eBay Takes It on the Chin

The writers ended their strike just as auction sellers started their boycott.

Rick Munarriz
Rick Munarriz
Feb 26, 2008 at 12:00AM

Some people just can't get enough of kicking an aging bully when it's down.

My email was buzzing over the weekend, after news reports indicated that the winning bid of just more than $3 million for a massive music collection on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) was bogus. According to the unsuspecting buyer, someone apparently hacked into his account and made the fraudulent bid.

"The initial press eBay skated on was sure sweet," one reader wrote after the deal fell apart. "I sure do hope the press will give eBay the bitter pill they deserve."

She's not the only person getting a kick out of eBay's face-egging. eBay may be the world's largest online landlord, but tenants and ex-tenants alike seem to enjoy bashing the auction marketplace.

On Feb. 18, several incensed eBay sellers -- upset over recent feedback changes, fee adjustments, and transaction requirements -- went on strike. The boycott has been extended until next week, but does it really matter?

Sellers aren't quitting e-commerce cold turkey. If they have found acceptable substitutes -- anything from rival auction sites like Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK) to low-hurdle marketplaces like Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) to free classifieds on Craigslist to generating direct leads through paid-search ad campaigns with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) -- why come back at all?

If there is a more effective creator of commerce than eBay for many of these disgruntled sellers, it's not much of a stretch for an embargo to become a permanent migration.

How effective the strike has been remains to be seen. Third-party eBay-listing trackers like Medved show a dip since late February, but the same site shows how traffic has dropped substantially after Valentine's Day for several years in a row now.

eBay was also on the ropes before the strike, with year-over-year domestic declines in two of the last three quarters. In other words, it's hard to tell if the strike is having a tangible impact on eBay or if this is part of the grander seasonal trend combined with eBay's gradual slide into e-commerce irrelevance.

Obviously, the frustrated power sellers will fill my inbox with anecdotes of how they are the ones taking down eBay with their virtual battering rams, but the company's struggles lately indicate that this may very well be an insider job, too.

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