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Where did all the antique sellers go on eBay?

In May of 2021, eBay consolidated its categories, requiring sellers to use Item Specifics (product attributes) to ensure buyers can find their listings. This change required sellers to “abandon perfectly fine listings” and spend even more time creating a host of sub-categories designed to make the site “better for shoppers.”

Many long-time buyers and sellers of antiques on eBay point to this change as the start of eBay’s downfall as the dominant online auction site for antiques and collectibles.

The change was presented to A & C sellers on an eBay discussion board at the time, described as follows: “For example, in Antique Furniture we are removing the category levels for Age Range from the category structure and replacing them with an item specific listing. So instead of listing in the 1800-1899 Bookcases category you will instead list in the Antique Bookcases category and will be asked to select an item specific for Time Period Manufactured.”

This mandatory change for identifying a new list of sub-categories under one broad category for all listed items meant sellers needed to go back in and update their listings to ensure shoppers would find them in a search. Predicted one seller at the time, “consolidating so many items would create “vast” categories that buyers would have to wade through…and would mark the downfall of eBay’s Antiques and Collectibles market.”  Wrote another, “I am betting that eBay realizes a serious decline in sales for Antiques and Collectibles after their ill-conceived changes. Once again, eBay will ‘fix’ things until their fixes break the process.”  Added another, “This is just one more example of eBay’s perfecting excruciating minutiae to another level.”

Were these antique dealers just expressing their resistance to change and frustration with eBay or was this change the last straw for a marketplace that had found more targeted and easier places to sell their goods?

On the second anniversary of this significant eBay change, “sparklingbabyponies” opened a chat page on eBay’s community forum asking the question, “Where did all the antique sellers go?” Thought I would share some of the responses:

dbfolks166mt: “Depending on how many years ago they may have retired and found other things to do. They may have diversified, or moved, to alternate platforms/venues. Their inventory may have been exhausted or they sold off all their collection. Difficult to say but sellers, and buyers, come and go on eBay as well as other ecommerce venues all the time just like corporations and businesses. Sears, KMart, Block Buster….. used to be major retailers.”

kelekt: “Ebay is not the go-to for cool stuff like antiques/vintage/collectibles anymore – better finds are either local or other venues (Ebay is basically a walmart / amazon wannabe now from what I’m seeing – mostly mainstream cheap mass produced stuff). I barely bother trying to sell or buy here anymore.  it’s a shame…used to be the best, now it’s the worst. Around here everyone is selling vintage / antiques locally now (FBMP local groups, auctions, estate sales, pop-ups, etc).”

rond2: “Ebay chased them off with category changes and search function changes that make it almost impossible to browse for antiques and collectibles anymore.”

atlasesattic: “I used to do pretty good on my vintage and antique when I first started selling here about 3 yrs ago, but not as much lately, so now instead of strictly collectibles I have added a lot more different categories from new to old and handmade, even my Victorian trade cards have slowed down too.”

monica-sells: “I am still waiting for ANYONE to say, “If you’re not sure what it’s worth look it up at “…FBMP local groups, auctions, estate sales, pop-ups…” to see what they sell for…….Almost exclusively, the response is EBAY……when that changes, so will I.”

my-cottage-books-and-antiques: “Ebay has been neglecting antiques for years…in my opinion, this neglect wasn’t as serious years ago, when eBay had less competition. But in today’s world, where eBay faces serious online AND offline competition in this category (and many others), eBay’s insistence on marketing and focusing only certain Focus Categories (such as sneakers, designer handbags, luxury watches, etc) is an unsustainable strategy, but one eBay seems determined to follow to the bitter end.”

genv: “In today’s ‘tap, tap, tap’ on pictures on a tiny screen phone, where people do not read, anyone selling ‘age character’ pieces, which may be: large, heavy, time consuming to pack, etc., is at RISK… Any buyer can exercise the right to return any item, for any reason, on the seller’s dime… The seller’s investment in time, to source, clean, research, measure, photo, describe, pack, ship, plus, fees on item, postage, tax… negates most profit, or, a living wage, on so many things… Better to sell local if possible… Buyer inspects, likes, pays, handshake, done.”

ittybitnot: “The cost of shipping has risen so much that shipping is a larger percentage of total sale price than it used to be, which makes it hard for buyers to get a good deal. And returns…it’s a huge risk for sellers to sell heavy items and then have to pay return shipping if a buyer claims NAD.”

carolyng: “I used to be a seller here.  In 1998 I started out with “marine salvage” and “building salvage” items like port holes, antique boat propellers, staircases, antique bronze fountains and the like. I would be a total idiot if I did that today on this platform.  Shipping is NOT only a cost for the buyer, it is a cost (via fees) for the seller as well as you point out. That does not even include the very real possibility of a phony SNAD claim on a 300 lb. item.  Before we were even required to fund returns on phony SNADs or had to pay fees on shipping, I became alerted to the fact that 99% of my listings were sold to California, consistently, month after month (I am in S. Fl.)  Moved on to selling only lightweight items, no international shipping, and things I could afford to lose.”

evry1nositswindy: “I’m sure many antique sellers would ask where all the antique buyers have gone!”

ms.rodriguez: “The big increase in shipping and the fact that buyers can lie about anything and get free return shipping has stopped me from listing anything over a cubic foot and more than a few lbs.  I sold several 1970s style lamps and chandeliers back when shipping was dirt cheap and folks paid by check or money order.  I packed very well and everything arrived fine.  Now those lamps would cost an arm and leg to ship and then you will get a buyer who will say ” I thought this was more gold in color or brighter ” and ask for a return.”

boomersbiz46: “I’m still here and selling antiques, collectibles and back issue magazines and books. People don’t realize the values anymore. My husband and I have collected since 1970 and married 57 years on May 30…..we are selling our collections and I think no one believes that the items we sell are authentic. LOL. No vision, out there! Maybe our store is hard to find with all of eBay’s changes.”

You can read the complete string of responses here: