Ebay: 15 years of net-ting a bargain

Wolverhampton | | Published:

From a second-hand CD of a German rock band worth a modest £2.89 to a global business empire trading more than £65 billion of stuff - eBay has changed shopping forever.

It is 15 years since the online auction website came to these shores and now an estimated 19 million Brits visit it every month.

For many people, logging onto eBay is usually a way of getting bit of pocket money in return for unwanted tat and clutter. For others it is the path to a bargain, a coveted collectors item or even the bedrock of a business.

It's been attacked by hackers, blamed for the decline of the traditional British shop and been used to make digs at celebrities, with the Wolves player Jamie O'Hara listed for sale on it last year by a disgruntled fan.

A disgruntled fan put Jamie O'Hara up for sale on ebay.

From the site, created by Pierre Omidyar, it is estimated 2,000 people from the UK have become eBay millionaires.

Along with Amazon, eBay was a game changer in the way we shopped and for many retail experts, a nail in the coffin of the British high street.

With 11 per of all retail purchases bought online and 14 gifts bought per second during last Christmas it is easy to see why.

The French-born Iranian-American computer programmer had originally wanted to call the company '' because it 'sounded cool'.


But when he discovered the domain name of Echo Bay was taken by a mining company he shortened it to eBay.

The story goes that Omidyar had originally treated his auctioning site as a side project but was ordered to pay extra costs by his internet service provider when it was discovered so much traffic was going to the website.

Pierre Omidyar, ebay's founder.

This forced Omidyar to charge to use the website and he had to hire an assistant to handle all the cheques for the fees.


It was to be eBay's first employee. The company now employs more than 33,000 people.

In 1998 it floated on the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange – a move that made Omidyar one of the richest men in the world.

He described his new found wealth as 'more money than he could ever use'.

The auction format was missing a trick however. There were companies that would have been able to profit from tapping into the steady stream of customers to just sell their products to them in one massive marketplace.

In recent years eBay has caught up on lost ground to digital giants Amazon and by introducing an e-commerce market that allowed customers to set up businesses on the site.

But as the site continued to make strides on the World Wide Web it was put on a pedestal and became a scalp for computer hackers.

In March, Ebay's share price plummeted after the usernames, passwords and phone numbers of millions of users were stolen.

The company was forced to advice customers to change their personal details.

The Syrian Electronic Army later took responsibility for the attack but stopped short of using the details they had acquired.

Mark Radcliffe became Britain's first eBay millionaire in 2009.

Famous ebay seller Paul McCartney

His dealings were selling all manner of low cost products from protein supplements to iPod holders.

It was not bad considering it was run from his parents' garden shed in Stockport.

Mr Radcliffe went from a £7-an-hour Tesco trainee manager to the owner of a £700,000 house, a £150,000 Ferrari and an £118,000 Aston Martin.

Ironically his eBay shop was called First2save when it made him the first to have cash to splurge.

Forty-five-year-old Christine Foster was another who made her money through eBay moving her baby products business online.

It turned her enterprise from a market stall to an organisation employing 20 people.

Her business now turns over £6 million a year.

Richard Perks, a retail analyst at the market research firm Mintel said: "eBay is one of the main reasons we are all happy to shop online. If Amazon or eBay had done badly or there had been problems, internet retailing would have taken much longer to take off

"Nowadays any decent store operator has to have a good online offering."

Celebrities such as Sir Paul Paul McCartney, Harry Styles and the Duchess of Cornwall have all used the auction site to offload some of their own memorabilia to fans.

People have gone to it looking for a handbag owned by Margaret Thatcher which sold for £103,000.

Princess Beatrice's Royal Wedding hat (better known as the pretzel) fetched £80,000 with the proceeds going to Unicef and Children in Crisis.

Princess Beatrice with the 'pretzel'.

But for some eBay hasn't always been about bargains and online fortunes.

The liberty of the internet also allowed people to use their imagination.

Last year disgruntled Wolves fan Richard Perkins from Compton mocked midfielder Jamie O'Hara by putting the player 'up for sale' on the website.

He also offered to throw in defender Roger Johnson if the bidding topped £1.50 and to drive O'Hara to the winning bidder's home free of charge.

One bidder offered £153,000 before it was taken down.

In January, Andy Leek, posted a blank canvas on the internet auction site offering to fly anywhere in the world to paint a portrait for the highest bidder.

The highest bidder was Laurel May from Las Vegas.

He raised £156 for Compton Hospice and used his air miles to fly to Nevada.

Andy Leek raised money for Compton Hospice by offering his services as a portrait painter

Then there was David Taylor, a father of three from Grimsby, who auctioned his forehead as advertising space last year after hearing about Eric Hartsburg, who made £9,000 for having Mitt Romney's 'R' campaign logo tattooed on the side of his head before the 2012 US election campaign.

But with the internet comes anonymity and this can bring out those looking to make a quick quid.

In March 2013 a war memorial from Wolverhampton honouring those who lost their lives in the First World War was put up for auction for £400.

It had originated from the Cable Street Mills factory with the seller claiming it had been discovered in a skip.

The sale caused outrage from all quarters with Wolverhampton City Council, war veterans and historians condemning the sale.

John Bolger, from the Royal British Legion Wednesfield and Woodend branch, with the war memorial.

Following weeks of negotiations it was eventually taken off the website and handed over to the Wednesfield and Wood End Branch of the Royal British Legion.

At 15 years old, were eBay in Britain a person it would not be of an age to watch many of the DVDs that are traded through its auction service.

But it has come of age in terms of its impact on people's shopping habits.

eBay can turn anyone with a bit of junk in the garage into an entrepreneur.

Think Trotters' Independent Traders, only with an iPhone instead of a Reliant Robin. Although if you really want one, they sell those on eBay too.

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