Today is the start of eBay's
"Whether you're a PowerSeller or a casual buyer, this event is a must," goes the eBay Live pitch, but who are we kidding here? With registration running a cool $100, most of the attendees will be the site's most active power sellers who rely on the site for a living.
That could be bad news for eBay, especially with many of its members still steaming over recent changes to feedback ratings, search sorting preferences, and PayPal shackling. The site did toss its power sellers a bone, offering discounts to its most successful vendors, but that hasn't been enough to quell the outcry.
There is always a critic
To be fair, there is never a shortage of disgruntled sellers. I've been writing about eBay since its birth, and I have emails from upset users that date back to the 1990s. They threaten to leave the site and predict eBay's downfall. Fees are going up! Fraud is increasing! Meg Whitman is a meanie! A quarterly report later, eBay keeps growing.
This doesn't mean that the angry seller opinions should be dismissed. In fact, now that Fool.com has a comment box so readers can express their thoughts on any article, I encourage anyone who has a horror story -- or an eBay love song to sing -- to share those thoughts.
My point is that eBay is no stranger to dissension. It just finds a way to rise above it. Except for a lull last summer when year-over-year listings actually dipped, the marketplace finds a way to replace the dearly departed with the new blood.
But things are not booming at eBay. Its initial 2008 guidance was an eye-opener. The company was projecting adjusted earnings to grow in the single digits this year, and that is with the fast-growing PayPal and Skype verbs in its arsenal.
If there is a difference this time, it's that we're not talking about venomous pitchfork-carrying boycotters. Mainstream media is hoisting the battering ram, too. When BusinessWeek rolls with an "Auctions on eBay: A Dying Breed" headline, you have to think that maybe the company has upset one power seller too many.
The future of auctions
There will be more than stiff breezes blowing through the Windy City over the next three days, even though this year's eBay Live could have been something special. Now that eBay has opened up its Selling Manager platform to 70,000 third-party developers, it won't be long before active eBayers have a deeper bench of selling tools at the ready. Under a kinder climate, those developer booths would be hopping.
One also can't blame eBay for ignoring the threat of cheaper selling outlets. It has a minority stake in free classifieds leader, Craigslist, and runs the fast-growing Kijiji. However, even an ad-supported listings site will never deliver the kind of revenue that eBay can at the top of its game. Between the listing fees, completed auction charges, and PayPal doorway to seal the deal, eBay will never give up on its namesake site.
It has already swatted away the initial competitors. Dot-com magnets like Amazon.com
Niche specific listing and auction sites, like StubHub for concert tickets and Bidz.com
No company is coated in Teflon. eBay will have to deal eventually with the irate mob that has better things to do than show up and vent in the cavernous McCormick hall this week. Maybe it's the silence that should worry the company; at least a vocally displeased seller is better than an apathetic one.
Are many sellers angry? You bet. If those cries actually affect performance, eBay will make changes. It's not stupid. It's a survivor. If all else fails, let's hope that it pays more attention to them over the next few quarters than on planning eBay Live 2009.
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