The difficulties that upstart Gold's Auction visitors experienced over the weekend and throughout the day underscore a dilemma eBay users face: even when the online auction leader upsets them, they have few places to turn.
That's not to say that eBay users aren't exploring their options. In the wake of the latest uproar, centering on the company's new policy on reserve auctions, many users said they would be taking their business elsewhere. Many users wrote CNET News.com to say they were moving their auctions over to Gold's. And according to more than one eBay seller, the number of simultaneous auctions on Gold's more than doubled over the weekend.
But as of 3 p.m. PT today, Gold's had fewer than 10,000 auctions--less than 1 percent of the total number of simultaneous auctions on eBay. And the Gold's site often took minutes to download both the home page and interior pages.
"This slowness is a direct result of unanticipated response to the site in such a short period of time," the company said in a site posting. "We are currently in the process of upgrading our existing servers to enable them to handle larger loads and process requests faster."
Gold's representatives were not immediately available for comment.
Meanwhile, eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said eBay's new auction listings were up this weekend, though the total number of simultaneous auctions on the site dipped by about 100,000. Pursglove attributed that decrease to the slower time of year, rather than user protests.
"This is the lead up to Labor Day, which tends to be a time when listings taper off anyway," he said.
New auction policy reneged
eBay users ignited a firestorm of protest on message boards Thursday night when it announced a new policy on reserve auctions. During a reserve auction, the seller sets a price below which he or she will not sell an item. eBay doesn't post that price, which often leads to many low bids and auctions that go unclosed.
The new policy called for a $1 fee for each reserve auction--in addition to eBay's standard listing fee--and would have required sellers to set the minimum bid price for reserve auctions at 25 percent of the lowest asking price set by the seller.
The company argued that its existing rules on reserve auctions confused users and required much administrative overhead.
Nonetheless, eBay backed down last night, saying that it would consider alternatives to the 25 percent minimum bid price requirement and refund reserve auction fees when an item is sold.
Sue Rothberg, an analyst who covers the online auction industry for Gomez Advisors, said auctions are much easier to understand than eBay claims.
Rothberg said the new policy only stood to upset eBay's "power sellers," who list multiple items on the site and provide the core of the company's unique listings. eBay should try to court such users, many who have been upset by the site's persistent outages, she said.
Still, even if they are upset, power sellers have few places to turn. eBay has more listings than all of the other auction sites combined, Rothberg said. Yahoo, the second-leading auction site, lists some 600,000 simultaneous auctions. And according to Rothberg, Amazon.com had about 50,000 auctions as of last month.
Given its large lead, eBay has a lot of leeway with its policies, Rothberg said. "I don't think it was a smart move, but they can kind of do what they want," she said.