EBay Will Continue To Grow

This friday or saturday's Wall Street Journal carried an article about how Meg Whitman has work cut out for her at the up coming eBay investors day. She would have to explain how she will continue to grow the company at 35-40% clip year after year now that the new customer aquisition rate has slowed and the "auctions" model is peaking in US. Skype and Paypall have helped, but the real engine is eBay, and analysts are clamoring to know how she will continue to grow eBay. While eBay has its challenges, but I doubt that the "auctions" model is out of date or that it has peaked. Case in point - myself

Call me a neanderthal, but fact is, until recently I had not used eBay even once. I did, out of curiosity, venture to eBay a few times before, but at the time, I found the experience less than satisfactory. The interface was cluttered, garish, and frankly intimidating for a first timer. Soon I gave up, and eBay did not enter my life until recently. These last couple of weeks I have been forced to deal with eBay, the reason being - my aging iBook.

Recently my iBook's battery started dying and I needed a new one. I also needed a new charger with the old one starting to show signs of aging. New battery was around $100, and around $85 for a charger. My laptop itself is not worth much, so I figured I might buy a used battery and charger. I googled, and yahooed, looking around for a place to satisfy my need, but came up empty handed. Finally, I ended up in two places, Craigslist, and eBay.

Craigslist was a good experience, yet problematic. The problem with Craigslist is that even though it is a national place to buy and sell stuff, the model is truly local. Each local area listed on the national Craigslist has a list of its own. The interface is clean, but you cannot search the entire national database. So, if you live in NYC, and want to see if someone in San Fran had a used iBook battery, you have to start the process of searching all over with San Fran Craigslist. This is very time consuming and irritating even though the process itself is free. Craigslist also does not have integrated payment processing system - so, how you pay the SF seller is your problem. Craigslist is, in my opinion, the true garage sale where the seller names his price, and you negotiate from there. But beyond that Craigslist frustrated me the most because more often than not, by the time I was able to reach the seller, the item itself was sold and I was left high and dry. Craigslist does not have any way of telling if the item has been sold or if it is still available. You have to email the seller and ask them if the item is still available.

In comparison, eBay is much better. Not only is the list national (or international), it is well integrated with payment mechanism (which is a bit deceptive, but that is the topic of another entry), and capable of pointing you to the items that are currently available. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you have put in some time figuring the system, the process of bidding is rather easy. I was able to put bids on more than one battery at a time, and even though it took me several turns to learn the art of buying at eBay auctions, I have now not only purchased a battery, but also a charger, both from eBay sellers.

So, while Wall Street analysts may not be wrong about the growth slowing down, my advice to Ms. Whitman is, there is no reason for the growth to slow down when you still have customers like me, who have hardly explored the services of your company. The challenge is, how to find guys like me, and encourage them to try out eBay. If Ms. Whitman can find ways to reach her new customers like me, eBay will continue to grow and grow and grow. So, while it is challenging, it is very much dooable. After all, all of us need odds and ends, that can often only be found in some body's garage or the attic.

As for me, I need to learn how to sell some of the stuff thats been sitting in my garage on eBay! Mucha moolah await me.
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