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  •   eBay, eBest: Auction Sites Bid for Your Attention
    By Jennifer Toomey
    Special to The Washington Post
    March 26, 1999

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    An updated definition of the American Dream could be "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Bargain." Conspicuous consumption is out, but when it comes to consumption at one-third off that's something to shout about!

    On the Web there is no greater mecca for the bargain hunter than real-time online auction sites, and of those, no greater site than eBay. With an inventory of everything from flea market staples (Beanie Babies, baseball cards, vintage clothing) to auction-house staples (fine art prints, sculpture, antiques) to household goods (iMacs, power mowers, garage openers) to esoteric items (cathode-ray tubes, unwashed underwear and taxidermy), the rule here is "If you can type it, it's for sale on eBay." Which is why there are 2.1 million registered eBay users and why dozens of competing auction entrepreneurs are desperate to get a piece of the action.

    But eBay won't be losing its edge until someone figures out a way to draw traffic from its site. That will be a difficult task considering the fact that buyers and sellers are already getting exactly what they want from eBay-the largest possible variety for the former and the largest possible audience for the latter.

    There are two exceptions to eBay's stranglehold: warehouse sites and auction/classified sites. Online warehouses like, First Auction, UBid and Onsale can include eBay-style listings of previously used items sold by individuals, but the bulk of their listings are new items. The benefits here are obvious: The merchandise is "new" and many items come with warranties. Furthermore, low traffic and light bidding on some sites actually serve to keep the prices down-if you've got time to lurk, you may get lucky. On the downside, as with most discount houses the merchandise is often last year's models.

    Auction/classified sites like Yahoo's and Excite's offer low prices on used goods and sellers are prepared to haggle. More importantly, they group listings by locality, which allows shoppers the option of getting in the car, driving to the house of the seller and seeing for themselves if they've found a bargain or narrowly avoided purchasing a piece of junk.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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