, but bidding on ebay auctions usually seems too great a risk.
posted by Ahab at 9:56 PM on June 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

And another thing. ebay isn't necessarily filled with scammer per se, but a lot of people take advantage of the lax restrictions of the system used. And some people are just plain lazy.

Back around 2000 I bought an mp3 player off a seller on ebay. I sent him the money, he received it, and I waited for the player. Days pass, nothing. A week passes, nothing. I email the guy, but he doesn't respond. Three, four emails, a few more days pass. Nothing. No package, no email.

So I do a simple whois search with the email address, get an address in a city far away. And a phone number. So I call, and a middle aged woman answers. I had been expecting a male named (let's say) Bob. I asked for Bob, she said wait a minute, and a few moments later a kid gets on the phone. I confirm that he is Bob, then let into him for a minute or two, the brunt of my message being WHERE THE FUCK IS MY MP3 PLAYER??? I could tell he was shocked that I had tracked him down, and he stammered an apology and an excuse, and said it would go out the next morning. And you know what, he did. The player came a few days later, in perfect condition. Up until that point I thought I was being strung along in a scam, but it was just the Peter principle. Just someone being lazy.
posted by zardoz at 10:12 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

randomkeystrike writes "I was never a big eBay buyer or seller, but I used to be able to find a lot of good information about the pricing of various used items, mainly woodwind instruments, by looking at the listings. For example, a search of Selmer alto sax would show mainly - Selmer alto saxes. They appeared to be mostly real items for sale. Now any such search will require you to wade through all kinds of keyword-stuffed junk listings. The 'pros' have learned to game the system, with the result that you can't find anything anymore."

This is why I stopped using eBay. I'd bought quite a few NOS and used parts for old cars but it became impossible to search for anything because you couldn't narrow searches by marquee. Joe spammer with a Hudson taillight would list every single car marquee they could think of in their description. I used to to attempt to waste the jack off time by asking what Fiat that tail light would fit but they tended to be completely shameless so the lesson never accomplished anything. The same thing made it impossible to search for army specific 40K listings.
posted by Mitheral at 10:30 PM on June 15, 2011

Another thing that annoys me about eBay is the way it quickly became kind of a "standard" place to use for quoting prices for things sold elsewhere. Short anecdote: I collect vintage synthesizers. I walked into my local store (in the midwest) and was surprised to find a memory cartridge for a vintage synth I own… it was still new stock on the shelf from my childhood days! (and I'm middle aged) The store simply never sold the thing. I offered the guy $20 (probably more than it's worth). His response: "well, lemme see what eBay sells it for first… nope, some guy got $40". The guy just walked away from a sale of this merchandise that sat on his shelves for nearly 30 years. All because he thought he could get a better deal from some sucker on eBay. Let me restate that… this LOCAL mom-and-pop store in the Midwest was not willing to sell something to a local customer, because he thought he could sell it on the web for more. Suddenly the charm and haggling of being a local customer at a local store is gone. No more deals. Everything is based on eBay prices. This same problem trickles down to craigslist as well, as many people have no real idea what the worth if of the things they are selling locally, so they look to eBay as a price guide, which is generally more expensive than the rates my smallish midwest community can get for the same product. It's aggravating. And ultimately it comes down to sellers being uneducated about their (local) market versus the "authority" that eBay provides as a sort of pseudo price guide. And that's "professional" sellers and amateurs alike.
posted by readyfreddy at 11:34 PM on June 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

eBay is still great for buying certain things - if I'm looking for a particular piece of used musical gear, for example, I'll check CL to see if anyone local is selling it, and if that comes up dry I'll check eBay to see if anyone is selling it, or has sold it recently. There are still good deals to be had, from legitimate sellers. Far too much spam and outright CRAP to make eBay my first choice as a consumer, but I'd be lying if I said I never used it anymore as a buyer.

I only use it occasionally as a seller, and it sucks for all the reasons listed.

Finally I'll also admit that I when I bid on an item up for auction I always use a sniping service, and I feel absolutely no guilt about doing so. As a seller you get to set the starting price, the start and end times, the reserve price (if any), and the shipping fees. Furthermore, if you choose to you can list your item concurrently on CL and other forums, and end the eBay auction early if you sell it somewhere else first. Against that framework sniping is an equalizing force, and an obvious response to the structure of an auction that ends at a fixed time instead of when the real fair market value is achieved. But for all that, I'll use Buy it Now when it's offered and I think the asking price and shipping fees are reasonable.
posted by mosk at 12:36 AM on June 16, 2011

eBay sucks, PayPal sucks, and there's no alternative that has the buyer/seller base to compete with them.

TradeMe crushed eBay like a bug in New Zealand, but that was probably because eBay couldn't grasp that treating New Zealand like an eighth state of Australia and returning results from Sydney and Canberra in the mix of my searches was never going to work too well. But it has been done. I'm surprised Fairfax never seem to have pushed them in Australia after buying them.

PayPal, well, yeah. PayPal isn't just shit, but evil; no-one seems keen on using the alternatives even where they exist. I'm not sure why Google Wallet hasn't got more traction, or why Apple haven't dipped into that market yet (perhaps they are only interested in owning a generic iShop with a 30% cut, rather than enabling other online payments...)
posted by rodgerd at 1:38 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another thing that annoys me about eBay is the way it quickly became kind of a "standard" place to use for quoting prices for things sold elsewhere.

I don't get this. Presumably you shop around online to get the best price for stuff - insurance, books, music, whatever. Online sellers can tell how much something is selling for with the click of a mouse, and have a computer adjust their prices and inventory accordingly. Why can't bricks and mortar sellers do the same? A thing is 'worth' the price it will fetch at market, and it's hard to find a larger market than eBay.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:07 AM on June 16, 2011

If you think Paypal sucks, perhaps you weren't sending off money orders or cash in the mail. Since 1999 I've only ever bought items off ebay. Many international sellers wouldn't take anything other than cash, due to high processing fees even for international checks. The problem was smaller cost items, ones under $20 or so. You could send off a money order, but not receive your item. It would cost $22 to have Western Union verify the money order had been cashed or not. If the seller said they hadn't received payment, it would cost you $22 just to see if they were telling the truth. It wasn't worth it to check on a $9 item, so you just ate it and maybe sent another one. The finds in the early days of those auctions were great, but the payment system was the most maddening thing to me. Now paypal is the only system. The seller always specified terms of payment: check, credit card, money order. Maybe it's a pain to people now, but I don't miss going to the post office to purchase a money order with a $1.75 fee, then paying to have it sent registered mail just for proof against being taken.
posted by l2p at 2:15 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In their naked pursuit of the short term gains, ebay have basically alienated all the majority of users that made the site so popular in the first place, favouring instead mass drop-shippers selling new, cheap shit from China.

As e-business and e-banking has matured, sellers who didn't want ebay eating a huge proportion of their margin were able to easily and effectively create their own electronic storefronts. At the same time the rise of smaller community forums based around a single interest or cohesive group meant that potential customers could find these new sites quickly and easily through word-of-mouth, and moreover be alerted when bargains popped up - bargains that no ebay seller could afford because of the margin ebay takes.

This was all compounded by the fact that ebay has specifically warped their search results and feedback mechanisms to ensure opacity for potential buyers and sellers. Wtf does "best match" mean? Why can't sellers leave negative feedback for buyers? Now there are multiple places to ascertain feedback from merchants on or off ebay, and items are listed in e-storefronts in logical, expected ways.

Ironically, this (in Australia) has had the effect of driving off a lot of the larger business transactions that Ebay was hoping to foster - the only people outside drop shippers still looking to sell stuff are basically people doing the equivalent of a garage sale online, little people selling small things.

However, these too are drying up as more people turn to websites like Craigslist that have been a direct replacement for the old classifieds in the newspaper. Ebay grossly misjudged their market and product - which was essentially as a classifieds replacement and people who used to use classifieds. The barriers to entry for trading on the web have dramatically fallen and Ebay has fallen behind as vendors produce their own platforms.

I can't see this turning around now. I will be interested to see how long Paypal lasts. In an effort to cash in on the truly astronomical fees for netbanking via credit card, the banks basically gave the internet away to PayPal, but it's only a matter of time before one of them wisens up.
posted by smoke at 2:18 AM on June 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

"a $1.50 shipping calculator charge? really?"

Huh? I just sold something on ebay and the shipping calculator was free.
posted by parrot_person at 2:26 AM on June 16, 2011

Hm. I've sold about 20 things on eBay, and bought maybe 120, over ten years or more (I think I got my account in the late 90's).

I have only been ripped off once, and have had pretty decent selling transactions; just sold a car which had no market locally to a guy across the country. For awhile I tried to sell some of my old car magazines, but between the time it took to list items and the meager money left after fees, so not worth it.

On the other hand, I got about $1000 auctioning my dad's HO train stuff in various lots, which was four times what we were offered by anyone local to us, money we would have never otherwise seen.

And when I need a vintage car or motorcycle part, eBay is my first stop, though I may eventually buy elsewhere. I find it less reliable than it used to be, and the really interesting stuff has gone somewhere else (not sure where), but generally if I need, say, a fuel injector for an early 2000's motorcycle, I can at least find one on eBay, usually for 1/4 what it would cost from a dealer.

Craigslist is valuable to selling items in demand locally if you price them sharply. I sell most of my family's cars that way, and as long as you're willing to price aggressively the car will be gone within a day (just sold my dad's truck in a single day by pricing it about $500 less than similar machines). What CL won't work for is selling really oddball stuff where you need every last dollar out of the sale...like the weird car I just sold on eBay. I didn't get much money for it, but I got enough, and on CL it was unsellable.

CL is also usually good for getting rid of free stuff, though "free" always brings out the flakes. Freecycle is a group of lunatics and there's no way I'd ever try using it again.

I snipe electronically on eBay when I bid on an auction which has no or few bids and I REALLY need the item--and am willing to pay over market for it. And I don't feel bad about it. What sniping does is prevents shill bids from jacking the price unnaturally high.

The simplest rule, which is hard to follow, but is essential for buying via online auctions, whether sniping or in the open:

Bid once at the maximum you're willing to pay, and walk away.

The software behind the scenes proxy bids for you up to that max, so you're not committing yourself at the initial bid to pay that, though bidding might force it that high. Once you've bid, close the browser, don't watch the auction over it's lifespan--just wait for the email that says you won or lost. If you get an email that says you've been outbid, shrug and move on. It's a sucker's game to do anything else. But think about your max. If you really would be willing to pay $100 for something whose real value you feel might be $20, bid that $100 and you won't second-guess yourself. And if it goes higher, you can just laugh and look for the next one.

(I have never had a problem with paypal, but the secret there is to open a separate checking account to hook to your paypal account. In it you keep little to no money, except when you transfer from your main account to pay for something. I've never had an account frozen by paypal, but if they did, it would prohibit me from accessing the $3.29 that's in there. BFD.)
posted by maxwelton at 2:33 AM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

The problem is that eBay has such a dominant market position that they don't have to innovate and because of network effects, no other platform can dislodge them with a superior product.
posted by pharm at 3:13 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

l2p writes "If you think Paypal sucks, perhaps you weren't sending off money orders or cash in the mail."

Ya paypal is wonderful right up until they suspend your account and refuse to either refund the payments in or release the funds to the owner. There was an eventual happy ending for Matt but it cost a bunch of time and aggravation and many people in that situation never get their money out. Paypal locked stravosthewonderchicken's account for a year. Really nice if one just sold off some stuff to make rent or tuition. Or you are trying to help out during the Russian incident and Paypal freezes your account. As is usually the case Paypal was willing to take money in (thereby allowing it to contribute to their float and garnering the transaction fees) they just wouldn't allow it out. And then Paypal didn't lift the freeze when they said they would.

Also nice when they make you appeal multiple times to recover funds fraudulently extracted from your account.
posted by Mitheral at 3:48 AM on June 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

eBay has and always will work best for one-off and rare items - antiques, collectables and crafts.

Like real world auctions always have done. The water was muddied by the increase in people drop shipping cellphone covers and fibre optic lamps.
posted by fire&wings at 3:54 AM on June 16, 2011

Auctions only really work when more then one person wants the same thing. That thing is almost never mass produced modern stuff which gluts eBay. I was a big ebay seller for a few years an it used to be a much different place. You got to know your buyers there was a feeling of community especially within the niche markets that isn't there now.

Ebay made systematically horrible decisions about how to treat buyers and sellers which has led to it being a really different place than it was years ago. They made decisions which effectively drove off their original class of buyers and sellers who were looking for things that were hard to find elsewhere.

Ebay never took things like fraud (from both buyers and sellers) seriously enough or things like keyword spamming (putting in totally irrelevant words into your title to get it into more search results) and made listing small dollar items at auction too expensive upfront.

The fee structure makes it much easier to list as buy it now or in an ebay store and creates a disincentive to run auctions.

Plus there is simply no novelty anymore to the online auction format. Sniping, proxy bids etc make it a hassle for shoppers who are now used to clicking, paying and receiving now that online shopping is much easier and more normal.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:17 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me it was the return of the true middle man that killed eBay for me.

In July I'll have had my first and only account on eBay for 12 years. During that entire time and in all my purchases, I have never had one complaint against me nor had to complain about someone else. Paypal has never failed me, and although I feel for those with bad service, money orders were a pain in the ass. Fraud, paypal, and all those related issues have nothing to do with eBay's more recent decline in my mind - these, or worse, issues existed 10 years ago on the website.

What is driving me away from the website more and more is the professional middle man use of the website. Garage sales, estate sales, and used specialty shops were the only way to go before eBay. The problem was you had to spend countless hours looking for something specific for your hobby with no guarantee you'd ever find it until you went to the specialty shop, which bought things cheap, new the full value of what you were looking for, and bumped the resale price to charge an arm and a leg to guys like me - the middle man issue. They were helpful in that they sold quality used goods, but that wasn't always worth paying the asked premium.

Then came the golden era of ebay. Random people selling random stuff to people like me who could get a really good value while making the seller feel like they'd gotten a good price for junk. EBay killed the middle man.

Then along came the powersellers, the brokers and dealers, the flea market scabs, and all of the middle men taking their cut. Dealers would come in and bid up items they'd turn around and put right back into their own shops at a higher price, on or offline. If you search for any given item you don't find the one guy selling his used whatever, you find eight dealers driving up the price. None of these middle men were needed under the original eBay model, but they took over. It's called flipping.

Instead of saving maybe 50% on a gently used item over something new, I'm forced to save maybe only 10% or 20% over a brand new product - and for hot items you see higher than retail prices (essentially scalping). It's no shock that eBay got into ticket brokering. For vintage items no longer made, I can't save anything over dealers. I'm willing to put up with slower shipping, the chance of disappointment, and the effort of searching and bidding on Ebay if I can save some serious amount of money for an item, but these days the eBay savings just aren't enough to justify my time.
posted by Muddler at 4:22 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first experience buying anything on eBay taught me that auctions lead to you paying more than you maybe would have been willing to otherwise. I was so upset about the extra $2 or whatever it was I spent that I think I've bid in one auction since. (I think it was $7 instead of $5 for some baseball cards. I was probably 13. This was before sniping was rampant so you could up your bid yourself at the last minute. Though who the hell wanted those particular baseball cards, I don't know.)

Ebay does have its uses, though, for things you can't find elsewhere. The last thing I bought (possibly the second thing I've bought off eBay, though I can't remember) was some fountain pen cartridges. I have mixed feelings about the whole deal: the guy shipped from a different country than he claimed, the cartridges appear to be fake (I doubt they look that different in Poland compared to Germany), some burst in shipping (the seller makes it clear this does happen and claims it's temperature variation, I think they're poorly made), but they work and even with the cartridges lost to bursting, it was cheaper than any other way of getting cartridges.

Yes, I use a converter. But sometimes I'm lazy and sometimes the converter runs out and you want to stick a cartridge in and keep going rather than find another pen if your bottle of ink isn't to hand.
posted by hoyland at 4:29 AM on June 16, 2011

F) Somebody figured out that the Internet makes bartering workable.
posted by flabdablet at 4:32 AM on June 16, 2011

eBay has a lot of problems but none of these are what keep me away. What keeps me away is the long indeterminacy.

I bid and in 7-10 days I'll find out IF I won the item, which I probably won't because of a sniper. Meanwhile several other auctions for the same item come and go but I can't bid on them until I know if I lost the first item. Not everyone has a "buy it now" and even when they do if you can bid and pay less that'd be great.

That and the ridiculous price of shipping (half of which is eBay sellers screwing me over and half is inexplicable).
posted by DU at 4:50 AM on June 16, 2011

Without eBay auctions, where will we get our P-P-P-Powerbooks?
posted by lantius at 5:03 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I still use eBay to buy plants. There are small nurseries out there selling hard to find plants and I buy a few hundred dollars worth every year. I've never been disappointed-- in fact I am often delighted at how good the plants are; this year I bought a dwarf crab apple tree and when it arrived it was in flower. When I sell, however, I sell on Craigslist-- I've even had people come when I'm not home, pick up their plants, and leave me the money in an envelope.

On the other hand I was was really shocked at how the experience of selling on e Bay has changed. I'm another person who sold a butt load of stuff in the 90's but nothing in the 2000's until recently. I discovered a fountain pen given as a gift and tossed unused into a drawer 15 years ago-- turns out it was pretty valuable but Craigslist was not the venue for selling. So I turned to eBay. Even though I specified no overseas shipping, the winner was from Greece. I agreed to ship to him and I followed all his instructions about the customs form, etc. The buyer never bothered to send me feedback which meant that PayPal held onto the payment for a month. What no one has mentioned yet is not only do eBay and PayPal charge huge fees for the transaction, eBay charged my credit card for their fee weeks before PayPal released the funds.

I won't ever sell anything on eBay again.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:06 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The problem is the same problem as classified car ads. Dealers infecting the space with their crap. At least at the flea market, you can walk to another booth when you see one that is full of crap.
posted by gjc at 5:12 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I only use eBay to discover edge market vendors, pretty much, and that goes well. Though I typically use the vendor's own website to close a transaction. The last things I bought on it were video games and that went pretty well; it was a low risk and low cost transaction. Six years ago I sold a BMW on eBay for $15K and that went well, though you can bet there was a lot of out-of-band communication on both our parts.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:14 AM on June 16, 2011

I'm reading this while on day 3 of waiting for a high bidder to pay me for the laptop I sold. ... It's like damned if you Craigslist and damned if you Ebay.

Paint an bicycle-riding moustached owl on the laptop, and then sell it on Etsy.
posted by Kabanos at 5:44 AM on June 16, 2011 [20 favorites]

paypal sucks, everything is "buy now" (at store prices) and not an actual auction or located in hong kong or nigeria or fake or won't be sent if you find a great deal and shipping is twice the cost of the item.

in short: ebay has really screwed up its marketplace by not watching out and making sure it was supported well.
posted by krautland at 5:47 AM on June 16, 2011

eBay has and always will work best for one-off and rare items - antiques, collectables and crafts.

Like real world auctions always have done. The water was muddied by the increase in people drop shipping cellphone covers and fibre optic lamps.

This. As a toy collector, eBay is pretty much the best and only venue I have for finding small fiddly parts for things. I mean, I could spend my Saturday's haunting yard sales, but (at least for what I'm doing) I'm often buying from other collectors, trading back and forth in our own little community.

Not to mention: My son asked Santa for "every Cars Race Car" for Christmas. Well, our local stores couldn't make that happen, but I got it done on eBay in a couple of hours and for a very, very reasonable price. Much more reasonable than buying the toy cars one by one from a variety of different retailers, even on-line.

But selling an .mp3 player or a laptop on eBay? Or, worse, buying one? I just can't even begin to understand why anyone would do that. The opportunities for fraud are so huge.....
posted by anastasiav at 5:55 AM on June 16, 2011

Maybe ten years ago I sold about a dozen or so books on eBay, but now I just buy the occasional item on there. In the last six months or so, I've bought a supply of L'Oréal's Sublime Glow for this summer, three ounces of Vanilla Fields for less than what it costs me to buy .75 of an ounce at Zellers, and a discontinued sewing pattern. I don't bother with auctions. And if a seller doesn't have shipping to Canada listed, I email the person and ask nicely if he or she would be willing to. I don't think anyone's said no yet. I've had uniformly good experiences on eBay, but eBay isn't my go-to online marketplace. If I'm searching for a particular item and eBay offers the best deal, I buy it there, but I'd just as soon not. Etsy is my addiction now.

Man, how spoiled we are. Thanks to the internet marketplace, things we could only hope to stumble across at some rummage sale some day are so easily found. Obscure out of print books including the ones you can't quite remember the title of, perfume that's been discontinued for twenty years, memorabilia from a specific sporting event from thirty years ago... you name it, it's out there, probably in a good selection of slight variations, and you can probably find a pretty good deal on it. This kind of thing extends even to people. I used to wonder how so and so from grade school was doing, and now I needn't because everyone's on Facebook and I can hear all about their lives every day. The Internet in a large measure has allowed us to scratch those itches that formerly were always just out of reach. It's really pretty awesome, especially for someone like me who doesn't want much but wants what she gets to be just the right thing.
posted by orange swan at 6:12 AM on June 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Been on ebay since the 1990s. It was SO MUCH fun. It was all the world's yard sales at my terminal. As mentioned above it turned bad for a variety of reasons. But really, ebay is the first stop for certain used items especially if your local Craiglist BLOWS *cough*Minneapolis/St. Paul. I sold a few things and got much more money but it has been awhile.

Things you can still buy on ebay: plants (really look at the vendor); certain used bags (ONLY vintage and only if you know what you are buying); children's clothing if you do the phrase "lot"; obscure and I do mean obscure hardware; things that people are truly clearing out their houses.

I too, would like to know where to go to buy things outside of Amazon.

The one great pleasure that ebay did give me, indirectly, was when my director shorted ebay on its IPO she held on a long time. Heh, she said, "who the hell would buy used items?" Now, I did warn her but hey, I was the goofy geek buying books so what the hell did I know?

Yeah, Meg Whitman, another fine example of a CEO that backed her ass into a business and then promptly ran it to crap. That monkey, it rode the train off the track.
posted by jadepearl at 6:19 AM on June 16, 2011

>>The real surprise to me is that papal hasn't been displaced, given all the problems users have.

>Not gonna lie, this typo made me laugh.

I use "buy it now" to get my typos directly from Luther.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 AM on June 16, 2011

Up here in Canada (and I'm going to sound like a shill since I namechecked it like 2 seconds ago in another post, but I'm not!) Kijiji has pretty much taken over from both Ebay and Craigslist because there's no direct bidding, it's focused on buy and sell, and it's usually easier to track down sellers.

Around these parts, Ebay is pretty much for collectors and schemey cheesey profiteer types.
posted by mobunited at 6:50 AM on June 16, 2011

Back in the day I found a way to find items that few bid on. Misspellings. I would type in "projecter" in the search engine and find items with few competing bidders. Then that stopped working as well, so I left. And PayPal sucks.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:51 AM on June 16, 2011

1095. Massive overuse of the descriptor Eames-era. I gave up around the birth of Eames-era Macbook.
1096. Google. Get great deals for Chlamydia on eBay!
posted by fallacy of the beard at 6:56 AM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

I also used tosell and buy on ebay back-in-the-day. I know only go there for buying rare and OOP items, period. And that's as a last resort.

I much prefer buying through amazon, tracking the prices of used stock and just buying it whenever I'm ready.
posted by Theta States at 7:08 AM on June 16, 2011

Too much fraud. Everyone knows someone who has directly been hosed by an unscrupulous seller/buyer.

I do not. And have never been a victim. I continue to buy on ebay. Maybe it's because my items are rather specialized (vintage guitars, luthier parts, power tools) and the expense and hassle of shipping makes fraud not profit-worthy. I hope I didn't just jinx myself.
posted by spicynuts at 7:56 AM on June 16, 2011

Many years ago, I used Ebay to track down the OOP Pratchett Discworld books that hadn't been reissued in the States yet. We were able to complete our collection fairly easily, no problems with US-UK shipping. This was pre-pay pal, and I can't for the life of me remember how I paid for them. I probably mailed checks. Good lord the trust!

At one point, when looking for one of the titles, I came across some limited edition animation cells (pencil art), done I think from an outsourced Hanna-Barbera shop in a foreign country. They were for one of the Discworld cartoons, and it was early enough in the world of Ebay that I got them for a bargain. The seller even threw in a few extras for free. Someone acting in the official capacity for Pratchett got wind of the auctions and shut them down, and the seller posted a notice that all proceeds from previous sales went to a charity of Pratchett's preference (I seem to remember it being oranguntan related - Oook!).

Years later I had contact with one of Pratchett's people in an official library capacity, and mentioned that I had some of the cells, and offered them back out of guilt. They were aces, and thanked me for the library help, told me to keep them.

So yeah, Ebay sucks now, as does PayPal, and pretty much everything that gets too big and unwieldy on the internet gets that way eventually. But back in the beginning, cool things happened. And I've got a framed cell of Binky hanging in my den, guilt free.
posted by librarianamy at 8:03 AM on June 16, 2011

I've been using eBay for over a decade, and have been defrauded exactly once (seller sent a book with active mold, then point-blank refused to give me a refund). And I've bought electronic equipment on eBay, too. But purchasing anything expensive does require research, plus weeding out the skeevy sellers who offer a $5 item with $80 shipping. I think it took me about two months to settle on a seller to watch for my current (refurbished) laptop. However, I suspect that those of us using eBay for mostly very specialized purchases (in my case, nineteenth-century religious fiction and some niche hobby stuff) are a lot happier than the people trying to buy iPods. For some things, eBay has always been pretty terrible, like secondhand academic monographs--Amazon has the market pretty much cornered there.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2011

'cause the ebay and paypal fees are TOO DAMN HIGH!

Let's review - I just sold via ebay a timex "ironman" watch that I had given to an ex-gf as a gift. She didn't like it, gave it back to me too late to return it to the original merchant (Amazon), so I sold it on ebay with no reserve. I charged $6.50 for Priority Mail shipping & handling. I think my actual cost on the shipping was ~$5.80.

Let's net out what I received from this auction:

Final auction price: $10.50
S&H Charged: $6.50
Postage: ($5.80)
Ebay final value fee: ($0.95)
Ebay final value fee on shipping: ($0.58) - no, that's not a typo. Ebay now charges a "final value" fee on the *SHIPPING CHARGE*. They really, really, REALLY want you to offer "free shipping" with your auctions now.
Paypal transaction fee: ($0.96) - for receiving a $17.00 payment.

Net to me after all is said and done: $8.71
posted by de void at 8:26 AM on June 16, 2011

Well, outside of all the anecdotes about eBay, I actually gave the article a good solid skim.

It doesn't make its case at all. Statements like "Today, auctions are a smaller portion of ecommerce than they were in 2001, and even on eBay they are a dwindling, if still important, part of the business..." are not at all proof that auctions have fallen out of favour. Ecommerce has grown hugely, and it would be normal for the early winners to not grow at the rate of the full market as other forms of selling get strengthened. It doesn't prove anything, or even indicate or hint anything. Other fairly ridiculous assertions from the article include such things as "The paradox here is that the more mainstream and popular eBay became, and the more familiar people became with auctions, the less exciting they seemed.". What? No, that just means the early adopters are much keener on new things then the mainstream. The mainstream people did not lose enthusiasm, they never had it. The demographic changed (because it grew in scope). Or, at least, that is a possible (and very plausible) explanation.

An interesting article about auctions, but based on a very very thin premise.
posted by Bovine Love at 8:30 AM on June 16, 2011

All the evidence suggests that fraud is unusual on eBay, but a few high-profile incidents and the fact that the company did little to vet sellers (again, in line with its desire to create an open, relatively unregulated bazaar) gave people something to worry about. By contrast, they learned not to worry about Amazon, which sets high hurdles for companies to be able to sell in its Marketplace and stringently monitors them once they do."
Huh. So regulation works, libertarianism not so much?
posted by epersonae at 8:41 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I liked reading the article but when it's cleverly framed using a hook like the "first" department store and it's all-USA all-the-time, I can't take it seriously when everyone knows the first fixed-price dept store was in Manchester, and the first economy where they exploded the entire selling model was France. Whatever about the accuracy of some of the assertions, this vaguely inaccurate US exceptionalism just keeps niggling at me.
posted by meehawl at 8:52 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's the fraud at all (well maybe a little). Amazon and price comparison sites serve as a continuous instant gratification auction at this point. You hunt for the best price, you buy it, you've got it.

Sitting around for 5 days seems quaint unless there are massive savings involved.
posted by ejoey at 8:55 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I too, would like to know where to go to buy things outside of Amazon.

You know what I've noticed? Specialty forums have For Sale sections for those niche items that would have otherwise appeared on ebay. styleforum.net has lots of sales of men's designer clothes without being buried ebay's listings of counterfeit items. Audiogon has great classified listings of high end audio equipment from known forum members.

Also, as far as auctions on ebay go, it got to the point where it was clear that a mass-market auction item on ebay was going to sell for what the Buy-It-Now price set for the same item was... so it didn't seem worthwhile to bother.
posted by deanc at 9:06 AM on June 16, 2011

I remember how Amazon and Yahoo had their own auction sites for a while, because they had to be in the me-too game. Not.
posted by Melismata at 9:11 AM on June 16, 2011

I recently sold a collectable Nintendo DS to a "gentleman" on ebay, who claimed he received an empty box. He then shipped me back a empty Playstation box, claiming that is what I sent him. In the email chain through Paypal/eBay this person could barely form a sentence, but they still ruled in his favor despite the fact that this person added pictures of the DS I sold him to his online collection and despite that I submitted this photo gallery as evidence. I was furious; will never sell anything on eBay again that's worth more than 50 bucks. Those people are morons.
posted by fusinski at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

I use eBay mostly to buy cheap (sub-$10) bits of junk from China that inevitably end up cluttering up my basement, nowadays. I'd far rather sell my stuff on Craigslist or Kijiji these days.
posted by antifuse at 10:06 AM on June 16, 2011

I still buy all kinds of stuff on eBay - motorcycle parts, electronic components, replacement parts for electronic devices - but I never use auctions. Once you've bid, you have to sit around and wait for the auction to end before you know whether you got the thing you bid on. The answer is usually "no", so you then have to find another one, bid on it, and wait again. The whole process can continue on for a frustratingly long time, especially if it's the sort of thing people use sniper bots on. I'd rather just "buy it now" and be done with it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:31 AM on June 16, 2011

Really, though, the biggest factor in the decline of the auction may simply be that the novelty of bidding wore off.

Thus is written the entire history of the Internet: it was fun for a while, but the novelty wore off.
posted by briank at 10:54 AM on June 16, 2011

Why doesn't automatic bidding deal with the sniping problem?
posted by grouse at 11:12 AM on June 16, 2011

It didn't used to be possible to find the same items at similar prices for WAY LESS HASSLE elsewhere. Now it is.
posted by callmejay at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2011

Why doesn't automatic bidding deal with the sniping problem?

You first have to ask why sniping is a problem.... I mean, no bidding format is perfect, right? You can do sealed bids, live open bids, eBay automatic bids.. Some online auctions extend the end times so that auctions don't end until there have been five minutes with no bids.. They are all gamed and they all have flaws.

If your question is why does sniping seem to work so well, you have to look at the game. It is mostly an advantage to play your move in response to your opponents, rather than coming out first. Sniping allows you to act last. Of course there are other strategies. You can come out of the blocks strong, and that can scare your opponents off.

I'm pretty sure the people who gripe about snipe are just frustrated by losing. Thing is, you've already lost if you think that way. Something like: if you aren't losing 9/10 auctions you bid on, you are paying too much money. Not everybody should be buying at auction.
posted by Chuckles at 11:42 AM on June 16, 2011

Lest people think Craislist is everything wonderful, do some reading on Craigslist ghosting. It is extremely frustrating. Of course you can forgive a lot when the service is free :)

For the record, the business split between Craigslist and Kijiji here in Toronto is about 50/50. Different categories have different skews.
posted by Chuckles at 11:46 AM on June 16, 2011

Recently I have still found items virtually to order on eBay -- replacing a favorite item of clothing by brand x, bought more than five years ago; blue china bowls matching a pattern discontinued several years ago by brand y to replace two that broke -- searching, in effect, all the thrift and resale shops in the country. You couldn't do this in person.

But the time it takes to filter through the crap wholesalers and professional resellers on eBay is not worth it unless you're looking for something that specific. It's become like Canal Street in Manhattan, which in the '90s (when I was there) still had strange and unique shops (shops that would make anything for you out of lucite, industrial remnants repurposed for artists, a badass vintage military surplus store) but after 2000 was invaded by sellers of big-brand knockoffs and counterfeits.

I wouldn't say so many sellers are crooks as just clueless and lazy (pinching the photo of an item from a major website rather than taking the time to shoot it yourself).
posted by bad grammar at 11:55 AM on June 16, 2011

Why doesn't automatic bidding deal with the sniping problem?

The problem with automatic bidding is that if you are outbid, it immediately raises your bid on the item until your maximum is reached. If it's 3 hours till the end of the auction, somebody could find your maximum, and outbid you by 50 cents, and you've still got 3 hours to go back, and up your maximum bid by a dollar (or whatever) to have THEM beat by 50 cents. And thus ensues a bidding war. Most people set a maximum price in automatic bidding, but would still be willing to increase that by some small portion to see if they can still beat the other bidder.

With sniping, you set your maximum bid, and if you're 50 cents higher than somebody else's maximum bid, your bid goes in 10 seconds before the auction ends and they don't have a chance to beat your 50 cent raise. Now, granted, you're still relying on being higher than somebody else's maximum bid, but at least they can't come back over your head by 50 cents if you ARE higher than them.

I'm all about the buy it now auctions now too - mostly because even if it's a bit higher than what I'd pay by winning an auction, at least this way I'm guaranteed to get it NOW.
posted by antifuse at 11:57 AM on June 16, 2011

I'm pretty sure the people who gripe about snipe are just frustrated by losing.

Well, duh. My time has non-zero value, and getting sniped means I just wasted all the time I spent waiting for the result of the auction, because I never had any chance of winning it no matter what I bid. Since I can never know whether I'm bidding in a fair auction, I basically assume none of them are fair, and just don't bother. I'd rather pay more money and waste less time.

if you aren't losing 9/10 auctions you bid on, you are paying too much money.

One might as well claim that "if you aren't winning 9/10 auctions you bid on, you are spending too much time".
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:02 PM on June 16, 2011

I'm in the same place as Muddler. I used to love eBay. I shop there from time to time. My experiences, good and bad, are generally better than the service I've received in brick-and-mortar retail.

It's not that auctions are out of favour. The problem is that eBay isn't a deal anymore. I've bought collectables (even Beanie Baby's) and the truly obscure (a Curta mechanical calculator). You used to be able to find a deal on both these sorts of things on eBay.

Today any search you feed in, and remember I buy the obscure, gets zillions of hits. Most of the hits are not what you want. Even when you do find things, you have to click past loads of random stuff listed by mass merchants hoping to get a lucky sale. It's hard to find what you want.

When you find what you want, you won't get a good deal. When you could see who was bidding, you learned the names of the folks who bought the same sort of things. You were a community, with all the politics and relationships. Anonymous auctions were a sure sign of a shady deal (or porn). When eBay made all auctions anonymous "to protect buyers" all they really did was legalize shill bidding. Sellers use AuctionSniper to bid a reserve price at the end of the auction instead of disclosing it up front.

Finding a good deal, without all the scalpers and middle-men, was the "cool" or eBay. Their policy shifts to favor business merchants, bulk listers, and other middle-men make them just another store. Viewed as a store, Amazon is a lot better than eBay. So, I buy most things on Amazon.

Sorry Meg, a monkey can drive you into the ground if it doesn't know what it's doing. Apparently eBay and I don't agree on what was "cool" about eBay. It looks like I was right.
posted by RSaunders at 12:08 PM on June 16, 2011

Dealing with sniping is simple - I referred to it as 'bid until it hurts'.

Make one bid. And make that bid an amount that, if you get outbid by 1 cent, you won't care.

Automatic bidding will take care of the rest. No sniper can outbid you by speed, only by bidding more. And if it's more than you were willing to pay, you haven't 'lost' anything but the minute to make that one bid.

I used to sell on eBay, but gave up after trying to sell an iPod. Put it up with a note 'US bidders only, no international shipping' and Buy It Now. Thirty minutes later, it's sold - to someone who wants me to ship it to London. Had to go through the cancel and relist process with eBay, which takes days. And then it happens again.

I still use it occasionally to buy stuff, but selling is no longer worth it. Craigslist around NC isn't very good either, unless you like no-shows, and finding out that your buyer is a fifteen year old girl who is now in trouble for buying your camera so she's not interested anymore and this is all your fault anyway.

I miss Usenet and triangle.forsale...
posted by bitmage at 1:39 PM on June 16, 2011

The problem with automatic bidding is that if you are outbid, it immediately raises your bid on the item until your maximum is reached. If it's 3 hours till the end of the auction, somebody could find your maximum, and outbid you by 50 cents, and you've still got 3 hours to go back, and up your maximum bid by a dollar (or whatever) to have THEM beat by 50 cents. And thus ensues a bidding war. Most people set a maximum price in automatic bidding, but would still be willing to increase that by some small portion to see if they can still beat the other bidder.

In this scenario, it looks like the problem is that the bidder isn't actually setting their maximum bid amount to their true maximum.
posted by grouse at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In this scenario, it looks like the problem is that the bidder isn't actually setting their maximum bid amount to their true maximum.

Well, the psychological problem is that everybody's "true maximum" could still be extended by 50 cents. So if you get outbid by 50 cents, it is frustrating.
posted by antifuse at 1:53 PM on June 16, 2011

i do work for a online retailer who often sells on ebay. once i uploaded about 5000 items and mistakenly included an expensive listing service--and additional 70 cents per item, totalling about $2500. the listing was changed right away and multiple calls to customer service assured us there would be no problem ... but a month later they took the money out of my client's paypal account. took my client nine months to get his money back, only after filing a complaint with the bbb.
posted by lester at 2:12 PM on June 16, 2011

I once attended an honest-to-FSM auction. Seriously, it was an auction in Eastern Oregon dominated by horse-drawn farming equipment. It was literally the sheriff's posse that were handling parking. There was a babbling auctioneer and all. It was a mite surreal. And, contrary to the stories about someone accidentally bidding on something and spending thousands of dollars unintentionally, the auctioneer had an entire support staff around him. There were about a half-dozen dudes in floor length (field length?) dusters and drooping moustaches as well as one dreadlocked hippie whose jobs were to keep an eye on the bidding and clear up any miscommunications or weirdness. About a third of the time of the auction seemed to be spent on a play-by-play of who bid what on which. In my case, I ended up bidding against myself on a seed drill (Cuz Planet Jr. is how I roll, yo.) and the nice moustachioed fellows gently informed me that, no, that's really not something I want to do. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Also, someone offered to sell a friend a pair of three-year-old percherons for only $3000.

Moral of the story is, I guess, every eBay sale needs to be refereed by a half-dozen cowboys and at least one hippie. That should be easy enough to code, right?
posted by stet at 2:32 PM on June 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been buying and selling on eBay for 15 years and it certainly has changed. I still do it though, because I buy and sell stuff like out-of-print CDs and weird little toys and games from Japan. I like the feeling of winning/losing an auction and I still get competitive prices from buyers for my rare soundtrack CDs or whatever is up this week. Wouldn't bother using eBay for anything I can get new and cheap off Amazon. What's the point? The biggest change I've seen as a seller is that now 3/4 of my o.o.p. CD buyers are from overseas. I don't know if American bidders have given up on physical media like I have, or what, but I have a stack of post office customs slips in my room to fill out with my package, because most of the time I'm shipping that rare Brit-pop album to somebody in Australia or Italy. And it isn't the finishing price either. Even the rare discs are finishing up cheap these days. Maybe the US economy is somehow even worse than I thought. Go figure.
posted by ktoad at 2:57 PM on June 16, 2011

antifuse writes "Well, the psychological problem is that everybody's 'true maximum' could still be extended by 50 cents. So if you get outbid by 50 cents, it is frustrating."

It works the same way in IRL auctions and that way of thinking lies ruin. You've got to decide exactly how much something is worth to you before the bidding starts (preferably during the preview period) and then not bid over that. Really set a max before bidding/bargaining applies in all sorts of situations from auctions to buying houses and cars.
posted by Mitheral at 3:52 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

For all those people who lost by $0.50, and think they could have had the item for only $1 more: how do you know what the maximum bid of the other bidder was? It could have been $20 more.
posted by Bovine Love at 3:59 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never bought on an auction and I don't think I ever will, everything I've bought or sold is buy it now. As far as the fees that ebay and paypal charge, I set that into the price of the item I'm selling, raises the price of the sale to compensate, not that big a deal.

But the following is really scary to me, it's either new or I just never got caught by it; as follows:
Secret Life of Gravy: "The buyer never bothered to send me feedback which meant that PayPal held onto the payment for a month. What no one has mentioned yet is not only do eBay and PayPal charge huge fees for the transaction, eBay charged my credit card for their fee weeks before PayPal released the funds."

Some mope doesn't leave feedback so I'm stuck? Oh man. Even if they're not malicious, even if they're just scattered I get hosed? Do this suck or what?

As far as buying, just this past week I've purchased a DVD burner for an old laptop, two ink cartridges at an insanely low price, lower even than I could have gotten them refilled at Walgreens (they are 'out of date' but I know enough to know that they'd work fine, and they do), I don't remember the third item, haven't gotten it yet, some puter related something. Real inexpensive, shipped to my door, NO WAY could I have gotten near those prices locally unless I hit a streak of pure luck. (And now, over to eBay to leave these fine people good feedback so they don't get hosed.)
posted by dancestoblue at 12:11 AM on June 17, 2011

Ah, last thing I bought was hinges for a laptop that the hinges had worn out on, loose flopping lcd isn't much fun, I got them day before yesterday installed them last night -- cool. NO WAY I could have even gotten NEAR the price I paid for those hinges, brand new, shipped to my door.

So I'm not done with ebay yet it seems, though after reading this thread it's perfectly, crystal clear that I ought not to sell anything expensive there unless I'm willing to take a beating, and I'm pretty much against taking beatings just because some horses-ass company can't get all their shit in one sack..
posted by dancestoblue at 12:18 AM on June 17, 2011

Kijiji is a global eBay subsidiary that was set up in 2005 explicitly to lean on Craigslist in multiple markets

Gah, every time I read that Kijiji is the regionally preferred choice to Craigslist I get a little angry. Not because CL is perfect and shouldn't face competition. It has its flaws, some significant, and if something better were to come along and gain enough traction to replace CL I'd happily use it.

But I don't want that "better" to be an eBay company. Because if they replace CL, even with something undeniably better that solves every one of CL's flaws, you know it's only a matter of time before they'd make it more expensive, less useful for buyers and sellers and at the same time offer less fraud protection (which would seem difficult since CL has none aside from the only-local-transactions/no-western-union warnings, but I'm confident eBay would find a way). Then they'd make the search engine return only what you're not looking for. And cap that all off by making Paypal mandatory.
posted by 6550 at 3:43 AM on June 17, 2011

(And now, over to eBay to leave these fine people good feedback so they don't get hosed.)

Yes. That experience convinced me to leave positive feedback as soon as an eBay package arrives and it is as advertised. I have a lot more sympathy for sellers now that I have sold something.

You can get around the "holding of payment for a month" by buying the shipping label directly from eBay but I didn't want to buy anything from eBay-- I figured they would charge me extra just like they charge for a reserve price or longer listing period or different opening bid other than $0.99. They really nickle and dime you to death these days. I also wasn't sure how much sooner they would release the funds. I did put in the tracking label and clearly the package arrived about a week after I shipped it, but they held onto the funds just the same.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:06 AM on June 17, 2011

For all those people who lost by $0.50, and think they could have had the item for only $1 more: how do you know what the maximum bid of the other bidder was? It could have been $20 more.

But that's the frustration of being sniped - the other bidder put in their bid 10 seconds before the auction ended, so you didn't get a chance to see.

Of course, this is all just theoretical posturing on my part, as I never managed to get sucked into an eBay bidding war (which is what sniping has pretty much eliminated). But I have friends who sold things that sold for WAY more than expected (back in the day) because two bidders got heated. :)
posted by antifuse at 9:19 AM on June 17, 2011

« Older Did Super 8 . . . Super Suck?!   |   The True Cost of Tomatoes Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments