The eBay of Pigs

By | Dec 11, 2008

Remember those junky flea markets that used to pop up in small towns on Saturdays, selling everything from sports cards to handmade clothes? There was that toothless old lady with a table of home-made treats; don’t worry, there isn’t any danger of food poisoning here. Remember the guy with the van of electronics? If he were still there today that van might have iPods with ears still attached to the headphones… but don’t let appearances fool you – this guy is legitimate.

eBay brought the flea market concept to the Internet, enabling stay-at-home moms to sell their crafts to the world at large. This is a medium especially tailored to individuals who understand the concept of presentation – I once read about a gentleman who was able to sell a handful of sticks from his back yard when he packaged them in a nice-looking container and described them as the perfect way to bring the outdoors in.

In order to bring about an uptick in customer trust, eBay has recently poured resources into making its site more shopper-friendly. By de-emphasizing its core competence (auctions) in favour of instant gratification through “buy it now”-type sales, eBay hopes to compete with the likes of Amazon this holiday season.

Too bad the plan failed. Whereas the majority of online retailers are seeing increases in sales, eBay is suffering a decline this quarter; its share value has dropped through the floor.

How did this happen? By positioning itself into the retail market, eBay has suddenly shifted focus away from its strength (that is, auctions) and placed itself into direct competition with the companies like Amazon whom it sought to emulate. Amazon has a lot of experience connecting smaller merchants to retail customers, and is well-positioned to annhiliate any retail offering by eBay.

It is the quality of the auctioneering platform that makes eBay unique. Although it was an interesting idea to try this change, hopefully the minds in charge will realize this and bring back our beloved digital flea market before it goes too far down the saturated road that is direct e-commerce.

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