Almost from the very beginning of our researching and writing about all things eBay, we've been privileged to call Stephanie Inge a friend and supporter of our work. Inge is a long-standing PowerSeller, eBay instructor, eBay educational specialist, eBay trading assistant, member of eBay Voices and business consultant, as well as the founder of the largest eBay sellers' group in the world.
But lately, her enthusiasm for eBay seems to have waned.
When Inge began Dallas eBaybes & eMales in January 2002, her goal was to create a group that could come together for learning, sharing, support and community building. For the past seven years, the group has been doing just that. Today, there are 350 members in Dallas alone. You'll also find chapters in Fort Worth, Houston and Austin, bringing the total number of Texans involved to about 650. The group recently branched out with its first out-of-state chapter in Colorado Springs, CO.
You'll search a long while before you'll find a group of more dedicated eBayers, and right at the top of that list is our own Inge. No matter what the issue, no matter what the challenge, whenever we needed a positive outlook on an eBay move, we could count on her.
It's not that Inge didn't see the flawsshe's way too smart for thatit's just that she always found a way to make the best of whatever changes came along and get back to selling her products and supporting her community.
For years, the Dallas group has met twice a month. One monthly meeting is an informal luncheon that varies from month to month in terms of schedule and location. A more formal gathering happens on the fourth Monday of every month. There is always a volunteer speaker, who presents a subject of current interest, such as improving your Best Match results, digital photography or working with DSRs. That presentation is followed by dinner and a guest speaker. Guests have included eBay solutions providers, authors and employees. Throughout the years, this structure has led to the strong and vibrant sellers' group we've been describing.
Last November, the Dallas eBaybes & eMales broke with tradition, presenting speakers from several of eBay's direct competitors in the world of online auctions. The group welcomed OnlineAuction.com CEO and founder, Chris Fain, OLA-Radio's David White and Reliabid's co-founder Mohamed Ramzi Ismail. Not one eBay representative was in the building.
We caught up to Inge to ask about the shift.
"As the leader and founder of this group named after eBay," she says, "it became obvious that I have to give the members what they want. They don't want to have all their eggs in one basket, so we started looking for other baskets for our eggs."
Weighing the alternatives
Planning for the November meeting actually began long ago. Last spring, Inge began working with the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PeSA), the Internet Merchants Association (IMA) and the Ecommerce Merchants Trade Association (ECTMA) to identify other potential markets for her group's members and invite representatives to speak to the group. "We have the same vision and goals," she notes. "Why not work together?"
With the meeting in the planning stages, Inge continued to work at her usual pace, attending eBay Live!, while working with eBay Voices. Both of those experiences were telling in this long, difficult year of 2008.
"eBay Live! in Chicago was bizarre," she notes. "It was so quiet and empty. It summarized the whole year at that point, and then they announced they weren't even going to have Live! for a few years. eBay Voices hasn't met in the last six months, either, even though they used to meet every three months."
In spite of the challenges they face in building traffic on those other sites, members are trying everything they can to find alternate venues
Inge says that for the last year or so, eBay has wanted only the Voices group to provide referrals to its PowerBuyers group. So what exactly is going on?
"Members are selling on other venues," such as Ruby Lane, Onlineauctions.com, Reliabid and their own Web sites, Inge says. "Most everyone still sells on eBay when they can, but they're expanding to other sites more and more," she notes.
In spite of the challenges they face in building traffic on those other sites, members are trying everything they can to find alternate venues. "If you're going to sell new stuff, you have to find another venue besides eBay," she says.
We couldn't help but ask, what's gone wrong with eBay?
"They've totally lost focus on who they were and what put them on the map," she says. "But I'm just a very small fish in a big pond. They're working to please the big sellers, not us. The more they cater to the big sellers, the less need there is for education for the 'mom and pops.'"
She notes that smaller sellers can't compete with big merchants. "The only ones with a chance now are the big catalog sellers," Inge says. "I don't see any hope for the smaller seller like me, unless there's a huge change back to the way it was originally intended to be. I have Gold-level PowerSellers in my group who have had to go back to full-time work because they couldn't earn enough.
"It used to feel like a community," Inge says. "I would like them to go back to what they're good at, try to bring that sense of fellowship and enthusiasm back to the site. Prove to us that they really do value our businesses. Where is Pierre? Maybe he could bring it back to his original intentions."
With such a plaintive lament, it can't escape our notice that the small sellersthe ones who made eBay successful enough to court the big companiesfeel an overwhelming sense of betrayal. eBay's actions of late have taken a group with such enthusiasm and dedication that they actually meet twice a month to educate themselves and enrich their communities, and sent them the very clear message that eBay corporate doesn't care much about their success in today's economic climate.
This sounds, to us, much more indicative of a company named eBetray than one named eBay.