1. Money
Send to a Friend via Email

What is eBay?

An introduction to the World's Online Marketplace™

By

What is eBay?

eBay's unique business model has helped it to grow into a multibillion dollar global enterprise.

Photo: Sean Gallup / Getty Images
You're familiar with the name. You've seen it in stories on the evening news. You've heard co-workers talking about it around the water cooler. Your niece says she even did her back-to-school shopping there. So what is this eBay phenomenon, anyway?

Simply put, eBay is:

  • A place to buy. Get nearly anything you need or want at prices better than you can find in traditional brick-and-mortar or even online stores. Though there are lots of rotten deals on eBay, too, the careful consumer can always come out ahead.

  • A place to sell. Whether you're a bix-box retailer or just an average Joe (or Jane) cleaning out your garage, nearly anything you list on eBay will sell if you're flexible enough about the price. eBay's global reach can even move unusual items that aren't in demand in your own neighborhood, turning paperweights into cash.

  • A meeting place, not a store. eBay doesn't actually sell any goods itself. All of the goods on eBay are sold and delivered by third party sellers that are neither employed by, nor have any other relationship with, eBay itself. Instead, eBay's business is to give entrepreneurs and sellers a place to reach buyers, and to give buyers access to the world's largest collection of things for sale.

  • A place to shop. Because of the immense variety of things that can be found for sale on eBay, many members have discovered that eBay is one of the best places in the world to window or comparison shop. The millions of item listings created by sellers often include photos, detailed descriptions, and owner experiences. Because you can see lots of the same item side-by-side in various conditions and know what each one sold or is selling for, eBay gives you insight into the real market value or "street value" of most types of goods around the world.

  • A place to collect. eBay is the world's largest marketplace for rare, discontinued, collectible, or hard-to-find items, no matter what the type or price. Whether you're looking for turn-of-the-century box cameras, hand-made Victorian doilies, Soviet army service medals, or 1980s vintage arcade games, eBay will give you a better selection than just about anyone else anywhere.

  • A website. There is no physical eBay store. Founded in San Jose but now operated from several cities, eBay's service exists entirely online, and all aspects of business other than the delivery of bought and sold items themselves are typically handled through the eBay website.

  • Free for buyers and inexpensive for sellers. It costs nothing to become an eBay member, to shop for goods, or to purchase goods from eBay sellers. Sellers pay a minimal amount to list items for sale, and another small percentage of the value when an item is sold. There are no monthly fees or other hidden costs.

  • Green. eBay is has proven to be a boon to the environment. Millions of tons of goods that would otherwise go into landfills or more resource-intensive recycling programs instead find new homes every year thanks to eBay. Some of these goods include consumer electronics items like computer parts and mobile phones that release toxic substances once they're discarded and exposed to the environment.

  • Socially responsible. Because eBay eliminates middlemen and lowers barriers to buying and selling, potters in rural Mexico and bead weavers in central Asia can sell hand-made goods directly and inexpensively to a massive global audience. This brings new economic opportunities to developing areas and increases cultural understanding between populations. eBay has become one of the world's most interesting and exciting trans-national ambassadors.

  • Like the real world in many ways. Just as you'll encounter both honest and dishonest people in the real world, you'll find both honest people and crooks on eBay. Thankfully, eBay's site includes a selection of tools like the feedback system that are designed to help you to remain safe as an eBay member.

In short, since eBay's founding in 1995 it has become the world's largest place to buy and sell, a community of hundreds of millions of regular people, small businesses, and even big businesses from all of the seven continents. Millions of items of every kind imaginable, in every condition imaginable, change hands every day on eBay for prices ranging from one cent to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars (or pounds, or other forms of currency).

According to eBay's mission statement, "eBay's mission is to provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything."

By nearly any measure, eBay has succeded at its mission beyond its wildest dreams, and it has done so almost entirely in the online universe. But don't take my word for it. Visit eBay and explore one of the largest success stories of the Internet. Then join eBay to start shopping for great deals on your favorite items or to start turning your old junk into fresh cash.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.