Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

eBay? Don’t e-Bother

Do you remember that scene from the movie Pretty Woman, when Vivian (played by Julia Roberts) was shunned by the saleswomen in that exclusive Beverly Hills boutique? Well, I know exactly how she felt. Because I was shunned by the alleged "sellers" on eBay.

eBay, of course, is the online auction site, and one of the more resilient survivors of the dot-Con (and no, that wasn't a typo) debacle of 2000; while most of the Internet start-ups (or up-starts, as it were) had no product to sell except shares of their own stock, eBay was selling all kinds of stuff. Other peoples' stuff, to be sure, but stuff, nonetheless.

But over the past weekend, I learned (the hard way, naturally, because only lessons learned that way ever really get learned) that eBay is very much a "closed community". Forget their TV ads; they’re all lies. You ain’t gonna get jack shit from an eBay auction, because the sellers will only sell to buyers who have been playing the eBay game since the get-go. Newbies ain’t got a chance. You will be unceremoniously shut out of the bidding; your bids will be rejected; they will be completely ignored. Why? Because you don’t have a "feedback rating" with eBay, that’s why.

The "feedback rating" is what eBay uses to gauge the reliability of sellers and buyers – do the sellers deliver the products they advertise, do the buyers pay up, that sort of thing. In principle, it makes sense; people are more likely to buy stuff from sellers who do not have a history of ripping people off; and people are more willing to sell their products to people who have a history of actually paying for the items that they have agreed to buy.

But how do you get that coveted "feedback rating"?

Well, first, you have to complete a transaction on eBay. And that’s where the whole "feedback rating" system falls apart. Because if you can’t complete that first transaction – if no seller will take you sufficiently seriously even to consider you a viable prospect for that transaction – then that first transaction just ain’t gonna happen.

The bottom line is that unless you’ve been trading on eBay practically since the day they went online, any seller is going to treat you like a no-account, deadbeat loser. It's discrimination, pure and simple, in the classic Catch-22 mode: barring evidence to the contrary, new users are assumed to be liars, cheats, frauds and welshers. And that assumption of being a liar, a cheat, a fraud and a welsher is precisely the thing that bars evidence to the contrary. And as a consequence, that Babe Ruth autographed baseball that you’ve coveted since you were nine years old (or in my case, a plotter) is going to go to somebody with a "feedback rating" higher than the zero that you can claim – all because this is your first venture into online auction sites. New players most definitely are not welcome.

If you own eBay stock, you might consider selling. The site will last only as long as the life-span of its current membership; when they start to die off (and the sooner that happens, the better, as far as I’m concerned), the business is doomed.

But, if that's the way they want it, then that's the way they can have it. I have just instructed eBay to close my account. If they want to play their little reindeer games, and keep the deals all to themselves, fine. I've been able to muddle along without them up to now; I think I can survive without them in the future. And since PayPal is owned by eBay, then that account is going bye-bye, as well.


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