Selling On eBay In The ’90s

Selling On eBay In The '90s

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Fire up the DeLorean, we’re going back in time to the 1990s to talk about what it was like to sell on eBay in the ‘90s.

This podcast was inspired from a comment on one of our videos where somebody said they had been selling since 2008. Melissa replied back to show camaraderie, saying we’ve been doing this since 1996 and it’s a blast. The original commenter replied back saying we didn’t have phones or computers in ‘96. 

I tried not to take this one personally, but there were definitely phones and computers in 1996 because eBay came out in 1995. Then we started reminiscing about how eBay used to be, and that’s how this episode was born.

In the ‘90s we did not have the luxuries of a smartphone or access to check comps with us. We take it for granted now, but a lot of the apps today allow us to reach more people than we could have in the 1990s.

Selling On eBay In The '90s

Starting To Sell On eBay

My mom was the one who got us started and she actually started selling baby clothes. She would buy from yard sales and post items in the classifieds. Then when eBay came out she got on there. I was 16 at the time and I got interested in it. It was cool because you could make money and do it on your own time. The first thing I started selling was NordicTracks. From there, I branched into car seats and strollers.

Getting Into Flipping In The ‘90s

I got into flipping because I was trying to make money to buy a car. I often went to the Salvation Army with my mom and we were finding undervalued items and taking them to a larger market. One visit, I found a piece of exercise equipment for $5 and thought it had to be worth more than that. So I bought it, and it sold for $350 within 7 days. I was immediately hooked. At that time I worked at Red Lobster and it would’ve taken me over 3 weeks to make the same amount of money or even less money. We had to figure out how to box it up and ship it, but we were able to do that. 

How Did You List On eBay In The ‘90s?

We had a camera that my mom had bought for the business and I was able to take pictures on that. It had a disc similar to a floppy that we could put into the computer to upload. This was before eBay had picture hosting or anything like that. There was a small spot where you had a title and then you had a description. You had to actually have a site for hosting and we used BoomSpeed to host our photos. You paid for a certain amount of storage. So you put your disk in the computer, you uploaded it to BoomSpeed, which is online hosting, and then for your listing on eBay, you added the code to take the user to your photos on BoomSpeed. It was the only way to get pictures on eBay!

Some people said you used to have to scan pictures, but I don’t remember doing that. I remember having the camera with the floppy disk. It was a very complicated process compared to what we have now. Eventually we moved to digital cameras and now phones. Technology has changed and made it easiser than ever to be a reseller on eBay.

Selling On eBay In The '90s

Payment Processors

Another game changer was payment processors. When my NordicTrack sold back in the day there was no PayPal connected to eBay. You had two options: 1) a personal check (which took a long time to clear) or 2) a money order or cashier’s check. The transaction was quicker if you did a cashier’s check. You could put what form you accepted in your listing. We did have to wait 10 days to make sure personal checks cleared before we shipped out items. I don’t remember when PayPal came out, but it wasn’t trusted at first because people were new to paying online. 

Mailing a personal check was a trust exercise by both sides. eBay was the middleman, but they’re trusting that they’ll get the item they pay for after the check is deposited. 

There was one instance where I took a cashier’s check, my bank cleared it, I wrote checks out on the funds they put into my account and then found out later that my check had bounced. I actually went to jail for that. We did a podcast episode on it. I spent a day in jail because I took a cashier’s check from a scammer. 

The instance might have stopped me for a little bit, but I’ve always come back to selling on eBay.

Feedback was important back then because you had to have that trust between buyer and seller. That’s why sellers needed to have good feedback. Back then you wouldn’t buy from someone with zero feedback because it was risky.

It’ll be interesting to see where eBay is in the next 20 years.

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Robert Stephenson

I grew up in Central Florida and have lived here my whole life. I first got into buying and selling items when I was 16 years old, and have been hooked ever since. It has mostly been a hobby that makes some extra cash, but sometimes it serves as my main income as well. I don't plan on stopping any time soon. I find too many fun toys for my family (or myself), and just love the whole process.

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