It has been argued that eBay is one of the internet’s largest and most successful corporations. However, like many companies that grow to a certain level, inevitably the proverbial ‘little guy’ begins to suffer. Originally billed as a website where anyone could sell anything, eBay has begun to redefine itself as a marketplace catering to Power Sellers in the vein of Amazon.
As part of this ongoing process, eBay has implemented policy changes that have forced smaller sellers out, and caused larger sellers to gain a greater market share. It can be argued that as a corporation, eBay would rather deal with a manageable number of reliable sellers, than a near-infinite amount of casual sellers. To that end, they have changed the manner in which a seller can leave feedback, making it nearly impossible for a buyer to receive a negative. In addition, they have raised seller fees, continued the push towards free shipping, and through their sister company, PayPal, have begun a systematic process of siding with the buyer in most cases.
As eBay continues to cater to their buyers, rather than their sellers, the people looking to sell their items have begun to turn to other venues. In the world of sports cards, smaller auction houses have benefited including Sterling Sports Auctions, which specializes in items with low starting bids, a market that eBay has dominated since its inception.
When veteran collector Lee Behrens purchased the company and its all-important mailing list from Brian Dwyer, who left to join Robert Edward Auctions, he found himself with the task of carrying on the solid reputation and performance that accompanied earlier auctions. With consistent offerings and a little help from eBay’s policy shift, Behrens has grown Sterling into an alternative to eBay for cards in his demographic.
Between the double dip on fees under taken by eBay and PayPal, Behrens estimates the typical seller loses 12% of their sale. In many cases, he is able to offer no fees at all to the seller, particularly when an item meets the low threshold of $200. As eBay began its new policy, Behrens reported beginning to hear rumblings among his consignors, often described as a ‘headache’, in regards to eBay and caused them to go down the traditional auction house route.
“The eBay thing has soured so many people because I noticed I piqued people’s interest more when I mentioned it was an eBay alternative. Most people think all auctions houses are high end, such as REA and Heritage, where many of the items are $1,000 or more. Whether it’s the buyers or the sellers they just want to be somewhere where its a little more comfortable and a little more regulated,” Behrens commented, explaining how eBay’s latest changes have caused more consignors to use his auction house.
However, it would be inaccurate to state Sterling’s success has been a result purely of a displeasure with eBay. In fact, it is Behrens early acceptance of PayPal, which he describes as a ‘convenience’ his bidders prefer. Prompt shipping of items and consignor payouts have also gone along way to helping establish his brand and consumer confidence.
In the year that he has run these auctions, Behrens said his biggest joy was discovering new items that he had never yet come across during his time as a collector. Of all the cards he has auctioned, the 1910 Standard Caramel E93 example of Ty Cobb graded PSA 5 was his favorite, while the 1957 Topps Yankees Power Hitters in PSA 6 proved to be the most surprising with a final price of $402.50, considerably higher than other examples in the same grade.
Behrens states to plan ten auctions over the next year, in five week intervals. Sterling Sports Auction’s current offering ends Thursday, September 5.