Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Mystery of the Empty Ebay Auctions

If you don't know what I'm talking about, and you read this in the next few days, here's what I'm talking about.

These people (and there are a few of them on eBay) are selling empty Coke cans and Dorito bags for large sums, and promising a "free gift" which just may happen to come inside the item. Obviously, this gift must be a violation of eBay policy right? Kind of like those guys who sell tickets to baseball games for exorbitant prices, but try to get around by saying that you are actually bidding on a baseball card that happens to have two tickets as a free gift. So, what illicit gift could be at work here? Drugs? Sexual favors? Hmmm, one of those auctions was only selling for $20. That seems a little low, even for a hooker.

My second guess was that it was some kind of pyramid scheme, trying to get people signed up for something ridiculous to make money by doing nothing, or even one of those auctions just there to bump up the seller's feedback. Either way, the free gift can't be anything good. The only good that may come of it is if there was Dorito dust at the bottom of the bag. Mmmmm... Dorito dust.

Alas, because I am a curious guy, have nothing better to do, and have a weird obsession with eBay, I did some research, and uncovered this page. if you don't feel like clicking, the gist of it is that the "free gift" is cash. Apparently, they refund the money you spent on the auction, plus twenty bucks. The hope is that these weird auctions (which receive thousands of hits) will drive people to the seller's other auctions, which are usually things that people who browse ebay all day may want or need. This one guy claims that he made over a $1000 on his other auctions because he got tons of hits on his auction for an empty can of Diet Coke and people clicked over, so giving away the twenty was a small price to pay.

Honestly, there's nothing wrong with it. In fact, receiving cash is a good thing. It just seems like an odd way to get people to bid on your stuff. As a big eBay guy (well, 897 positive feedback rating), I'm always trying to figure out ways to get people to look at my stuff (like putting that link in there. Bid, fools! Bid!). I mostly go the old-fashioned way, like good titles and pictures, but this is totally bizarre. Who even comes up with this stuff? "I've got an idea! I'll sell people trash with $20 in it, and with any luck, they'll also bid on my Starman Movie Poster."

It's kind of interesting, I guess, that people would be so curious to bid a candy wrapper up to $172 just to see what the free gift was. I just don't know if I agree with going to these extremes to sell old crap. Then again, I'm not above trying anything. And this is where some morals come into it. I've sold bootleg cd's and videos in the past, and when ebay finally caught up with me and stopped the auctions, I sold them in one-day auctions, because sometimes it would take them a couple days to catch me. When they started stopping those, I began selling the cd's at fixed prices, and those would usually get snatched up pretty quick before eBay would catch on. And when I would get caught, they would make me take a really easy quiz on copyright laws before I could sell again. Seriously. This is all they are doing to try and stop the criminals.

BUT, just because bootlegs are technically illegal, does that mean I was doing something really wrong? All those songs on the cd's I sold were songs I downloaded for free from Kazaa or Limewire, and I just happened to put them on a cd. Illegal, sure. Immoral? Who knows? Now, I also once sold a lot of textbooks on eBay that I had been trying to sell elsewhere for years, and I knew they were utterly worthless, and yet in my description, I made it seem like whoever won this auction could make a ton of money on the secondary market selling these books individually. I've done stuff like that before, but this was the first time I've out-and-out lied about the value of one of my auctions. I've sold old toys that were worthless to most of the population of the world, but the (no doubt) collector's who bought them probably felt like they got a bargain (These folks don't over-pay for anything. They do their research.) So, I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong there. Old toys usually set their own price. But those books were garbage, plain and simple. Did I feel bad about it? Maybe a little, but really, I've been scammed, too, and what goes around comes around, I guess.

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