Everything you need to know about eBay

When eBay first became a listed company in September 1998, it made its founder and CEO instant billionaires. By 2008, the site had over 12 million registered users and a revenue of over AUD$10billion.

But an ever-changing digital world means eBay has struggled to maintain its position as the market leader. Increasing competition from companies such as Amazon, and Facebook Marketplace, which allows people to buy and sell things locally, has meant customers have other options — and they’re using them.

Due to competition from Amazon and Facebook Marketplace, eBay is losing its spot as a market leader. Photo: Getty Images.

In July 2017, eBay reported a 94 per cent fall in quarterly profit. Although they have shifted their business model from auction bidding to fixed pricing and given big brand names boosts on the site, they’re finding it hard to shift the perception that they’re an auction-only site. There’s even been speculation for the last couple of years that Amazon could buy eBay. 

We take a look at the history of eBay, how it’s changed and some of the weirdest things you can buy on the site.

How did eBay start?

Originally called AuctionWeb, eBay was founded in 1995 by American computer programmer Pierre Omidyar who set up the site as a hobby. He first sold a broken laser pointer for AUD$21.50, and when he contacted the buyer to explain that it was broken, the buyer reportedly told him he was a collector of broken laser pointers. Omidyar realised there was always someone who wanted to buy something. He kept running the site as a hobby until the traffic became so high his internet provider contacted him to upgrade to a business account.

This meant he started charging users to buy and sell, and he also hired his first staff member to process the fees that were being paid. In 1996, they partnered with a travel company to sell plane tickets and travel products and started to host around 200,000 auctions a month. In 1997, the Beanie Baby craze propelled eBay into the big time, with $500million worth of them being sold through the site.

A year later they received AUD$9.7million in venture capital funding, and by 1998 they had 30 employees and half a million users. When it became a publicly listed company, its popularity exploded, and today it’s a multi-billion business that operates in 33 countries.

eBay chairman and founder Pierre Omidyar and CEO Meg Whitman ham it up in 1998. Photo: Getty Images.

How did eBay get its name?

Founder Pierre Omidyar first ran the site under his consulting firm’s name, Echo Bay Technology Group. When he tried to register this as the domain name, it had already been taken, so he shortened it to eBay.

Is it better to do an auction or fixed price on eBay?

In 2008 eBay changed their business model to concentrate on mainly fixed-price sales, in order to compete with Amazon and other online retailers, who were also offering competitive prices — but without the wait for an auction. There’s a downward trend in consumers wanting to bid on auctions, but it is a personal choice.

Can you sell anything you want on eBay?

Within reason. Some of the weirdest items sold on eBay include a grilled cheese sandwich with the face of Virgin Mary on, which was sold for AUD$40,600 in 2004; a Dorito shaped like the Pope’s hat, which sold for AUD$1754 in 2005; a piece of bubble gum chewed and spat out by Britney Spears was sold in 2000 for AUD$20,300; and the meaning of life was sold by a man from North Carolina who claimed to have discovered it — it was worth AUD$4.72. In 2008, Perth man Ian Usher sold his life on eBay, including his house, car, all his possessions and even his friends for $399,900. 

Britney Spears' locks went up for sale on eBay after her infamous post-rehab buzzcut in 2007. Photo: Getty Images.

What can’t you sell on eBay? 

There’s not too much you can’t sell, but there is a list of prohibited and restricted items that aren’t allowed on the site. These include partly-used cosmetics, used underwear, prescription and illegal drugs, firearms, and adult material including sexually explicit images where you can see male or female genitalia, the anus, or the areola or nipple on female breasts.

In 2004 a British 18-year old put her virginity up for sale on eBay, but it was taken down by eBay after three days. (She later moved the auction to a private website where it bought by a businessman who paid for her college education without taking her virginity.) You’re also not allowed to sell people (under human trafficking rules), human organs, or anything that has been stolen.

Can you exchange items you buy on eBay?

Most sellers offer returns if you have changed your mind about what you’ve bought, but you need to check their individual return policy to see their terms and conditions. If there is something wrong with the item, or it doesn’t match the description in the original listing, you’re entitled to exchange or return it – even if the seller says they don’t accept returns. The seller has three business days to arrange this for you, and if it doesn’t happen within that time, you can contact eBay directly to ask for help, and they will give you their Money Back Guarantee. If an item is faulty, the seller has to pay for return postage costs. 

What if the item I bought on eBay doesn’t arrive? 

If the product you ordered doesn’t arrive, you’re entitled to a refund under eBay’s Money Back Guarantee. Firstly, check under your Purchase History to confirm the item’s due delivery date and the address it’s being sent to. If the delivery date is passed, contact the seller within 30 days of the expected delivery date to let them know it hasn’t arrived. They have three days to either give a delivery update, refund the item or offer a replacement. 

Here's what to do if you eBay item never arrives. Photo: Getty Images.

How do I get a refund on eBay?

If your item is faulty, is not as it was described by the seller, or doesn’t arrive, you’re entitled to a refund. Once you have contacted the seller to discuss the issue and they offer to refund your money, they have three business days to refund you. Once they have processed this, you will receive an email. Paypal payments usually take three to five business days, and it can take up to 30 days for a credit card payment to be refunded.

How much does it cost to sell something on eBay?

If you are not selling items through an eBay store, selling and listing fees depend on the price you are selling the product for. If you are selling at a fixed price or at auction, the first 40 listings are free. After that, listing fees are $1.65 for an item that is being sold at a starting price of less than $100, and $3.85 for a starting price of over $100. If you’re selling at auction or at fixed price, selling fees are 10.9 per cent of the sale price, or $44 if you’re selling through a classified ad. There are also extra fees for promoting your listings or adding extra services. For a monthly subscription, you can run your own eBay store which starts at $24.95 a month and includes free listings and reduced selling fees. 

Can I do my grocery shop on eBay? 

Yes, you can now do your Coles shop through eBay, although it can only be delivered to metro areas of the state capitals. Delivery takes three to ten days and costs $10 unless you are an eBay plus member, and then it’s free for shops over $49. Prices may be slightly “different” but they guarantee that all Coles brand products will cost the same as they do in-store. 

Does eBay have sales?

Yes. Brands who have official eBay stores often run seasonal sales, including End of Financial Year, and Christmas sales. It’s also possible to find discount codes on other websites that you can use on eBay.

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