e-Commerce Options: Part 3

The first two installments of A Look at e-Commerce Options for Individuals and Small Businesses focused on an introduction to e-Commerce options and Etsy as selling tool for small-to-medium-sized businesses and individual entrepreneurs. The next installment focuses on web auction giant eBay and will be followed by e-Commerce website options and conclusions in posts to follow.


For those who are looking to sell products and services that do not fall into one of Etsy’s categories, or maybe fall into more than one category, a clear and widely-known alternative would be eBay (www.ebay.com). The auction website giant was founded in 1995 under the name AuctionWeb by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar, and the first item sold was a broken laser pointer for $14.83. Since that time, eBay has grown to include several subsidiary e-commerce websites (eBay Motors, Shopping.com, Half.com, and StubHub.com to name a few); investments and partnerships with Skype and Craigslist; and payment options provided by Paypal and Bill Me Later (“eBay Inc.”).

Like Etsy, eBay is free to join and has an easy process for listing items; no special coding or knowledge is required, but the seller may use some HTML in their product descriptions if they would like to. With eBay, a seller has more customized features when it comes to listing a product for sale. For example, a woman chooses to sell a large collection of old vinyl records on eBay. She chooses to have a traditional 7 day auction with a starting bid of $5.00, a “Buy It Now” feature so someone can buy the records for $59.99 if they do not want to wait for the auction to end, and a reserve price (a minimum price that she would sell the items for) of $40.00. She can also choose what methods of shipping to offer, set a flat-rate price for shipping or have a price calculated based on the buyer’s zip code, add on a little extra for shipping and handling to cover the purchase of packaging materials, or offer combined shipping discounts for people who might want to purchase multiple items from her listings (“eBay Customer Support”).

With hundreds of categories available to list a product in, eBay is a good resource for selling products in a variety of different markets, especially niche markets. An eBay store can be listed in up to 300 categories (although using only 20 to 40 categories is just as effective and in fact recommended by eBay) and can be used as a stand-alone supplement to an e-commerce website in order to reach many different people around the world. Customers widely recognize and feel safe using Paypal checkout software, which is built right into eBay and allows for a quick, easy, and secure way for customers to make a payment to a seller. Skype is a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) tool which allows voice communication over the internet, and eBay has integrated it into their website so sellers can easily communicate with buyers. This is a good option for those who might still be hesitant about purchasing items on eBay and who would like to communicate with a “live” voice rather than sending eBay messages back and forth when conducting a purchase (“eBay Customer Support”).

Because there are listing and selling fees, which vary depending on how much an listed item costs and what features are used when creating a listing, eBay might not be a good option for individuals and small businesses with a lot of items to sell. If control in the level of customization of the storefront, presentation of products, and methods of communication are concerns for a seller, eBay might not be a good option to use, either, because these aspects are controlled and limited by eBay. Sellers with a few items to sell at a time might come to find that their listings are getting lost among the millions of items that are listed on eBay, especially if they have generic or few keywords in their listing title. If a seller wants his/her products differentiated from the rest, there are additional charges to get a listing at the top of a category page, to put the title of the auction in bold face, to add a picture along side of the listing, and more. As expected, all of these “a la cart” features available to customize listings, in addition to the listing and selling fees themselves, can add up and cut into the profit made on the item being sold if a seller is not careful to limit which ones he/she chooses (“eBay Customer Support”).

Discussion Questions: Do you trust using eBay for making purchases? Why or why not? Have you ever purchased anything odd, rare, or super-niche from eBay?

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