Explore Your Auctions

Equipping Yourself

Don't forget about the deals you can get purchasing equipment and other business essentials on eBay. The fastest-growing category on eBay in 2001, for example, was office chairs. You can buy just about anything you need for your business from other businesses on eBay. Copy paper? Check. Pens? Check. Wireless networking gear? Check. Hortatsos takes full advantage by purchasing inkjet supplies and PCs. And those are just office-related items. Everything from used restaurant equipment to pool tables are up there, too.

As a business buyer, you can take full advantage of eBay's partnerships with companies like IBM and Palm, which shuffle overstock and refurbs onto the site. The deals usually aren't stunningly cheap, but you can save a bit over buying through traditional channels. Prince advises buyers to shop smart and walk away if the item isn't in their price range. "I wouldn't get too attached to a laser printer," he says. "It's not like finding your original baby blanket you absolutely have to have." As always, be aware of limited warranty details and the inclusion (or exclusion) of extras like documentation and software.

In the rocky but rustic Canadian Shield region, old harnesses, horns and skulls are scarce. That's why sometimes Dunlop puts a twist on buying for her business on eBay. She shops for items that are hard to find in her neck of the woods, like Western items, which are popular as cabin decor. Rare albums and European items are also on her eBay shopping list. Those products end up fulfilling local customer demand in her brick-and-mortar store.

But eBay is not all paradise. The site usually runs as it's supposed to, but that just makes the occasional wrench in the works more noticeable. A focus on creating reliable technology pretty much cleaned that problem up. One place to keep tabs on eBay problems is at the strongly opinionated Auction Guild.

One current ghost haunting eBay is auction fraud. EBay brass reports only a fraction of 1 percent of auctions is fraudulent. But that still works out to thousands of auctions. Research and common sense may be the best solution to this problem. "Sellers wear their reputations on their sleeves," says Glazier. He encourages buyers to read the feedback left by other eBay users, particularly the negatives. For big-ticket items, you can protect yourself by using an escrow service. The fee is worth the peace of mind.

On the other side of the transaction, Prince sees that most sellers are wise to buyer fraud and set policies from the start to thwart it. Hortatsos has conducted over 50,000 eBay sunglasses auctions and encountered intentional buyer fraud only once. Dunlop, who runs up to 500 auctions per day, has had a similarly smooth experience.

It's had its share of complaints from small businesses unhappy about fee increases and the site's policies. But eBay is still a valuable tool for many entrepreneurs, offering opportunities, such as a venue for selling excess inventory, that can help your business grow to new heights.

Many eBay users, particularly sellers who have been with the site since its early days, find it too cluttered in its current incarnation. The arrival of large, preferred-partner corporations has also been a sore spot. Big companies often view eBay as a way to reach the smaller businesses that fall under their sales radar. That strategy works for both sides. Hortatsos has been with eBay for four years and takes a practical view of the situation. "I view that as a natural progression of the business," he says. "If they're selling what I'm selling, the buyers will come to us in the end because of the personal service."

EBay is a unique e-commerce community. Opportunities abound on both sides of the auction transaction. The site will continue to experience growing pains, but eBay insists it won't lose sight of the people who fueled its rise. "It's the small entrepreneur who is really the spark that ignites the market and builds the community," says Herr. So if you haven't visited eBay lately, surf on over. It won't fit everybody's business plan, but you just might catch yourself exclaiming "Sold to the highest bidder!"

Healthy Thinking
"PowerSeller" is a special designation available for certain sellers who transact at least $1,000 monthly on eBay. PowerSellers also have to maintain certain levels of good customer feedback. Starting this month, a new perk will be available to this upper crust of eBayers: health insurance.

Originally announced last summer, the program has had delays in getting off the ground. Details of the program were slim at press time, but pharmacy, dental and vision coverage wil be included. Qualified entrepreneurs should be able to insure their families as well. As far as we know, you won't have to bid on it.

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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Explore Your Auctions.

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