To Be Frank: November 18, 2014

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Am I the only one who seems to find eBay a demoralising and depressing experience these days? I simply despair of it, I really do.

In theory, eBay is a brilliant idea. Where else can you buy and sell all manner of interesting stuff – new things, old things, quirky items – from both firms and ordinary people, here and across the world?

It’s hard to imagine an easier way to reach such a wide and varied market.

If you’re after a bargain, or if you collect – well, pretty much anything – it’s invaluable.

So why do I end up banging my head against a wall almost every time I use it? Partly it’s because eBay constantly bends over backwards to paint everything as ridiculously pink and fluffy, and lovely and wonderful. When ... it’s not. Life ain’t like that (but be sure to leave five-star feedback all the same though, won’t you?).

Also it’s because eBay seem to do everything in their considerable power these days to squeeze as much money out of you as humanly possible. Sellers are hit by listing fee, after final value fee, after PayPal fee. Which many of then sneakily pass on to buyers disguised as stupidly high postage and packing charges. Which you’re actually not supposed to do. But so many people do it, it creates a climate where it becomes the norm.

eBay started off with dreams of being this wonderful global marketplace. But it’s become a breeding ground for people who love ripping other people off.

And eBay themselves are as bad as anybody. Let me give you an example.

Recently eBay announced a new Global Shipping Programme, designed to boost sales – sales of stuff you sell – across the world. Items will automatically be listed in foreign countries. But you don’t have to worry about expensive postage costs, or things getting lost in foreign mail systems. Oh no. You simply send your item to an eBay UK shipping centre. eBay then ships it to the foreign customer, and charges them direct. And the parcel is tracked, so it shouldn’t get lost.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It isn’t.

I listed a couple of CDs recently. One attracted interest from a buyer in France, who asked me about shipping costs. Long story short, I calculated it would cost me £3.20 to post it to him under normal circumstances. He told me eBay’s Global Shipping Programme would charge him £8.19. What? That’s outrageous! I didn’t choose to join the Global Shipping Programme. eBay just enrolled me. Now I see why.

Another long story short, I managed to opt out of this scam service, and in gratitude to our French friend for opening my eyes (sellers aren’t told what eBay charges overseas buyers), I told him if he won I wouldn’t charge him any shipping at all.

eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar, a French-Iranian-American entrepreneur, who wrote the original program for an online auction service in 1995.

Three years later, he and his partner floated the firm, and became overnight billionaires. Omidyar is now said to be the 123rd richest person in the world.