Florida - eBay is arguably one of the best known brands in existence. From their "mythical" start as a Pez dispensary and listing site for the founder's wife, to their position as one of the world's largest online sellers of antiques and vintage items, this company has managed to solidify its global reputation as the auction site that simply sells "everything."
Over the decades, countless millions of people have sold antique and vintage items across eBay's online platform, and in the process, have provided eBay with a veritable treasure trove (or so it would seem), of data regarding the sale of such items as they've passed under the company's online hammer. Realizing the value of this information, eBay was quick to offer its buyers & sellers free access to the data as an enticement to return and put more items up for auction. As eBay's stature grew over the years, the notion of determining the value of one's antique and vintage items by comparing them to eBay's online listings became commonplace. The refrain, "Oh, I saw one on eBay for exactly the same price..." became the standard definition for evaluating literally anything.
Unfortunately, as many people found out, this criteria simply didn't hold up when it came to bricks and mortar businesses, nor did eBay's "realized" prices necessarily reflect regional and geographic differences in taste, or the fact that clicking a mouse at an online auction didn't always mirror real world auctions or their prices. Over time, it became clear to many dealers and collectors that you'd not only have to take eBay prices with a grain of salt - but you might need the whole shaker too.
Fast-forward to 2019, and dealers and collectors are once again questioning the value of some of eBay's public data sharing's. One such example, a recent listing showing the "most watched items" under eBay's heading of Popular Antiques, is of particular concern since many of the actual items aren't even antiques at all, or vintage for that matter - they're new. Now while most dealers and collectors and even astute punters can figure this out by simply reading the title, what's distressing is the rest of the buying public may not be as savvy to this clever wording as the pros. However, leaving the semantics aside, what's even more of a concern is that the listing is factually incorrect. If you use the example of the snapshot from the picture cited in Ilus. 1, it turns out that six of the top ten antique items reportedly "being watched" on eBay from that particular day, were in fact not even antique, nor were they vintage.
Now we realize that you can probably refine the search on eBay, using filters to gain more accurate listings based on what you're searching for, but when the sites overall heading related to antiques, and the type of items people are "most watching" are not antiques, it should give one reason to pause - or at the very least - reconsider the information being presented. There are of course plenty of reliable stats that can likely be gleaned from using eBay's free data collection offerings, but the aforementioned case raises the spectre of exactly how much one should completely trust this information when it comes to making antique purchases of your own. If getting solid intel on what to buy for your business is paramount, then one should not only consider the source before making any sizable investments, but how that information was arrived at.
As with literally all things in life, the proof is often in the pudding. So when it comes to the reliability of "free" information being listed by one of the biggest online retailers of antiques and collectibles in the world, perhaps a modified quote from Edgar Allen Poe might sum it up best, “Believe nothing you hear, and only half (or less) of what you read..."
- Annie Smith, A.I.A., PACC (*Ms. Smith is a guest writer for the school, and syndicated antique & appraisal columnist who has been covering the decorative arts beat for over thirty years. Ms. Smith's views and opinions are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Asheford Institute).
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