What's eBay's secret? Unlike most every other Web operation, eBay does not play the bait and switch of suppressing the value of the virtual things it touches. Rather, it embraces the process of pricing its products; a truth that was driven home to me as I tried to sell my 2009 Subaru WRX using the service. As opposed to Cars.com, AutoTrader.com -- or for that matter Amazon, Buy.com and most Web 2.0 sites -- eBay does not seek to hide the value of the Web experiences it sells. Rather, eBay makes it clear that you want something from this company, you pay for it. Take my car ad. Yes, the basic listing was free, but a 10-day run would cost me more. If I wanted a prominent ad, that was another few bucks. More photos run a few bucks more. I could arrange a down payment through PayPal, its online payments service, for a cut of the take. In all, I paid $41.60 tab for the listing I wanted. All of this creates a rich picture of the value of the products on eBay, a value its customers respect. It's "a great place to do research," my fishing buddy Paul told me last week as he showed me his arsenal of tackle priced or bought on eBay. "I may buy elsewhere, but I like to get a good deal. And with eBay I know for sure." Stupid things loom
Web clouds do roil eBay's otherwise placid business waters. A company spokesman, Ryan Moore, politely but flatly refused to answer my questions about the deep think of why eBay works. He would comment only on a new eBay pricing strategy that puts the company in direct competition with retail giant Amazon for certain services, such as product storage and shipping -- which is almost certain to set off a profit-sucking price war. And really stupid things still happen here. No joke, a coat of guinea pig armor was sold for $24,000 last week. (But then it wasn't, when that bid was retracted.) But in the end, for skeptics like us who understand that investing boils down to betting on what survives the Information Age revolution, eBay is a rare roman candle of hope and profit. That, friends, makes it worthy of its own holiday.