An eBay story … from a collector and dealer
June 8, 2008
A few months ago, David Grisman bought a mandolin from me.
It’s true. I never thought that I would be involved in a commercial deal with one of the greatest mandolin players in the world, but on eBay, I’ve had the opportunity to buy and sell an assortment of pretty amazing things to an assortment of equally amazing people ” such as David “Dawg” Grisman, who, to my utter delight, made the winning bid on my 1921 Vega Cylinderback
I started “doing eBay” back in 1999, lured by the opportunity to add to my antique doll collection. Soon, eBay was turning me into something I had always wanted to become ” an antique toy dealer. The market was at an all-time high; bears and dolls were getting record prices at auction houses, and wonderful rarities began turning up on the fledgling website. By helping me put to use my lifelong knowledge of antique doll and bear collecting, eBay enabled me to pay not only for necessities such as my monthly medical insurance, but also for luxuries such as vacations in Yorkshire.
In 2002, I began touring as a cruise ship musician and didn’t decide to come back to land until 2005. I had picked up a Colorado husband along the way, who toured with me too, and when we settled in Big Thompson Canyon that summer, I explained to him how easy it would be to start up my antiques business again by selling on eBay.
But I made one major mistake. I forgot about eBay’s No. 1 tip for sellers ” stay on top of the current market.
In the three years I had been at sea, literally, the world had changed. The prices that I bought and sold dolls and bears for in 2000 were long a thing of the past, blown away in the debris of a collapsed market due to 9/11, the war in Iraq and other factors we’re all too familiar with. I didn’t have much access to eBay while we were touring, so I had no idea how prices had plummeted.
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Instead of getting official blue book prices for my treasures, I found I was lucky to get half of what I paid for them. After a few weeks of this, frantic e-mails to some of my antique bear dealer friends in England confirmed my own experience ” they were doing the worst business of their careers as well.
I thought I had done my homework ” and I had. But my homework was outdated.
EBay Rule Number One for buyers and sellers: Know your current market ” no exceptions.
For those of you who haven’t yet jumped on the eBay bandwagon, here are a few facts. Founded in September of 1995, eBay today has a global presence in 39 markets. According to the eBay Web site, there are approximately 83.9 million active users worldwide, and net revenues totaled $1.48 billion in the first quarter of 2008, with 45 percent coming from U.S. operations. The gross merchandise volume, which represents the total value of all successfully closed items on eBay, so far this year has totaled $16 billion (last year’s total was more than $59 billion).
More fast facts: EBay users worldwide trade $2,040 worth of goods on the site every second (and I know that over the last nine years I’ve certainly added to that number). EBay users have access to more than 50,000 categories. At any given time, there are approximately 115.3 million listings worldwide, with 6.9 million listings added per day.
Oh ” and the most expensive item so far found on eBay? It was a private business jet, listed at $4.9 million. And yes, it sold.
Some of my favorite things on eBay have included a deck chair salvaged from the Titanic (starting bid $250,000), a box filled with the entire works of my favorite author, Mary Webb ” all first editions autographed for her sister in the ’20s (and yes, of course I bought the box, for a mere $450), a genuine invitation to Baby Doe Tabor’s wedding in Denver (I bid, but I couldn’t afford it and still regret it), and a real working Ferris Wheel from 1936, which just happens to be on the site this week, at a starting bid of $25,000.
If you’ve got some internet surfing time to kill, it can be a delightful pastime to browse through eBay’s silly section, which can feature such dubious items as a piece of toast bitten into by Elvis, or the immortal souls of various sellers willing to part with them for filthy lucre. Immortal soul-selling has, by now, become old hat on eBay.
These days, like many people, I use eBay as a garage sale clearing house. It’s the ultimate tool for recycling. I even bought a dress dummy so that this summer I can start trying to sell some of the six suitcases of clothing I brought back from my touring days.
But with the economy the way it is, this time I’m not taking any chances. That’s why I sought out eBay’s official goodwill ambassador, Jim Griffith, known to the entire eBay community as “Griff.” Griff is the author of “The Official eBay Bible,” and serves as the Dean of eBay Education. Hailed as the world’s greatest expert on eBay buying and selling, Griff hosts the popular “eBay Radio” and “Ask Griff” shows on internet radio, and makes appearances on behalf of the site throughout the country.
I called Griff at his home in San Jose to ask if he could share a few pointers with the rest of us. Griff first started eBaying in 1996, shortly after the website was created. He was looking for an obsolete chip for an old IBM computer, and a friend e-mailed him about eBay.
“I bid on it and won it ” and I was hooked,” said Griff.
“EBay is a great place to find the rare, one-of-a-kind or hard-to-find thing,” he added. “What keeps me really excited about it is knowing there’s that unusual find or treasure that may be there when you click on the next web page.”
The excitement of discovery, as well as the lure of the chase ” in an international marketplace, no less ” brought right to your own home, are what make eBay so successful, Griff says.
“With very little money you can put something up for sale and have it exposed to buyers around the world, rather than putting it in the local paper or garage sale,” he said. “And as a buyer, you have access to the biggest variety of items on the planet, all right there at your fingertips.”
Next week, we’ll look at Griff’s biggest tips for buying and selling successfully. In the meantime, according to Griff, it’s a good idea to browse around the ‘Bay for a while, and stake out your territory.
“Don’t rush into it,” he advised. “There’s so much to look at. Browse around first and get to know the site, and how it works.”
As seasoned eBayers will tell you, you can never do too much surfing.
Look for part two of this story next week.