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eBay Antique Sales – Appalling Downward Trends Continue in 2016
eBay Antiques – A Dead Market in 2016/17?
It’s been about 2 years or more since I last wrote on this topic and I thought I’d share some developments since then.
Let’s give this, I hope, credibility to begin with. Who am I and what real knowledge do I have on this subject?
Well, I’ve been selling antiques (mostly watches, clocks, silver, and some military stuff) on eBay since 2004. All told then, that’s about 12-13 years, so I know what I’m talking about.
That’s why when I say that eBay has been practically dead as a sales channel since 2013/4, I’m speaking with knowledge.
Who is this for?
Why am I worrying? This is simple because my target audience consists of two broad categories of readers:
buyers/collectors who wonder where all the antique eBay ‘open bid’ bargains have gone and
New entrant antique dealers who have a passion for old things and think they can combine this with profit.
In this article, my messages to both sides will not be warm, but hard statements of fact. Be warned!
It’s almost impossible to get hard statistics on this topic, but I’ve seen some sources that suggest globally, only about 1 in 6 antique ads on eBay actually result in a sale. Most of them are of the cheap and cheerful variety consisting of items (of whatever genre) priced under 50 ($/£/Euro). For anything of higher quality and therefore value, the figure is likely to be much lower.
In general terms, if you offer an item for sale at a fixed price (or minimum starting bid level) – it will almost certainly not sell. If you place an open bid with a low start and hope for ‘a result’ then 90% of the time you will be disappointed and lose.
Well, take this as an example. I recently experimented with zero open bidding on a late 19th century French art nouveau bronze piece (an urn). It was about 15 cm long and a very beautiful thing. It sold for 0.50p – yes, you saw that correctly, 0.50 PENCE!
New traders – BEWARE
For marketers, this kind of thing is a disaster.
You can keep advertising all you want and help make eBay even richer, but in general, if you don’t lower your prices to breakeven levels, you won’t sell anything. If you advertise with fixed price or real starting prices, your ad will be ignored.
Now I know there is always the odd exception. Sometimes a part will work fine – but they are rare. I speak to hundreds of traders in many countries and the message is the same”eBay is a disaster for selling quality items“.
So remember when you watch one of those antique TV programs where people make a lot of money – it is most likely staged and some of the estimates of objects ‘found’ during the hunt are completely ridiculous. Most of what you buy for sale you will be stuck with or end up selling for a loss.
*** TOP TIP WARNING FOR NEW DEALERS ***. One of the most common things I see now are novice traders walking through markets and estate clearance sales with the very scary smartphone in hand. Time and time again, I hear people look at an item, then frantically search for it on eBay, and excitedly announce to the person with them, “Look, people are asking a lot of XYZ for these on eBay – so this price here must be cheap “. Just yesterday, I saw this happen no less than four times at a major estate sale.
ERROR! There is a big difference between the prices you see people looking for items on eBay and the real value of the same to a professional. Some people on eBay are asking for amounts that are almost 100% higher than the actual value of the item. They have no chance of selling their items anywhere near what they are asking for.
Remember as a professional you should base your idea of how much you want to buy an item with the idea of reselling it based on what you have seen others SOLD in a retail environment like eBay and then pay maybe 75% less than that to give you room for taxes, expenses and profit margins etc.
Buyers and Lovers of Antiques
Now there is or should be a good lesson here for you too.
For every dealer I talk to who complains about eBay, I talk to maybe 3 collectors/buyers who complain that you just can’t find good antiques on the forum anymore or rather, not at reasonable prices.
Now here’s the conundrum – what do you mean by “reasonable prices”? Right now, many buyers interpret that to mean “almost nothing.” So they don’t bid, buy, or bid, but instead wait in the hope that sellers will be driven desperate to advertise their wares in the open zero bid, at which point they’ll get what they want for next to nothing. .
Fair enough in a sense, but be aware – this attitude has helped virtually destroy eBay as a viable antiques trading channel. If you think the price is not too bad, then buy it! Don’t just get paralyzed by indecision and end up doing nothing in the hope that you’ll see it again soon at a lower price.
If you continue with your current behaviors, selling antiques online in an open bidding context will become a thing of the past. You’ll be back in expensive High Street antique shops with big ticket prices or the same online. It’s the buyers who are killing eBay right now, so if you’re one, don’t bemoan its death!
General Market Forces
One final contributing factor to consider.
It’s indisputable that people just aren’t buying antiques, of any genre, like they were before 2008 and maybe even 2013. All of a sudden the heat has just gone out of the market. There are the odd ‘hot spots’ like Chinese Art that might be on for a few months before dying down, but generally, people just aren’t interested in buying.
This, of course, is hitting eBay hard.
This is not unique. Fashions come and go and while everyone suddenly wants (eg) poor quality ‘Scandinavian style’ flat pack furniture, albeit with clean design lines, then antique dealers specializing in say wooden furniture of stiffs from the past will take a big hit.
These things go in cycles and have been seen before. This “antiques are boring” cycle probably lasts longer than the ones I’ve seen in the past, but it will come back.
When it does, it might help to get things on eBay – assuming there’s any viable eBay antiques market left for the taking!
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