Saturday, November 15, 2008

eBid alternative auction site - remember when selling was fun?

When it comes to selling books I don't mind admitting to being a bit of a site-tart. I'll sell my books via any outlet that looks like it will do the job. But some sites make it more fun than others, and some seem to have lost their sense of fun and community altogether.

Like most small-scale online retailers, I started out on ebay. Five or six years ago it was pretty much the only place to be. But as you probably already know, in the last year there's been
something of a sea-change at ebay. A place that built its reputation on small business sellers flogging a few widgets, and hobby sellers emptying their actics, decided that wasn't the reputation it wanted after all. Bits and bobs, odds and ends, interesting rarities were not the way it wanted to be perceived. Nope, ebay wanted to be the world's biggest box shifter. Pile 'em high, but not necessarily sell 'em cheap... after all, we've all learned something from Gerald Ratner, no?

Don't get me wrong, ebay's a business and they're entitled to take whatever business decisions they choose. They're still market leaders, and they still get the greatest foot-traffic of any of the alternatives, and I'm still making sales there, thangkewverymuch. But by squeezing the small seller, upping fees, increasing the prohibitive rules (you must offer paypal, you must ship DVDs free, you mustn't link to your own site, you must not pass go or collect 200 pounds...) they've made selling there a less than gigglesome experience. And frankly, I like a bit of a giggle now and again. So what's the alternative?

Well, the good news is, there is one! is the alternative auction site, recently voted best ebay alternative by webuser mag', and is growing exponentially as more and more se
llers depart ebay's shores - if not forever, then surely for a break to test the waters elsewhere. But there's the rub, it's the sellers that are leaving, not the buyers. The browsers just aren't there in vast numbers yet. But I look at it this way: you don't get shoppers in a mall when it's still a pile of bricks. Now, ebid's well past the "pile of bricks" stage and is a working retail outlet where buyers and sellers are getting together every day and money is being made. But there's no denying it's much s l o w e r than other more established outlets. So I'm going with "build the shop, and they will come".

What are the advantages? Mostly it's the people. All ebid users, buyers or sellers, will appreciate the friendly and helpful forums, especially if they've ever strayed into the bear pits that exist elsewhere. On the whole, the community is helpful and supportive, and stupid questions (yes, there are such things, I don't buy the alternative theory ;o)) tend to get answered with patient understanding... or maybe just a small amount of sighing and the occasional leg-pull... nobody's perfect! Rows rarely develop, and when they do, they tend to get quashed pretty quickly by the management. And there's the next advantage...

eBid is run by a pair of entrepreneurs (and a mysterious and shady bunch of sidekicks that are neither named nor numbered) known collectively and affectionately as "da boyz". Mark and Gazza, to give them their real if informal titles, set up eBid together some years ago and, incredible in this day of anonymous mega-corps, can still occasionally be seen flitting about the site. Requests for changes to category structures for listing will be pounced upon by Gazza in category-blitz mode from time to time. Announcements about planned outages (always helpful, never accurate!) are made in person. When users with problems post their woes on the forums, a "can you give us the item number?" from Da Boyz is not unusual. They're human, they're present, and they show every sign of actually caring about their customers. How extraordinary!

The selling forms and setting up of defaults is simple to use, though it's unfamiliarity can cause problems for those not used to change. Sellers can have up to five stores at no extra charge. Listing prices start at nothing for those with the most expensive membership (and that's just fifty pounds for lifetime membership - it's even cheaper outside the UK). Small fees are payable for extras, such as additional photographs or gallery listings. Listing formats are flexible, allowing a range of durations, automatic reposting, free scheduling and many other clever options. And six times a month eBid uploads details of current listings to Google, for added exposure. Payment methods are more varied, and far more flexible, with sellers being able to make their own choices about what is and isn't accepted.

There are problems, beyond the smaller buyer-base: the site reliability is definitely not all that it could be, with occasional planned and unplanned outages. Invoicing to buyers is somewhat erratic, although issues when raised do at least get addressed. Facilities for bulk-uploading are limited, and rely to some extent on willing ebidders providing third-party solutions. The help files are terse, and tricky to navigate... though the forums provide excellent support on a volunteer basis.

Which brings us back to the start again. What makes eBid special? The people. Why not come along and meet them? You can pick up a bargain while you're there.

Happy reading (and happy shopping!)