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Why is it so hard to succeed on eBay?


Why is it so hard to succeed on eBay?

It is possible to have success on eBay, but it's not easy for everybody

Photo: Jocky / Dreamstime
Question: Why is it so hard to succeed on eBay?
According to some books and websites, succeeding on eBay is easy (albeit often with some “secret” that you get only by buying the book, website subscription, or other product). To hear others tell the story, eBay’s heyday is over and nobody makes money there any more.

So what gives? Is it easy to get rich quick on eBay, or is it impossible to make a buck under any circumstances?


For some, it’s much harder than it used to be. For others, it’s easier than ever. Here’s why.

Changing Times

The truth is that as has always been the case, some sellers do very well on eBay while others struggle. What has changed in recent years is the nature of the marketplace. eBay has become:
  • More popular, with more members, buyers, and sellers
  • More fee-intensive for many
  • More buyer-oriented in customer service terms
  • More global
  • Less mystified for many users
  • Part of a much larger ecosystem of ecommerce retailers
Reading through this list, it’s easy to picture the eBay of a dozen years ago: still somewhat exotic for the general public, yet at the same time the only major ecommerce retailer, populated more by enthusiasts, early adopters, specialists, and recyclers than by professional retailers.

Fast-forward to today and what you’ll see on eBay is the global public. Just about every entrepreneur, business, and trader of every kind sells on eBay or has considered selling on eBay, and the much more vast online public of today is well accustomed to online buying, including savvy price comparison and product comparison practices. Today on eBay:

  • There are more sellers than ever before
  • Competition is more intense than ever before
  • Professional retailers and importers/exporters are more numerous
  • Many products are sourced globally/sold directly, and in high volume
  • Buyers are much more sophisticated about getting great value
  • Customer service is more important for buyer retention
Combine all of these factors with increasing fees and what you have is a recipe for razor-thin margins and cutthroat competition in most retail goods categories.

Doom and Gloom?

So is eBay over? Are all eBay sellers doomed to flounder? Of course not. One quick glance at the numbers for eBay and the current listings in any category provide evidence of eBay’s continued centrality in online retail.

What is true, however, is that you’ll have to be a pretty big player to compete in areas like consumer electronics, media, or fashion, given the margins at work and the masses of East Asian direct sellers competing in these categories.

What hasn’t changed about eBay is the way in which it serves buying publics that are underserved by traditional retail, online or otherwise:

  • Arts and crafts enthusiasts
  • Antiques, vintage goods, and collectibles buffs
  • Do-it-yourselfers of all kinds
  • Hobbyists of various stripes
  • Buyers of used and consignment goods
  • Buyers of one-of-a-kind and scratch-and-dent goods
If you’re interested in getting a start selling on eBay, your best bets are to ignore the claims about “easy” eBay riches or “impossible” eBay policies a focus on finding a business model that’s viable on eBay today, winning the battle for the bid, and avoiding crippling mistakes. Selling on eBay is a lot more like buying on eBay than it used to be: you can make out like a bandit, but you have to be smart, patient, and just a little bit cagey for that to happen.

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