EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 151 - September 18, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 8

Now on a Cell Phone Near You: eBay on the Small Screen

By Greg Holden

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At the top of the My eBay page, I currently see one of those little advertisements from eBay that encourages: "Bid from your phone! eBay Wireless." Bidding from your phone is only one reason to connect to eBay wirelessly. It's just as important for sellers, when they're traveling, to be able to check their email and check on their auctions to see what's selling.

eBay makes it sound easy to navigate those auctions from the small screen. Just how easy is it really?

A few weeks ago, I was traveling around Indiana with a friend, looking for stuff to sell on eBay. It was the day my sales were due to end. We were waiting in a restaurant for our lunch, and I was wondering how my sales were going. I checked my email on my phone; that's not difficult to do as long as you have a cell phone account and a phone that enable you to do email.

I thought, I'm paying Cingular $7.95 to be able to go on the Web. Why don't I see if I can check My eBay so I can track my auctions as obsessively on the road as I do at home? This turned out to be not as simple as email. And it takes a great deal of patience to click on a link and wait for minutes at a time for your phone to display anything. But I did get it to work. Here's what I did.

Connecting to the Internet with Cingular is a snap. There's a big "m" button on my phone that refers to the mMode Internet service provided by my original cell phone company, AT&T. This takes me to a page called mMode Home. The options on this page are shown in the accompanying image: My mMode, What's Hot, Browse Websites, and so on.

One of the options is Search. The first time I did this I thought, why should I have to browse for eBay when I know the URL? I clicked search, entered, and was taken to the real eBay home page. That's right: I'm talking about the same home page that appears in your browser window. I could see about one square inch of this on my cell phone. I clicked on the familiar My eBay link in the navigation bar, but nothing happened: for several minutes my phone attempted to load the real home page but this proved unworkable.

I returned to the My mMode home page for Round Two.

This time, I clicked Browse Websites, which seemed like the logical way to find eBay. My phone's browser went to a category tree for Web sites (Entertainment, Lifestyle, and so on). I clicked on the Shopping link, and it didn't take me long to see the options eBay and Auctions for eBay (along with and, by the way).

Which one do I choose? After some eenie-meenie-meinie-mo, I clicked eBay (rather than Auctions for eBay) and got the eBay Main Menu page shown below:

What's interesting about this page? It's immediately set up with my User ID - something I don't remember ever configuring. How does Cingular know what my User ID is? At an earlier date, I remember connecting to My eBay and entering my User ID and password. I'm sure you are prompted to do this the first time you connect to My eBay on your phone. But the cell phone service is apparently smart enough to remember this information; every time I connect to eBay I go to a home page with my own User ID at the top.

But there are two mysteries here. Why is there an ID Verify icon displayed instead of the About Me icon I usually see? And why is my feedback number shown as 59 when, at the time I was actually viewing the page, it was 81? It makes you wonder just how accurate the information really is.

I scroll down the page and click the link My eBay so I can check on my auctions. Again, this page displays an old feedback number, 59. I see 6 simple links: Bidding, Won!, Didn't Win, Watching, Selling, Sold, and Unsold, as shown below.

In other words, this version of My eBay is set up just like the old My eBay on the Web site. I click Selling. The items I have up for sale appear in just the same order as on the Web-based version of My eBay. And unlike my feedback number, they're current.

But because of the small screen, you only get five items listed per page. And determining whether or not someone has actually bid on one of your items isn't straightforward. I'm used to seeing prices appear in green for items that are going to sell. On the cell phone version of My eBay, some prices appear in green and some in red, whether they have bids or not. It turns out the only way to know if someone has bid on your item is the presence of a number next to the current price - a number 1 means one bid has been received, 2 means 2 bids, and so on.

By the way, while I was scrolling through My eBay and looking at sales, my feedback level was automatically updated. Apparently, the number you see is the feedback number you had the last time you visited the site on your cell phone.

My eBay on your cell phone is helpful as long as you have the time to scroll through your listings and add up how many bids you've received and how much money you can expect to make when the sales end. You have to do the math on your own, however. There's nothing like a My eBay Summary that lets you view your bids and sale prices in one place.

You don't have access to all of the photos of an auction item, by the way. You do get the opportunity to view a Gallery image: an example is shown below. If someone hasn't included a Gallery image, it apparently won't appear on your cell phone. (There's another reason for sellers to pay the Gallery fee and include such an image.)

Because I've logged in to My eBay once already and visited the site, I no longer have to browse for the site. I connect to a My mMode page, which remembers the sites I've visited, and I can choose My eBay directly from there. But I don't have to log in with my username and password. This is convenient, but it isn't the most secure arrangement possible. If my kids start browsing the Web with my phone, they can use my account to place bids without my knowledge; if I lose the phone, a Web-savvy thief can do the same thing.

What's the verdict on eBay via cell phone? If you're on the road and you don't have Internet access, it works. It takes time to connect to eBay (at least the first time) and more time to check your auctions. But if it's the only option you have - and you get used to the quirks I've listed above - it's significantly better than not being able to "Do It eBay" at all.

About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

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