Whilst unpacking yet another grey plastic postage bag to reveal my very latest eBay purchase (3 parcels so far this week and it's only Wednesday), I started to reflect just how much of an impact eBay has had on my purchasing habits and those of millions of others around the world.
In my case, eBay really has become the first port of call for nearly all of our household's diverse purchases - this month we've purchased: a set of replacement brushes for our washing machine, a very lovely brand new Lloyd Baker leather handbag and a batman outfit complete with cape (for my 4 year old son I might add!).
eBay, the online auction site, once the darling of the internet age is now being upstaged in terms of market valuations by the new social media debutants including Facebook. However, it is still an online powerhouse and when you look at some of the facts and figures around eBay, its global penetration is quite amazing. eBay has 94 million active users globally. If it were a country eBay would be the 13th most populous country in the world. In 2010, the total worth of goods sold on eBay was $62 billion - more than $2,000 every second. On eBay in the USA, a mobile phone is sold every 5 seconds, a pair of shoes is sold every 8 seconds and a major appliance is sold every minute. Also, over 1.3 million people worldwide are now making a primary or significant secondary income on the site.
The eBay phenomenon has, of course, had ramifications for the retail sector in general, both impacting on traditional retailer's business by providing an alternative cross border market place and encouraging re-use as opposed to the purchase of new items. However, it's also given retailers, particularly the smaller niche players, access to a huge international market place by allowing them to create their own eBay stores. It's also had an impact on other associated services, for example helping to rejuvenate postal services and couriers, including operations such as the Royal Mail, who have seen an increase in the volume of parcels, as a result of the eBay market place.
eBay's business model, which encourages reuse and recycling, is also credited with delivering significant environmental benefits. It's claimed that it reduces the global warming impact of the retail industry by extending the useful life of a wide array of products and because it's online it reducess the typical greenhouse gas emissions generated by retail stores and warehousing. A recent report commissioned by eBay states that buying, for example, a used HP laptop on eBay saves over half the emissions associated with a new one and that in 2007 the sale of used laptops on eBay resulted in a reduction of over 69,000 tons of GHG emissions.
It's also proven to be a valuable resource for charities and fund raisers. Not only are they using it to sell donated goods but eBay raised £7.5 million for charity in 2010 through a variety of means, including allowing users to register a charity of their choice in their account details and encouraging people to donate when paying via PayPal.
The sheer scope and volume of transactions on eBay also enables it to reveal interesting purchasing, cultural and social trends. For example, recent research has revealed that in 2010 to 2011, sales of children's watches plummeted by 2.2 million (37.5%) on eBay in the UK as more children are now using a mobile phone to tell the time. eBay's research reveals that British kids are increasingly struggling to tell the time using traditional analogue clocks and are becoming increasingly reliant on their phone's digital display.
Of course eBay has its downsides too. It struggles to police and deal with the increasing number of auctions for forgeries, stolen and illegal items and there are many scams aimed at fleecing the unwary eBayer of their hard earned cash. Believe it or not eBay has also given rise to a new affliction known as "eBay addiction" whereby users become addicted to the thrill of the auction process itself and spend thousands of pounds on "bargains" they neither need nor can afford.
Now what time does the auction end for that electric, turbo powered, laser etched stainless steel bladed pizza cutter, I've had my eye on all week?