I Hate Ebay

It’s official. I hate Ebay. This is a pretty big statement coming from someone who has, in the past, been an enthusiastic user and supporter of Ebay. And I still do use Ebay to look for knick-knacks like National Bank postcards, vintage Adidas jackets and sporting event tickets. But when it comes to buying coins on Ebay, I think I’m pretty much done. For the sort of coins that I am interested in, the selection of coins on Ebay has gotten pretty dismal. With a few exceptions, most of the coins are either cleaned no-grades or they are housed in third-world slabs (including a few so-called grading companies that even I haven’t heard of!). Yes, there are occasionally a few interesting, fresh coins but, man, do you have to troll through a lot of trash to find the occasional jewel.

For me, it’s a question of time. If I want to spend time searching through coins online (and at this point in my life I’d like to think I have a few better things to do…) I’d rather spend an hour on the Heritage website going through their 7,000+ Signature Sale lots. There seems to be a lot more of a payoff on an auction site specifically designed for coins than on one like Ebay, where coins are one of hundreds of categories.

Ebay really is like the world’s biggest flea market. It’s as if every item was dumped on a table and you have to sort through it (with the assistance of some pretty nifty technology…). I’m tired of the lousy images, the poor descriptions and the games that you know many of the sellers are playing.

And when I do bid on something on Ebay…ah, that’s when the fun begins. It seems that every day I get yet another Phishing email from someone trying to get my account number or password or credit card number. When I bid with Heritage, I might get a little too much spam but at least I don’t get Phished three times a day. Not to mention the fake post-sale re-offering of lots from my friend Vladimir in Estonia.

With Ebay, I just don’t feel a sense of security anymore. Sure, I’m willing to bid on a $65 Adidas jacket but I’m very hesitant to bid on a $5,000 coin from a seller that I don’t know. I think that Ebay’s caveat emptor attitude is tiresome.

Ebay would argue that their feedback system is safe and it represents the market policing itself. I say that is a crock. I have seen coin sellers with extremely high feedback rates (and hundreds—if not thousands-- of transactions) that I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw them. When I bid in an online coin auction with Heritage or ANR or Goldberg, I know exactly who I am dealing with and I have recourse in case there is a problem. In Ebay’s world, you’re on your own.

Another thing that drives me crazy about Ebay is sniping. Yes, I know that I can use software that enables me to bid 0.01 seconds before a lot closes. But why should I have to go through the hassle? The problem with Ebay is that I never feel secure enough about the whole process to bid my maximum early in the game.

I’m not certain that I’ll ever be able to totally resist the allure of Ebay. I can think of at least three items I purchased on Ebay that I’ve made alot of money on. The greedy side of my nature thinks there is another five-figure payday waiting for me at the end of the Ebay Rainbow and I guess I’ll have to check the coin listings every now and then to find that special New Orleans double eagle or Dahlonega gold dollar.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to enjoy my Ebay experience any more than I already do…not.

The Graying of the Coin Business

The coin business continues to grow but will there be any dynamic younger dealers left to service the next generation of new collectors? I am in my mid-40’s and I represent one of the last waves of coin dealers. If you go to any coin show, you’ll see plenty of dealers in the 40-60 year old range. But you’ll see virtually no coin dealers in their 20’s or early 30’s. This worries me. What sort of future does the coin business hold if there are no up-and-coming dealers?

The lack of young dealers means that this business will become more “self-serve” in the coming years. By this I mean that most collectors will have to purchase their coins through impersonal sources like EBay with little or no guidance from a trusted resource. For some people, this will be no problem; they do not need the guidance they get from a dealer. For others, they will never get the satisfaction that a good dealer-collector relationship can provide.

I think the lack of young dealers boils down to one major issue: the extreme expense it takes in starting and running a successful coin business in today’s market. When I opened my business in 1984, I had less than $50,000 in operating capital. Today, it takes a significant six-figure investment to run a coin business.

I would personally like to see organizations like the Professional Numismatist Guild (PNG) create mentoring programs that match young numismatists with dealers and foster an environment that encourages more young people to choose numismatics as a career. Some large firms like Heritage and NGC offer internships for college age numismatists that are a great introduction to the reality of numismatic as a career.

While I’m not sure that I’d like to be 25 years old again, I’d sure like to be well-positioned in a growing industry that has a future leadership void. Teach your son or daughter how to grade coins…you have a better chance of him becoming the next Jim Halperin than the next Tiger Woods!