Who'd have thunk that online retailing could ever become such a bromidic market? eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) grew up raising eyebrows and turning heads wherever it went, but its business has become very predictable lately.

That's not a bad thing, mind you.

First-quarter earnings of $0.47 per share squeaked just over the $0.46 bar set by Wall Street, and eBay shares ended up moving nowhere the day after the report. To quote what my friend Rick Munarriz said about the fourth-quarter report in January: "Steady as she goes." Yep, this predictability has become a pattern.

And like I said, there's nothing wrong with that -- Mr. Market likes predictable businesses. Over the past 12 months, eBay investors have enjoyed market-crushing returns of 41%, just above market darling Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) and far above lesser lights such as Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK) and HSN (Nasdaq: HSNI).

Once again, eBay's strength stems from a Herculean effort by its PayPal payment service, which added 16% more user accounts year over year while also increasing the payment activity per user: Total payment volume in the segment grew 28%.

The company is looking for some guaranteed growth by tucking in a bushel of recent acquisitions, mostly so small that you have to add the targets to your cart to see the price -- along with a big one in online-marketing expert GSI Commerce (Nasdaq: GSIC). Most of these moves increase eBay's focus on local merchandising, as if CEO John Donahoe were possessed by the spirit of Groupon or LivingSocial.

Hey, everybody else is doing it, so why not eBay? This company should already have a leg up on the local retailing market thanks to its longtime exposure to very personalized deal-making.

Will eBay's next quarter be just as boring, predictable, and profitable? Only time will tell, but you can pick up clues along the way by keeping a close eye on the company.

The best way to do that is to add eBay to your Foolish watchlist. Every move eBay makes, every claim it stakes, you'll be watching it.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. OK, that was a wimpy little tribute to National Poetry Month stuck in at the end there. Sorry, Sting. Amazon.com and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.