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A Brief History of Selling on Ebay and How Things Change Over Time

Aug 17, 2007
I began selling stuff on Ebay in July of 1998. Since then Ebay has grown to enormous proportions and I am not sure how many of the millions of people who visit Ebay every day really know much about what it was like and how it has changed. I will not pretend to present a comprehensive history of Ebay which may have already been done or will most certainly be done at some point in the future. Please, allow me to just relate my own experience of buying items and selling them for profit on Ebay.

In 1996 I was one of the co-founders of a company that provided local dial-up internet access for the small rural community where we live. The company is still in business and has grown with the times to now be a primary provider of high-speed wireless internet access in several communities in 3 counties in the area. So, I have been closely associated with the internet for the past 11 years.

In 1997 or so we started to hear about a web site called Ebay, an online auction site where people were buying and selling stuff. I was no stranger to auctions having attended auctions with my parents when I was a young child. And now as an adult, I still attended estate or farm auctions in the area. So, I checked out the site and thought it might be an interesting thing to try. In 1998 I registered as an Ebay user and started to look for some stuff to sell.

The first item I sold on Ebay was a little hand woven wool rug. It was only about 2 feet by 3 feet and quite worn because it was pretty old. I paid 5 dollars for it and it sold for 20 dollars which I thought was pretty good since it was four times what I had paid for it. If I had a hundred dollars worth of stuff sell for 400 hundred that would be some good money.

I was off and running to sales all over the area. My wife and I bought stuff of all sorts, brought it back to our office, took pictures, wrote descriptions, and listed the stuff during the evening so it would end a week later during the evening when people were home in front of their computers.

At that time Sunday evening was the prime time to have your auctions end. It was then that the largest volume of potential customers were on the Ebay site. Keep in mind that internet access at work was not nearly as prevalent as it is now. People used their computers from home in the evening. The downside to this was the Ebay site would become so busy the site would sometimes become unresponsive for buyers and sellers alike.

There was nothing worse than having to wait for a couple of minutes for each page view in the listing process to happen or, worse yet, have some one trying to bid on your stuff that is ending in a couple of minutes and they cannot get the page up. Ebay was working furiously to update its software and hardware and its internet connections to handle the traffic that just continued to grow.

On the Ebay front page it used to say how many items were for sale at any given time. I remember seeing that figure at around 800,000 and thinking it was huge. I do not know how many millions of items are now for sale on Ebay at any given time and not sure if they even say any more.

I have always focused on selling antiques and collectibles on Ebay. Like any other area of the country there are 8 or 10 auctioneers in a four county area around us. When we really started to go to auctions a lot there would be anywhere from 2 to 6 auctions during any given week one could attend. We bought a lot of stuff because it was usually cheap.

I would have 50 to 75 items for sale on Ebay at any given time. A person could buy stuff for a dollar or two or maybe a little more and list it on Ebay for a minimum of 9.99 and it would sell for maybe 15 or 20 dollars or more. You never knew what something would bring which is why it was so much fun. It seemed like you could sell just about anything for a profit.

Estate sales and auctions have always been my largest source of items to sell on Ebay. In 1998 and for a few years after these auctions were attended by the local public, maybe a couple of collectors, and a handful of antique dealers.

Nowadays, upon arriving at an auction site there are still those same groups of people but there is another group who have come exclusively looking for items to sell on Ebay. These people may have come from 50, 100, 200, or more miles away.

Before the auction you see people going through the days offerings while talking to someone on a cell phone who is probably in front of a computer telling them what something might potentially bring or has sold for on Ebay. Sometimes these people are specialized or sometimes they seem to want to buy everything at the sale. Consequently, prices at live auctions have risen to where many items sell for what they might sell for on Ebay and the people who seem to have to buy everything are most likely just spinning their wheels and really going nowhere.

The cost of doing business on Ebay has steadily increased over the years. It is still a bargain considering the market exposure your offerings receive. In the past the expenses associated with selling on Ebay were kind of an afterthought. Now the expenses are something to consider.

I will certainly continue to sell items on Ebay with the hope of picking up some extra cash from time to time. There are numerous methods, books, and programs to make millions on Ebay. Some of them may work but probably only if you are willing to work hard at it. I am sure there are lots of people whose sole enterprise is selling things on Ebay. There are people selling stuff from warehouses, offices, garages, home offices, off the dining room table, or their bedroom. All of them contributing to making Ebay the most successful online business of them all.
About the Author
Michael Dappert is a co-founder of Winco, Inc., a provider of wireless internet access to small communities in West Central Illinois. Everyone is invited to discuss a wide range of issues at Flyoverfolks.com .
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