<i>In The News</i>: An eBay Boycott, Mold in the Library
By Michael Stillman
The latest eBay strike has come and gone, and the results were predictable. The strikers may have claimed a moral victory, but the actual victory, as always, went to eBay. It was never in doubt. This was not Obama vs. Clinton, but Obama vs. Kucinich, Ali vs. Chuck Wepner, Google vs. Altavista, the Patriots vs. the Giants (okay, scratch that comparison), or Anybody vs. the Knicks. The outcome was determined before the event occurred.
Statistics compiled by Medved.net indicated a drop of nearly 18% in listings during the first three days of the boycott. Medved is an independent site that adds up and posts the number of listings it finds on eBay. However, listings had already been declining before the strike as items expired from a free listing day a few days earlier. After the first three strike days, listings again began to rise. Ebay claimed the strike had no impact on their business, and while that is unlikely to be entirely correct, it is probably true that it had no important impact. It was well within the easy-to-ignore range.
To use the ultimate measuring tool, eBay's before and after the boycott stock price was virtually the same. The market knows when there is a problem for a company. It found none.
Naturally, no one likes a price increase, and eBay's new formula, which reduces listing fees but increases commissions, is a negative for some sellers. Many others dislike eBay's decision to no longer allow sellers to give negative feedback to buyers, the way buyers can with sellers. A negative feedback or two, possibly unjust, could relegate a seller's items to the bottom of the listings, almost invisible. Some smaller sellers also found provisions which provide better terms for the large seller versus the smalltime amateur. However, eBay made the call, and fair or not, eBay calls the shots. This is not a democracy. This is a take-it-or-leave-it option. Therein lies the rub. Boycott is not either of those two available options.
Sellers will only be able to affect eBay's choices by choosing the “leave it” option. However, that is only going to come about when other viable choices are present, and eBay no longer makes money for them. The new deal may not be quite as good, but it is still profitable for most, and no other comparable options are available. So, another boycott comes and goes, sellers get to vent some of their frustration, and reality marches on. Someday it may be different. Someday, an option superior to eBay may come along. It probably won't be just another website, but something that represents a leap forward in technology, just as eBay was a decade ago. That new technology may be more profitable for eBay sellers, and off they will go, like K-Mart shoppers flocking to Wal-Mart. At that point it won't matter whether those sellers love eBay or hate it. They will go where the money is to be made, just as they logically should. Until then, they will grumble and complain, perhaps rightfully so, and a few may actually leave, but the love-hate relationship will go on.