This is the first part of a two-post story about peer to peer marketplaces for second hand items. You can find the second part of the story following this link.
I’ve been using eBay since 2007, the day I figured out I could get some money out of my PlayStation 2 in order to buy a PlayStation 3. I was 19 years old and that was a great revelation. I created an eBay account and it felt like magic. I put some photos and a description online and in a few days I sold it for a reasonable price. I struggled a little to understand auctions and how to ship something (never did it before), but I ended up buying a new PS3 for much less than I expected. That was the whole point.
Since then I sold more than 80 items on eBay. There are two reasons why I sold that many things: 1/ I’m kind of a minimalist, I can’t stand having stuff around that I don’t use. It’s simple: if I don’t use it, I sell it. And 2/ the little stuff I have, I want it to be the last and best. For example, I’m guilty of buying every new iPhone (yes, I know…) so when October comes I prepare to sell my “old" iPhone in order to jump to the new one at a much reasonable price.
I have never complained about eBay. On the contrary, I’ve been a long time advocate of the company because I truly believe in their mission. eBay (among other things) empowers people to sell things that they don’t use or want anymore, so at the end, it reduces waste and extends the average life of a product. And at the large scale they are operating, that’s a really good thing.
I’ve been always fascinated by the ability of the platform to connect people that is looking for what you are selling. I’ve sold really niche stuff and there has always been a potential buyer for that. But that scale has come at a cost: the experience never felt truly optimized for an individual that wanted to sell their stuff online.
It makes sense though. eBay was (one of) the first player in the market. They aggressively colonized an empty space and appealed to a broader audience, because they could. I’ve written several times about the topic because we have gone through this at iomando. The problem is that, at some point, in order to serve a definite vertical, you have to focus and say no. Because if you don’t do it, someone else will. That’s exactly what eBay feels like today. Maybe (and it’s totally fine) they are optimized for a large retailer because they think is a more profitable space, I don’t know that. What I do know is that eBay, for the person who wants to sell his stuff online, feels exactly the same today than it felt when I sold my PS2, back in 2007.
But as eBay has stayed the same, the world has changed, a lot. Maybe I haven’t complained about it during this time. To me eBay was the go-to place when I had to sell something, and while the experience was suboptimal, there was no alternative and it got the job done. But that’s not true anymore. Once you try an experience intentionally designed around the individual that wants to sell her stuff, you can clearly articulate eBay’s problems. You feel the same way smartphone users felt before the iPhone.
These are some of eBay’s problems for an individual person who wants to sell, say, an iPad because she has bought the newer model.
Publication tools are extremely complicated. There are dozens of things you have to set, check, fill… in order to get your item out of the door. The interface is extremely complex and has lots of variables to worry about. That might be great for large sellers, but if you want to sell an iPad it feels overwhelming. There is now a mobile app and a simplified interface that strips down some of the options, but it just hides some of the complexity, is not intentionally designed for this purpose.
Discovery is not easy. There are hundreds of different categories you can choose from and sometimes the frontier between them is blurry. eBay does it because they get more per publication if it appears in more categories, but at the end, it makes navigation and discovery way more difficult.
Identity and human touch. eBay was founded in 1995 when the internet was still based on anonymity and nicknames. Today the internet is built on trust and online identity. Success stories like AirBnB wouldn’t be possible without the human touch and the ability to build communities around real people. If you are going to pay for something, you want to know who you are dealing with.
Communication. eBay has an inter communication platform that I really think it’s a joke. I have plenty of respect for product decisions and I always think twice before I judge a feature. You never fully understand the constrains designers and engineers might faced when they implemented a feature, but eBay users communications tool is something I have a really hard time understanding.
Commissions. I get that in order to become an S&P500 you have to charge for something at some point, but the rates they apply just make no sense to an individual that wants to sell a single item. They charge for 1/ publication, 2/ successful sale, 3/ payment (if you use PayPal) and you have to deal with shipping costs.
Buying experience. I have sold more than I bought on eBay. But I’ve always thought that for a buyer who relies on another individual to ship the thing once you have already payed is a little risky. What if the article does not resemble to the (low resolution) photos? What if it is delivered broken? What if it never ships? Paying for advance puts the buyer in a really risky position, more so if you can’t claim to the buyer because it is hidden behind a nickname.
This is a small list of things that have occurred to me while as was writing, I’m sure there’s more, but you get the idea: the platform is not intentionally designed for peer to peer transactions. But the vast reach the service puts at your fingertips and the lack of alternatives makes you stick with it.
I was able to write down this list because this week I’ve tried something that makes of peer to peer selling an amazing experience. This week I sold my first item on Wallapop. On the next article I will discuss how Wallapop has considered all of eBay’s weaknesses and has leveraged technology to make of them their main competitive advantages.