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Is eBay Worse Than Early Sears Catalogs? 438

prostoalex writes "The New York Times claims eBay can learn a lot from the early Sears catalogs, which promised unconditional returns (postage paid by Sears) in case there is any dissatisfaction with the product even if the product behaves exactly as described. Apparently eBay is doing something right, but with no buyer protection, no seller authentication, and no desire to participate in seller-buyer conflicts, no return policy, can the business model be sustained?"
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Is eBay Worse Than Early Sears Catalogs?

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  • by bryanp ( 160522 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:17AM (#9105097)
    The closest real life analogy would be the proprietor of an exhibition hall holding a flea market. If you buy something crappy at the flea market from Joe, the building's owners aren't the ones you have a problem with. All they did was rent space and maybe some tables to Joe so he could set up and sell his stuff.

    If you can't deal with this, don't shop on ebay.

    • by REBloomfield ( 550182 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:26AM (#9105152)
      I had this near where I lived, and one of the traders was selling extremely dodgy zip drives (all broken). Refused to give a refund, and threatened to break my neck (in front of witnesses) if I didn't leave their stall. Suffice to say the buildings owners are granted the license to hold such market by the local Authority, and took much interest in the matter, suffice to say money was returned and stall keepers dealt with.
      • I saw a table selling nothing but Childrens Games on CD's that had obviously been stolen from the outside of Cereal Boxes. The CD's even had printed on them not for retail sale or something like that. Only $10 each. I think I told about 15 people that he stole them from Cereal boxes. I don't know what happened after that, but the other people seemed like they would take care of it. :o)
      • by bstone ( 145356 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @12:35PM (#9107805)
        suffice to say money was returned and stall keepers dealt with.

        Pretty much like eBay deals with sellers who act irresponsibly.

        Actually, with feedback and eBay policing both the buyers and sellers, it's a whole lot better buying on eBay than at a flea market, but the general business model is similar.

        I've been burned a couple of times on eBay, and both of those sellers are now banned. It's a risk that I'm willing to take because I've saved tons of $$$$ and been able to easily buy products that are difficult to find elsewhere.

        New oven ... got one with a small scratch in the corner that I can hardly see ... $600 less than buying it locally. New cook top ... customer return for a small scratch in the glass (like I'm not going to scratch it the first time I use it) ... $500 savings. Items like this are way too difficult to find without the marketplace that eBay provides.

        And ... people have been happy with my junk, too.

        Trying to compare the service that eBay provides with that of a retailer like Sears is disingenuous. On eBay, I'm dealing with the actual seller, and eBay does provide lots of help if there is a problem.

    • by phrasebook ( 740834 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:30AM (#9105174)
      If you buy something crappy at the flea market from Joe, the building's owners aren't the ones you have a problem with. All they did was rent space and maybe some tables to Joe

      Yes they are. If they rented the space to Joe and Joe shafts you, then you can take it up with the owners that let him sell there (assuming they have some kind of policies for sellers). Same with ebay. And ebay has the means to implement more checks anyway. It isn't just a street corner.
    • Maybe not the building owners, but the organizers of the flea market certainly have a problem if no one trusts the flea market anymore.

      This IS a big potential problem for Ebay, and could easily limit their expansion if people don't trust transactions on Ebay. Something as simple as requiring sellers to accept credit cards on all transactions over $300 would go a long way.
    • Well, that analogy is not perfect because at the flea market you actually see the product you're buying and you see also the vendor. At eBay you see only some address and that's only thing you really know about other end.

      That's why there is a huge risk when buying something from eBay.

      And no, I don't buy anything from eBay.

      • by Kombat ( 93720 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:38AM (#9105546) Homepage
        At eBay you see only some address and that's only thing you really know about other end.

        Well, that, and the feedback.

        Take off the tinfoil hat. If someone has great feedback, you're just as safe trusting them as you would be trusting the stranger you just met at the flea market. Moreso, in fact, because you have no idea if the flea-market guy's customers are satisfied. OK, OK, with one notable exception [].
        • Feedback is hardly an accurate way to figure out who's good and who's bad. For one thing, a lot of high volume sellers trade between each other for higher feedback (hence why every feedback is the same..."steller buyer, better than expected, A++++").

          Furthermore, stuff like this happens:

          I just bought a non-working device, it wasn't marked as-is but was missing the proprietary power supply (thus forcing me to build my own, which will take about 10 hours). So I left neutral feedback explaining this caveat emptor situation -- and the seller went back and changed his positive feedback (i had paid the same day) to a negative feedback along with a series of lies claiming I begged for a refund and made unreasonable demands.

          This pissed me off. NEUTRAL + $100 != NEGATIVE + Broken Fucking Device. I did nothing wrong, and now I look bad? It pissed me off even more when the guy emailed me, asking if I wanted to drop BOTH feedbacks under ebay's Mutual Retraction program.

          Essentially, he chose to mar my reputation in the hopes that the damage would cause me to remove my neutral. After all, one negative out of 20 is worse than a neutral out of 850.

          But I'm not going to do it. Ebay isn't my livelihood, and so I don't care that much. But I bet a lot of unsatisfied customers in that 850 did remove their feedback rather than get tagged as a negative buyer.
  • by ites ( 600337 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:17AM (#9105099) Journal

    Ebay is not a retailer. It is a marketplace.

    Marketplaces do not need to be perfect, they only need to be better than the alternative.

    Ebay is so much better than the real-world alternatives - small ads in newspapers - that people are happy to accept its flaws.
    • Even though eBay is the defacto marketplace for selling personal items online, bad service or lack of accountability will eventually erode its business. No business regardless of size or market share is immune from disatisfied customers, especially in such a liquid communal market as eBay - word travels fast.

      It's been my experience, and I can see this in my friends who've used eBay that there's a lifespan to using eBay which pretty much follows the bell curve. The steps are basically:

      1. Initial awe
  • Well if another auction site comes along that doesn't use the borderline-fraud service that is PayPal and offers superior customer service, decades of business history dictates that eBay will surrender to it.

    The hard part, as Slashdot proves every day with its uncensored comment system, is making people accountable for what they do online.

    • Well if another auction site comes along that doesn't use the borderline-fraud service that is PayPal

      I still can't establish if folk really are having trouble with paypal. Sure there are sites filled with complaints, but most of the complaints seem to be folk who had a weak password, saved their password in internet explorer and someone else used it, or small organsiations where they shared the password and someone with access cleaned out the account.

      Paypal has made cheap processing of credit cards avail

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Grasshopper, just take a look at this appropriately named [] site for the answers to your questions. Why does Paypal suck? Click and read.
      • by I8TheWorm ( 645702 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:43AM (#9105226) Journal
        I still can't establish if folk really are having trouble with paypal

        I have used paypal for about 2 years now. I had one bad eBay transaction where the seller took the payment, then disappeared. Their e-mail address bounced, their number was disconnected, etc... Paypal "investigated" for less than two weeks, then gave me a full refund.

        My father's paypal account was hacked by someone in Lithuania, who ordered a Raider's jacket. He was also given a full refund by paypal (turns out he was using a weak password).

        I'd say given my experience with paypal that they're far from fraudulous, and will continue to use them. Much like eBay, their service beats the alternative by leaps and bounds.
        • Paypal is very hard on sellers who get a complaint posted against them. The general rule was to lock the account of who ever has a complaint against them with no questions asked. This usually causes trouble to the generally undercapitalized web businesses, who now have a huge cashflow problem. They can't pay their suppliers because the proceeds of all 100 auctions have been locked even though 99 were happy and one is a whiner. Like ebay they are much better than the alternative (sending a check or money
    • Paypal... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:46AM (#9105246)
      What usually happens in most of the "paypal problems" is this:

      Person x puts money into paypal (with credit card usually)

      Person x then pays person y.

      Person y then (for the sake of this example) takes the money out of Paypal (e.g. to their own credit card/bank account) and sends the goods.

      For whatever reasons, person x then decides to do a chargeback for the credit card (for example, if they dont get the goods, the goods are faulty or whatever else). Credit card company asks Paypal to pay back money. Paypal then freezes account of person y so that they can take back the money to pay the credit card company. If person y has transfered the money to someone else on paypal, even more accounts may be frozen until things are sorted out. But if (as in the example above), person y has taken the money out of paypal alltogether, thats when paypal will go to bank accounts, credit cards or whatever they can to get the money back from person y.

      What we need is a new service similar to Paypal but:
      A.backed by an existing bricks and mortar bank (to provide security and confidence that there is real money in a vault somewhere to back up your virtual dollars)
      B.complying 100% with banking regulations
      C.provides more ways to put money into your "e-account" (i.e. ways that DONT allow the service to take money from your bank account or your credit card without you specificly making a transaction)
      D.provides a better way to handle disputes than "freezing the accounts of anyone who might be remotly involved and moving money around without permission"
      E.operates worldwide so that everyone can use it (like PayCrud)
      F.would not allow other services to touch the account without permission (so you could have a PayCrud account to pay people who only accept payment that way and have it linked to this account so that if something goes wrong, PayCrud cant touch it). Ideally, you would need to specificly authorized a direct debit (be it once off or recurring) before it was valid.

      Course, even if such a service was set up, Ebay would probobly "prohibit" people from using it (to force more people to use PayCrud which they own)
      • your part c? netbank, as in will allow deposits from paypal, rejects withdrwals initiated by paypal..
        no minimum balance, free checks, free billpay (with a caveat, if you stop using billpay, they charge you) open an account, fund with a low limit credit card and withdraw to netbank.. you can still get your token two deposits recorded to have the bank account 'verified'
      • Re:Paypal... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Daengbo ( 523424 )
        Indeed. PayPal prohibits transactions from my area of the world (most, if not all, of SE Asia). This makes online orderingfrom many companies wuite difficult.
    • the borderline-fraud service that is PayPal

      See, everyone says this, but all the anecdotes are particularly short on details. I've visited [] several times, and have yet to see a definitive instance where paypal screwed someone over. I've seen lots of "I shipped item $foo, and the seller claimed he never received it, and PayPal stole my money". Of course, they probably didn't read PayPal's TOS which says if you want seller protection, you ship via a method that provides tracking.


      • by ValourX ( 677178 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:10AM (#9105375) Homepage

        It happend to me, though. I sold computers using PayPal. One buyer called up PayPal because the system was damaged during shipping. PayPal told him they could do nothing, so he contacted me and I replaced it immediately for him.

        A day later my PayPal account was frozen and all of the money I had in there was stolen by PayPal. That was last fall, and it's still frozen. PayPal will do nothing for me. All because the customer called PayPal first.

  • eBay (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SirRobin ( 164472 )
    The changing policies are a sign of the times. Nowadays, what eBay does is considered OK. I find nothing wrong with what they do. I would not want to be at fault for some seller's junk, either. eBay still does what it did when it started - to use the old saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:18AM (#9105107)
    As someone who runs a large and successful (but non-commercial) auction site myself, I have to ask the following question:

    What exactly is ebay supposed to do about it?

    Seriously - what can ebay do about problem buyers and sellers? If a buyer or seller flakes out on the other party it's the buyer's word against the seller's. Putting aside the massive amount of man hours that would be needed to mediate disputes, how in the hell can you ever know which person is being honest or if they're both being honest and it was the shipper's fault or someone else's fault? At best, you're just listening to two people's stories and judging which one sounds more believable. That's a pretty poor solution if you ask me.

    I mean... I know people complain about ebay and they complain about my site too. But just what exactly do people think we CAN do?! I'm not inside either person's head and I am just a distant third party to the transaction. I give people a forum through which to post, buy and sell with each other. That's all there is to it. I don't know them personally, I dont' process their money and I don't ship their item. How is the auction owner supposed to keep tabs on every aspect of every transaction with all of these parameters that are out of their control?

    I'd love an answer, but I'll be fucked if I know.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:32AM (#9105178)
      I'd also like to add that one way to deal with problem buyers and sellers is to leave bad feedback for them. If they screw you over, LEAVE THEM FEEDBACK. If they get enough bad feedback, nobody will deal with them anymore!

      This system should be self-correcting, but the reason it isn't is that people are concerned that if they leave a bad feedback, the other person will retaliate. On my site, I've seen people with 2,500 feedbacks (ALL positive) freak out because one person left them one bad feedback. If nobody is willing to suck it up and leave appropriate feedback for a problem buyer or seller, then they're just passing the buck and letting more people get screwed over.

      On my site, I ban people after their feedback ratio drops to a certain point in relation to the number of feedbacks they actually have. If more people would leave the bad feedback when it was deserved, more people would be banned. But since they don't, the system has no way of knowing the person needs to be banned. And without leaving the bad feedback, *I* certainly have no way of knowing that the user is a problem.

      Really, if you're not willing to do your part - don't blame the auction site.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:11AM (#9105380) Homepage
      ebay tries with the rating system but it's horribly broken.

      Sellers refuse to leave positive feedback unless the buyer does, buyers AND selelrs leaving retalitory negative feedback against legitimate gripes and overall everyone leaving "A++++ best ebayer ever" over and over makes the feedback system almost 100% useless except as an idea as to how active the user is.

      More information needs to be tracked for ebay for sellers and buyers to get a better idea.

      the time it takes for a buyer to pay needs to be shown. same as time it takes for a seller to ship as well as response times of both in email.

      Certian buyers take almost a fricking week to pay, some sellers will ship when they get around to it in a couple of weeks and thise stuff needs to be noted to improve EBAY service style.

      if a seller has his rating plus a "slow shipper" icon I'll know to avoid the guy. same as a buyer having a "slow pay" flag can be avoided for auctions.

      finally, ebay removed the ability for me to look at feedback but ONLY the negative feedback.

      Yes negative feedback is at least 90,000 more important than the sea of half hearted positives. and they need to be taken in context. but I do not want to clikc for 2 hours trying to read EVERY one of your negative feedbacks just to find out that you like to screw around and ship people's things from 2-3 weeks later, or you never read or respond to customer emails. (just as an example, not saying YOU do this.)

      ebay needs to collect more information automatically. and they can through their ownership of paypal... auction ended and buyer took 6 days to pay...
      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:53AM (#9105679) Journal
        I think the largest improvement to the feedback system would be to weight it by amount paid. If someone sells 10 things for $1 each, then a few months later (after the items are no longer in eBay's cache), he looks like a reasonable seller. If he's trying to sell something worth $1000, I might consider buying from him. This person's feedback looks exactly the same as someone who has sold ten $1000 items. Since sellers pay a percentage of the sale price to eBay, this makes it a lot harder to fake good feedback with a lot of small transactions.
    • by theLOUDroom ( 556455 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @10:10AM (#9106349)
      What exactly is ebay supposed to do about it?

      Seriously - what can ebay do about problem buyers and sellers?

      Well, for starters they could offer an escrow service.

      Seriously, I am amazed that they don't. When I first heard about ebay and its popularity I thought:
      "Hmmm, they must have some sort of escrow service set up.....there's no way people would be stupid enough to send money to a random, semi-anonymous person on the internet and HOPE they get somthing back."
      Turns out I was wrong and both ebay and paypal prove it.
      On any given day you can go on ebay and find more fraudulent auctions than you can shake a stick at, and paypal, being expempt from banking regulations is a VERY risky place to keep or transfer money. By not being a bank they are exempt from rules about how much cash they must keep on hand to cover the "balances" in their accounts, making them the perfect target for a bank run the minute there is significant doubt about their stability.

      If you want to be better than ebay, here's what you need to do:
      1. Screen ALL autions and actually enforce your rules. At a minimum, there should be a clearly labeled button for "Report this aution to an administrator" and when I press it, someone should actually do something.
      2. Offer an optional escrow service that the buyer pays for, and the seller CANNOT opt out of.
      3. Provide real support in the event of a problem

      I haven't touched on #1 before, but it's really important. Try going on ebay right now and searching for "RX-7" (the car I own). See all the keyword spamming that goes on? That makes it a real bitch for me to try and find ACTUAL PARTS FOR AN RX-7. Combine that with the lack of protection when I actually DO find something, and I just say "fuck it, I'll get my stuff elsewhere". So far, I have yet to buy a single thing off ebay.

      What I would like to see, is a human moderated electronic aution site, with a built-in escrow service.
      Yes, that would cost more, but I'd be willing to pay. Especially for an escrow service.
      Here's how you do the escrow service:
      There is a box I can check when I bid. When I check this box, you charge me an extra $5 for the service. If something goes wrong, you get an ACTUAL HUMAN involved and resolve things quickly.
      • Is it costs money. The reason most people buy on eBay is to save money. With escrow you have double shipping charges, since it has to be sent to escrow first, then to the buyer. You also have the cost of maintaining a warehouse and staff to hold the items while escrow is going on (which could be a coupld weeks in some cases). To top it all off, you need to make a profit or it's not really worth doing.

        Well for most items, the buyer just isn't going to find it worth it. Are you really going to drop $30-50 in
  • It always seemed odd to me that Ebay wanted nothing to do with the insurance/escrow and buyer/seller protection processes, and allowed third parties to fill in that gap, while Ebay relies on the auction fees and listing fees, and on their massive volume to make a profit. They definitely should have provided a way from the start for a guarantee, but what are they gonna do for those jets and houses that come up for sale? That's probably what they were thinking -- since they can't really refund the money from super-large purchases, it's not really fair for everyone else. However, they could charge some percentage of the final auction price to provide a "guarantee" of sorts, which would be great.
  • Short answer: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alhaz ( 11039 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:18AM (#9105109) Homepage

    It's an auction marketplace, for crying out loud. "eBay" doesn't sell product. Comparison with Sears is apples & mushrooms.

  • by quarkoid ( 26884 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:19AM (#9105116) Homepage
    I've bought plenty of stuff on eBay and sold odds and sods too. Like most people who've done more than a few trades, I've been caught out and I know that some people who've bought from me didn't read the item description properly.

    However, how is this eBay's fault? Why should eBay be responsible for my failure to check out the items I'm buying or the buyer I'm buying from? Likewise, why should eBay care if my buyer didn't read the item description?

    Nanny bloody society.

    • Thankyou! I've done a fair ammount of buying and selling as well.. here are are my rules:

      1) Don't deal with anyone outside of North America. Ever. For any reason.

      2) Don't buy electronics at too-good-to-be-true prices. (Because is IS too good to be true)

      3) Don't buy anything with "this is an actuion for instructions on how to buy...." in the description. Run away.

      4) Don't sell to people with 0 feedback via Paypal. Request a money order or other method of payment.

      5) If you're thinking of buying somethi
  • Hilarious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:20AM (#9105120) Homepage Journal
    Look. Ebay *is* working. I don't care if it doesn't work in theory, it *does* and *is* working in practice. Yes, theres fraud, but theres fraud on the highstreet too (where there is also mugging, street robbery and car jacking).
    • Re:Hilarious (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wister285 ( 185087 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:17AM (#9105413) Homepage
      I completely agree. Ebay has a nearly perfect business model since all they have to do is make sure that their website is working and has enough bandwidth at all times. Although they do provide a buyer with some protection, PayPal helps out even more. The rest is left up to the consumer, who usually needs to practice commonsense anyway.

      Ebay's low risk, low captial method got it to where it is today. Slashdot's overly cynical nature is unnecessay. Ebay works and its great.
  • no more e-bay for me (Score:3, Informative)

    by cagle_.25 ( 715952 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:20AM (#9105122) Journal
    At least not for the expensive purchases, where saving money might really matter.

    I bought my wife a present of her favorite bubble bath on e-bay. When it came, it was somebody else's favorite bubble bath. I got in touch with the sender, who apologized profusely and offered to send the right stuff. It never came. And, I never got my money back.

    My friend, on the other hand, purchased a guitar on e-bay only to have it be in far worse condition than advertised. He never got his money back, either.

    My conclusion is to never spring big bucks for anything on e-bay.
    • In what way did the system of feedback not work in this instance.

      If the seller had less than 100% positive feedback then shame on you for buying from them.

      I hope you left negative feedback.

  • "with no buyer protection, no seller authentication, and no desire to participate in seller-buyer conflicts, no return policy, can the business model be sustained?"


    eBay is wildly popular, continues to grow in ways people don't expect. Go check out their stock growth. While I know that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good company, eBay has had solid returns for the last several years.

    If eBay can get away with not providing things like buyer/seller resolution up to this point--I'm guessing they
  • Incorruptible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CleverNickedName ( 644160 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:21AM (#9105130) Journal
    ...promised unconditional returns (postage paid by Sears) in case there is any dissatisfaction with the product even if the product behaves exactly as described

    So it was basically a free, rental-service for all goods? I can't see how that could be abused.
    • Re:Incorruptible (Score:4, Interesting)

      by puto ( 533470 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:36AM (#9105524) Homepage

      I worked in the electronic department at Sears and saw this no questions return policy abused.

      People woule buy a video camera, use it for a wedding, then bring it back say they didnt like it. Even got one back that had seawater in it and the lady said it came that way. Manager made me take them both back(and commission was retroactive). Hell, they would take things back thate were a year or two old and give them a percentage of the full price back.

      Craftmans tools, life time warranty. People would show up with tools so old and funky just for new ones. I caught one of our old faithful returnees at a flea marker, buying used craftsman stuff, returning it for new and then reselling it for almost new prices.

      Sears no questions return policy almost put them out of business. The abuse was rampant.

  • I've sold some stuff on ebay and had two returns. One was a 4 disk set of the Alien movies, but the guy returned it about a month after buying it because of "dvd rot". Fair enough.
    The second one however, was for an external camera for a mobile phone. They were selling retail for 75 at the time, but I got mine free with the phone. I sold it for 50 (most were going to 35) to a guy. I sent it out, then two weeks after he got it he said it didn't work. I had already tested it, but what can you do? Call
  • big difference (Score:3, Informative)

    by dncsky1530 ( 711564 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:23AM (#9105137) Homepage
    Sears makes money off of selling products in their catologs.
    Ebay makes money off of people listing items to sell.
    The big difference is that Ebay makes money even if the products don't sell, Ebay has both an excellant business model and a huge market share, plus their just plain usefull
  • business reality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:26AM (#9105153)
    hah! you mean eBay should be like the FAILED business models of UBid, etc. which carried the cost of storage & transactions itself? No, eBay would not survive; it is a forum for auctions, and the buyer & seller are responsible for their own ethics. If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
    • Re:business reality (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      it is a forum for auctions, and the buyer & seller are responsible for their own ethics.

      It's impossible to know how ethical the person on the other end of the screen-name is going to be...

      Just look at the rest of the internet... I've never met a troll or a crap-flooder in person, so I assume they are the result of internet anonymity. The same is true for ebay. Scams that couldn't possibly work in a yard sale, will work nicely on ebay. The sellers know the likely hood of someone like me hunting the

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:28AM (#9105162)
    is its very business model: I've always avoided buying things online (and also over the phone) because I dislike not having a real person in front of me to do business with. Buying something over the phone or over the internet is a socially deficient a transaction as it gets, and it deprives you of the all important face to talk to (or to punch) if you were scammed with your purchase.

    And don't talk to me about eBay user ratings: these are a joke. These sorts of credentials are a joke even in real-life: as the saying goes, really good con artists can sell you a turd and make you say thank you and beg for more.

    On the other hand, eBay brings sellers and buyers from the entire world together, and (more importantly), there's no lower price limit to what you can sell. So if I'm looking for Star Trek paraphernalia for example, I'm much more likely to find that miniature Klingon ship on eBay than from ads in the local newspaper.

    So, several years ago, the choice was tough for me: avoid doing business with people online, or be able to find great things? So one day I took the plunge, opened a PayPal account and starting bidding on things. Net result: out of 50-so items I won, I never received 4, and PayPal still owes me $150 of *my* money they just don't want to let go of.

    • I took the plunge awhile ago - I needed test equipment for a small company, and I just didn't have the funds to get proper SMT rework gear new, refurbised, or otherwise. I bought several thousand dollars of items from ebay - most of them under $500, and haven't had a single problem with equipment or buyers. You can spot many of the suspicious ads if you look, and if something bothers you, pass it up.

      One scam I hate is the shipping.. $5 items that fit in a courier pak costing $15 to ship? Please. Ebay needs
  • by peterdaly ( 123554 ) <petedaly&ix,netcom,com> on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:29AM (#9105165)
    All the while, ebay offers something no bricks and motar person to person broker can offer. (Is there even such a business!?)


    It's priceless. Any of the larger sellers have loads of honest feeback from purchasers. You can guage your own risk. It a model that works well when you understand it. Not only does it help the buyer, but it motivates the seller knowing that public feedback about the transaction will be left by the buyer.

    It's a system that works quite well, regarless of a lack of a bricks and motar parallel.

  • by logic-gate ( 682098 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:29AM (#9105166)
    With the exorbitant fees that ebay charge these days, you would find a way to offer buyer protection.

    What really cheeses me off about businesses that benefit from a network effect [] (like ebay) is that once they have their customers "locked in" there is no incentive for them to improve their business because it is very hard for competitors to challenge them.

    On a sidenote, check out New Zealand's version of ebay []. The interface is so much cleaner and easier to use. I'm surprised how e-bay can have such a crap, ugly interface and continue to operate as a successful company.

    • I'm surprised how e-bay can have such a crap, ugly interface and continue to operate as a successful company.

      Marketing 101 my friend: eBay tries to reproduce a garage sale, therefore their interface is carefully designed to be slightly hard to use, to make people warm and fuzzy when they find what they're looking for, just like in a garage sale.
  • I dunno. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gary Yogurt ( 664063 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:35AM (#9105192)
    I always thought of eBay as more of a venue than a store, sometimes it's a con's back alley and sometimes it's a friend's showroom. Either way the blindfold isn't removed when your package arrives, as described. (Or it's removed when you're alone in this metaphorical place and you start to wonder if anyone is still around.) I think people might be asking too much. I've only won about 35 auctions on eBay in four years, and I haven't been ripped off because I try really hard to research everything before bidding.

    I mean, it's a bit like expecting the guy who owns the parking lot to pay for your broken flea market merchandise.
  • 1) People selling links to pyramid sites instead of products
    2) Small groups of bidders buying things off each other to boost their ratings and add favourable comments before proceeding to rip off real buyers
    3) People blatantly selling pirated software
    4) Vendors promising to ship goods at cut-price rates from far-eastern countries - yeah, right 5) No facility to report plainly dishonest sales to eBay
  • by brokeninside ( 34168 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:40AM (#9105216)
    Ebay has been in business for over ten years now. They have been profitable for most of that time.

    And the submitter is asking if the business model is sustainable?

  • by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:42AM (#9105224) Homepage
    I personally have had a bad experience with an ebayer recently... Luckilly I only lost 45 ukp.

    I wanted a 802.11g card with a specific chipset (PrismGT), so having found a seller on ebay I bid and won the auction. The description of the item in the auction was very specific, quoting the modeul number, etc.

    3 weeks later (nice speedy delivery... not) I received a package, which I paid import duty on since the seller was in the states, only to discover that I had been sent an 802.11*B* card worth under 15ukp (and completely useless to me). So I tried to contact the seller to resolve the problem - the seller ignored all my emails. I opened a SquareTrade complaint which the seller ignored. The seller's account had been suspended by ebay shortly after the transaction so they obviously had complaints against him.

    However, the auction was paid for over PayPal and had a "PayPal buyer protection" icon on it, so I thought that I was safe... Wrong! I logged a complaint at PayPal, expecting them to refund my money and they said that the seller sending an incorrect item isn't covered by the protection.

    So what it comes down to is that if the seller had sent me what I ordered but it wasn't quite as shiny as it was described, I would've been covered, but since the seller sent me something completely different to what I ordered they won't cover me at all.

    IMHO the buyer protection scheme isn't worth anything and in the future I will be treating auctions covered by the buyer protection policy with the same suspicion as the unprotected auctions. As far as I could tell from the policy terms, I was covered, but PayPal (who are part of ebay) just weaseled out of it.
  • Ebay's has two very big problems. It has grown beyond the ability to effectively police itself. Also, it has integrated way too many things into the eBay system. It's hard to maintain "We're just a 'marketplace," since eBay collects fees from paypal and ebay for processing the auction and processing the payment. It would be very easy for a judge (especially in a tort crazy state like Mississippi) to levy a judgement against eBay/paypal. What irks/scares me, is the fact that eBay and Paypal share ALL of
    • is a scam as well.

      Go to the site. Notice the banner ads? They are for competing services to paypal. PAYPAL'S COMPETITION sponsor the site!!

      I feel MUCH safer with Paypal than I do with my bank. eBay depends greatly on good press. The days where "bad press" news items come out about eBay - the stock usually takes a 2-3 point hit. Paypal/ebay have stockholder's to please and analysts to appease with tight security. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than average? A resounding: YES!

      Read this art []
  • by Compact Dick ( 518888 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @07:52AM (#9105278) Homepage
    ... is the jerk-worthy quality of the lingerie section [].
  • Excelent article! Will read again! A++++++++++++++++++++++
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:03AM (#9105325) Homepage Journal
    That's a Big Difference.

    eBay is basically the crap you don't want or need anymore or the stuff you stole that you're trying to get rid of. So we all lower our own expectations accordinginly.

    Kinda like which is the last refuge for old/used/returned/opened equipment sold as new or something quite like that and you wouldn't really know it's crap until you read the fine print.

    Anyway, eBay would be a lot better without PayPal which is really just a polite way to steal from you. They take a system that basically works well; credit card sales, and they insinuate themselves into the middle of each transaction in order to suck a few more dollars out of you. Which truly sucks.

    Ah well you people made eBay what it is today. Enjoy.
  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:16AM (#9105409)
    The reporter entirely fails to grasp the most fundamental truth about eBay: eBay was started because Pierre Omidyar believed existing channels for sales transactions among individuals were entirely lacking. And it grew tremendously because he was absolutely right. The last thing in the world eBay wants to do is mimic existing systems. The point of eBay is to let an evolutionary process work things out. This is how PayPal came into existence, which has turned out to be a whole other solution that was only necessitated and made possible by eBay's choice to not address any but the most basic needs of their constituents; this is the whole point of why eBay works as it does. They don't presume to think they have all the answers as to what will work best, and instead trust the user base to help sort it out.

    Also worth noting is that ordering from a catalog a hundred years ago is nothing like these days, with lesser amounts of technical information, practically no standards, and nothing but hand-drawn pictures to go by for illustrations. These days, you can be a lot more certain of what you're buying than you were then, and there is no longer any need to overcome the resistance to ordering sight unseen, as was the case then.

    Oh, one other thing. The NYT reporter should have a look at what has become of Sears these days when considering how wise it would be to emulate them.

    • by nuggz ( 69912 )
      I haven't had any trouble.
      I have wandered in with damaged and defective Sears screwdrivers and gotten replacements with no receipt and issues.
      My wife orders clothes and if it doens't fit returns it without any problems.
      The staff is generally a step above much of the competition, both in knowledge, and customer service.
  • by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @08:41AM (#9105578) Homepage
    One of the great uses for small country households was to use the Sears and Robuck catalog for various purposes as it was a great deal of free paper..
  • by mec ( 14700 ) <> on Monday May 10, 2004 @09:10AM (#9105808) Journal
    The New York Times is a publicly traded company which sells advertising and subscriptions. They actually get about twice as much revenue from advertising as they do from subscriptions.

    Let's dig into the New York Times finances. I start at, click on Edgar filings, search for "New York Times", and grab the 10-K, the most recent annual filing.

    New York Times 10-K []

    For the year ended 2003-12-28, their revenus was $3.2 billion. Here's a breakdown:

    100% $3.2 billion total revenue
    66% $2.1 billion advertising
    27% $0.9 billion circulation
    07% $0.2 billion other

    Advertising revenue is up about 3.5% from 2002, but advertising volume, the number of inches of ads, dropped 3.8% from 2002 to 2003. The Times has been selling fewer ads but charging more for them.

    Summary: the primary business line of the New York Times company is selling ads. Internet companies such as eBay are cutting into that ad business. And that's why the New York Times has been trash-talking Google and eBay lately.
  • Yup (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @09:28AM (#9105948) Homepage Journal
    >> Is eBay Worse Than Early Sears Catalogs?

    As a former out-house owner, I have to say, "Yup". You can't wipe your ass with eBay.
  • In other news... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jaylee7877 ( 665673 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @09:29AM (#9105962) Homepage
    Apples aren't near as easy to peel as oranges...
  • by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @09:30AM (#9105968) Homepage Journal

    I have the unfortunate ability to see both sides of an issue, leading to me losing every argument I've ever been in. So here's my take.

    All of my transactions on eBay have been efficient and hassle free, even when buying big-ticket items (like a trombone). My dad, however, got burned once and will never use eBay again. So it is in eBay's best interest to make sure that sellers' and buyers' disputes are resolved amicably. And I can't see why they haven't been involved because they (and PayPal) have records of the transactions.

    However, I can see that eBay is merely a vector for the transactions, and that they don't have any fault in letting asshats get money out of unsuspecting people. And eBay, being a publicly traded company, has an obligation to its investors to make as much money as possible. Enforcement or arbitration would seriously eat into profits

    So a risk/benefit analysis is in order; see if it's more profitable to create a safe environment for both buyers and sellers, or to ignore it and avoid the cost of that service. Or wait for it to get so bad that the government regulates it and everyone ends up paying for their laziness and greed, like a lot of companies.

  • Use your own brain (Score:3, Informative)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @10:02AM (#9106268) Homepage
    Seriously, it is not hard to tell the scam artists from the honest retailers on e-bay. I suspect that most gripes come from people trying to get a deal that is "too good to be true".

    It is pointless to compare shopping on e-bay with going to a bricks and mortar retailer like Best Buy.

    E-bay is the wild west. The onus is on the buyer to look at feedback ratings, look at what elese the guys sells, and make an educated guess about the risk factor involved.

    If you decide to pay $250 for new super pentium4 notebook with lots of free software from a guy with no history called "ebaydood675", then you pretty much assume that it will never arrive.

    Sure there are scam artists on e-bay. There are also guys who go door to door selling aluminum siding, but I don't insist that the city should roll up the sidewalks to keep them away from my house.

    Instead of blaming e-bay or Pay-Pal (who, sure, don't really do anything if you do get ripped off) take some responsibility for your own decisions.

  • by mrnick ( 108356 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @10:22AM (#9106455) Homepage
    With Ebay's acquisition of PayPal they do offer buyer protection if you pay through PayPal. I had a friend that bought WiFi card through EBay that ended up being a broken piece of junk and the seller refused to do anything about it. Although it was not painless he was able to get his money back from PayPal. Once they refunded the money PayPal had him ship the broke card directly to them.

    Nick Powers
  • trusty Sears (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @10:29AM (#9106544) Homepage Journal
    Western Union, a popular Sears payment system, was never a wholly owned ripoff [] subsidiary.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @02:54PM (#9109262) Homepage
    He doesn't have a clue about the history of Sears. "Messy headquarters", indeed. The Sears, Roebuck "works" in Chicago was very organized in the early catalog years. Otto Doering designed the Sears order fulfillment center, with conveyors, chutes, bins, elevators, pneumatic tubes and railroad tracks. He invented the "schedule system". Nobody had ever had a business like that before, with every transaction different but handled in a very organized way. Without computers, even.

    Each incoming mail order was opened and read, then assigned a bin number and a 45-minute time slot. Pull tickets, with bin numbers, were filled out for each item and sent by pneumatic tube to different departments all over the "plant", where stock pickers took the item off a shelf and sent the item to the order assembly bins via conveyor. There, this being pre-bar-code, people grabbed the items off the conveyor as it passed the appropriate bin, and dropped the item with pull ticket in the bin.

    At the end of the time period for the current orders, all the filled bins were pulled and replaced with empty bins. The filled bins were sent off by conveyor to outgoing order processing, where the contents of the bin were checked against the original order, the appropriate bookkeeping operations were performed, and the order was shipped.

    Note how this works. The information moves, in the form of pick slips, and the merchandise moves, but there's little searching for merchandise. The order picking people don't move very far. In any one area, the people in that area know where the items in their area are (and they're all numbered, of course) so they can quickly pick items and put them on their outgoing conveyor. Order binning involves no paperwork; it's just putting items with numbered tags in bins. Order final assembly and checking starts with all the merchandise and paperwork in one place, and the people doing that work on only one order at a time, so that's straightforward. Packing and shipping consists of putting the contents of a bin in a box and adding a label created at order final assembly.

    In its day, the Sears, Roebuck center was considered a marvel of commerce.

    Order fulfillment operations still work a lot like that. Barcoding and computers have substantially reduced the number of people involved, but everybody still has bins and timeslots.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford