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.


6 Responses to eBay: Is it Worth the Trouble?

  1. I just don’t bother with Ebay anymore but choose to donate to charity shops here in the UK. I could donate the cash I got by selling on Ebay but I don’t have high value items, so it is worth more to me in terms of time and effort to walk my items down the road to my local charity shop. I do love the concept and acquired high value items when in the US, such as second hand, but barely used, skis and boots and saved LOTS of money.
    We have sold electrical items on Ebay in the past as, amazingly, people will buy old, broken computers.
    My husband buys most of his high quality hifi second hand, and is a big Ebay fan.

  2. I did quite a bit of selling on Ebay a few years back. I got frustrated with some of the games people played and the costs associated with ebay and paypal and quit. Today what I mainly sell are pieces of furniture I find and restore I now list on Craigslist. I don’t have to worry about something getting lost in the mail, or other issues. I don’t have to deliver and can deal in cash only. Sure I could probably make more money if I chose to sell on Ebay again, but it’s not worth the headaches for me.

  3. It is clear. eBay is no longer the place for the little guys to sell for extra income. I think you would agree if you did the math and realize that you are getting 75 cents an hour for your time. I was.

    eBay decided at one point that sellers are expendable but buyers are not. Everything is spun to meet unreasonable demands from spoiled buyers. They were spoiled by eBay at buyer’s expense. (eBay: “Sellers inflate shipping.. Sellers don’t properly describe their items so watch them and we will make sure you get your money back… after all we control their PayPal accounts also”)

    An example of the above is the shipping cost issue. If the US Post charges $9 to deliver a package, the buyer has been programmed to think that they are getting ripped off by the Seller. eBay’s solution to that was to encourage the Sellers to lower (or free) shipping as a tool to “increase sales”. Oh it will and that is what eBay is interested in. The fact that a Seller just lost $9 on the sale is of no consequence to eBay… a sale means fees in eBay’s pocket. If you remove $9 from your markup and divide what is left by the packing and shipping time you spent… and the time you spent to find the item and bring it home… and the time you spent to photograph and list it… and the time you spent answering usually asinine email from the spoiled buyer. eBay actually allows Buyer to publically “judge” you with negative feedback for shipping cost that you don’t control! This feedback is used to punish you into submission to lower the US Post office’s shipping price at your demise… again adding to the whole 75 cents-an-hour situation.

    The folks at eBay are no fools. They know this. They also know that most sellers are unsophisticated and do not realize that the cost in time and money will never be calculated by most. Many have no other means of adding income to their family’s coffers and think that anything is enough. eBay also realizes that there is a world full of needy folks who will replace the ones that leave… or consider their new plan to be more like Amazon

    Let the purging begin!
    eBay in my opinion is actively purging small Sellers from the ranks. Opting for the Amazon model of large Sellers only… those like national stores who list items in the tens-of-thousands. Perhaps Target is an example. Oh how badly the board at eBay dreams of the stock numbers that Amazon flaunts in their faces.

    Any excuse to bounce a small Seller is good enough now to pull the lever on the trap door under their feet.

    So the question should be “Is 75 cents-per-hour worth the trouble?” Well maybe to eBay since it isn’t their hours.

  4. I became a member of ebay in 1999. By 2010, I had bought and sold thousands of items, As time went by, there seemed to be more and more outright fraud perpetrated against me and other ebay members – and it was always IMPOSSIBLE to get ebay to do anything about it. In late 2010, my account was hacked by criminals who used my perfect feedback to defraud buyers worldwide to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I spent OVER A YEAR attempting to get hold of A SINGLE ebay employee, but could not. I finally gave up. It is my sincere hope that ebay goes bankrupt. It has become nothing more than a fraudulent scam.

  5. My mate Alex, sold a heap of vintage, unrestored push-bikes on Ebay,(as he is sick & plans to move to the Country, if he survives his throat cancer) and any potential interested parties interested in this genuine bargain, were blocked by 2-3 dealers who prevented other bidders for getting at least 100 old bikes from the 1960s-1980s. The dealers rigged the Ebay auction in their favour & the dealer paid Alex a grand total of 99c in old copper coins!
    Alex reckoned he would’ve got more from the scrap metal yard, even after he took off the good parts of the bikes! And metal prices are currently very low.

  6. Been buying and selling since 1999 as well, and I’ve gotten ripped off as both a buyer and a seller, but overall, ebay is worth it. I know this because I continue to buy from there, and sometimes sell. Overall, buying is still worth it but selling is less worth it.

    Buying is getting more worth it to get either deals, or stuff that has sold out and I can’t find elsewhere. Even if I end up buying junk every now and then, the money saved (or spent) has evened out the money wasted. Ebay realized that without buyers, no sellers would be lured to the site. Vice versa is also true, but money is more important than “stuff” – there is always someone out to sell you something, but you need buyers’ trust to put money into the system.

    I know Ebay is starting to cater to buyers more because when I first started (year 1999), I bought what was advertised as a “Latex” dress for a high amount of money. Latex is expensive, and can be polished to a shine, and lasts a long time. However, what I received was a cheap vinyl dress, the kind that I could get anywhere, thin vinyl coated over polyester. When I went to return the item, the seller refused, and for me to open a dispute, I would have to PAY ebay an additional $25 for an “investigation fee”, on top of what I already spent. Then I could not leave negative feedback because she would also. Nowadays, ebay always sides in favor of the buyer, no “investigation fee” required. Sellers are also not able to leave buyers negative feedback. (I felt bad for the time sold an awful “dress” I made, it went higher than I expected, probably due to fuzzy digital photos of the time, and it was lopsided and awful but she didn’t complain).

    Sellers not being able to leave retalitory negative feedback usually makes sense, since a buyer’s end of the deal is to pay money, and 3 no-pays result in suspension of account- except for the time as a seller (year 2003) I got screwed by someone who used a stolen credit card. I could not leave negative feedback warning others to avoid this buyer. Not only did my item get sent to the thief, but the funds were taken from me and given back to the credit card holder – which is fine by me. But the unfair part was, I also got hit with a $50 chargeback fee.

    Selling is becoming less worth it. The good part is, there are no more insertion fees (used to be .25 and up) and gallery fees – to show a picture on the search (smart move on eBay’s part, because they can sell more items this way for more fees.) But there are too many pro sellers flooding the market and you don’t get much for items anymore.

    And ebay has become more buyer centric. The ebay transaction that makes me most mad happened in 2009. I sold a (horrible) man a beautiful fox pelt (sorry dear fox, never again) I found in a trading store (It was the most expensive one there). He cut it up, and allegedly found holes from the tanning process. I did not know of these holes, it was perfect from the outside. When he wanted his money back, the problem was he had cut the fox pelt into many pieces, so I could not resell it or do anything with it. Most stores do not accept items back if you cut it up. He never emailed me photos of the holes (maybe he made the holes himself? were they even there?), never sent back the fox, YET ebay returned his money after a shoddy “investigation” he didn’t have to pay for (unlike my 1999 experience), and he also left negative feedback. So he kept the fox, got his money back, and left me negative feedback. I was out the fox pelt, the shipping fee, and basically paid him to give me negative feedback. I had also left positive feedback because it is my policy to leave it when a buyer pays. It still makes me mad. If he got his money back (and ebay did not require him to send it back), Ebay should not have let him leave negative feedback.

    Ebay might require to show proof of sending back to receive refund now after the pendulum swung too far over, but it’s definitely buyer centric. One downside is can’t communicate with other members anymore (I became good friends with one after we chatted over an ebay buy) for safety and possibly spam issues.

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