By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 12:12 am
“Don’t just shop–win!” That’s been eBay’s slogan for quite awhile now. But it looks like it might be appropriate to flop it around into “Don’t just win–shop!”
The New York Times is reporting that the world’s biggest auction site is tired of being the world’s biggest auction site. Starting in September, it plans to change its fee structure to encourage sellers to use “Buy It Now” pricing, which lets buyers grab a product at a fixed price rather than bidding. It’s a reaction to general sluggishness in the company’s auction business (which, the Times says, accounts for 57 percent of eBay revenues–the majority, but far from an overwhelming majority).
“We love the auction model,” the Times quotes eBay Marketplace Laurie Norrington as saying. “It’s still a great model for certain types of sales.” For eBay, that sounds like less than a truly ringing endorsement; it’s as if the president of Coca-Cola was reduced to assuring people that the company loved cola and thought it was a great drink for some occasions.
My instinct is to bristle at this news. I’ve been an eBay bidder for almost eleven years, and a seller (from time to time) for almost as long. eBay auctions are fun and I’ve bought into the philosophy that–as long as you’re not in a hurry–an auction is a near-perfect form of commerce that lets customers determine what a product is really worth. Besides, I’m a traditionalist, and the notion of eBay being anything less than deeply into auctions is jarring.
If I understand the news, though, eBay’s not taking anything away or trying to prevent anyone who wants to put a product up for auction from doing so; it’s just making “Buy It Now” more attractive, by lowering the initial listing cost for this option (while raising its final commission). If the auction option is still available, I guess I can’t squawk too loudly–the folks who sell on eBay will ultimately decide how they want to sell.
I’m sure I’ll still buy stuff on eBay; I’m sure I’ll still find rare collectibles (such as vintage Scrappy merchandise) that I’d never find anywhere else. It’s just that my heart may be less likely to race a bit as an auction reaches its final seconds and I’m still in the lead, praying that nobody jumps in and takes what’s rightly mine away from me.
AuctionBytes has more details on eBay changes, including its plans to ban checks and money orders, supposedly to help curtail fraud, though the move will surely also increase business for PayPal and thereby boost eBay’s profits. Funny–I’ve done nearly as many eBay transactions via checks and money orders as with PayPal over the years, and I’ve never been ripped off. I pay by PayPal whenever the option’s there, but I know there are such people as eBay sellers who despite PayPal and refuse to take it; it’ll be interesting to see if they gulp and begin accepting it, or decamp.