IT is the online auction site where just about everything can be bought and sold – from Princess Beatrice’s “pretzel” hat worn to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to old CDs, make-up and even Roman artefacts.
Now eBay – which was started on 4 September 1995 by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar after he listed a broken laser pointer-pen as his first item for sale on a site he originally called Auction Web – has grown to become one of the world’s biggest e-commerce sites and celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.
The site now has more than 25 million sellers, 157 million buyers, 800 million listings and has a stock market value of more than £21 billion. The most expensive item ever sold was a Frank Mulder designed giga-yacht auctioned for £110 million to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
In 1999 eBay.co.uk made its first sale with a three-track CD from German rock band The Scorpions which sold for £2.89. The site’s entrepreneurial success also sparked an army of start-ups inspiring smaller firms to sell worldwide, There are now more than 2,000 eBay millionaires in Britain.
In July Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, used the site to auction off the sweaty wristband that was thrown into the Royal Box by Andy Murray at Wimbledon with proceeds going to the Animal Care Trust. The wristband auction attracted 45 bids and was bought for £2,100 by an anonymous bidder.
Business forecaster Professor Richard Scase said: “Governments try to create entrepreneurs and generally fail. Over the past 20 years eBay has done it for more than 25 million sellers.”
Prof Scase added that eBay has transformed business and retailing, “destroying the relevance of geographical and national boundaries”.
“With tablets, laptops and smartphones, teenagers through to pensioners can be international traders,” he said.
More than half the small online retailers on eBay’s UK marketplace are global – exporting to four or more different continents. The site has played a key part in enabling firms to become exporters without the costs and infrastructure usually needed to trade internationally.
Sarah Calcott, director of operations at eBay UK, said: “We’re working hard to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of small businesses, providing them with the tools and the flexibility to export millions of British goods abroad, despite lacking the infrastructure of a traditional exporter.”