The eBay story on BBC Radio 2

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Kate Thornton

Last night on BBC2 a programme presented by Kate Thornton traced the story of eBay and online selling with the giants eBay and Amazon. It dispels the rumour that Pierre Omidyar started eBay for his wife to trade Pez dispensers with the truth that he wanted to create an online trading site for ordinary people.

Pierre wrote the code for “Auctionweb” the original name for eBay over a holiday weekend. His first listing was for a laser pointer he’d bought as a cat toy. When it was broken he listed it on Auctionweb for $1 and it then sold for $14. The buyer… a collector of broken laser pointers! He announced Auctionweb on online forums and users started to visit the Auctionweb site which launched with just a dozen items listed on the first day.

Original eBay logo

When Meg Whitman joined eBay it was still called Auctionweb and since then the site has changed immensely including the name eBay. At that time the site was still black and grey and even the original eBay logo lacked the bright primary colours so familiar to eBay users today. The first Auctionweb logo was simply a white to black gradient with the words Auction web.

Auctionweb logo

It’s a far cry from the colourful feature rich eBay site so familiar to millions around the world today.

The program covers everything from unusual items sold on the site to celebrities who have traded and even been kicked off eBay. David Baddiel explains how he got banned from eBay when his emails ended up in his junk email folder. The program also covers some of the more common scams on eBay warning how to stay safe on the site. Meg Whitman explained that most sales are perfectly reputable and safe.

Amazon is featured as the only real alternative to eBay, unbelievably when they started Amazon had a beeper that went off every time a sale occurred on the site. That soon had to be disconnected as Amazon employees were driven mad by constant beeping! Unlike eBay the programme highlights that it took years for Amazon to make a profit, eBay was profitable from the start. Richard Ambrose explained how dumping their own payment system Billpoint and buying PayPal drove the business even faster.

Pierre Omidyar became an overnight billionaire and the richest 31 year old in the world. He quietly stepped down from the day to day running of the eBay business and since 2004 has spent his time giving his wealth away though the Omidyar Network.

You can listen again to the first three programmes in the series including “SHOP TILL THEY DROP: eBay and the online retail revolution” on the BBC Radio 2 website. If you’re wondering what to do for your lunch hour it’s well worth a listen.

One Response

  1. I remember when nearly every email from ebay had a tell your friends request on the end,
    bugger that I thought,
    I am telling no one about this or they will all be at it


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