What happened to the auction culture eBay spawned back in the mid 90’s?

I’ve just finished reading a book called Future Shop by visionary entrepreneur, Daniel Nissanoff. It’s a bit outdated if you take into consideration the fast changing pace of technology. I’m saying that and it was only 10 years ago that it was published, but 10 years in tech speak is like 10 lifetimes!

The two companies that Nissanoff talks most about are eBay and Amazon, both of which are still Internet powerhouses. They’ve evolved a lot since Nissanoff wrote the book, but the philosophy behind what he’s writing about is still pretty sound.

From Main Street to the upper echelons of society, we are beginning to accept and will soon vigorously adopt a new lifestyle one, predicated on the norm of temporary ownership and marked by the continual replacement of our personal possessions. Owning and selling things secondhand will become second nature. I like to think of this practice as “auction culture,” because it’s the auction platform that has been the catalyst. But whatever label ultimately sticks, this transition will have a profound impact on our culture and values.

This shift will redefine socially accepted norms of consumer buying and selling behaviour.  We will soon live in a world where the norm is to sell our iPods after using them for a year.  Or to sell our expensive Jimmy Choo shoes after wearing them twice.  Mobile phone companies will automatically send us the newest, most high-tech mobile phone every six months.  We’ll essentially be leasing Rolex watches instead of buying them.

I like Nissanoff’s idea of the “auction culture.” And once upon, I was big into this culture, mostly selling knick-knacks and collectibles I found at garage sales and thrift shops on eBay. This was back when I was living in the States. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure held true. My best ever deal was buying a Matchbox car for .25 cents and selling it for $49 dollars! I didn’t seem  to have the same experience here in the UK and sort of drifted away from eBay. I still have a garage full of stuff that we carted over here in our moving boxes.

I have been dipping my toe back into the eBay scene. It has changed a lot. In fact, when I went on the other day, it hardly seemed like eBay at all. I was used to an eBay that traded predominately in secondhand goods. Now it seems that eBay is moving more towards Amazon and creating an online retail market instead of a pure auction site. The homepage of eBay looks like a catalog of new stuff. I wanted the junk stuff like you might find at a garage sale. You can still find that stuff on eBay, but you have to do a deep dive into the site to find it.

Someone asked Gary Vaynerchuk if he thought eBay was becoming irrelevant. I think his answer was great. He said eBay was innovating in the direction of Amazon, but in doing that, have created a gap for a new company that fills the space eBay left – a place for purely secondhand stuff.

According to Nissanoff, the average household has about £1,000 worth of unused/unwanted stuff lying around their house. I know I have quite the tech graveyard in my house, plus a lot of things that looked like a good idea at the time I bought them, but are now collecting dust.

I was hoping to make good on reclaiming my “£1,000” but am not wholly confident that my secondhand stuff will make it through the noise of all the discounted, wholesale new stuff to be had on eBay these days.

If you know of an auction site that resembles the eBay of the mid 90’s, let me know. Or if you want to take that Gary Vee challenge with me and found a startup auction site that deals exclusively in secondhand goods, give me a shout.

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