eBay: Is it Worth the Trouble?

Another guest post by Kerry, last year’s Simple Year author

I have been a member of eBay since 1999 when I needed to find exact replacements for my father’s much beloved skis.  (Mental note: don’t lean sporting goods on the back of one’s car when late to an appointment).    It was so much fun in the beginning and I always felt like I could get great deals or difficult to find items (like skis that hadn’t been manufactured since Cheers was on the air)

As the years have passed, I feel less like I’m getting a good discount and more like I’m buying from the online version of a shopping mall in a slightly seedier side of town.  It has caused me to wonder if eBay is worth the hassle particularly now that I’m not required to buy used.


In the beginning, eBay was really more of a marketplace for used items sold by individuals.  It didn’t take long for the site to be overrun by “pro” sellers with expensive minimums and NEW IN BOX items, some legitimate but others knock-offs from China (Coachy Purses and Ugs Boots).

In spite of this defilement, I really do still love the concept of eBay. During my Buy Nothing New Year, I was able to find ANYTHING I needed, on the site simply by searching “used only”.   There is only the occasional lemon, like the  cat pee soaked boots I wrote about here.

I now only buy from sellers with a larger number of feedbacks already in the system and check the country of origin.  While I always search the used items first, I do allow myself to look at new items now.

I also only bid on items that I am willing to take a loss on because, despite what eBay espouses, their customer service is poor and much like a harried elementary school teacher; they want you to “work it out on your own”.

Sometimes I wonder if the entire realm of eBay is staffed by three androids sitting in clean room somewhere.  Have you ever tried to ask for help with something?  Even if you directly email them and then wait the requisite 72-hours for response, they send you an infuriating “Frequently Asked Questions” list, subtitled, Don’t bother us with your trivial questions, you are but an insignificant speck in the hive mind.


I like selling on eBay because I can earn more money that at a garage sale or a consignment store.   Plus, I think it’s good to have a variety of merchandise on the market from people who are not trying to make their living, it keeps the prices down. Or at least, I believe it does.

But, I am busy, you are busy….we are all busy.

Listing on eBay has gotten easier, particularly if you have a smart phone that uploads photos instantly.  Once you get your first couple of items listed, your preferences are on file and then you can go through the screens quickly.  eBay also gives suggested shipping costs, which is helpful. But, I usually add a dollar to that price, just to be safe.

It takes me less than five minutes to list each item, then about two hours to obsessively check my items over the next five to seven days to see if they have any bids.

But, you could cut out that step.

Shipping is also easy; you can print out postage online through the USPS website (although you have to estimate weight and size of the box).  I usually sell a few things at a time, so I just make a 30-minute trip to the post office.

Also, eBay and its mistress PayPal take a cut of your proceeds.  It varies based on some complex, constantly changing algorithm created by those three androids, but it is usually between 15 and 20 percent total.

I generally try to sell at least five items at a time and list only items I feel like I am going make at least five dollars on after all the fees.   But, of course I prefer to list items that have retained a pretty good value like brand name kid’s clothing.

I’m a working mom and know the value of my time.  I usually don’t make as much per hour as I do consulting, but making a few hundred extra dollars each year plus ultimately giving new use to our old items is worth it for me.

It’s like finding money in the pocket of a coat I haven’t worn since last season. And, what else am I going to do from three to four AM?

To me: the world's ugliest purse.  To buyer in Ohio: treasure worth 17.56.  Everyone is happy

To me this is the world’s ugliest purse. To buyer in Ohio, it is a a treasure worth $17.56. Everyone is happy.