Sunday, 18 October 2009

No such thing as a free lunch.....or postage!

Well folks, apologies in advance for a bit of a rant, but if I cant rant on my own blog where can I? The subject is eBay. I used to be a big fan. As a bookseller, I was at one time selling a large amount of my stock on eBay and was a ‘highly exalted’ power seller. I also used to love buying bargains there. Now it has all changed. A series of management (or is that mis-management) decisions over the last couple of years has drastically altered the auction site – and not for the better. The consensus of opinion seems to be that the site is moving towards becoming just another homogenous internet mall instead of the interesting and quirky place it used to be. There is a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction with the website, and from the moment eBay announced its latest changes, this dissatisfaction has turned to real anger amongst many eBay users.

Lately there have been a series of fee hikes for the smaller business and private seller, whilst the huge sellers of new goods are being given concessions left, right and centre. Also changes in the way buyers can search for goods has given prominence to such merchant shops, making it well nigh impossible to search for bargains without ploughing through literally hundreds of similar highly priced items from these big companies.

The latest change – coming into implementation on the 19th October – is to introduce ‘free’ postage in a huge range of categories, including books and videos. But this is a misnomer, it is not free at all and in fact spells disaster for many small businesses and private sellers and is detrimental even for the buyers. How? Well, obviously we sellers cannot post items for free, as unfortunately neither the Royal Mail or any courier service I know of is that obliging! We must therefore add our postage costs to the actual cost of our items when we list them now, and because this increased cost will mean we are paying a final fee percentage of a larger amount to ebay (surprise, surprise) we either have to swallow the loss or add this extra on top of the selling price – thus the majority of goods on ebay will actually probably go up in price.

So much for free postage. Not only is it not free, if you are a buyer you will be more likely to be paying MORE! And it doesn’t stop there because postage discounts for multiple items may also become a thing of the past: how can you give a discount on ‘free’ postage?

But the people who will suffer the most are the private individuals who list a few unwanted things on auction occaisionally, taking advantage of the no auction fee for 99p or less auctions in order to make a few extra quid (much needed in this time of recession). This new change makes a complete mockery of the free listing fees for low cost items - for what things can you post for less than 99p? A light skinny paperback book or DVD costs 76p, a video £1.85, and this does not even take packaging costs into account. These sellers will actually be making a loss on everything they sell at 99p or less if they cannot charge for P &P and so will have no reason to continue listing items.Unless of course they want to risk losing re-listing fees for items which they know may take a few weeks to sell. Say goodbye to those little luxuries the extra money may have afforded, you sellers. And you buyers who would have bought these nice little bargains are also left out in the cold.

Perhaps it wouldn’t stick in the craw so much if eBay wasn’t trumpeting on about free postage as if they are doing everyone a favour and telling us smugly that they have come up with this policy to protect buyers from “excessive P&P costs.” This smacks of the Government’s new crack-downs on sick benefits to the chronically ill, telling such people that they are far better off in work Yeah right, having to drag yourself out of your sick bed and work all day feeling like death, really puts a twinkle in your eye and a spring in your step. In both cases they are trying to pretend they are soliticous of our welfare, when money is the real issue.

I think people would be able to accept the changes, if not with equinamity, but at least with less anger if eBay would just come out and say the real reason they are doing this: that they want to make more money by getting a commission from postage charges and they want to gradually phase out the private sellers and their 99p bargains and the smaller shops who don’t make them much profit. (Just as the Government wants to save money by shipping off all the sick people back to work!) For this is the truth. And another truth is, if this does happen, then buyers will lose those bargains, the huge diversity of items, the interesting and unique things which you could only find on eBay – and it will become just one more boring seller of electrical goods and DVDs.

For myself, I am shutting my ebay shop of 7 years standing, come 19th October. From selling about 75% of my stock there, this has dwindled to a handful of things a week, and is just not worth the expenditure any more. I may list the odd thing there, but I will mainly be selling on my own websites. I will also be trying ebid which is the main rival to ebay in terms of internet auction sites. OK, perhaps at the mo as much of a rival to eBay as your local computer shop is to Bill Gates, but hopefully when the bargains start disappearing from eBay, perhaps more people will turn there instead. It already has the potential to be the new eBay, and this could be the boost it needs.

I am angry at eBay, but in the end it is a business and it has decided that it can make more money with its new policies. This remains to be seen, but even if its balance sheets do improve, it will be at the expense of something which had become an institution. So my main emotion is sadness that we seem to be coming to the end of an era in internet auctions.

Read or take part in an eBay chat forum discussion about some of these issues