Online auctions have gone from an Internet curiosity to a multibillion-dollar enterprise in less than a decade. The phenomenon has changed how we buy and sell, and deal with the junk in our attic. And much like Google, a new verb has entered our vocabulary to describe using the Internet to sell something online: eBay it!
Founded by Pierre Omidyar in 1995, auction powerhouse eBay is the leader in online auctions with more than $10 billion in goods and services sold during the first three months of 2005, according to CBS MarketWatch. The site features more than 135 million worldwide members buying and selling cars, antiques, clothing — basically anything not found on the company’s prohibited and restricted items list.
The majority of sales on eBay are either private party or small-scale entrepreneurial ventures. But the site also has an outlet for mitzvah mavens to help support their favorite nonprofit, by either buying or selling online, or for nonprofits to sell directly to the global marketplace. The company’s Giving Works department is dedicated to what it calls “compassionate commerce,” providing eBay users and nonprofits with the opportunity to bid in or host an online charitable auction.
Buyers can search the site by event, nonprofit or category, filtering out other products to ensure that the ones being displayed for bidding are intended to benefit a charity. Individual sellers can donate a percentage or all of their profit to a favorite cause through what eBay calls “community selling,” while nonprofits are encourage to register for direct selling and have eBay’s charity partner, Mission Fish, handle their donation processing and tax receipting. Mission Fish is also charged with verifying a charity’s tax-free nonprofit status, so users can rest easy in the knowledge that the charity they’re supporting is valid. Since it was established five years ago, Giving Works has helped raise $40 million for more than 4,500 nonprofits.
A variety of Jewish charities are already making use of eBay’s charity support, including United Jewish Communities; the Anti-Defamation League; American Jewish World Service; Jewish federations in New York, San Francisco, Rockville, Md., and central New Jersey; Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging; National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles; and a variety of synagogues, including Chabad of Miracle Mile.
Most people find that buying on eBay is easier than selling. It only requires registering on the Web site, providing contact information and a credit card in order to verify identity. Additionally, it is recommended to sign up for PayPal, the online service that allows a bidder to pay the seller instantly from a credit card or checking account.
But for local charities looking to increase giving — and which one isn’t? — eBay presents an opportunity to reach a tremendously large donor pool. But before your begin selling on eBay, there are some tricks to ensure an item being presented for bidding will fetch a decent price, and to make sure you avoid online fraud.
Art of the Auction
Selling on eBay is not as hard as some people think. There are some great step-by-step instructions on the site geared for absolute beginner. But the key to getting started selling is to price items appropriately. Even if someone on “Antiques Roadshow” told you an item is worth $1,000, all that matters is what it will sell for on eBay. That “rare” item may have 20 just like it up for auction right now, driving the price way down.
The key is to do a search under “completed items” — simply type the item you are looking for into the box, put a check mark in “completed items” and then click “search.” This technique is also very helpful when shopping on eBay and wanting to be sure what a good “deal” is before making an impulse purchase.
A Little Help Here
For those who want to take advantage of the eBay phenomena but do not necessarily want to go to the trouble of setting up the auction, eBay has “trading assistants,” people experienced in selling who are willing to offer their services to the public for a flat fee or percentage of the sales price. Fees and terms vary, so it is important to check their feedback history on eBay (the number next the user ID), and then make a few calls to compare services. Some of the trading assistants even visit a seller’s home or business, taking photos only and leaving the valuable items at that location until they sell. This is a great way to safely sell items without any worry of it being lost or broken.
The biggest fraud concern comes from scams that send eBay members official-looking e-mails appearing to come from eBay or PayPal, telling the member their account has been suspended or some other alarming message. It then requests the recipient to click on a link to fix the problem. The goal of the scam is to capture the user’s ID and password, allowing these criminals to do all kinds of mischief to the account.
The best way to avoid becoming prey is to never click on a link in such an e-mail, but rather log into eBay or PayPal directly and check to see if there really is cause for alarm. Also, a real e-mail from eBay or PayPal will address the member by name and not by their e-mail address or user ID.
For more information about Giving Works and Mission Fish, visit givingworks.ebay.com and www.missionfish.org.
Eric Gazin is the president of Gazin Auctions (www.gazinauctions.com) and Auction Cause (www.auctioncause.com), where he manages charity auctions for nonprofits.