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.
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.
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.
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.
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