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ISSUE 9: June 30, 2003

Yard Salers and eBayers: Issue 9! Notes from eBay Live! 1.9 – June 30, 2003

Notes from eBay Live!

I told y’all last month that I would be your eyes and ears at the eBay Live show. And I was! Yardsalers is pleased to bring you the first installment of its eBay Live coverage. Not exactly “Live,” but one day late (and probably several dollars) short. However, I did my best to take it all in for you…and, if there specific questions about the show you’d like me to answer, please send them to me at juliawilk@aol.com. (And don’t forget to check out the MyEZsale.com site, where I edit the newsletter.)

Let’s get to it!


In This (Special) Issue: Seen, Heard, and Eaten: Notes from eBay Live!



1) Seen, Heard, and Eaten: Notes from eBay Live!


From the minute the cab pulled up and you saw the giant, colorful, inflated “eBay” letters in front of the convention center’s entrance, you knew you were in for something fun. EBay Live was held at the Orlando Convention Center this year, a vast complex that had me wandering lost at times the first day.

I had the good fortune to be hanging out with Ina Steiner of AuctionBytes (as you may remember, I have a part-time gig as editor of the Steiners’ new publication, “MyEZsale Ecommerce Guide”). She is like a celebrity there, and kept getting stopped by people saying hello.

We walked into the keynote address Friday (Thursday morning was the shareholders mtg., and though I didn’t make it there for that, AuctionBytes covered it...check out the AuctionBytes site, www.auctionbytes.com, for Ina’s report). We walked into a vast room with a concrete floor, with a lit stage and rows upon rows of chairs. Meg Whitman, sporting the eBay staff uniform of blue shirt and khakis welcomed the crowd like everyone’s aunt.

“This is like a family reunion,” she said, referring to the many members of the community, and no doubt also the fact that eBay’s founder, Pierre Omidyar, was making an appearance this year (which he was unable to do last year since he and his wife were having a baby).

She said there were more than 10,000 people registered for the show; more than double last year’s show in Anaheim, CA. And there were people from more than 20 countries…including China, Nigeria, India, and the Russian Federation.

Impromptu Audience Feedback Survey

Then she took a spontaneous, interactive survey: she said, “Everyone who is a registered user, please stand.” It seemed like everyone in the room got to their feet. (No big surprise). Everyone laughed, and she quipped something like, “If anyone is not standing, please reason with them.”

Then she asked everyone with feedback of less than 100 to sit down: about 1/5th of the people sat.

Then she asked for people with feedback of less than:

- 1000: about 1/3rd sat down.

- 5000: still more, I think about half of those left, sat

- 10,000: still a small number of people standing

- 20,000: there were still people standing! Apparently only a few, because I couldn’t actually see any in the vast audience, but they were there, to great applause.

eBay Factoids from Meg

Meg has a friendly, confident, chatty speaking style. Maybe that’s why I referred to her as an “aunt” (OK, or sister…sorry, Meg!) earlier...she seems like anyone you would run into at the Safeway or Post Office (more likely the Post Office, this being eBay).

She was full of warm ‘n’ fuzzy statements like “eBay succeeds only if you succeed.” She said eBay spent more than $200 million on site rehabilitation recently. Other factoids:

- eBay’s transmissions are the equivalent of sending all the info in the Library of Congress EVERY SIX HOURS

- they will triple the # of servers by the end of this year

Trust & Safety

Trust and safety are, as you probably know, some of the biggest issues on eBay users’ minds. Meg and other eBay staff alluded to it often.

She said they were working on the spam issue, with things like limiting the harvesting of email addresses by the feature where people only look up userid.

She also said they will increase the amount of buyer protection available, starting this Fall: if you have a 98% feedback rating or higher, you can buy $500 coverage with no deductible. “Sellers can market this to buyers,” she said.

Non-Paying Bidders

They are tackling the problem of NPB’s with things like blacklists, limiting the # of transactions, and popups reminding them of their obligations.

In the “Tickets and Entertainment” category, they are experimenting with using Paypal to automatically charge on Buy It Now (BIN) transactions.

Let’s Go to the Videotape

Then it was time to watch videos. Meg said she was going to show us all the incarnations of the “Do it eBay” tv commercial.

[If you are living under a rock, or never watch tv, these are the funny eBay tv commercials where a person sings and dances to the tune of the famous Sinatra tune, “My Way,” with lyrics replaced to reflect eBay bidding: “And now, the end is near, and so I face the final bidding…” ]

- The latest commercial was first, with the funny little balding guy who’s been compared to Jason Alexander (George on “Seinfeld”).

- Then, the second one, was with the tall, lanky “computer nerd” guy who sings with such zest about the PDA he bought, and bunny-hops with office workers;

- And finally, the first one, which I hadn’t seen, with a woman bursting forth from an RV in the middle of a crowded highway, and singing with assorted fun characters like a tattooed motorcycle dude, etc. (I think this one was my favorite because the people just made me laugh the most).

Powersellers/eBay Stores

Then Meg (she really only needs one name, like “Cher,” or “Madonna”) said that powersellers with eBay stores saw a 76% increase in sales, and 26% increase in bids.

She also mentioned the new eBay keywords program, which you can read about in full at http://www.shareholder.com/ebay/releases-2003.cfm.

(“Keywords on eBay is a co-branded offering provided through AdMarketplace, an advertising technology platform and service developed by Conducive Corporation. The new service allows sellers to create and target banner advertisements based on specific keyword terms. Keywords can be categories, types of items, brands, eBay Store names or eBay User Ids.”)

eBay Store Factoids:

- more than 100,000 stores on eBay

- average 25% increase in gross sales when sellers open a store

In general, Meg said, the eBay credo was to “make a small number of rules and stay the heck out of the way,” which was eBay’s original founder, Pierre Omidyar’s, vision.

Speaking of Pierre

Then came the part of the presentation that I think was my favorite: Pierre Omidyar, the man himself, emerged for a q&a with Meg!

Pierre strolled out casually, looking like, well, an unlikely billionaire. He just seemed like a nice, smart, funny, regular guy…and heck, if someone has to be a billionaire, I’m glad it’s someone like him.

From Auctionweb to eBay: Pierre’s Video

They rolled a video of the “early days” with people talking about Pierre.

His wife, Pam, was first. She said that back in those days, Pierre would come home, work on the site (which was originally called “auctionweb”), have dinner, and continue working on it.

“Pierre, What a Stupid Idea.”

Pierre’s old friend, Jeff Skoll, spoke warmly of Pierre and those early days, recounting in a self-deprecating way how Pierre had shared with him an idea for people to trade online, and Skoll had said, “Pierre, what a stupid idea.” (Yes, he laughs about it now).

He talked about how eBay came to charge any listing fees at all…as it cost Pierre more and more to host the site, he had to do something to keep up with his expenses. He went from charging a nickel to list, to ten cents. Skoll said Pierre would let the community tell him what they needed. “The town got bigger and bigger,” he said, and the company was growing 70% MONTHLY, not annually!

Skoll said the community was always based on honesty and the trust people put in one another.

Pierre has always believed that “people are basically good,” said Pam.

After the video rolled, Pierre walked out to the stage. He looked out at the vast crowd and appeared to be overwhelmed.

“There are a lot of people here,” he said. “I’m blown away.”

“You think about people trading one on one,” he said, and then you see people all in one room?”

Meg and Pierre sat on chairs facing each other and the audience for a little q & a.

“How did you get the idea for eBay?” asked Meg.

Pierre said “It was the summer of ’95, and I was thinking about how the web could bring power to the individual, and create a level playing field.” It started as an “experiment.”

Essentially, he said, he wrote the code all in that Labor Day weekend. He came home the Friday afternoon, wrote code over the weekend, and launched on Labor Day 1995.

Pierre said he heard someone shout out the word “auctionweb!” when he walked out. “Auctionweb was the original name of eBay,” he said.

Meg asked what was listed the first few weeks?

Pierre said he announced the site on a usenet discussion group – ncsa.whatsnew (I think it was; don’t quote me as I haven’t double-checked that’s spelled /typed correctly )…that announced new sites. (People were at that time using usenet to trade items).

“Who’s Going to Sell a Car on the Internet?”

He said among the first dozen items were a 1937 Silver Dawn Rolls Royce. Pierre was scratching his head, thinking, “Who’s going to sell a car on the internet?”

Pierre had bought a laser pointer as a cat toy (the cat chases the point up the wall, etc., he explained, to the laughter of the audience). After two weeks, it died. So he decided to put it up for auction, explaining it was not working, etc.: ”broken laser pointer.” It was a two-week auction, and to his surprise, it sold for $14, which was about half what he’d paid for it new.

“I wrote him [the guy who won the auction] and said ‘you know it’s broken, right?’” said Pierre, to more laughter.

Then he spoke more about the “level playing field,” and how he wanted to create a place where individuals could compete with big companies. It was to be technology to benefit regular people.

“The rules have to be the same for everybody,” he explained, whether they were a “mom ‘n’ pop” store or a big corporation. It was so counter to what most sites were doing, he said, which was trying to “create the land-based world.”

Meg’s Save?

Then a moment of levity arrived (well, another moment), when Pierre began to opine about when big companies started to arrive on eBay.

“I think it’s like when SUN Microsystems comes to eBay…” he began…

Meg hurriedly cut in…”Sun’s a sponsor here!”

Pierre paused a minute, then quipped, “OK, well, maybe not in Sun’s case…”

The Dawn of Feedback

How did feedback start on eBay? Pierre told us that too. Feedback was not there from the very beginning on the site. But he found there were starting to be a lot more complaints at one point.

He said it would be things like, “I have sent this person a dozen emails in the last 4 hours and they haven’t responded!” This brought a laugh.

[OK, so we know now that some people won’t respond in more like 4 weeks! But, thankfully, not most folks.]

So Pierre decided “if you’re willing to complain, you ought to be able to publish it, but you should be able to say nice things too.” This brought a lot of applause.

“Conventional wisdom says you get 10 times as many complaints as praise,” he said. He was afraid the feedback system would be taken over by complaints, but they found “when people are given the opportunity to do something nice, they do.”

He said the whole feedback page for all the sellers used to be only one page – everyone’s name and their feedback rating. (Can you imagine that? I would have loved to have been on eBay then).

Meg then asked: “Did you ever think eBay would be adopted globally?

Pierre said his vision for eBay was a single global trading community – anyone can trade regardless of language. There were issues, of course...customs clearing, third world countries, payments, etc… he said there are ”deep structural barriers to international trade,” but the “people in this room are making the world a smaller place, bringing the world closer together. The barriers will have to come down.”

[This was one of the most exciting parts of his speech for me – Julia, that is. ;) I can truly see eBay…or whatever auction system people are using, it seems likely it will be mostly eBay at this point, but who knows...becoming a place where you post from whatever country you’re living in, in whatever language, and the software will automatically translate into every language around the world, and deal with currency exchange. But don’t ask me when!]

It’s about the “empowerment an individual receives when they are part of an efficient market,” but cautioned, “some governments may have some issues with that.”


Meg said eBay is up to 27,000 categories now. She said one of the yardsticks she uses to measure things is thinking about her mom coming on the site..and that ideally, selling something on eBay should be as easy as throwing it away. (Hmm..I don’t think we’re there quite yet..though, no doubt, eBay has saved many an item from being thrown away).

A Cute Meg 'n' Pierre Moment

At one point, when Pierre went to answer a question, Meg leaned toward him and prompted, “Lean closer to the mike.”

Pierre looked out and joked, “See, she still tells me what to do. I thought I was the one who was supposed to tell her what to do.”

He was asked about his foundation, and said he wants to put his wealth to good use…and capture the original idea behind eBay, which was that one person can make a difference. So his foundation will be working toward helping individuals get the experience of making an impact.


Well folks, that’s it for the first keynote. I’m pooped from typing this, but I wanted to send it out tonight so those of you thirsty for tidbits from eBay Live could be a fly on the proverbial wall for at least part of it.

Next issue, much more about eBay Live, including nuggets from the seminars I attended, and what it was like to roam the exhibit halls and conference rooms of eBay Live.

(And, of course: Pin and Card Mania! How a Grown Woman Can Be Reduced to Begging and Bartering Small Metal Objects within Two Days).


Want to See a Picture Postcard of Julia and Ina Steiner of AuctionBytes at eBay Live? Go to Auctionbytes’s Postcards from eBay page at: http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/ebaylive2003/ebaylivecards/ebaylivecards2 (You have to scroll down a bit).


There is also fantastic coverage of eBay Live on the AuctionBytes site, so if you’re hungry for more now, check it out..go the left side of the site’s home page at www.auctionbytes.com and click “eBay Live Coverage.”

That’s it for this issue, since it’s a special issue about eBay Live. I didn’t want you to have to wait any longer! The next issue will have the regular Reader Mail and other sections.


eBooks by Julia L. Wilkinson:

[all my ebooks are offered at substantial discounts from their regular price of $8.95 to the subscribers of this newsletter. Only $4.95 each! If interested in any of them, please email me at juliawilk@aol.com.]

New eBooks:

-- Making Big Bucks off Catalogs on eBay: http://www.aolmemorabilia.com/clkslcat.html

- Over 100 Books that Sell for $50-$100 on eBay: email me!

- Selling Kids Clothes on eBay: email me! (these last two will be available for purchase via my site soon).

Julia Classic:

What Sells on eBay for What: http://www.aolmemorabilia.com/clkbnksales.html (it's 19.95 from this url, so email me if u want the discount) (and yes, I know the url stinks and I plan to get a new one) (was that two parenthetical statements in a row without conjoining punctuation?) (yes, it's getting late) (and did u actually just use the word "conjoining"?)

My Life at AOL (available at amazon.com, booklocker.com, and 1stbooks.com)


Copyright 2003 Julia L. Wilkinson


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