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eBay gets an earful from sellers

At user conference for 10-year-old auction site, praise mixes with grumbling about hiked fees.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--eBay sellers sounded off about rising fees and Chinese counterfeits at the auction site's annual user conference on Friday while rival Overstock.com sent an ad-slathered car to the event to lure disgruntled eBay sellers.

eBay, the site that pioneered the online auction revolution 10 years ago, is facing increasing competition from auction and other stores at Overstock, Yahoo and Amazon.com. Also putting pressure on eBay is Google, which is working on an online payment service and whose paid search listing and advertising services are a big draw for Web merchants.

"I would not be in this business without eBay, (but) you are just taking more and more out of my pocket."
--eBay power seller

Amid the flag-waving and boosterism by eBay fans were grumblings from so-called power sellers, high-volume and high-sales merchants who are particularly feeling the pinch from what they say are fewer buyers and higher prices.

"What are you going to do to bring more buyers to the site so we can succeed?" asked a demonstrably riled eBay seller attending an executive panel session for power sellers. "You have a total monopoly. I would not be in this business without eBay, (but) you are just taking more and more out of my pocket."

Another power seller asked if eBay had any radio and television advertising plans to attract new buyers.

"We are really focused on bringing demand to the site," Michael Dearing, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, said in response to the criticism. A new TV ad campaign is scheduled to run later this year, he said.

"Is there anything you can do about the huge quantity of fake porcelain and pottery coming out of China?" another power seller in attendance asked.

Earlier this year, the company started stepping up efforts to combat the problem of counterfeit items sold on the site. Those efforts have included installing a team of workers in China, said Rob Chesnut, senior vice president of eBay's trust and safety unit.

Another power seller asked why eBay didn't allow auctions to be extended until bidders stopped bidding: "The other guys are doing it," he said in reference to Overstock.com.

Extending auctions would put eBay at risk of being defined, and thus regulated, as an auctioneer, and eBay would not be able to comply with all the auctioneer laws, Chesnut said.

Outside the session, other attendees griped about the fees and said they are keeping an eye on eBay rivals.

"If there had been a viable alternative to eBay, we would have focused on it after the fee increase. We were immediately looking for another site," said Dylan Collett, who sells trade show products such as booths and lighting on eBay out of Toronto. "eBay pays lip service and does glossy things, putting on shows and dinners, but I don't feel that community voices are being paid attention to."

Doug Cornell, Collett's partner, said, "We're hoping to see what Overstock.com is going to do."

Gary Neubert, whose Tampa, Fla.-based Gatorpack sells shipping supplies on eBay, said the fees were the last straw in a year that saw other business costs rise.

Neubert said his costs have risen 60 percent to 75 percent in the last 18 months as fuel price hikes made his petroleum-based bubble wrap, packing peanuts and tape more expensive.

However, he said there was no truly viable alternative to eBay. "I've tested the water with paid search, and Yahoo and Amazon.com don't yield the results," he said.

Some of the same items on eBay sell more quickly--and for higher prices--on Overstock.com, said an attendee who works for a wholesaler that sells apparel to eBay sellers to resell.

"People are trying to set up their own Web sites in addition to eBay so they can do their own branding" and instill confidence in buyers, said the attendee, who asked to remain anonymous. "Many people have challenges now selling on eBay because of the fees and because there are so many sellers, but eBay is still the largest marketplace to sell."

eBay denizens handed out logo-laden pins, buttons and trading card-like collectible memorabilia at the show. Asked by a reporter what people are supposed to do with a trading card that contained a fact about the company's history, the attendee said: "I don't know. Sell it on eBay."

Intense eBay loyalty was still evident in the scores of attendees wearing eBay swag, some with so many merit ribbons attached to their badges that the badges hung down to their knees.

The power seller who complained about auction time limits in the executive panel embodied the spirit of the eBay seller who complains about eBay features that might limit the amount of money he can make but still feels lucky to be cashing in. "Thanks eBay," he said, "for letting me live a dream I had a long time ago."