Over The Last 20 Years Ebay Has Lost Its Original Customers

Why Ebay Lost Its Original Customers

I remember when I was first was told about eBay 23 years ago. Ebay was a great platform to bid and possibly win at auction interesting, older items. Many times rare purchases could be won for a bargain.  Books, ephemera and unusual items. At least that’s how it started for me.

Over the years eBay evolved from a relatively small community user-based auction site to a worldwide commercial behemoth store. And it’s not a very good one. Along the way they lost their original customer base.


ebay vs amazon illustrationSometime in the early 2000s eBay executives looked at Amazon and decided they wanted to be Amazon.

That was their first and most crucial mistake, eBay will never be Amazon. It’s a mistake they have kept perpetuating.

Instead of concentrating and growing on what they did well, auctions on desirable and collectible items, eBay has attempted to be the online mega-store for everything …and they have failed to catch Amazon.

Ebay could have and should have set up a second company to deal in merchandising everything else and may have been as successful as Amazon, but they didn’t. In the process, eBay managed over a long period, to slowly and methodically lose and enrage its fairly large and original passionate customer base.

How many users does eBay currently have? The latest estimate was 180 million worldwide with 25 million sellers. But whatever number provided is highly suspect.  The way I know that is true is looking back at past buyers and sellers on my feedback forum over 23 years, more  than three quarters of the people are NARU – short for – Not (or No longer)  a registered user. They left the eBay platform because of high fees and restrictive eBay policies. Yes, eBay has more users in sheer numbers in 2019. What percentage of those users are active? How many are passionate auction buyers who buy multiple items per month as the original eBayers did?

As a company becomes bigger, it generally gets worse in all facets. The bigger you are the more sluggish you are. You fall out of touch with your customers. You are not nimble and cannot deal with issues or complaints efficiently. This is what happened to eBay.

Ebay is essentially a middleman taking fees from both sellers and buyers. Incredibly the company over the long haul found ways to alienate both sides of their original users.

The main complaints against eBay (besides fraud which was curtailed) were never addressed over the years. The upper management apparently never bothered to read the most prevalent complaints and comments left by users in their online forums. They never proactively responded to the real issues. The problems were laid out for all to see over a 20 year period in those forums. With indignance, people complained about various eBay policies and were ignored.

Today at eBay, what is the level of the worker who reads the eBay forum? Is it the eBay executive at the C-level suite? Hah.

When so many users have complained about a specific issue you would think they would resolve it. It rarely happens.

So what does it all come down to?

Management doesn’t care.

The management cares about three things:

1. the eBay stock price;

2. profits and:

3. keeping their jobs.

Ebay was founded in 1994 as a sole proprietorship. In 1996, eBay incorporated and in 1998 they were reincorporated. In the early 2000s the changes, mostly all for the worse were underway.

Give me the late 90s version of eBay any day.

The privately owned, small community based eBay was great because nearly every single aspect of eBay  was better than it is today. The past 20 years has been like somebody at eBay management said “Let’s take something that works well and dismantle it slowly, messing it up bit by bit until we piss off and rid ourselves of most of our original users.”

What you’ve lost in 20 years as an eBay customer:

Communication – Interacting with and contacting other users directly who bid on the same type of things so you could converse on what your shared interests are. Email addresses were taken out of public view.

Knowing Your Competition – Seeing who was bidding against you; and more importantly what someone else who bought similar items to you, was currently bidding on.  If someone collected the same things as you, you would discover things to bid on for yourself. I would often do this. It was shortsighted to cut that out because eBay lost revenue if I wasn’t aware an item was up for auction in a different category that I normally never searched through.

Now you are biding against phantoms as users names are obscured.  Shill bidding (fake users driving up the price) is still a concern. Unlike an actual auction where you can look around the room to see the person bidding against you, eBay has cloaked the identity of everyone but sellers.

As a seller being able to leave negative feedback to deadbeat or extremely slow paying bidders or those who lied in feedback about the end product they received.

Being able to pay by check, cash or money order without a hassle.

The list goes on and on. And eBay says its all in the name of “safety.”

We know, really it’s about fear of  losing revenue with sales outside of eBay.

Oh… why am I wasting my time writing this???? The complete lack of response from eBay. More to the point – 20 plus years of growing frustration on a website I used to use 75 or more times a year on purchases, down to less than a dozen transactions per year.

Ebay’s solution to your current complaints? Let’s put the users through hoops and then they can complain by emailing or speaking with customer reps that are 7,000 miles away from the U.S. and have absolutely no concept of what you’re talking about. The reason they have no concept (and it’s not their fault) is English is not their first language. Offshoring help desks is not unique to eBay, but when you’re dealing in monetary issues it would be helpful to have people who are in customer service who speak and understand English.


Good job.


13 thoughts on “Over The Last 20 Years Ebay Has Lost Its Original Customers

  1. Qrrys

    Been with them since 1999 or so and I had enough. so many rules that i now find the experience of buying and selling miserable and pointless. I use Amzon a lot and never feel pushed, hell i can even send an item back if not upto scratch. I also dont like being treated like a child by customer service.

  2. Soph

    Thanks for your insight, I wondered why my ‘kids’ laughed when I said I still use ebay. I thought it was about new options appearing to be better. So I did a little research and found your piece.

    I have recently after many years listed a few items, I often buy the odd thing here and there but I notice a big change as a seller. While I understand the need for some data protection. The friendly hippy communication and fun has reduced big time. Such a shame.

    I will now look at other platforms to compare, but I can’t bear even the thought of FB market place for some reason. 😅

  3. Rich

    As Ted said, you are spot on.
    I bought and sold on eBay for years. Going paypal only drove me out. I recently (over a year ago) did some business with a seller who agreed to take a money order, but that’s the exception. Otherwise, I haven’t purchased from eBay in over a decade.

    The heart of the business was getting buyers and sellers together. They never should have forgotten that.

  4. Jaspm

    I left after 22 years 100% 1000k feedback due to fedex charging me 5x shipping amount. $210 to 1200 from ebay calculator.

    Ebay did nothing but waste my time. Was worst experience ever.

  5. TJ

    In the last 2 or 3 months I’ve seen OBVIOUS shilling really increase. “Buyers” with hundreds of retracted bids per month- could be easily ID’d and banned … what is going on???

  6. Matt

    I actually believe sellers pay……we supply the products. If we don’t offer products….guess what, no revenue. I decide how much profit I have to have…..I left because eBay kept digging in my pocket and forcing me to guarantee things that were out of my control, but giving buyers the window to take advantage of the rules…..selling $2000 items….I cant risk that. I was selling 1000 items a year on eBay too, and I became responsible for everything which including shipping, insuring it got there, insuring satisfaction for my buyers…..which I always did. Somehow insurance went from insuring the buyer, to insuring the seller? I only had 2 bad apples out of about 10000 transactions too……until 2008 when I finally got fed up with the forced paypal and its guarantees which for my products were a non starter since they were all antique and handmade. I cant guarantee an antique porcelain or glass vase for 6 months after purchase…..against chips, against someone in Europe receiving the item and then saying they didnt want it because they had to pay VAT(this was never the reason given, it was just a negotiating tactic when you are held over a barrel)….or better yet, returning it and I have to pay VAT and shipping both ways? How is that even fair…..and who pays? The seller, not the buyer as the buyer is getting what they paid for…..at a price generally below retail. It becomes insulting when a middleman/eBay dictates the rules, but really provides nothing but the site for buyer and seller to meet…..you know it has gone too far when both buyers and sellers leave in droves. I personally have 5 eBay accts….I use none of them now. How many real users are out there? A fraction of what is claimed. Ebay insults my intelligence with rules for my protection, and on top of it ruined what they did best…..offered a website that allowed semi free commerce in a niche market. They only need to police the bad apples…..and do the obvious things to prevent fraud and promote commerce. They fail in both areas with both sides feeling neglected. That is the huge failure that costs us all. They could completely shut down shills which cost ALL sellers business…..it would cost them some money, but no more than they are spending on overseas “telephone answerers” with no authority but to really just give lip service.

    1. Matt

      OH….and I had 5 accts because one was for selling, 1 was for buying personal items, and the other 3 were for buying so my competition wouldnt be able to follow and bid against me as was common about 2000.

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  8. Ted

    You are spot on. I used to buy and sell on EBay but have not done so for at least 12 years – it became a store instead of auction house.

  9. Grady

    eBay has become a complete joke, a parody of itself. The first time you try and work with their overseas customer service you realize I don’t need these people. And that is coming from someone who opened their account in 1999 and bought hundreds of items over the years. Now if I want new merchandise and good prices I go to Amazon. If I want collectibles I go to Etsy. Screw eBay, they offer very little to buyers and even less to sellers.

  10. Jesse in DC

    Ebay’s motto: We are not happy until you are not happy.
    BTW, the buyers pay NOTHING!! Every dime Ebay collects comes from the pockets of sellers, the same group that they wish to regulate to death.
    I still sell, but I buy almost nothing…

    1. anony

      Umm, buyers PAY EVERYTHING.

      The sellers are merely the conduit through which MONEY FROM BUYERS flows. It’s simple, just like taxing corporations – the taxes are paid by the consumer.

  11. Kevin

    This probably isn’t unique to Ebay, but the prices that sellers are asking for movie posters/lobby cards are often outrageously high. Plus, someone has to explain to them the difference between “original” and “re-release”.


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