At the very root of eBay and its long and winding journey, you'll find collectibles. They were hot when eBay first began, and through all the twists and turns the company has taken over the years, collectibles continue to be important to eBay's success.
With the economy continuing to batter the average American family, we couldn't help but wonder about the health of this vital corner of life on eBay. Are people still shopping for collectibles—now considered essential only to the most dedicated collectors? Have prices dropped? How have collectible dealers fared when so many people are only buying life's most essential items?
We turned to seasoned collectibles sellers to answer these questions. Martha and Herb Oberman specialize in ephemera and have been selling on eBay since 1998. Known as herwoldallas on eBay, they have a total feedback number of 18,231, a feedback rating of 100 percent positive and they had 10,967 items listed for sale on eBay when we spoke. We asked the couple how life has changed in the decade since they started on eBay.
"Every time you develop a marketing plan, it's outdated in 90 days, because of eBay changes," Herb Oberman notes. Still, the couple continue to recommend the site as a viable sales venue, saying: "It's like the U.S. government—a lot of flaws, but still the best in the world."
The couple seem to be moving through these tough economic times without much challenge.
"Perhaps in January and February our sales dropped off, but June was one of the best months we've had in a long time," Oberman says. "The last two or three months have been very good."
That's not to say the couple haven't tested other waters. "We also list on GoAntiques, Bonanzle and ioffer, but all those venues combined represent less than 10 percent of our business," he notes.
By these samples, it looks like the eBay collectibles market is rather healthy
A numbers game
The Obermans were very generous in sharing a micro view with us, but for the bigger picture, we turned to market research company Terapeak. Denise Hogue, Terapeak's product manager, was equally generous in sharing with us the specifics of three collectible areas over the past two years.
"By these samples," Hogue reports, "it looks like the eBay collectibles market is rather healthy."
Let's look at the data for full sets of comics, kitchenware and paper ephemera.
Comics: Prices for comics have held steady over the past two years, but the number of listings has risen, and the number of bids has also increased. From this data alone, you can infer that people are selling their collections, but that there are also a lot of other people shopping for collections, Hogue reports.
Kitchenware: Statistics for the kitchenware category show some real opportunity for growth. According to Terapeak data, the average price is very steady—and we can attest to the fact that the line graph could almost have been drawn with a ruler.
The total listings, however, show a steady decline since the beginning of 2009. With the constancy of pricing and fewer listings offered, kitchenware seems a good category to explore.
"There is probably room here for more listings," Hogue notes.
Ephemera: The ephemera category, where our friends the Obermans operate, has remained almost unchanged in the past two years. On a line graph, the number of listings and the average price totals almost completely overlap.
Oberman says this category benefits from the fact that people don't turn to shopping aggregators to search for these items. "People find us by looking in particular categories by happenstance," he says. "The people who look for our items are going to eBay."
Test each of the eBay listing options and try the variables of each selling method to see what works best for your products
With these facts in mind, are you considering the possibility of building a presence on eBay through the collectibles categories? Well, Oberman has some advice for both new and experienced eBay sellers:
"Test each of the eBay listing options and try the variables of each selling method to see what works best for your products," he advises.
Among the choices to consider, he mentions auction length and fixed-price listings of seven versus 30 days.
Should your store listings go for 30 days or should you opt for the Good 'Til Cancelled option? What about a Featured Store? Also, take a look at the extra cost features to test what might work best for your products.
More than anything, Oberman recommends selling items you enjoy sourcing. "You have to have some idea, some passion about what you want to accomplish before you start," he says. "If I didn't enjoy sourcing, it would all be too much work."
Perhaps the most constant underlying lesson from this snapshot of selling collectibles on eBay is based on the same advice Americans are giving each other throughout these challenging days of economic downturn: Yes, many are suffering, but in hardship there is often opportunity.
Perhaps you're ready to divest yourself of some long-ago-acquired collectible. If so, you certainly want to head over to eBay to see how similar items are doing and find your niche in the steady stream of collectibles bought and sold on the site.