The eBay Antiques Category Is A Mess, I'm a fan of eBay but it's time they grow up.
eBay's Myopic View Retards Site Growth to 5%
The eBay Antiques category, as we all know for the last 12 years has been in a slow downward spiral. The one-time amazing place to sell antiques and art has devolved into a less and less viable business venue. eBay's anxiety to grow the site with their misguided one size fits all approach has been a failure. Further exacerbated by their own benign neglect and visionless management of the site in general. The eBay Antiques' category is only a micro example of a larger problem impacting the site.
What's gone wrong on the once terrific site and Antiques category is reminiscent of Lingchi, "death by a thousand cuts."
Today eBay severely lags behind their competition with anemic growth and no apparent vision to rejuvenate the site.
First, eBay The Visually and Structurally Outdated Train Wreck Of A Website
Since eBay began two decades ago, it's gone through several major facelifts. Sadly despite having billions of dollars, they by all indications so far have been unable to hire a competent highly skilled graphic designer. A designer with real skills on a par with perhaps the late Masimo Vignelli.
The concept of good timeless, elegant design seems beyond them. Today, eBay has the "dated" look of the old Yahoo, not that the new Yahoo is much better. Only made worse by the confusing over promoted category irrelevant internal pages.
Trying to be all things to all people on all pages makes for a poor user experience for sellers and buyers.
No Longer An Industry Leader, But a Wanna Be Site
We've been using eBay now for nearly 20 years, I remember what it was once like. Sadly the one-time visionary site has become a "me too, me too, wanna be site" like so many others.
Instead of a being a leader, eBay has fallen prey to an obsession with quarterly earnings at the expense of trail blazing. eBay should know better, worrying about and chasing the competition has been the death knell for thousands of Dot.coms. The company needs to undergo a serious self-examination, from the ground up.
The required change is massive as eBay is now years behind other online venues. They need to be innovative once again or continue to fall behind.
5% annual growth, in a market where your competitors are growing by 19% to 35% means you in effect have negative growth.
One Of eBay's First Big Mistakes
A few years ago when eBay had market momentum, they began toughening seller rules. They eliminated "Buyer FeedBack", gave dishonest complaining buyers the benefit of the doubt almost without exception. They then broadened the range and allowable reasons for leaving NEGS for sellers.
A typical case was one we went through. After providing a 100% refund including return shipping when we wouldn't give a 50% partial blackmail refund. The buyer left us a NEG after we blocked him from future bidding. The buyer's NEG claimed we refused to give him the REFUND. I called eBay to have it removed, they checked and saw he had been fully refunded including return shipping. They then informed me the NEG could not be removed as it was "His opinion" he hadn't been refunded.
I was not alone in this type of experience, which has resulted in tens of thousands of sellers moving their businesses to other online venues. eBay, is now viewed by many as a looser.
eBay's "The Chicken or the Egg" Philosophy and Massive Hubris
I was told 10 years ago by an eBay staffer "our view is, as long as eBay has the buyers, the sellers will stay with us". I pointed out, "your sellers will leave if they are losing money, buyers follow sellers, not the other way around. Sellers cannot stay if they are losing money". I was right, eBay was wrong. In effect, eBay's hubris killed a potentially huge golden goose.
Where and how people shop on the web ultimately hinges solely on where the products are being offered. Sellers will always seek the venue that suits them best financially, the buyers will find them.
eBay is Not Even Close To The Only Game In Town
Today you have a lot of good choices depending what you sell, nearly all of them made viable by eBay's abuse of sellers. One only need to look at the growth of ETSY, 1st Dibs, Trocadero, Ruby Lane, Live Auctioneers, Christie's-Online and now FACE BOOK has entered the market. These are just a few, there are many more, as well as dealers selling off their own sites.
This phenomenon is not limited to just Antique sellers, but every item category on eBay's platform. Sellers are going elsewhere or reducing what they sell on eBay. As a consequence, eBay's growth has in effect died.
Antiques, "the site's red-headed stepchild"
Ebay has never understood the mindset of Antique and Art buyers. Frankly, I don't think they've ever even tried. Despite eBay's investments in staff who understand Tech toys, household items, designer brands, they've have not done the same for "Antiques". The category has in essence, become the site's redheaded stepchild. Sadder still is the fact it could with smart management be a major source of revenue.
Instead of recognizing the incredible revenue stream potential from art and antiques, eBay has decided the Antiques business is a dying market. This is despite the fact that since jettisoning "Live Auctions" years ago, the resulting spin-off has since done 44 Billion in business. eBay could have had it all, but they blew it through ignorance of the market.
eBay seems willfully blind to the potential at their finger tips. They should take a page from what they knew when starting "EBAY MOTORS".
When "eBay Motors" was launched eBay recognized buying a car and car parts is a unique market. They knew to be sucessful required hiring a special staff to handle the category, they hired "CAR PEOPLE". eBay did it, they set up a special area on the site for it. They treated the AUTO section much differently in every way and it worked. Last year eBay Auto part's sales rose a whopping 17%. Combined with car sales the "Auto" section did 10 billion in sales with over 12 million unique users. ebay Motors now accounts for over 10% of the company's gross of goods sold.
So why not take the same approach and do the same with the eBay Antiques Category? Perhaps they could do the same for many categories.
Only the eBay Antiques category is dying, only on eBay
How eBay decided Antiques are a dying market is no mystery. They made ill conceived decisions which discouraged sellers and buyers participation, so business volumes naturally declined. Unlike other categories, they've historically refused to consider Art and Antiques as a unique market. By eBay's logic, an Apple Store is the same as a visit to DIDIER AARON in Paris or Jorge Welsh in London-Lisbon. As a consequence, they are all presented within eBay's limited antiquated cookie-cutter site.
Collectors are driven by something entirely different, whether it's a $45 antique lace or a $75,000 Yongzheng bowl, they are passionate about art. eBay has utterly ignored this reality for nearly 20 years, it's cost them billions.
Rejuvenating the eBay Antiques Category, what must be done
eBay must change, they must adopt an entirely new view and understanding of the antiques and art market. In order to do it, they'll need to recognize it will take a significant investment. They will need to hire a staff with deep lifelong understandings of the business. They need a vision of just how massive the art market is and really want to dominate it.
- VETTING FAKES, if you list a knock off of nearly anything on eBay, it is removed usually very quickly. This covers everything from Gucci loafers to children's toys. However, with antiques, they do nothing unless it's illegal to sell, like endangered species based objects.
- Create a NEW section for only Antiques and Art. A separate and distinct part of the site both in its look and feel, like eBay Motors. Designed with elegant tasteful lines and spaces, not the garrish jumble now afflicting the site.
- Hire experienced lifelong dealers. Not armchair appraisers or yard sale pickers, or "Art Historians", but professional dealers. Professionals who've been "in the trade" for at least 20 years. Hire dealers or auctioneers who've handled hundreds of good estates and collections. Estates with everything from nick nacks, to major paintings to fine jewelry. They NEED professionals.
- Establish Firm RULES for making listings, just like eBay Motors. Requiring full descriptions, age, measurements, country or origin and much more.
- Non-Payer Problem, probably the largest singular reason for antique sellers leaving eBay are Non-Payers. On this topic, eBay is nearly silent. They allow buyers to repeatedly fail to pay for winning auctions without impacting their priveledges on the site. Additionally, they fail miserably at preventing buyers who have been kicked off to return under new user names. Many return within days or hours without issue.
- Blocking Buyers, permit sellers to set tougher bidder participation rules.
Are you eBay Antiques Category seller? Let us know what you think. Tell us what changes would be helpful for you.
eBay needs to grow up and worry less about the next quarter and focus on the next ten years. If not, the market will decide their future for them. They will go the way of Wang Labs, Polaroid, Yahoo and many other once highly successful companies who failed to look ahead.
Thanks for visiting, Peter
Is eBay unaware that Sotheby's and Christie's revenues have doubled in the last 10 years, despite increased competition? This year each will do roughly $9,000,000,000 (nine billion) in sales.
"What's gone wrong on the once terrific site and Antiques category is reminiscent of Lingchi, "death by a thousand cuts."
Famous last words from eBay Executive
"as long as eBay has the buyers, the sellers will stay with us."
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