EBay Antiques: A Dead Market in 2016/17?
It’s been about 2 years since I last wrote about this topic and I thought I’d share some developments since then.
Let’s give it some credibility to begin with, I hope. Who am I and what real knowledge do I have on this topic?
Well, I’ve been selling antiques (mostly watches, silver watches, and some militaria items) on eBay since 2004. In total that’s around 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 speak with knowledge.
Who is it for?
Why am I bothering? That’s simple because my target audience consists of two broad categories of readers:
buyers / collectors, wondering where all the old ‘open bidding’ eBay deals have gone and
new antique dealers who have a passion for old things and think they can combine that with making a profit.
In this article, my messages to both parties will not be warm and welcoming, but harsh statements of fact. Be careful!
It’s almost impossible to get solid statistics on this topic, but I’ve seen some sources suggesting that, globally, only about 1 in 6 old listings on eBay actually result in a sale. Most of them are of the cheap and cheerful variety consisting of items (of any genre) priced under 50 ($ / £ / Euro). For anything of higher quality and therefore of value, the figure is likely to be MUCH lower.
Generally speaking, if you offer an item for sale at a fixed price (or minimum initial bid level), it will almost certainly not sell. If you open an offer with a low start and expect “a hit”, 90% of the time you will be disappointed and take a loss.
Well, take this as an example. I recently experimented with open zero auction on a late 19th century French bronze piece (an urn) in the art nouveau style. It was about 15 cm tall and it was something very beautiful. It was sold for 0.50p – yes, you saw it correctly, 0.50 PENCE!
New dealerships – BE CAREFUL
For dealers, this kind of thing is a catastrophe.
You can keep advertising all you want and help make eBay even richer, but generally speaking, unless you cut your prices to deficit levels, you won’t sell anything. If you advertise at a fixed price or realistic starting prices, your ad will be ignored.
Now I know that there is always an exception. Sometimes a piece will work fine, but they are the rarity. I speak with hundreds of distributors in many countries and the message is the same “eBay is a disaster for quality item sales“.
So, remember the next time you see one of those vintage TV shows where people make a lot of money; it is very likely that he is on the scene and some of the valuations of the objects that are “found” during the hunt are totally ridiculous. Most of what you buy on sale will either get caught or end up selling at a loss.
*** MAIN ADVICE FOR NEW DEALERS ***. One of the most common things I see now is novice traders walking the markets and estate clearance sales with the dreaded smartphone in hand. Over and over again, I hear them looking at an item and then frantically searching eBay for it and enthusiastically proclaiming to the person who is with them “look, people are asking XYZ amount for these on eBay, so this price here must be cheap”. Just yesterday I saw that happen no less than four times in a large property sale.
INCORRECT! There is a big difference between the prices that people who order an item on eBay see and the actual value of the item for a professional. Some people on eBay ask for sums that are almost 100% higher than the realistic retail value of the item. They have no chance of selling their items for a price even remotely close to what they are asking for.
Remember as a professional that you should base your idea of how much you want to buy an object on the idea of reselling it, based on what you have seen other 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.
Antique buyers and lovers
Now there is or should be a healthy lesson for you too.
For every merchant I speak to who complains about eBay, I speak to probably 3 collectors / buyers who complain that good antiques can no longer be found on the forum or, more correctly, not reasonably priced.
Now this is the conundrum: what do you mean by “reasonable prices”? Right now, too many buyers interpret that to mean “next to nothing.” So they don’t bid, buy, or bid, instead waiting in the hope that sellers will be desperate to advertise their products in an open zero-start offering, at which point they’ll get what they want for next to nothing.
In a sense, it’s fair enough, but keep in mind: This attitude has helped virtually eliminate eBay as a viable leader in the antiques trade. If you think the price is not that bad, please buy it! Don’t be paralyzed by indecision and wind up doing nothing in hopes of seeing you again soon at a lower price.
If you maintain your current behavior, selling antiques online in an open bidding context will become a thing of the past. You will return to expensive High Street antique shops with high prices or the same online. It’s the buyers who are killing eBay now, so if you’re one, don’t complain about their demise!
General market forces
One last contributing factor to consider.
It makes no difference that people are simply not buying antiques, of any kind, in the way that they did before 2008 and possibly even 2013. Suddenly the heat has just left the market. There are strange “hot spots”, like Chinese art, that can flare up for a few months before fading, but in general, people just aren’t interested in buying.
That, of course, is hitting eBay hard.
This is not unique. Fashions come and go and while everyone suddenly wants (for example) shoddy Scandinavian-style flat furniture, albeit with clean design lines, antique dealers specializing in solid wood furniture from bygone eras will be hugely successful. .
These things go in cycles and have been seen before. This “antiques are boring” cycle may last longer than I’ve seen in the past, but it will go backwards.
When you do, you can help get things back on eBay, assuming there’s any viable eBay antiques market left to pick up!