Even if you’ve never browsed the merchandise or placed a bid, you’ve probably heard about eBay, the Web’s largest online auction site. From analyses of the fastest-growing company in history to stories about oddball items for sale—like the infamous Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich or the guy who rented out his forehead as a billboard—eBay makes headlines.
But behind the hype, there are many good reasons to actually use eBay. It lets you:
Shop around the clock at an immense, worldwide marketplace.
Name the price you’re willing to pay. If you don’t win one auction, there’s always another.
Buy collectibles and other items you’d never find at the local mall.
Be your own boss—run a retail business out of your home.
Reach millions of potential customers.
Chat with other eBayers and watch zany auctions.
In addition, eBay’s sheer size makes it an attractive place to buy and sell. Worldwide, 135 million active eBayers are looking to do business with you—to the tune of $32 billion worth of merchandise bought and sold on the site each year. And those figures are growing.
Whether you’re hunting for bargains or hoping to make some cash, eBay gives you access to the biggest—and most entertaining—marketplace the world has ever seen.
On the other hand, eBay’s size can make it hard to find the things or customers you want. And, once you do find them, how do you know that the person on the other end of the transaction is trustworthy? eBay is a great resource, and great fun, but it does present challenges for even the most intrepid shoppers and sellers.
You might have heard the story that eBay began as an act of love, invented by Pierre Omidyar as a way for his fiancée, Pam (now his wife), to trade Pez dispensers with other collectors. It’s a nice story, and there’s some truth to it, but things didn’t happen in quite that way.
In 1995, Tufts University graduate Omidyar was working as a software engineer at General Magic, a Silicon Valley mobile-communications company. In his spare time, Omidyar developed Auction Web, an online auction platform. He was interested in the potential for an auction format to create a fair and open marketplace, where the market truly sets an item’s value. In an auction, anyone can bid until the price reaches the highest amount someone’s willing to pay. The market price changes from day to day, depending on demand and who’s bidding.
While Omidyar was experimenting with Auction Web, he did consulting work under the name Echo Bay Technology Group. When he wanted to register a Web site for his company, Echo Bay was the name he planned to use. But when he filled out the paperwork, he learned that echobay.com was already taken. Faced with the need for a unique name, he decided to abbreviate—and eBay was the result.
When Omidyar developed Auction Web (soon to become eBay), he had a full-time job, and he wanted to enjoy life on the weekends. He didn’t want his hobby—Auction Web—to steal every waking minute outside work. And he wasn’t trying to build a system that could handle traffic from 40 million buyers and sellers every day. He simply designed the site to keep itself going when he couldn’t be there tinkering with it. And he deliberately kept Auction Web simple so that it could handle unexpected challenges as it grew.
Beyond the technology, Omidyar envisioned the site as a community, based on five main values:
People are basically good.
Everyone has something to contribute.
An honest, open environment can bring out the best in people.
Everyone deserves recognition and respect as a unique individual.
You should treat others the way you want to be treated.
These “community values” remain key to the site. They’re why eBayers are willing to send money to a stranger across the country, trusting that the item they bought will arrive in next week’s mail. The values are the underpinning of feedback (Section 2.1), which eBayers use to rate a completed transaction; feedback works because it’s open and (usually) honest. You can learn a little about a trading partner before you decide to do business, and your own reputation, good or bad, is out there for anyone to see.
The Feedback Forum began in February, 1996. Originally, Omidyar handled disputes between buyers and sellers via email; when someone sent him a complaint, he’d put the disputing parties in touch with each other and ask them to work it out themselves. Eventually, he realized that one way to get people to trust each other was to bring their opinions about each other—not just the complaints but also the praise—into the open.
The combination of adaptable technology and a strong sense of community has probably contributed more than anything else to eBay’s success.
eBay faced some growing pains—in the early years, its business rocketed skyward faster than its servers could handle, causing frequent crashes. In the summer of 1999, eBay was offline for 22 hours—an eternity in the world of online auctions. After that crash, eBay staffers called eBayers to apologize. It was the kind of gesture that gains customer loyalty. And, despite the inevitable complaints, eBayers are loyal.
What began as a small site for individuals to trade collectibles has exploded into an international marketplace where everyone, from the lady down the street to large corporations, sells millions of items in thousands of categories. Two of eBay’s fastest-growing categories are cars (eBay Motors, Section 4.2.3) and real estate (Section 4.2.4). eBay has spawned hundreds of imitators, but not one even comes close to being a true competitor.
eBay continues to grow; it’s expanded to more than 25 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom, to name just a sampling. It’s bought or invested in a variety of other Web sites: Half.com, a fixed-price media marketplace; Craigslist.com, a network of online communities featuring classified ads and discussion forums; Rent.com, a site to post and search listings for rental property; and Shopping.com, a price-comparison site. As this book was going to press, eBay announced the creation of www.ebaybusiness.com, a new marketplace where businesses can buy and sell products.
As eBay grows, it changes. Sometimes you’ll notice that the home page looks a little different or a procedure you’ve done a hundred times has suddenly gained or lost a step. eBay tweaks the site constantly, adding new categories, upgrading sellers’ tools, changing the look and feel of its pages. For this reason, some of the figures in this book might look a little different from what you see on your computer screen. Don’t panic. You can always find your way from the navigation bar at the top of every page, shown in Figure I-1.
If you’d like to get started with eBay but you don’t know an FVF (Section 5.3) from a UPI (Section 188.8.131.52), this book will help you get to the site, get registered, and get going. Soon you’ll be using eBay like an old pro. If, on the other hand, you’ve been trading Pez dispensers since eBay was Auction Works, this book can help you ramp up your eBay experience—find more bargains, build better auctions, and close more sales. It’s loaded with advice and info like this:
Most new eBayers assume that a 90 percent positive-feedback rating is a good thing, but those with experience on the site rarely trade with someone whose positive-feedback score ranks below 98 percent (Section 2.1.1).
You can find bargains using sellers’ spelling mistakes (Section 3.1.8), even if your own spelling is lousy.
Despite its philosophy that people are basically good, eBay’s popularity has made it prime hunting ground for scammers. Don’t be a victim—recognize and avoid common scams directed at buyers (Section 4.3) and at sellers (Section 6.6.3).
More than half of eBay auctions finish with just one bid or no bids at all. Get your listings noticed with the marketing strategies in Chapter 7.
Despite many requests, eBay has been reluctant to allow a feedback search that returns only the negative and neutral comments. But just because you can’t do it on eBay doesn’t mean you can’t do it. There are a couple of ways to check out another eBayer’s dirty laundry (Section 4.1.3).
Some of eBay’s most explosive growth has been in its specialty auctions. Chapter 8 tells you how to get in on the action.
eBay: The Missing Manual is divided into four parts, each containing several chapters:
Part 1, Buying on eBay, has everything you need to get started. Most new eBayers begin by buying something to learn how auctions work and to start building feedback. (And if you’re here to sell, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to think like a buyer.) These chapters help you register, learn the basics of searching and bidding, avoid getting scammed, and rev up your buying power with advanced techniques for bargain hunters and collectors.
Part 2, Selling on eBay, is all about one of eBay’s biggest attractions: the promise of making money in your spare time by selling off the stuff you no longer want or need. For some sellers, that promise evolves from part-time hobby to full-time business. Part 2 starts with the things you need to know before you sell on eBay—how to register as a seller, list an item, and close the deal. The chapters that follow guide you as your experience and your feedback score grow— how to get your auctions noticed, build customer loyalty, deal with deadbeat bidders, and handle the business side of things. You’ll also find chapters on specialty auctions and tools to make selling faster and easier—no PowerSeller would be without them.
Part 3, Finding Other eBayers and Getting Help, contains info that’s useful to buyers and sellers alike, from networking and socializing with other eBayers to getting quick answers when you have a midnight payment crisis.
Part 4, Appendixes, tells you where to learn more, covers the basics of HTML for enhancing your eBay listings, and suggests some other auction sites to explore.
You’ll find very little jargon or nerd terminology in this book. You will, however, encounter a few terms and concepts that you’ll come across frequently in your computing life:
Clicking. This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use your computer’s mouse or trackpad. To click means to point the arrow cursor at something on the screen and then—without moving the cursor at all—to press and release the clicker button on the left side of the mouse (or laptop trackpad). To right-click means to point the cursor and click the button on the right side of the mouse (or trackpad). And to drag means to move the cursor while pressing the button continuously.
Menus. The menus are the words at the top of your browser: File, Edit, and so on. Click one to make a list of commands appear as though they’re written on a window shade you’ve just pulled down.
Some people click and release the mouse button to open a menu and then, after reading the menu command choices, click again on the one they want. Other people like to hold down the mouse button continuously after the initial click on the menu title, drag down the list to the desired command, and only then release the mouse button. Either method works fine.
Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this one: “Select View → Show/Hide → Personal Toolbar.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested commands in sequence, like this: “In your browser, you’ll find a menu item called View. Select that. On the View menu is an option called Show/Hide; click it to open it. On that menu is yet another option called Personal Toolbar. Click it to open that, too.”
Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus, as shown in Figure I-2.
At www.missingmanuals.com, you’ll find articles, tips, and updates to the book. In fact, you’re invited and encouraged to submit such corrections and updates yourself. In an effort to keep the book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies of this book, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. We’ll also note such changes on the Web site, so that you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like. (Click the book’s name, and then click the Errata link, to see the changes.)
In the meantime, we’d love to hear your own suggestions for new books in the Missing Manual line. There’s a place for that on the Web site, too, as well as a place to sign up for free email notification of new titles in the series.
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