It might seem hard to believe, but eBay launched way back in 1995, making the multi-billion dollar eCommerce company 22 years old.
These days, eBay is used for pretty much everything. Whether you’re a booming business or an individual seller clearing out your closet, the marketplace offers an easy to use consumer friendly way to earn some extra cash. It’s hard to remember what the world was like without it.
eBay has become such a staple of everyday life that it’s easy to forget its very humble beginnings. Like every great success story, there are some little-known facts that tend to get brushed under the carpet and forgotten over time. Have you ever wondered how the site started, or what the first ever thing sold was?
Wonder no more, friends. I’ve done some digging on everyone’s favorite online auction site, so you don’t have to.
Here are 20 little-known facts about eBay.
20. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED AUCTION WEB
Computer programmer, Iranian-American Pierre Omidyar originally wrote the code for Auction Web over Labor Day weekend in 1995, as a personal project on his larger website, eBay.com. It started out as a side project to keep him entertained in his spare time (if that doesn’t make you feel lazy, I don’t know what will). Omidyar launched it as a business after being told by his internet provider to upgrade to a business account due to the amount of traffic the website was attracting. Pretty impressive for something run out of his spare room in Silicon Valley, huh?
19. THE FIRST EVER ITEM SOLD WAS A BROKEN LASER POINTER
Wanting to test the site out, Omidyar listed a broken laser pointer that he had originally bought to use as an aid during presentations. It ended up being used to entertain his cat, before eventually breaking. Not expecting anything to come of it, Omidyar put the laser pointer up with a starting price of $1. For a week, no one placed a bid. The following week, the first ever bidding war erupted and to his surprise, the listing ended at a total of $14.83. Omidyar even contacted the winning bidder to ask if they realized the pointer was broken. Turns out the bidder was a collector of broken laser pointers. There really is a collector for everything!
18. IF YOU’D INVESTED IN ’98, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN WORTH IT
If you’re into stocks, shares and smart investments, this is one you’re probably kicking yourself over. In September 1998, eBay listed at $18 a share. If you were savvy enough to have squirrelled some pennies into the baby website, you would be sitting on over $84K today. During the dot-com boom (roughly 1997-2001), many companies tried and spectacularly failed, or took huge hits which they never fully recovered from. eBay recovered and surpassed their previous stock price peaks, securing its place as one of the most profitable websites of all time, remaining relevant today, 22 years after its launch.
17. THE FIRST ITEM SOLD IN THE UK WAS A SCORPIONS CD
eBay.co.uk was launched four years after the initial website premiered in the US, in 1999. The first item sold in the UK was pretty random. A copy of the 1996 single You & I from German rock band The Scorpions, sold for £2.89, which coincidentally was roughly the amount of my weekly allowance at the time. Whilst the hard rock band hold the 1979 Playboy award for Best Artwork of The Year, I bet this is the career defining moment that they all hold dearest. My first purchase as a Brit was probably something far less exciting, like a second hand pair of shoes.
16. BRITS USE EBAY MORE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE
Keeping along those same lines, us Brits use eBay more than any other country. This doesn’t surprise me, as I just recently used the site to clear out my winter wardrobe (I kept my raincoat, this is England, after all). We might have joined the party a little late, but we know how to grab a bargain and there’s not much we like more than the adrenaline surge of a bidding war. An impressive 19 million of us visit the website every month, and buy more items a month per capita than any other country in the world. We clearly have our priorities in check.
15. EBAY HELPED DISCOVER A NEW SPECIES
Yep, you read that right – and no, it wasn’t a strange type of mold on an old vinyl LP. In 2006, a Montana based seller put a type of Sea Urchin they had found in the Pacific up for auction. Although they had mistakenly labelled it as an already known species, Simon Coppard of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (say that ten times as fast), at The Natural History Museum in London recognized that the urchin didn’t belong to any group at all. It’s not the first time that something has been described inaccurately on the site, but this one left a bit more of an impression than a dress that definitely doesn’t have ‘plenty of life left in it.’
14. 800 MILLION ITEMS ARE UP FOR SALE AT ANY ONE TIME
If you have ever done a search for an item and the listings have seemed never-ending, that’s because they are. At any one time, a whopping 800 million items or more are actively listed on the site. That’s more vintage dresses, gadgets and cars than you can shake a stick at. That’s part of the allure of eBay, the great quantity of things that are listed. Although the company doesn’t officially report the amount of items sold per annum, the sheer quantity is vast. With the selling process simple enough that even my mother can use it, it’s not surprising.
13. THE MOST EXPENSIVE ITEM EVER SOLD IS A YACHT
This isn’t just any boat. This is a 405-foot super yacht, designed by Frank Mulder. The yacht boasts a gym, cinema, sixteen cabins, and a helicopter garage – plus more. The yacht was sold for around $170 million. That sounds like a boat I’d be happy to trade my dingy for. It is believed that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was the winning bidder. Abramovich is worth approximately $7.6 billion, so purchasing this yacht was probably just small change to him. Abramovich does have 7 children though, so if he did by the boat then maybe it’s just to make family holidays a bit easier than packing the kids into the RV.
12. SINGER JAMES BLUNT SOLD HIS SISTER ON EBAY
Yes, really, but not quite. In one of the most bizarre eBay tales there may well ever be, the You’re Beautiful hitmaker listed his sister on his eBay prior to the release of his first album. Blunt told GQ Magazine in 2007, ‘I was waiting for my first album to come out and ended up selling pretty much everything I owned on eBay. I had a mild addiction. I came back to the flat where my sister was staying and she was crying because she couldn’t get to a funeral in Ireland. I ended up whacking it on eBay: ‘Damsel in distress seeks knight in shining armour!’ A generous man offered to fly Blunt’s sister in his helicopter, and amazingly, they fell in love.
11. WARREN BUFFETT SELLS A LUNCH DATE EVERY YEAR
Billionaire businessman, nicknamed ‘Oracle of Omaha’, Warren Buffett, has auctioned off a lunch date with himself for the past 17 years in a row. In 2016, the six-day auction ended at a whopping $3.4 million dollars. The winner and seven guests get to chat over lunch with Buffett, all in the name of charity. Traditionally, the lunch is held at New York’s Smith and Wollensky steak house. The restaurant also donates $10k a year in order to be the host. Buffett has raised a jaw dropping $20 million dollars since starting the annual auctions to help support the Glide Foundation. Glide helps the homeless, based in San Francisco, California. I don’t know about you, but this gives me the warm and fuzzies.
10. EBAY IS MORE THAN JUST EBAY
Rather than just being limited to the eBay auction site, eBay actually owns several other popular websites that you might not realize. I didn’t! Stubhub and Gumtree are both owned by the company, who also hold a 25% share in Craigslist. Now that you know, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? More surprisingly, the corporate giant also owned Skype before selling it off to Silver Lake, Andreessen Horowitz and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board in 2009 for an eye watering $1.9 billion. It was then acquired by Microsoft in May 2011 for $8.5 billion. That’s a lot of money changing hands. Let’s hope they got 5* feedback.
9. YOU CAN’T SELL YOUR VIRGINITY ON EBAY
Okay, maybe that’s not a little-known fact, but it is explicitly stated in the prohibited list section on the website. As well as that, no matter how desperate you get, you can’t sell your soul to the highest bidder either, or a magic potion to get back at your high school boyfriend. These are just some of the items that you can’t sell. Just in case you didn’t know, you also can’t get rid of your ‘grave related items’, human remains or body parts and Nazi memorabilia. Better off just dropping those things off at the local good-will instead. Disclaimer: Don’t.
8. THE ORIGINAL COLOR WAS YELLOW
Originally, eBay had a bright sunshine yellow background. Although pretty glaring and hard to look at, customers complained when it was changed to a much slicker and crisp white. Always the customer service advocate, the company listened and changed it back – although they responded with a next level of passive aggressive pettiness that blows my mind. Gradually day by day, the yellow changed to a paler and paler yellow, until eventually it was white again. That’s ingenuity that some of us can only hope to aspire to. Now, it’s hard to imagine the website anything other than white. Well played, eBay. Well played.
7. YOU CAN BUY RECIPES ON EBAY
If you think this is ridiculous, then you are not alone. The internet is full of websites with free recipes, prime and ready for the clicking. However, that doesn’t stop a plethora of users selling their family recipes on the auction site. From Marsala recipes to cookie dough balls, there is a whole host of culinary delights waiting for you in a dedicated recipes section. So, next time you’re short for rent, don’t panic. Just give your grandma a call and ask her for that legendary lasagna recipe. You don’t even have to post it, just ask your winning bidders for an email address and send it over. Two words. Easy money.
6. MOST ITEMS SOLD ARE ‘BUY IT NOW’
Since its launch, eBay has been known as an auction site. However, the majority of items that are sold are done so using the Buy It Now feature. Research done back in 2013 suggests that only 15% of items are bought through bidding. Personally, I’m a fan of a bidding war, although it’s dangerously addictive and has seen me spend way more than the item is worth just through sheer determination. When it comes to little things, you can often snap up a bargain for a fraction of a store price with instant gratification. A lot of Buy It Now listings also have the added bonus of free postage, which is not to be sniffed at.
5. EBAY HAS BETTER SALES THAN THE ECONOMY OF COUNTRIES
Shocked? Me too. Back in 2014, around $82.95 billion exchanged between buyers and sellers. That’s an insane amount of money. Such a huge amount that these sales are bigger than the economy of Cuba, Libya and Croatia. That’s so incredible, it’s hard to believe, but the figure is stated in the annual report. Maybe that’s a niche market that will pop up soon, a personal eBay account for entire countries to auction off land, goods and services. I can’t imagine what might possibly go wrong. What’s the betting that Korea would have their account suspended due to customer dissatisfaction?
4. EBAY HELPED THE DARKNESS TRACK DOWN A LEAKED ALBUM
It seems that there might be no end to eBay’s talents when it comes to aiding the rich and famous – and glam rock band The Darkness. The promo of the 2005 album was leaked, and ended up on eBay listing. Golden haired front man, Justin Hawkins, purchased a copy on eBay for £350 try to contain the leak. At the time, Hawkins told BBC News, ‘It’s encoded so we’ll have a name and a number – so we’ll know which disc it is, who distributed it and who they distributed it to. And that person IS GOING TO GO DOWN.’ Sherlock Holmes himself would be proud.
3. EBAY IS SO DEDICATED, IT EVEN NAMED ITS HQ BUILDINGS AFTER DEPARTMENTS
The eBay headquarters is based in San Jose, Silicon Valley, California. Comprising of seven main buildings, each one is named after different sales departments on the website – Collectibles, Jewelry, Motors, Music, Sports, Technology and Toys. Not only that, but all the conference rooms contained in the buildings are named in correspondence to the building ‘theme.’ For instance, the Motors building rooms are named after types of cars. If you like the sound of the fun theme of the buildings, why not try and get on board. The company has around 12,600 employees in total, although not all of these are based at the colorful HQ.
2. JACK SHENG WAS THE FIRST TO REACH A FEEDBACK SCORE OF A MILLION
I have a hard time getting even satisfied customers to leave feedback, so I’m particularly impressed by seller Jack Sheng’s accomplishment on the 13th November 2008. Although it took Sheng a comfortable 8 years to earn it, he later doubled it in just a matter of 18 months. As a way to recognize his special achievement, eBay created the little shooting star icon to go on his profile, and more importantly – named a conference room after him. I wonder what building it’s in, technology perhaps? If you know, let us know! In the meantime, I’ll be emailing all of my customers in the hope of getting a feedback score of 20…
1. EVEN NASA HAS USED EBAY
So far on the list, we’ve seen Russian billionaire yacht buyers, rich philanthropists and musicians use the great site to their advantage. It turns out that even astronauts used eBay. NASA turned to the site in 2002, boldly going where billions of other people have gone before. When some parts that they needed for various equipment stopped being manufactured, NASA began using outlets such as eBay to try and find what they needed. What does this tell us? That no matter who you are, or what you need, eBay will always come up trumps – that and even NASA needs a little help sometimes.
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