The quick answer to the question we pose in our title is, "yes." As in, yes, you should sell on eBay or Amazon. The long form answer is, of course, the marketplace that is best for your business depends upon what you sell and where customers who buy products like yours tend to shop.
Any merchant will tell you that if you want to sell something, you've got to go where people buy the things you sell. That makes Amazon.com impossible to ignore for most e-commerce merchants. But, just because it's impossible to ignore doesn't mean it's the right home for you. Lately, when we ask merchants about their sales channels, we get such varied responses that it can be quite confounding to form a solid and immovable conclusion.
"I look at all those marketplaces as customer acquisitions channels," says Alaa Hassan, executive chef and e-commerce consultant.
Amazon will often uphold a seller's policy, yet give the customer a refund, anyway. This educates customers that they don't need to follow seller policies
Most of the e-commerce merchants we've talked to agree. The jump from eBay to Amazon, after all, began long ago. Having balanced sales channels has been a best practice from the time eBay sellers began to have alternate choices in marketplaces. But the question remains, how have these two different yet vital marketplaces evolved in response to—and because of—the activities of Amazon's third-party sellers?
Sellers vs. buyers
In the past, many eBay sellers started listing products on Amazon for two main reasons. The first was because it was so easy to set up a presence on the site. Almost everything sold to and by humans is already being offered on Amazon. In the likely event that you find the item you sell already listed for sale on Amazon, you simply add your inventory to the listing and there you have it. Now you're selling your stuff on Amazon, too.
The second main reason many eBay sellers set sail for Amazon was the customer base. It used to be that sellers on eBay—feeling as if the marketplace had skewed in favor of the buyer, no matter what the issue—stepped onto Amazon, where customers generally didn't bother to react to third-party sellers at all. Because Amazon's interface was the same for merchants selling on the site as it was for Amazon itself, sometimes buyers didn't even realize they weren't shopping with Amazon directly. This last issue has matured with the marketplace.
"We have noticed distinct changes in Amazon customers through the years," says Jody Rogers of Beachcombers Bazaar. "We used to rave about how Amazon customers rarely contacted us or complained, especially compared to eBay customers."
During the past few years, that has changed a lot, she notes. "We are getting a higher return rate, more challenging customers, and a rash of teenagers using their parents' accounts."
They jumped into the autographs, collectibles and memorabilia business blindly expecting to treat these sellers of rare/unique items the same as sellers of household goods
Rogers adds that it seems as though Amazon has "trained" customers to expect they'll get their way in all transactions. "For example, Amazon will often uphold a seller's policy, yet give the customer a refund, anyway. This educates the customers that they don't need to follow seller policies," she explains.
Even though the money isn't coming directly from the seller's pocket, the effect this approach has on buyer expectations is still real. "We used to complain that eBayers didn't read, but lately it's even worse with Amazon customers," Rogers says. "We just got some bad reviews on empty henna cones and applicator bottles, because they were empty. Uhhh… yeah… as advertised!"
Sellers vs. the marketplace
Talk to a seller who deals in collectibles, and the story can become even more complex. The power of the Amazon database, and the ease with which it makes listing products possible, works directly against sellers who deal with unique items.
"They jumped into the autographs, collectibles and memorabilia business blindly expecting to treat these sellers of rare/unique items the same as sellers of household goods," notes former Amazon merchant Theo Chen of AutographsForSale.com.
When Chen was still selling on Amazon, he was told he could no longer describe his items as "one of a kind," even if they were. Because many of his items are unique, that put Chen at a disadvantage. Creating a more generic listing would, according to Amazon, allow other sellers to list their items, too.
That's exactly the problem, according to Chen. In many cases, these items were significantly different, or even fake, as he explains. "Two competitors popped up selling obviously fake autographs, even using images stolen from me," Chen says. Although he appealed to Amazon's legal department, his concerns were never addressed.
eBay is not a level playing field. eBay does not even guarantee a listing will get any visibility, even when listing fees are paid
Is the alternative any better?
"In contrast, eBay started as a marketplace for collectibles," he adds. The people at eBay always understood that uniqueness and authenticity are important attributes for eBay sellers.
While Chen notes that eBay is still loaded with fakes and counterfeits, "eBay has a reporting system and a department dedicated to cleaning that stuff up," he says. "How good a job they do varies by product category, but trust me, I personally have been directly or indirectly responsible for removal of countless [fraudulent] listings over the years."
Of course, experiences and opinions are a lot like noses—everyone has one. E-commerce consultant "Theresa" (who asked that her name not be used) easily makes a case for why Amazon works so much better for her than eBay.
"eBay is not a level playing field," Theresa says, adding that large sellers get preferential treatment in search results and fees. "eBay does not even guarantee a listing will get any visibility, even when listing fees are paid," she adds. "Amazon is basically a level playing field with all sellers' listings being visible and all sellers having the opportunity to win the Buy Box, even when their competition is Amazon itself."
With all of that in mind, what do you think? Should you sell on eBay or Amazon?