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Fri Aug 20 2010 17:44:44

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

By: David Steiner

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A recent story in the Boston Globe resonated with me - maybe because I've lived in New England much of my life, maybe it's because I've run my own business for over 20 years, or maybe because I like doing things my own way. Maybe it's something else, but for some reason, it got me thinking about the current relationship that eBay has with sellers.

The story centers around a couple who bought a building in Chatham, Massachusetts - which is located at the elbow of Cape Cod. If you saw the movie "Jaws" back in the 1970's, that's pretty much what the Cape is like today. Beautiful sandy beaches, inspiring oceanscapes, weather-beaten, cedar-shingled homes and commercial buildings. Clam shacks, lawyers offices, grocery stores are pretty much all painted from the same can of solid gray stain. It's very quaint - and quite deliberate. The revenue on the Cape comes mainly from seafood and tourism.

"Summer People" who visit the Cape and Islands come to escape the concrete and steel of New York, Boston and beyond. They expect to see little bungalows selling fudge and antiques dotting cobblestoned main roads. So what happens when a building owner decides to paint their prominently situated building fluorescent green and yellow? A New England town collectively blows its stack, that's what happens.

If you read the story, you'll see that there's been a contentious relationship dating back years between the building owners and town committees, which oversee the zoning and historical preservation of Chatham. What the owners discovered, after trying unsuccessfully for three years to get approval for changes to their property, is that although these committees may be able to dictate whether structural improvements could be made to a property, there was no ordinance in place restricting the color of the structure. So they did what any self-respecting business owner would do. They painted their building the color of a Wilson tennis ball, essentially giving the "Italian Salute" to the town.

I have a lot of admiration for this couple asserting their rights as property owners. After all, they bought the building and pay the property taxes and all other associated fees. Shouldn't they be entitled to decide what they want to do with their building, or what color they want to paint it?

But as usual, its a bit more complicated than that. If you buy a building in an historical district, it's expected that you have an appreciation of the property's (and the community's) past, and will maintain its historical integrity. If there were no zoning laws dictating how businesses should conform in Chatham, it might lose some of its New England charm. And if it loses its charm, it might not be thought of as a place to visit on vacation, and the town's economy would suffer as a result, affecting all of the merchants on the street.

So why did this get me thinking about online sellers and eBay? It's not really much of a stretch to superimpose the conflicted relationship eBay has with its merchants over this situation and see the similarities. You establish your business within this marketplace, pay the fees and take advantage of all of the visitor traffic that eBay affords. It may be your business, but you are sitting in eBay's main street. There are some rules for selling within the marketplace, and they change over time, become more restrictive and are geared toward uniformity, and a consistent shopping experience for customers - similar to a zoning committee that wants to maintain the charm of their Chatham shopping district.

The Catch-22 is that these merchants may collectively represent one thing to eBay, but individually, they are staunch entrepreneurs, each wanting to conduct business in their own way. Put several million entrepreneurs on a main street where their businesses must be painted gray, and it's only a matter of time before someone breaks out the green paint.

So what's the balance? Should sellers fall in line and submit to what they see as illogical restrictions from an inflexible bureaucracy for the perceived collective good of the marketplace? Or is it better to assert the entrepreneurial freedom that attracted sellers to eBay in the first place? Perhaps what drove so many buyers to eBay was its quirkiness, which yielded a unique experience with each mouse click.

That may be debatable, but in the case of the Cape Cod non-conformists, the vice chairman of Chatham’s Historical Commission said, "Whether they’re coming to see if they can see the sharks, or coming to see if they can see the green house, Chatham has been busy this season."




Comments (42) | Permalink

Readers Comments

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: nobody

Fri Aug 20 18:45:39 2010

Yes! Paint it green!

By selling on a better venue :)

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Fri Aug 20 19:40:01 2010

Heh. Reminds me of a similar happening I witnessed many years ago. Each time we drove to NH to visit my grandmother, we would eagerly watch for the "purple house" that sat on the outskirts of the town where she lived. One Thanksgiving, we drove past and saw that someone had spray-painted graffiti all over it, including the words "paint me."  When we returned at Christmas, we laughed when we saw that the owners had done just that. The house was now an even brighter shade of purple, and now had lime-green trim and giant lime-green polka dots. Paint me, indeed :-)

With eBay, we still have control over our own branding, even down to what our listings look like. While it isn't going to help id eBay's Main Street is blocked by a flood of cheap-crap good or is too hard to find due to a lack of street signs, at least you can reinforce your brand once a customer find you. Too bad we have no way to run our own eBay GPS so customers can find us :-)

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

This user has validated their user name. by: Nan
Web Site

Fri Aug 20 19:40:58 2010

>>>Perhaps what drove so many buyers to eBay was its quirkiness, which yielded a unique experience with each mouse click.

Hahaha - this reminds me of those goofy auctions that creative sellers used to run.

The Barbie doll dioramas, with a big long story involved.

The piece of tree root that looked like Satan.

The boob-prints.

A piece of gum / cornflake / toast / water stain Madonnas. Or Elvis's.

Where'd they all go?

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: RicRoe

Fri Aug 20 21:40:45 2010

Q: Should sellers fall in line and submit to what they see as illogical restrictions from an inflexible bureaucracy for the perceived collective good of the marketplace?

Since eBay began the makeover under the guise of a collective good of the marketplace, sales have declined and remained flat.

If eBay was succeeding & truly building a more attractive, vibrant marketplace,  sellers would likely have fewer objections to eBay's changes. IF eBay were drawing more buyers and sales were growing, eBay sellers would have fewer complaints.

Sadly this has not been the case, and sellers are vocal in opposition to eBay's incessant changes because the changes are not resonating with buyers or sellers.

eBay continues to roll out change after change, and there are no signs of buyers returning to the marketplace. All these changes which were supposed to improve the marketplace have failed miserably to do so.

The constant state of flux serves only to confuse buyers and frustrate sellers.

It is obvious why so many sellers remain unhappy with eBay's changes, past, present and future... they have collectively failed to produce positive results for sellers and have clearly failed to attract buyers.

In the end, it does not matter what color the buildings are painted. If there are no customers... in the end, the only ones looking at the color of the buildings are the store owners.

Just as with eBay, where the sellers are screaming over changes made for the sake of change which collectively have driven traffic and sales lower than they were before all the tinkering began.

Perhaps the holiday advertisements for eBay this year should be '' eBay....come back...we're done f&%#ing with it.''

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: buck efay

Fri Aug 20 22:38:43 2010

I did what the old lady in NJ did. There was a town in northern NJ, where this woman spent a load of money in 1965 or 66 getting ready to open a variety store. She owned the building & bought all kinds of stuff in preparation. When she was just opening the store, they changed the street in front of her store to a one way street & it drastically affected sales. She was so mad, she locked the doors & left the place to rot for 30 years as a big eff yew to the town planners!! Nice location right in the middle of town, dusty & cobwebbed with big CLOSED signs, LOL!! I think she lived upstairs too, IIRC. Finally, after many attempts, a seller of collectibles bought out her entire inventory just to get the rare toys & baseball & other cards, all mint sealed stock. I'm with her. Ebay wanted me gone, I am. I left my about me page with the note I no longer sell on ebay & some handy dandy links! I WISH I could paint that page purple with green dots, LOL!

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: On Lies and Secrets This user has validated their user name.

Sat Aug 21 00:57:31 2010

I think this analogy is missing some critical pieces if you want to compare it to ebay.  The first piece is that many of the cute, shingled Cape Cod **facades** that attract people to the town are actually the false fronts of megastores and offshore factories filled with knock-offs of antiques, mass market junk you can find at any random strip mall in the U.S. and cheap, indigestible 'fudge' (not the real stuff made with good ingredients) all pretending to be the real thing.  

The second missing piece is that all of the small independent shopkeepers are the only ones who pay all of the taxes in the town yet the biggest megastores pay nothing and hog all of the roads and all of the other town infrastructure.  If a small shopkeep gets even a little business, the megastores and offshore manufacturers petition the zoning board to hide the entrances to the small shops (yet the small shopkeepers are still expected to keep paying all the taxes).

The third piece is that the small shopkeepers are to blame for *everything* - global warming, the recession, you name it.  Everything wrong with the universe is the fault of the small shopkeepers, and as the story goes (according to the zoning board), the small shopkeepers are all crooked and don't know how to treat customers.  The zoning board declares it without any evidence, but it must somehow be true (the zoning board is omniscient in its own mind) and the shopkeepers must be punished (and they still must pay all of the taxes to keep the town running).  While the zoning board beats up on the small shopkeepers, the big megastores rob customers blind and lie and deceive them with cheap goods instead of the local authentic artifacts that the customer/tourists came for in the first place.

Then the zoning board starts to lie (ahem, uses creative accounting) to get a more favorable municipal bond rating for the town than it deserves....but that is another story...  

Instead of dealing with the imminent crisis that the town is on the verge of bankruptcy and about to go into receivership, the zoning board instead tries to make a lesson out of a small shopkeeper who has painted his shop a welcoming and joyful shade of green....

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: Marvin

Sat Aug 21 08:16:56 2010

To fall in line and submit to ebay restrictions is to encourage them. Keep in mind, we built ebay, and we can build somebody else.

Screw the B's, we don't needum!

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: kw

Sat Aug 21 10:57:09 2010

Good comparison, David.  Reminded me how much I miss the quirkiness of the old ebay, and I do mean 'old', before Meg.

All ebay needed to do was rid the venue of thieves and dishonest sellers which, contrary to the party line, wouldn't have been all that difficult.  In fact, other selling sites manage to accomplish that small task.  Let the remaining sellers have a sense of humor and continuing selling those unique hard-to-find items.

A fun venue will be found by buyers .. witness the phenomenal fast growth of Bonanzle for example.  Ebay is now dull, difficult to navigate, and loaded with so many rules it is hard not to inadvertantly break one.

A big splash of green in the middle of ebay right now would be healthy!

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: rickys

Sat Aug 21 13:32:07 2010

This analogy stopped making sense about 3 years ago. Unless this woman is getting her property bulldozed by local government the way Ebay management is bulldozing good sellers out of existence (in order to rid Ebay's crony diamond seller merchants of pesky onsite competition) this analogy is simply outdated.  "Too many rules" defined Ebay sellers' relationship with management from 2003-2007. Ebay management now goes well beyond the "excessive rules" point now to the point where they willfully and intentionally and systematically destroy sellers who aren't well-connected enough to John Donahoe to be on his speed dial.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

This user has validated their user name. by: silent anarchy

Sat Aug 21 14:35:05 2010

In this case the " RESISTANCE IS FUTILE" statement from star trek sounds better then "fall in line and submit". Ebay needs us, we do not need ebay. Ebay was at 1 time unique and stood alone. Picture ebay like the only gas station on a desert highway, no choice but to use it.We had nothing to compare it to, but now there are so many choices of places to sell and unlike ebay there are unique sites to sell like bonanzle. Ebays time has come and gone, soon to be a "remember when" topic. I left in november 2008 when paypal was forced mandatory and i never looked back. No sequal for you ebay.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: buck efay

Sat Aug 21 16:42:31 2010

@On lies..
Too true. my state has opportunity zones where they let big companies build for a tax break for X number of years. Now that the bill is coming due, many will up & leave for the next sucker giving then free taxes, while we foot the bill. In the meantime, the bog bad company has polluted the watershed, refused to comply with the laws they agreed to & will leave behind scorched earth & toxic mess that will take years for us small guys to pay off. Very much like Ebay. Never realizing the little people make the community live.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: Ron

Sat Aug 21 21:02:35 2010

I sold on eBay for 12 years, providing the absolutely best buyer experience that one can find.  And I suspect that millions of small sellers did the same thing, otherwise eBay wouldn’t have experienced the exponential growth that it did for so many years.

This “buyer experience” excuse that eBay management has forwarded as the reason for pushing recent changes is mostly a red herring.  The fact is that eBay needed to pursue more growth in order to achieve higher stock prices and Mr Donahoe in his wisdom thought that growth would be gained by bringing on a slew of Diamond Sellers and loading the site with millions of new, fixed price inventory items.  And, in his mind, these “professional” sellers would also provide a more seamless customer service.

My main problem with eBay isn’t that they are mandating better customer service – I was already providing it.  My problem is the low STRs, poor visibility and diminished traffic that has resulted from their lack of understanding of what drove eBay’s original popularity.

Gray, indeed, but not in a good way

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: Another Wronged Seller This user has validated their user name.

Sun Aug 22 01:11:59 2010

David. Great analogy.

What made ebay truly unique was the quirkiness and WIDE variety of goods.

You could find near anything on ebay including toast that looked like Elvis. Listings were so diverse and they reflected the personalities and quirks of the sellers. It reminds me of USA networks tag line ''characters welcome'' All of this gave ebay its collective personality.

In its zeal to professionalize(is that a word) the marketplace, they destroyed the uniqueness. Everything that didn't fit into its cookie cutter approach got sliced away. Including everything that gave it it's diverse charm.

There used to be room for every style on ebay. Crafters, antique dealers, quirky listings, small sellers, big ones, seniors cleaning out their attics and supplementing social security, single moms selling off their kids toys and clothes they grew out of, first time sellers dipping their toes into selling for the first time, seasoned business people and everyone in between. Ebay presented an opportunity that had never been seen before.

Ebay used to be an ice cream shop that served every flavor you could possibly want. Now it only serves vanilla.

IMO ebay management saw ebays exponential growth slowing as the business became mature, and tried to make radical changes to maintain its high growth rate. They used conventional MBA thinking on a business that wasn't conventional but was unique. Ebay didn't fit into any other companies mold at the time but now thanks to the changes they made something that was truly one of a kind into a government style bureacracy.

It's not just the end of an era but the extermination of everything that made it great.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: Big In Japan
Web Site

Sun Aug 22 12:10:31 2010

Maybe Yahoo Auction could make a comeback? Or Google might do something?

Unless there is competition, the ''town'' of eBay and its evil mayor give us little choice if bread is to makes its way onto the table.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: Noah Sarck

Sun Aug 22 12:56:20 2010

AWS Observes: "Now it only serves vanilla."

Yes... but not even fresh-scooped. It's in little plastic cups and served with a wooden spoon.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: buck efay

Sun Aug 22 13:01:26 2010

Ebay refused to recognize that their growth was cannabilistic. Of course the dollar values dropped as rare items became commonplace due to Ebay itself. There are fewer & fewer vintage goods to be found & even fewer worth a great deal. Meg's genius .99 cent listings & watch list drove the GMV down even further. Then Donahoe delivered the coup de grace by making YOUR paid listing & your carefully crafted title less important, because ACTUAL ITEM SEARCHED FOR is now about 5th on the list of things Best Match looks for. Most recent sales, free shipping, size of seller & TRS ALL carry more weight then ACTUAL ITEM WANTED in Ebay search. How stupid is that? Let me SEE all the items I searched for FIRST, and anyone but a child could then winnow away the bad sellers & overpriced sellers gaming the search with free shipping. As is, now many items NEVER show in the search. MY searches for my items BY EXACT TITLE still do not get me above the fold placement. Sad.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: Mom and Pop

Sun Aug 22 13:29:46 2010

Everybody knows that there is more money to be made if you loosen up rules, tax less, and let entrepreneurs run their enterprise with less government intrusion and bureaucracy. The analogy fits that Ebay corporation is the government and sellers are the main street. Ebay is proving that they are anti-capitalism by choking off its own success by dictating instead of being partners with their small sellers.

Ebay wants a cookie cutter experience, but doesn't realize that entrepreneurs are anything but cookie cutter. Entrepreneurs are creative advertisers, hardworkers, and personally accountable for their success.

I think the small seller will resurrect on the internet in the near future and the companies that embrace them will win!

The small seller is the future!  

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: buck efay

Sun Aug 22 13:58:57 2010

Mom, you are right! They thought they could shock & awe us into towing the line & we all gave them a one finger salute instead, packed up our toys & left their jacked up game! Big mistake treating the people that MADE Ebay like we were expendable minimum wage stooges with nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, cost Ebay a few more sellers this weekend, sent them packing to Bonanzle & Ecrater instead, LOL! Keep spreading the word Entrepeneurs!

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: fat frog

Sun Aug 22 16:08:54 2010

Not everyone is painting Slimebay green. There are still millions of sellers and buyers.

Compared to Bonanzle or Ecrater, Slimebay is still the place to be.

eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?   eBay Sellers - Should you Paint Your Stores Green?

by: buck efay

Sun Aug 22 17:50:50 2010

Really, fatso the frog? Funny, I guess you missed all the threads & posts on their own boards like 2 weeks no sales, 58 items listed sold 2? Or how those wonderful buyers treat sellers? Or all the threads about a huge spike in non payers?  I'd rather sell on Bonanzle & Ecrater & get paid for what I do sell then sell on slimebay. Good try tho, calling it slimebay so we'd think you were a frog & not an ebay troll:)

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