It Was The Best Of Sites, It Was The Worst Of Sites – They Called It eBay

I’ll pin my (red, blue, yellow, green) colours to the mast right from the outset.

I’ve used eBay since 2002, and if it wasn’t for this one site, I wouldn’t have discovered the hundreds of amazing (and not so amazing) cameras I’ve experienced using over the last six or seven years.

But there in one sentence lies the eternal paradox of eBay.

It’s like pure distilled marmite for someone who oscillates wildly between being a lover and hater, regardless of their genetic DNA.

Here are some of the features of the site that have led to me loving eBay, hating it, beginning a secret affair with it again, then finally walk away in another messy, stormy divorce. Before beginning the whole addictive cycle again. Ugh.

The search function

eBay searches are super customisable. Usually I start with just UK sellers, and under a certain price, in a certain category.

Favourite camera searches in the past have included UK sellers, price under £1, then sorted to show those ending soonest first. Which has led to many a 99p (or less!) film camera bargain landing in my lap.

Or, if I was looking to build a collection of, say, Takumar lenses (my favourite SLR lenses I’ve ever used, incidentally), I’d just set up a search for “takumar” or “asahi” or perhaps “spotmatic” as many Spotmatic cameras come with a Takumar anyway.

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This helps to narrow down a search from manually sifting through perhaps tens of thousands of other lenses that wouldn’t fit any camera I had anyway.

Being able to hone down multiple variables in a search makes it very easy to weed out results you don’t need, and, if you’re seeking out a specific item, make comparisons between the different examples currently on sale more direct.

Saved searches

Dangerously, eBay lets you save the above searches, and by default activates email notifications to let you know when new items that fit the criteria are available.

Which is genuinely handy if you’re looking for an obscure item that only comes up a few times a year. Rather than running the search by hand every week/day/hour, you just set it, forget it and wait to be notified.

Where this is less helpful (depending on your perspective) is when you have the automated notifications for a wider reaching search. Like film cameras in the UK under £1.

Being blitzed daily by dozens, perhaps hundreds of matches, does not help with those looking to stop collecting cameras (bikes, or any other items) and just get out and enjoy the ones they already have.

A huge audience of potential buyers for your unwanted kit

This is very true, there are millions of eBay users out there. But the problem is, this apparent abundance of buyers just waiting to send you their cash leads you into the mentality that, even if you buy something you don’t enjoy or get on with, you can easily sell it a day or two later back on eBay.

What it somehow manages to temporarily eviscerate from your mind is what a laborious faff it is to set up a selling listing on eBay. Even if, like I did early on, you set up selling templates and/or use the “sell a similar item” option.

I’m sure eBay has evolved in this aspect over the years, but I honestly don’t remember it being much more clumsy to list and sell vintage Star Wars figures in 2002 when I began than it is currently.

Still somehow it seems to take me 20-40 minutes plus (including taking photos of the gear I’m selling) per photography item I’m listing, when I hope it will take 2-4 minutes.

This, combined with the ease of buying and the above mentioned customisable and saved searches, means it’s very easy to end up buying a ton of stuff you then use only once, or not at all, then can’t face the effort of relisting it, so it sits on the pile gathering dust.

The Watch List

As if all of the above wasn’t enough, the eBay Watch List is a devious variation of the wish list Amazon and other sites have long since used to great effect to help remind us of all the stuff we think in the heat of the moment we can’t live without, can’t afford right now, but definitely want next week/month/year when we do have the funds.

With eBay though, if you watch auctions, there’s that forced period of time in which you can purchase (or rather, bid).

Whereas I can happily ignore my Amazon wishlist for months or years on end (I have items on mine still from the early 2000s!), the eBay Watch list demands your attention, and again cleverly by default will send you various reminders ahead of the auction/listing ending to encourage you to buy.

If you’re not very careful and very disciplined you can of course end up either a) buying stuff you didn’t really want all that much anyway, just because it was cheap, or b) paying more than you wanted to for something just so someone else couldn’t.

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The rebound purchase

Now to be fair to eBay, this isn’t actually a feature they label and present under this name. It’s just a pattern I’ve noticed in my own consumption in the past.

Typically it goes something like this.

I watch an item I think I really want for 10 days, then lose out at the last minute to someone else. Either with eBay’s help (you generally get a reminder saying “You missed out this time, but we’ve found more just like this…”) or through my own research, I would find myself looking at another example of the same item with a Buy It Now option, far higher than the auction just ended at, which in turn was more than I had decided I wanted to pay. Then buying it.

The purchase becomes fuelled by the disappointment of missing out on the original item, which also seems to partly distort your rational perspective on what’s good value, and what you actually need.

I think this is a kind of offshoot variation of a concept I read about years ago, used by advertisers the world over, called perceived loss.

A simple example. Imagine you’re at work or at a friends and someone unexpectedly arrives with a delicious cake. They cut you a slice (it’s your favourite) and head your way with it on a plate. But they trip and it splatters down all over the floor and your shoes, completely unsalvageable.

How do you feel?

The rational mind would suggest that because two minutes previously you had no cake, and no expectation that you would be given some any time soon, that you’re now no better or worse off than you were. So you would expect to feel indifferent about the cake now decorating the floor and your feet.

But it doesn’t work like that. Because when you saw that slice of cake cut just for you, and heading your way, you already felt like it was yours. You could probably already taste it, maybe you were already salivating.

So as the plate clattered to the floor, the cake that was momentarily yours (in your perception) was snatched away. You experienced a perceived loss – even though you never had the cake in the first place, just the sudden immediate thrilling promise of cake.

This is how the rebound purchase has caught me out numerous times with eBay.

Even though I hadn’t bought the item, I had discovered it via my carefully curated searches, held it dearly on my Watch List for days, and was already imagining the ways I would use it and the wonderful times we’d have together.

So when it was rudely snatched from me by someone else who obviously hadn’t realised and appreciated what a close bond this object and I had formed via electrons dancing along fibre optic cable for hours on end, I felt highly aggrieved.

What was mine (in my perception) was now taken away. So the best way to redress the balance was to replace the item lost. As quickly as possible. Even if it meant paying more than I originally wanted to.

As you can see, my feelings towards eBay cover an extensive range.

From the gratitude of bringing objects into my life that have given me great experiences, like Takumar lenses, my Spotmatic F, Contax 139 Quartz, Ricoh GRD III and GX100, Panasonic Lumix LX3 and GF1 cameras, and most recently a 33 year old Raleigh mixte bicycle.

To the frustrated, addicted and resentful feelings that arise from having all too often bought things I almost instantly regretted, and become caught up in the emotional traps eBay so deftly and happily (note those bright happy colours that fill their TV ads!) yet relentlessly and ruthlessly lays out before us.

But I think I’m now at a point of much greater awareness and wisdom.

I haven’t bought a camera on eBay since July, and the last bike was the Raleigh, which was only my fourth bike ever bought on eBay. Hardly the avalanche of acquisitions I’ve succumbed to on the photography front, which is well into the hundreds.

I’m happy with my cameras and bikes, and have no urgent need to buy or sell any more of either.

Plus I’m experienced enough with eBay (16 years, and goodness knows how many hundreds of items overall – my feedback is currently in the 820s) to know its traps and wiles.

I’m looking forward to extending my eBay abstinence into the future. Which feels a very great relief indeed.

How about you? What are your feelings about eBay? Love it, hate it, or both at once, like me?

Please share your eBay highs and lows with us in the comments below.

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

11 thoughts on “It Was The Best Of Sites, It Was The Worst Of Sites – They Called It eBay”

  1. I started with eBay a bit earlier than you – when it first opened shop.

    And then, as now, I was put in mind of the Buddhist aphorism: that the source of all Misery is Desire.

    eBay tapped into something innate and terribly human that would later be doubled, re-doubled, and weaponized through the likes of Amazon: Everything, Right Now, All the Time. A fountain of blandishment, stirring the base vulnerability of temptation itself that only a Puritan rigor of heart may resist.

    It was worse in early days. I admit to the use of “sniping” software when the collective blood was up and a furious bidding frenzy joined – it would intervene with a trump counterbid in milliseconds, microseconds as the auction clock wound down, snatching a prize form under the noses of rivals; one especially savored the cackling glee of victory and thereby deepened the debasement.

    For cameras, worse – or more tempting, as the prices are very much lower – is the auction site shopgoodwill.com, the combined listings of the national chain of charity shops. Like eBay’s early days, there is an ongoing heady rush of really cheap treasure, with about a one-third chance that it will be broken junk on arrival. I am notified this morning that I have prevailed in the struggle for a Canon S95, in box, with all accessories, booklets, cables, for less than the cost of a six pack.

    Tsk.

    1. William, thank you as ever. I really think you’re on to something with the source of all misery!

      I think I often look at this from the opposite angle – trying to find things that I find I’m content enough with to not always desire more. Because there’s always something more, if you don’t let yourself find a balance and be content with what you have.

      This said, there is an appeal (though far less than it once was) in the hunt and the chase on eBay. Finding an undiscovered treasure, then making it yours ahead of everyone else, but still thinking it’s a bargain.

      I’ve never used the sniping software, but I’ve often used the technique manually, waiting until a few seconds to go to enter my bid. In the context of this article, this is a good technique as long as you decide on your maximum bid way ahead of the auction ending. If it goes beyond your max before you even bid, then walk away. Don’t get caught up in the race!

      Oh and I never bid to a whole pound. If I’m willing to pay, say £17, I’ll bid something like £17.37, just to outbid anyone who might be bidding £17.00.

      I’ve now switched off email notifications for any saved searches I had remaining, which was very few anyway. And deleted the eBay from my phone.

      It’s good to be free!

      Though I should probably do the same with the Amazon app, way too easy to buy something that ten minutes previously you didn’t even know you needed…

      1. Oh, well, Gautama Buddha gets credit for that one…”The Buddha taught that the root of all suffering is desire, tanhā. This comes in three forms, which he described as the Three Roots of Evil, or the Three Fires, or the Three Poisons.”

        and my latest poison will be here in 3 – 5 days, parcel post.

        1. It’s a shame, I got to a similar point, where the remorse, even guilt, over buying anything, overtook any pleasure I got from having a new camera or lens to play with.

          1. Well, I do indeed know the buyer’s remorse/guilt conundrum, was expecting a bit of that anyway, and yet, yet, now that the thing is here and works perfectly and is cosmetically but a teenager and produces terrific RAW files ready for my personal tweak, and was so damned cheap, why I am so pleased that there is no hint of regret whatsoever or bad feeling of any sort. but rather of great gratitude to Jim Grey for pointing me toward it.

            (But now I simply must resist putting in any more bids on that nice S100, though the pull is strong and the auction expires at 6-something this evening…)

  2. I do not enjoy selling on eBay. As you note, it takes too long to set up the listing. This is why I tried selling cameras through my blog. It takes almost no time to set up the listing. The only risk is that someone is dissatisfied with their purchase. eBay has some mutual protections; my blog has none.

    As for buying on eBay, I still enjoy it. But I’ve never been a competitive buyer. I have a “film cameras ending soonest” and a “vintage cameras ending soonest” search that I use to glean the harvested field. I’ve found some great bargains that way.

    1. Jim, I know much of our selling frustrations are shared! And, inspired by you, I sold the last handful of camera bits directly via my blog too, which was vastly easier compared with eBay. But of course you’ve got to have a blog with enough exposure in the first place.

      I’ve found many great bargains one eBay over the years too, though on the film photography front they are harder to come by these days.

      As we spoke about recently, I’m glad I’m not in the market for an Olympus Mju II, or I’d need up to £300+ !!

  3. Good grief… I just searched that Mju 11 on there… I remember ordering those 50 at a time for our stock and getting through 100’s of them new when they were all the rage. Some sort of underground desirability myth thing going on with them now? Online life creates these quickly spreading fables these days. I’ll have to check down the back of the sofa, they were so common I’m sure I have a few left accidentally around…

    Anyway, eBay, I have bought and sold on there and it’s true, selling is hard work and buying is too easy! I have used it for finding older lenses mainly although I have managed to be looking for something specific and sticking to it so far.

    1. Bear, I think it’s just internet hype and a few blogs that hail the supposed magnificence of the Mju Il. Personally I’ve had a couple and didn’t much like them. Very slippery handling, annoying flash, titchy viewfinder. Very overrated in my view.

      The Mju I however is a little cracker. But not worth the £100+ they’re fetching. Especially as there are loads of other compacts like Pentax Espios that are as good and cost peanuts.

      Good idea to stick to specific items on eBay and be patient for the right one to come along. For that it remains a very effective site.

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