Back in the day, when EBay first poked its head above the waters of the web, it offered the following high-value combination of features:

  • A reputation system; buyers rated sellers, sellers rated buyers. Caveat Emptor was possible!
  • An inexpensive display venue; it was worth a try to sell something.
  • Open communications; communications enhance confidence.
  • Numerous payment methods; flexibility made buying and selling alike easy.
  • Easy record keeping; just save the web page as a file.
  • Support: Just ask, and a person would give you an answer after a day or so.
  • Quality search; keyword based and easily controllable, search and ye shall find.
  • Deep search; you could see what items like yours had sold for for many months back.
  • Transparency; you could see who was bidding, their reputation, etc.
  • Low fees; it was worth seeing what you might like to sell. Bargains were everywhere.
  • Garage sale writ large: If you owned it, you could sell it.

Flash forward to 2009:

The reputation system is now one-way; buyers rate sellers, and in the process of doing so, EBay uses those ratings to preemptively and without any recourse whatsoever, strike at the sellers. Sellers can no longer evaluate buyers, and buyers can blackmail sellers with no fear of consequences.

As a display venue, listing costs have increased enormously; putting something up now costs far more than it used to – you had better be certain you can sell your item, or you’re going to lose money.

Communications are closed. You can no longer see the email address(es) of your opposite number in a transaction; EBay hides these, reducing confidence enormously.

Payment is now paypal only, or a few approved electronic means of payment. No more checks, no more money orders, etc. Paypal, in turn, adds a significant charge for a transaction, shaving the profits for any particular sale that much further, or conversely, forcing the prices of the items up.

EBay’s web pages are now huge and bloated, and worse, they can’t be saved as they are loaded with proprietary scripting and active regions that simply do not work unless the pages are actually being served from EBay.

Asking for support now connects you to a robot that heaves a canned form letter at you that often has little or nothing at all to do with your issue. It is literally impossible to speak to an actual EBay representative.

Search is now limited to about 60 days, which means that rarely sold items fall off and reference value is gone.

But the real problem is now all searches default to “Best Match”, a search method whereby EBay determines which auction it wants to show you. For example, my sweetheart has a 100% positive feedback rating of almost five thousand. She sells thigh highs – and nothing else. So, if you search for “thigh highs”, you might expect to encounter her auctions. You know what the first thing in the listing is? Nail fungus remedy. From a “diamond seller”, which is EBay shorthand for someone who gets to game the system because they have a lot of listings. Next comes a book of erotic oriental art from buy.com, another diamond seller. Six pages later, her auctions come up. Preceded by a huge number of items that are not relevant to the “thigh highs” search at all. The simple consequence of this is that people cannot find what they are looking for. From one day to the next, the “Best Match” search returns different results; totally undependable, and usually nothing even close to what you might actually want.

Oh, and those Diamond sellers? Take a look at one, and you’ll see they have uniformly terrible feedback. For instance, one I know of has 1000 feedback, they have ten neutrals and 20 negatives. The idea, EBay tells us, is that these Diamond Sellers will draw people to EBay. So they list them first. Compare that with Deb’s feedback; 5000 feedback, all – I mean *every one* – positive. But she’s listed later. Now, where’s the sense in that?

Transparency is completely gone; all transactions are anonymous, and worse, as a bidder on an item, you can’t learn anything about the other bidders. This is an open door for “shill” bidding (where sellers can set up a fake bidder to force your bid up) and sure enough, shill bidding is now rampant.

Low fees are a thing of the past. You are charged to list an item. You are charged when the item sells. You are charged when the buyer pays. Each transaction is “triple-dipped” by EBay, and not just a few pennies, either – EBay takes quite a chunk out of a large sale.

The idea of EBay being a garage sale is so, so over. The list of things you cannot sell on EBay has grown, and grown, and grown until it has become a nightmare all by itself. Censorship is everywhere, and whole classes of items are banned.

My own feedback on EBay is about 600, and again, 100% positive. We were very careful of our reputations, because we wanted to be trusted on either end of a transaction. But I don’t use EBay any longer. The place no longer even slightly resembles what it was, and frankly, I don’t have any use for it. You can’t find bargains any longer, and the whole “neat thing in the garage” vibe it used to have is long, long gone. The listings are clogged with tens of thousands of items from buy.com, and sorting through all that nonsense is simply not worth my time.

Finally, Amazon, basically the Wal-Mart of the net, has most things I want at great prices, and so that’s basically where I shop now. I do miss the old EBay; but the new one… no, not so much.

So today, when EBay released its quarterly report, and blamed the extremely bad results on “the economy”, all I could do was laugh. In a bad economy, a garage sale is precisely the place the buyer wants to be; and it is precisely what the seller wants to do with things they currently have no use for. The “old” Ebay would be surfing this economy and making money hand over fist. The new EBay… well, it’s not the old EBay, now is it? No. It’s some nightmare mutant, son of a bizarre marriage between mismanagement and marketing gone mad.