The changing face of eBay: goodbye to a large auction seller and live auctions…

April 15, 2008

ChannelAdvisor ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

When eBay announced the fee changes in January, we created a couple of categories of sellers and named one of them ‘auction traditionalist‘.  For me, auction traditionalist are sellers that:

  • Run everything in no reserve auction format
  • Traditionally have very low starting points (penny, .99, $1, etc.)
  • Usually have 100% conversion rates and very high bidder activity
  • Most of the sellers live in the collectibles category, but they can also be found in lots of other categories (CDs, shoes, etc.)

If you look at the fee changes, the auction traditionalists had the biggest hit from a % increase model.

Then today we have news that eBay is EOL’ing the Live auction platform.  I have to say this is probably a good move.  As a buyer, I always hated when I’d get excited to find something there and then realise it was the @#$@! live auction stuff (little blue paddle gives it away).  This was so painful to register and use, I never took the time as a buyer to mess with it.  That being said there are some very large jewelry and collectible sellers that sell 10’s of millions of dollars by our calculations on the platform so hopefully that GMV migrates to core.

It ain’t easy, being an auction traditionalist (with apologies to Kermit the Frog)

The increasing fees for traditionalists plus the demise of Live auctions coupled with Stephanie’s comments at ChannelAdvisor Catalyst that eBay will look more and more like a retail site and you can understand why auction traditionalists tend to be freaking out right now.

I’ve been buddies with one such seller for a long time.  He’s never been a ChannelAdvisor customer, but I always seek him out at industry events because he has not only been at this for over a decade, but he is a super intelligent guy and I always learn something when I talk to him.  I’m talking about Bruce Hershenson, CEO of emovieposter (website, ebay).

Bruce gives eBay the Heisman?  (If you don’t get it, check out the statue here for a visual)

I noticed recently that Bruce’s listings were plummeting and he usually has near 1000 listings live at any time (I scan them for Star Wars posters.).  I reached out to Bruce and was intrigued to hear that Bruce was leaving eBay.  He has opened his own auction site at his website and moved all of his items there.  This is an interesting development because many industry pundits (myself included) kind of assumed that eBay had some flexibility with the Auction Traditionalist.  Sure their fees were getting a hike, but heck, where do they have to go?  I guess Bruce didn’t feel that way.

Bruce graciously submitted to an interview that I think everyone will find interesting.  Bruce is an eBay Strategies reader so if you have any questions or comments, I’m sure he’ll respond in the comments as time allows.

The Bruce Interview – An Auction Traditionalist leaving eBay for his own auction site.

Q:How did you get into selling posters?

I was a comic book dealer/collector starting in 1966 (I did the VERY first EC reprints in 1973, long before Russ Cochran!), and in 1969 I bought a bunch of movie posters at a comic book show. I was a full-time comic book dealer from 1970-75, and then left the hobby, becoming a pro poker player (winning one of the World Series events in 1981), and then a Registered Options trader on the floor of the Philadelphia Exchange.

In 1989 I quit trading, and I decided to play around with buying and selling movie posters. But one thing led to another, and in 1990 I organised the first ever all-movie poster auction at a major auction house, and it took in just under a million dollars. Over the next 8 years I organised 9 more Christie’s auctions, and ran a million dollar a year mail order poster business.

In 2000 I moved my business completely to eBay, having dabbled on eBay for two years, and by 2008 was selling 60,000 items a year for around $3 million.

(Note from Scot: Wow, where else do you meet an ex-comic dealer, options trader, world poker winning movie poster seller?)

Q: When did you start selling on eBay?

When I first looked on eBay in 1998, the movie poster market was extremely feeble.  But I saw great potential, and I started selling a few items just to get the experience, and by 2000 I was an “eBay believer”, and so I moved my entire business there.

Q:How long have you been on eBay?  Any idea what your total GMV has been?

I have been a member of eBay for 10 years (March 9th made 10 years), but a full-time seller since 2000.  I have sold over 300,000 items for over $13 million.

(Scot note: that’s a lot of coin folks!)

Q: As an ‘auction traditionalist’, the recent ebay fees must have hit you hard, what kind of impact did they have?

Because I sell exactly the kind of items that are hit the worst by eBay’s fee increases (100% sell-through, $50 ASP), the fee increase for my business was approximately 40%.  If I could get the 5% discount for high DSRs, it would be 22%, and if I could get a 15% discount for high DSRs, it would be approximately 13%.

Q: You have an unusually high repeat customer rate, is that one of the reasons you think you’ll be able to survive+thrive ‘off eBay’ with your own auction site?

We have sold 300,000 items to approximately 30,000 people, which is one of the highest repeat ratios on all of eBay.  Because most of those 30,000 people view buying posters from me as being a personal transaction, and NOT as being simply “buying on eBay”, and because we have always highly stressed customer satisfaction in all of our transactions for both the 10 years we have been on eBay and the 10 years prior to that, we believe the vast majority of our customers will have no problem making the transition of buying directly from us, rather than going through eBay, especially because many of them have a dim view of eBay themselves.

Q: Will you go cold turkey on eBay or still leverage eBay for customer/bidder acquisition?

I have 20 employees, so I will be selling on eBay for a short while, but I hope to transition my entire business off of eBay before too long.  It is not that I have any negative feelings towards eBay, but I think it would be confusing for my customers to continue selling on both venues, because of the nature of my business (no reserve auctions with a high sell-through).

Q: If you had a message for the leadership of eBay, what would it be?

I would ask them the question I asked them at the e-commerce forum, a question I never had much of an answer to, which is, “I am exactly the sort of seller who helped make eBay what it is, a no reserve seller of fun one-of-a-kind items, who takes care of his customers before, during, and after the sale, and why is there no longer a place for me on eBay, especially since you are going out of your way to cater to the media sellers, most of which list lots of items that don’t sell, and who mostly have generally mediocre feedback and poor to nonexistent customer service?”

I would also ask them why, in the face of their endlessly reinventing eBay, won’t they even consider qualifying all users, which would solve most of eBay’s woes, because right now, bad sellers can come back a day after they are kicked off, and bad bidders can endlessly re-register, but if all users were qualified properly, then it would be people who are being kicked off, and not just IDs?

<end interview>

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