Saturday, February 24, 2007

It's an eBay world

I recently purchased my mom's bithday present on eBay (link provided, as if you didn't already know it), and the feedback I received from the seller was both bizarre and fantastic. It read:

"You are a golden God, enveloped in a veil of excellence"

My most unique feedback to date, for sure. Should you ever need to describe me to someone else, feel free to use that as the descriptor.

I've been on eBay for a while. I warn you that the following paragraphs are evidence of this, and of the fact that I sometimes put a lot of thought into seemingly inane topics. I like to think of it as homegrown sociology, or general societal observation.

My relationship with the site is going on 8 years at this point. A friend mentioned it to me as she knew I was a collector of female action figures. If you've ever tried looking, you'd know that it is pretty hard to find good ones, and back in the 20th century (oh, those ancient times!) it was even more so. To add to the difficulty, I was - and still am - particular about what I would purchase. I didn't want silly girly looking figurines; they had to be girls that could kick your ass should they choose to do so. They also had to have a good level of craftsmanship. In other words, I was less interested in frilly cartoon characters, and more interested in comic book characters. Like She Spawn or other Todd McFarlane creations.

These "toys" are not easily found in stores. And when a store does get a shipment of them, the more fanatical collectors (think: those who keep them in their original box, or buy glass display cases) immediately buy all of the good ones and then resell for a small profit. Once eBay came around, I could tap into all of those fanatics and feed my harmless habit.

When I first hopped into the scene it still had that yard sale feel to it, where people would just sell whatever crap they had lying around the house. Plus, of course, the niche markets including my action figure category. While it never quite had the touchy feely community feel of craigslist, it still created a zone where you engaged in temporary relationships during a sale. Feedback was personal. I like to think that I still come in to it with the same level of personal service and kindness, although a few things have clearly changed.

For example, it used to be that a seller would provide feedback as soon as payment for an item was received. Before the days of PayPal, this meant checks or money orders. Real, live envelopes and stamps were employed. Little notes accompanied the payment, often acting as a pseudo thank you note. It was a buyer's market, and if someone came across what you posted and actually wanted it, you were stoked that someone was actually interested in your stuff. You made money, they saved money, champagne toasts all around.

These days, sellers generally do not provide feedback until after the buyer has done so. And prices on many items are approaching prices in brick and mortar establishments. This, to me, is evidence of eBay tipping more towards a sellers' market. As so much empasis is placed on feedback as a means of garnering a reputation, you want positive feedback in your profile. If you leave negative feedback for a seller, do you expect that they'd turn around and leave you positive feedback? Doubtful. Thus, neutral or negative feedback is discouraged, and with it an honest rating of the experience for transactions that took a bad turn.

That criticism aside, as eBay has grown to the behemoth it is today, there is a culture behind it that I still find pretty fascinating. The feedback mechanism, while partially flawed, does provide insight into a member's personality. All you have to do is click through the other items that they buy or sell, and you begin to form an interesting picture of who is on the other end of the screen.

I came across one of these interesting profiles when I was trying to help a friend sell an old printing press. It was a huge press, and thus required a very specific type of buyer. I had no idea there were so many collectors of old presses, letters, and other printing memorabilia. Hunting through members' feedback, I found one woman who was an avid collector of marbles. That's all she had purchased in the past few months (and many of them). Where would this press fit into her marble-filled home? Would she use the marbles to help roll the press into it's new space?

I have also done a lot of poking around for cars and motorcycles (mostly research in trying to help others sell their vehicles, although partially so I can have an imaginary ride on lots of bikes I can't afford). There is a whole market of small-scale resellers out there, buying and selling cars like they were sneakers. Seems like a lot of effort for minimal profit, but if it's your thing, who am I to judge?

The marbles lady I judged a little.

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