Buy Bye eBay: Auction Site Snipes Itself in the Foot

If you’re an eBay seller, your jaw probably dropped when you saw the latest, most heinous update to eBay’s fee structure and feedback system. It seems that eBay has some sort of John McCainian, closet-Marxist antipathy for its sellers. “Those evil capitalists making a profit off our site. We’ll show ’em.” Well, they succeeded in driving away one seller: me!
Perhaps you were duped by the clever little phrases in eBay’s update, such as, “You asked, we listened. We’re reducing Insertion Fees!” That’s about as true as, “Beanie Babies were a good investment.” While they did lower insertion fees (a full five cents for the low-end rates!), overall they made the entire process more expensive than it has ever been. They didn’t listen to a darn thing.
If you look a little more closely, the next line says that they’re “adjusting” final-value fees. Yeah, just like Hillary Clinton was “adjusting” her Bosnia experience. eBay loves to hide their fees to screw the seller, and you practically have to be a mathematician to sort through the latest update. If you do, you’ll find out you’re paying 70 percent more than last year for selling an item!
The real hit comes from the final-value fees. They have a cute way of making them seem lower. Last year, they were “5.25 percent for the first $24, plus 3.25 percent of the remaining balance.” Leaving aside eBay’s phobia of whole numbers, these fees went up in 2008 to 8.75 percent and 3.5 percent. Your initial fee goes up 70 percent, and overall you pay 44 percent more to eBay.
This really annihilates the small sellers. Take, for example, one of my items. I have a razor-thin profit margin and only sell it because I can deliver it digitally, so why not make the few cents? The profit has been reduced to $0.05 on the low end, down from an average of $0.75, depending on the payment’s origins. There’s no way I’ll risk the scammers if I can’t make more than $0.50 on an item. That’s another thing. Don’t forget about PayPal, eBay’s clandestine surrogate, which charges you as much as an extra 5 percent and usually no less than 3 percent of the cost!
Besides that, don’t count on them to protect you from scammers. They will virtually always side with the buyer, even in the most clear-cut cases. Just last week, $40 magically disappeared from my account, and who was the thief? None other than PayPal. They simply removed the $40 due to an unclear “investigation” into a transaction for Nerf darts that were shipped and delivered weeks ago, according to my tracking data. Luckily, the buyer is (hopefully) sending me a check. PayPal, owned by eBay, will always find a way to screw the seller.
A seller’s last line of defense is usually feedback. Not anymore! Starting in the next few weeks, sellers can’t leave negative feedback! That’s right, if you run across one of the many scammers on the Internet, not only can they steal your money, but if you try to fight it, they can also ruin your reputation! Unscrupulous buyers have backed me into a wall numerous times. The way out has been feedback. For instance, a guy claimed that I sent him an empty box and opened a PayPal dispute. I left him negative feedback detailing the scam, as did several other sellers. The guy was booted and the dispute was decided in my favor because of the multiple negatives.
What eBay seems to have forgotten is that there is no eBay without items for people to buy. I have moved to alternative sites. For instance, Amazon.com charges only a bit less for fees but has a much easier system to navigate. After selling around 3,000 items with Amazon, I have yet to have any major scams, and Amazon hasn’t decided to steal my money randomly. In comparison, in just the last two months on eBay, I’ve had to deal with two scammers and the “investigation” I mentioned earlier.
The bottom line is that sellers are more vulnerable than buyers. There are plenty of shady sellers, but they are weeded out quickly since their bank accounts, credit cards, social-security numbers and addresses are all linked to a particular eBay/PayPal account. Buyers, on the other hand, are much more numerous and pay nothing to open an account, sometimes buying items in near anonymity.
I once had a Bruce Wayne from 123 Batman Ave., Gotham, New York purchase from me. I wish I was kidding. It was just a deliberately non-paying bidder trying to stop me from reselling a video-game system who somehow broke through eBay’s fortress of security to get an account. Feedback is an important combat tool, and eBay has taken it away. They’ve also left little incentive to brave the shark-infested waters of the e-marketplace with the latest, criminally-high fee update. If you’re looking to get into the market, stay away from eBay and start looking for alternatives.

Patrick Ross is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at pross@uci.edu.