A Guide To eBay

Posted on: 13 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Find out everything you need to know about eBay.

seBay is an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell goods and services worldwide.

Millions of collectibles, decor, appliances, computers, furniture, vehicles and other miscellaneous items are listed, bought and sold daily.

Brief History

The online auction was founded in San Jose, California back in September, 1995 by French-born Iranian computer programmer Pierre Omidyar as AuctionWeb, part of a larger personal site that included among other things, Omidyar’s own tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Ebola virus.

The very first item sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer for $14.83.

Astonished, Omidyar contacted the winning bidder to ask if he understood that the laser pointer was broken, to which the buyer explained: “I’m a collector of broken laser pointers.”

Unusual Sales

In 2004, a partially-eaten, 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay for $28,000.

In May 2005, a Volkswagen Golf that had previously been registered to Pope Benedict XVI sold on eBay's German site for €188,938.88

In June 2005, the wife of Tim Shaw, a British radio DJ on Kerrang! 105.2 sold Tim's Lotus Espirit sports car with a Buy It Now price of 50 pence after she heard him flirting with model Jodie Marsh on air.

In September 2005, water that was said to have been left in a cup Elvis Presley once drank from was sold for $455.

In September 2005, A Coventry University student got £1.20 for a single cornflake.

In November 2005, the original Hollywood Sign was sold on eBay for $450,400.

In January of 2006, a British man sold an unwanted Brussels sprout left over from his Christmas dinner for £1,550 in aid of cancer research.

In January 2007, a cooked but uneaten Brussels sprout was sold on eBay, finishing at over £15,000.

In February 2007, after Britney Spears shaved all her hair off in a Los Angeles salon, it was listed on eBay for $1million before it was taken down.

In January 2008, four golf balls were auctioned on eBay after being surgically removed from the carpet python which had inadvertently swallowed them . The balls eventually sold for more than AUD$1,400.

In May 2008, Paul Osborn put his wife Sharon for sale in eBay alleging that she had an affair with a coworker.

Chris Agarpao was hired as eBay’s first employee and Jeffrey Skoll was hired as the first president of the company in early 1996.

In September 1997, the company officially changed the name of its service from AuctionWeb to eBay and registered the domain name as eBay.com.

eBay went public 12 months later and both Omidyar and Skoll became instant billionaires.

The company purchased PayPal in 2002 and the domain ebay.com attracted at least 902 million visitors annually by 2008.

Large international companies, such as computer technology company IBM now sell their newest products and offer services on eBay using competitive auctions and fixed-priced storefronts.

Auction Types

eBay offers several types of auctions:

Auction-style listings – allows the seller to offer one or more items for sale for a specified number of days. The seller can establish a reserve price.

Fixed Price Format – allows the seller to offer one or more items for sale at a Buy It Now price. Buyers agree to pay that price with the auction immediately without submitting a bid.

eBay Controversies

Controversy has arisen over certain items put up for bid.

For instance, in late 1999, a man offered one of his kidneys for auction on eBay, attempting to profit from the potentially lucrative (and in the United States, illegal) market for transplantable human organs.

It is also estimated that about a quarter of all ancient coins and about two-thirds of all antiquities sold on eBay are modern forgeries.

In court papers introduced by attorney for Tiffany & Co., it was claimed that researchers for Tiffany had determined that over 70% of the Tiffany silver jewellery offered for sale on eBay was fake.

Prohibited Items

In its earliest days, eBay was essentially unregulated. However, as the site grew it became necessary to restrict or forbid auctions for various items.

Some restrictions apply to specific countries where regional laws and regulations may apply to the seller or the buyer.

Among the hundred or so banned or restricted categories are tobacco, alcohol, drugs, Nazi paraphernalia, bootleg recordings, firearms and ammunition, dirty used clothing, human parts and remains, live animals (with certain exceptions), certain copyrighted works or trademarked items, lottery tickets or any gambling items, and military hardware.


eBay, like anything used by humans, sometimes has issues with fraudsters. Fraud is combated by third-party businesses such as CheckMEND who compile lists of stolen goods from local authorities and businesses so eBay consumers can check to see whether the goods they are buying are stolen.

Frauds that can be committed by sellers include:

  • Receiving payment and not shipping item
  • Shipping items other than those described
  • Giving a deliberately misleading description
  • Knowingly and deliberately shipping faulty merchandise
  • Selling counterfeit or bootleg merchandise
  • Knowingly selling stolen goods
  • Inflating total bid amounts by bidding on their own auction (known as shilling)
  • Misrepresenting the cost of shipping
  • Shipping at a slower service than that paid for

Frauds committed by buyers can include:

  • PayPal fraud, namely filling false shipping damage claim with the shipping company and with PayPal
  • Credit card fraud in the form of both stolen credit cards and fraudulent chargeback’s
  • Receiving merchandise and claiming otherwise
  • Returning items other than received
  • The buyer sending a forged payment-service email that states that the buyer has made a payment to the seller’s account so the unsuspecting seller may ship the item before realising that the email was forged.

How To Get Started

But don't be put off!  eBay has over 10 million live listings and only a very small number are ever invovled in fraud.

In fact, eBay estimates that 178,000 users run a business or use eBay as their primary or second base of income.

When you’re ready to take the plunge into online auctions with eBay, head to www.ebay.co.uk and register via the online instructions.

It’s simple and all you need is a valid email address; in minutes you could be finding bargains from all over the world or even selling your own goods for a small fortune.

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