There’s no telling what weird and wonderful extremes people will go to when selling on eBay. The food and drink section is a source of several everyday oddities, offering up pop tarts, kidney beans, millet, potatoes, Twiglets, cooked lobster, cod fillets, and oh yes, caviar.

These items in themselves aren’t too out of the ordinary, but the mind boggles at the platform. It isn’t even as if they’re selling at drastically cheaper prices than in the high street, and tinned goods seem to have a heavy postage price.

In a huge global market like today’s internet shopping is a commonplace practice, especially in the book and DVD markets. Other sectors like household, clothing, consumer electronics, telecommunications, and a whole host of memorabilia are also popular. Food, on the other hand, may still seem strange to some.

eBay's Viral Viability
eBay’s Viral Viability

From Loft to Mainstream Marketplace

eBay’s initial attraction was that it was the place to dispose of all that broken bric-a-brac gathering dust under the eaves. It was an internet model of the traditional auction that attracts collectors and hoarders who may have turned up with something specific in mind or are just there out of natural human curiosity. Now, however, it plays home to scores of ebusinesses looking to sell on the global market. Long-established businesses and fledgling entrepreneurs sell on eBay alike because it’s easy to use and wonderfully cost-effective.

This is true of ecommerce in general and Amazon’s development is not a million miles away from eBay’s. It originally sold books followed by DVDs and CDs and has now branched out into wider markets just as eBay has. Amazon Marketplace could also be described as a more exclusive version of eBay but without the bidding process.

Whilst foodstuffs may seem a bizarre addition to the eBay range it is actually an example of a trend that can only be on an upward trajectory. For now though the novelty of it is arguably its main selling point and a large proportion of buyers are probably buying for the fun of it. It’s a great one to tell the ladies over coffee: ‘That Nicaraguan blend your sipping was bought on eBay. Who’d have thought it?’

The Cult of eBay

eBay is often shrouded in intrigue both in terms of items being sold there particularly and the nature of the items themselves. The practice of selling is sometimes as odd as the the product being sold.

Food is about as ordinary as you can get. It keeps every living thing alive and so it sits near the top of every agenda. This is what makes selling it on eBay interesting. To some people it’s as unthinkable as by lingerie in hardware shop. The two don’t quite marry up in the realms of rationality.

Other sales can be much bolder because the very idea of a particular thing being sold at all makes it stand out. The beauty of eBay is that there’s a good chance that anything, no matter how out of this world, will sell on there. As such it’s difficult to separate motives and attitudes. Is this item being sold on eBay because that is the place to sell weird items, or is eBay a weird place to sell it? Was it something peculiar in the first place, or did it only become so after it was sold on eBay?

A quick search of ‘weird things sold on eBay’ produces pages and pages of results. Websites, blogs, and forums are devoted to this kind of thing, and it seems that in the past kidneys, fingers, toast, human sperm, the meaning of life, air from Woodstock, dirt from New York, sense of humour, a mummified cat, and virginity have all been sold, or at least attempted to be, on eBay. Whether or not they are true, although virginity may ring a few bells, doesn’t really matter. The fact that they are being discussed illustrates where eBay sits within our psyche.

Oxford Street: For Sale

Yesterday, the London Evening Standard ran with a story about The Dispossessed Fund, a charity project run by the paper, selling an Oxford Street paving stone on eBay, the proceeds of which go to the charity. Such a move may be obvious, but it must be lauded for its understated ingenuity.

As a seemingly banal object, but one of justifiably significant cultural, historical, and geographical interest, an Oxford Street paving stone being for sale can generate large degrees of attention. The fact that it is being sold on eBay is likely to increase that attention further, for the word eBay possesses numerous connotations that have taken root and buzz consciously or unconsciously in people’s minds.

Where eBay differs from the likes of Amazon is in its position within the public mind-set. In basic terms eBay and Amazon are almost carbon copies of one another, but because eBay is a marketplace exclusively accommodating independent sellers it is that bit more flexible in what is sold on there. This in turn invites whole new conceptions of what eBay means. In short it offers a more obscure form of viral marketing because selling on eBay is an essential part of itself. In commercial selling it’s useful, but in charitable auctions it’s invaluable.