News

Taking stock of the economy via eBay

Jan Norman
The Orange County Register (MCT)

The stock market may have plunged 15 percent in October and other indicators may be pointing at a severe recession. But not every business is down.

"August was my best month ever. September was up 60 percent over a year earlier and October was up 30 percent," said Scott Brown.

He owns an iSold It franchise in Fullerton, Calif., that sells on eBay auction Web site items brought in by individuals and businesses.

Recent economic turmoil seems to have motivated a lot of people to clean out the garage or company store room.

"Many of my customers are selling things off, cleaning out closets, downsizing and moving," Brown said. "They need cash, not to meet the mortgage but maybe for Christmas presents or gas."

Also, a growing number of businesses have brought in products in bulk.

Brown has auctioned 20 cell phones for a company that wanted to get a newer model and eyeglass frames for a retailer who had too much inventory.

In the third quarter, eBay listings increased 26 percent, but the value of the merchandise sold dropped 1 percent.

But it's too early to tell if that is some sort of economic barometer, said eBay spokesman Jim Griffith.

DealTree Inc., an Irvine, Calif., online auction manager for big companies, has seen an increase in business as well, said partner Paul Fletcher. The company sells about half its 90,000 to 130,000 monthly transactions on eBay, but also sells on Amazon, Overstock.com and its proprietary site.

"September was our best month ever, and November through January are usually good months for us," he said. "Recently, Circuit City was looking to offload a boatload of product because its credit with lenders was so restricted."

Griffith said that one factor unrelated to the economy that might have increased listings is a decrease in eBay listing fees for certain categories.

However, Griffith, who talks to thousands of eBay sellers, said anecdotal evidence is that online selling habits are changing because of economic trends.

"A lot of sellers have readjusted their thinking. They're much more targeted on things more likely to sell," he said. "Buyers are looking for quality and value. High-quality electronics are always a good category. Collectables are suffering."

Brown agreed.

"I recently sold a signed, Sidney Crosby jersey for $375," he said, referring to the captain of the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins. "Would it have sold for $500 a few months ago? Maybe. However, eBay is still the place to go for laptop computers."

Brown won't accept items that won't sell for at least $50. He's turning away as much as 15 percent of what people want him to put up for auction.

"People are bringing in more, but more of it is garage sale stuff."

Jim Burden, owner of Acorn Paper Co. in Irvine, recently gathered up 50 to 60 items in his Fullerton home and took them to iSold It to auction.

"I had things like a Montblanc pen set," Burden said. "We had a couple of garage sales. People dicker for a nickel. This was an easy way to get rid of it."

Brown has had several women bring in their extra Coach, Louis Vuitton and Gucci purses. One customer sold 16 designer handbags to pay for a kitchen remodeling.

"This helps them maintain their lifestyle or pay for extras," he said.

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