July 25, 2024


Interior Of The Road

eBay Antique Sales – Appalling Downward Trends Continue in 2016

eBay Antiques – A Dead Marketplace in 2016/17?

It’s been about 2 years or so since I last wrote on this subject and I thought I’d share a few developments since then.

The Context

Let’s give this some, I hope, credibility to begin with. Just who am I and what real knowledge do I have on this subject?

Well, I’ve been selling antiques (mainly watches, clocks, silver and some militaria items) on eBay since 2004. All told then, that’s about 12-13 years, so I know what I’m talking about.

That’s why when I say eBay has been virtually dead as a sales channel since about 2013/4, I’m speaking with knowledge.

Who is this aimed at?

Why am I bothering? That’s simple because my target audience consists of two broad categories of reader:

  • buyers/collectors, who wonder where all the eBay antique ‘open bidding’ bargains have gone and
  • new entrant antique dealers who have a passion for old things and think they can combine that with making a profit.

In this article, my messages for both parties are not going to be warm cosy ones but harsh statements of fact instead. Be warned!

Today’s reality

It’s almost impossible to get hard stats on this subject but I have seen some sources which suggest globally, only around 1 in 6 antique ads on eBay actually results in a sale. Most of those are of the cheap-and-cheerful variety consisting of objects (of whatever genre) priced at under 50 ($/£/Euro). For anything of higher quality and therefore value, the figure is likely to be MUCH lower.

In general terms, if you offer an item for sale on a fixed price (or minimum start bidding level) – it almost certainly won’t sell. If you put on at a low start open bidding and hope for ‘a result’ then 90% of the time you’ll be disappointed and take a loss.

An exaggeration?

Well, take this as an example. Recently I experimented with open zero bidding on a late 19th century French Bronze piece (an urn) in the art nouveau style. It was about 15cms tall and a very beautiful thing. It sold for 0.50p – yes, you saw that correctly, 0.50 PENCE!

New Dealers – BEWARE

For dealers, this sort of thing is a catastrophe.

You can keep advertising all you like and help make eBay even richer but broadly speaking, unless you reduce your prices to loss-making levels, you’re not going to sell anything. If you advertise at fixed-price or realistic start prices, your ad will be ignored.

Now I know that there is always the odd exception. Sometimes a piece will do well – but they are the rarity. I speak to hundreds of dealers in many countries and the message is the same “eBay is a disaster for sales of quality items“.

So, remember when next watching one of those TV antiques programmes where people make lots of money – it’s very likely staged and some of the valuations of the objects ‘found’ when hunting are totally ludicrous. Most of what you buy for on-sale you’ll be stuck with or end up selling for a loss.

*** TOP TIP WARNING TO NEW DEALERS ***. One of the commonest things I see now are novice dealers walking around markets and estate clearance sales with the much-dreaded smartphone in their hand. Time and time after time, I hear them looking at an object then frantically looking it up in eBay and proclaiming excitedly to the person with them “look, people are asking XYZ amount for these on eBay – so this price here must be cheap”. Just yesterday alone I saw that happen no less that four times at a big estate sale.

WRONG! There is a VAST difference between the prices you see people asking for item on eBay and the real value of the same to a professional. Some people on eBay are asking for sums that are almost 100% higher than the realistic RETAIL value of the item. They have no chance whatsoever of selling their items for anywhere remotely near to what they’re asking.

Remember as a professional that you need to base your idea of how much you want to buy an object for with the idea of re-selling it, based upon what you have seen others SOLD FOR for in a retail environment like eBay and then pay perhaps 75% less than that to give you room for tax, expenses and profit margins etc.

Buyers and Lovers of Antiques

Now there is or should be a salutory lesson here for you too.

For every one dealer I speak to who moans about eBay, I talk to probably 3 collectors/buyers who moan that you just can’t find good antiques any more on the forum or more correctly, not at sensible prices.

Now this is the conundrum – what do you mean by “sensible prices”? Right now, far too many buyers interpret that to mean “almost nothing”. So, they don’t bid, buy or make offers but instead wait in the hope that the sellers will be driven in desperation to advertise their wares on open zero start bidding, at which time they’ll get what they want for almost nothing.

Fair enough in a sense but be aware – this attitude has helped virtually kill-off eBay as a viable antiques trading conduit. If you think the price isn’t too bad then buy the thing! Don’t just get paralyzed with indecision and end up doing nothing in the hope you’ll see it again soon at a lower price.

If you keep up your current behaviours, online antique selling in an open bidding context will become a thing of the past. You’ll be back to expensive High Street antique shops with big ticket prices or the same online. It’s the buyers who are killing eBay now, so if you’re one, don’t complain at its demise!

General Market Forces

One last contributory factor that has to be considered.

It’s indipustable that people just aren’t buying antiques, of any genre, the way they were prior to 2008 and arguably even up to 2013. Suddenly the heat has simply gone out of the market. There are odd ‘hot spots’ such as Chinese Art that might flare up for a few months before subsiding but on the whole, people just aren’t interested in buying.

That is, of course, hitting eBay hard.

This isn’t unique. Fashions come and go and while everyone suddenly wants (e.g.) flatpack ‘scandinavian style’ furniture of poorish quality, albeit of clean design lines, then antique dealers specialising in say solid wood furnitre from times past will take a big hit.

These things go in cycles and have been seen before. This “antiques are boring” cycle is perhaps lasting longer than ones like it I’ve seen in the past but it will swing back.

When it does, it may help things on eBay pick up – assuming there is any viable eBay antiques market left to pick up!