Would You Ship a Broken iPhone to Réunion?

My brother dropped his iPhone in the Pacific Ocean.  An original, $399 iPhone.

Needless to say, saltwater does not do good things to an iPhone.  It doesn’t boot anymore.   No recourse with Apple or AT&T.  He had to get a new phone.

As a result, I ended up with my own variant of Pierre Omidyar’s famous broken laser pointer… I listed the broken iPhone on eBay.

Well, it sold today, for $122.50.  However, it sold to an international buyer… in Réunion.

Réunion, as it turns out, is a little island in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Madagascar.  It is a French island, and happens to be the first place in world (due to time zone) to adopt the Euro.

So, would you ship a broken iPhone to Reunion?

They paid with PayPal.  All the info lines up, roughly.  eBay has a hotmail address for the user, but the payment came from a wanadoo.fr email address.  However, the name and address on both is the same, although eBay lists United States for the registered country (with the Reunion address).

That could be a sign of fraud.  Or it could be the sign of a user who moved.  eBay data is pretty messy at times.

He has made recent purchases with positive feedback.  A cheap piece of wireless equipment, and an expensive ($259) piece of tree climbing equipment.  So, not just trivial items.

So, do I ship it?  Not sure.  The worst that would happen is that the credit card would end up being stolen, so PayPal would seize the funds.  And I’d be out a broken iPhone.

But, on the plus side, selling to Reunion is a new destination for me.  I’ve sold to over 30 countries on eBay at this point, and it’s getting harder to attract buyers from new ones.

I think I’m going to ship it.

People are basically good… right?

Memories: The Leonard Speiser Mask & GoldenPalace.com

A couple weeks ago, there was a great reunion party for many eBay Product Managers & User Experience Designers from the past decade.  I didn’t get an exact count, but at least 70 people were there, including many of the early Product Managers from before I joined the company in 2003.

I was happily reminded of an event that I absolutely would have shared on this blog at the time – if I had been writing this blog at the time.  It seemed worthy of a posting now, three years later, especially since it comes with some dot-com bragging rights.

The event?  The time I sold a Leonard Speiser mask to Golden Palace Casino on eBay for $400.

speiser01_pic_1011

Strangely disturbing, isn’t it?

Details

The auction was put up in May, 2005, shortly after the official “going away” party for Leonard, which we held at the Tied House in Mountain View.  It was a large event, and we took up the back room.  There was food, drink, and the requisite roasting of Leonard “see attachment” Speiser.  (We’re not rolling back, we’re rolling forward!) It also included infamous video from a particular usability test, on permanent re-run.

It was a fun time, and as party favors everyone was given these hand-made copies of Leonard’s face, taken from his Halloween rendition of Harry Potter.  They were just color copies, stapled onto rulers.

On a lark, I listed one that night on eBay, hoping to raise money for his going away present.  I had recently launched the first version of eBay Pulse, a popularity page ranking queries, stores, and most watched items on eBay.  (There is actually a patent pending on the latter).  Through a grass roots email campaign, I got a sufficient number of eBay employees to watch the item, propelling it onto the “Top 10” list for most watched items on eBay.

At that point, Golden Palace Casino found it.  At the time, they were buying up crazy items on eBay as a form of PR, starting with the famous Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich.  Yes, I know the memories are coming back to you now.

After some furious bidding, they won the item for $400, providing enough cash to buy Leonard an engraved video iPod (the hot item at the time).   He claims he still has it.  🙂

In any case, we delivered the item, signed, to Golden Palace, and they posted it on their website.   It’s hard to find now, but a little Google sleuthing uncovered it.  Here’s what they had to say:

A handheld sign, made from a ruler and a cut-out of Leonardï’s head, was sold on eBay for $400.00. GoldenPalace.com bought the item, which was made for Leonard Speiser, an eBay Product Manager who was leaving his job. In order to raise money for the send-off party and roast, the sign was auctioned off on eBay. The sign has staples in it to roughly make a slot for the ruler, which you use to hold it up.

Itï’s funny to see actual eBay employees putting items up on eBay, but we are assured that: “this listing in no way, shape, or form represents any type of official eBay business. This listing is purely a loving gesture for one of the truly great members of the eBay community.”  Leonard will apparently be greatly missed by many, and they are trying to raise money for a going away present, to be given to him at the party. All the online casino got for their money is the sign and ruler; nothing more, nothing less.

Leonard Speiser went on to found Bix.com, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2006.  Leonard is still there, as you can see from his current LinkedIn profile.

Just in case he tries to feign ignorance of this whole event, I have proof he was a party to it:

speiser01_pic_100

This is such a fun memory, really symbolic of some of the best times at eBay… I’m really happy that I’m getting a chance to capture it here.

Two More First Spouse Coins for Sale

As I wrote last week, I’m saying goodbye to my First Spouse coins.  I’m moving through the series step by step.

The first coin sold for about 10% over the original purchase price last year.  Since that’s roughly the cost of eBay & PayPal fees, let’s just say that owning the coin did no damage financially.

This week, I have both Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty up for sale.

Bidding is on eBay all through the week.

Enjoy.

Goodbye, First Spouse Gold Coins. I’m Over You.

Just posted the first of my First Spouse gold coins on eBay

2007 First Spouse Proof Martha Washington Gold Coin

For those of you reading my blog for a long time, you know a couple things about my history with this series:

I’ve decided that this series of coins isn’t for me… it’s too much cash tied up in coins, and frankly most of the first spouses just aren’t that interesting to me.  I may buy one or two in the future (Jacqueline Kennedy?), but I’ve decided to opt out of the full series.

As a result, I’ll be selling the first five off at a rate of one a week.

I think I’m going to steer clear of the more trendy, obvious collector-bait series going forward.  Yes, Native American $1 Dollar Coins, I am talking to you.  Of course, I am a sucker for truly beautiful new efforts.

Just remember, all bids on eBay are binding.  And you must bid from a PayPal account with a confirmed address.

PayPal Micropayments: A Step in the Right Direction

Paypal quietly launched it’s PayPal Micropayments service level this week, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.  It’s a service that has been in testing and research for quite some time, but it’s nice to see it finally launched publicly.

Here is the new PayPal Micropayments site, which explains the terms.

For those of you unfamiliar with PayPal economics, PayPal charges a fixed fee and a variable rate on every transaction for premium customers.  A premium customer, by the way, is basically anyone who wants to receive more than $500 a month and/or accept credit cards.

The payment scheme is similar to the credit card companies, although of course PayPal charges the same fee for bank & debit payments too.  They even charge the fee on PayPal balance purchases.  There is a reason why PayPal is a phenomenal business in its current form.

The problem is that for low cost items, the PayPal fixed fee can be expensive.  The fees for a basic premium account are:

$0.30 + 2.9% of the transaction.

So, if you are selling a $100 item, your fees would come to:

$0.30 + $2.90 = $3.20, or 3.2% of the transaction.

Not a huge fee, but certainly a significant line item for normally thin retail margins.

Now look at the cost for a $5 item:

$0.30 + $0.145 = $0.45 (rounded), or 9% of the transaction.

Wow.  9% for payment processing.  Hard to build a great business there.

The micropayments service offering fixes this, by lowering the fixed fee, and raising the variable fee.  The new fee structure is:

$0.05 + 5% of the transaction.

So, that same $5 payment now costs:

$0.05 + $0.25 = $0.30, or 6% of the transaction.

6% is still high, but much, much better than the old fees.

Of course, given the scalability & cost issues with PayPal infrastructure, the launch is typically limited in terms of implementation:

  • You can’t really find this on the site, you have to go to the magic micro-site to sign up.
  • You have to sign up for this fee structure separately.  You can have the micropayment structure, or the normal structure, not both on a single account.
  • You have to wait 2 days for the fee structure to take effect.

This means that as an e-commerce seller, you have to keep two accounts open – one for your items over $12, and one for the rest of what you sell.  It also means you have to juggle the fact that PayPal doesn’t like to see two accounts linked to the same bank account, credit card, or email address.

Still, it was fairly trivial for me to set up a new email address on my personal domain, and get the new account.  I’ll start using it immediately on Media items, like used DVDs, that tend to get below $10 prices.

If I was in the eBay selling tool business, I would definitely build in a feature to automatically assign the right PayPal account to listings based on the fixed price or expected final value of an auction.  It probably wouldn’t take more than a day or two to implement.  An eBay seller with $100,000 GMV per year, with 50% of items below $10 could likely save thousands of dollars with this technique – that’s margin that is worth taking.

I’m not sure this fee structure will get PayPal into the true micropayments arena.  If they want to be collecting payments under $1, they will really need a fee structure that operates on the aggregate – grouping together charges like they do for iTunes to minimize charges.  Still, I’m glad to see them make at least this small step forward.  It must not have been easy to face the potential cannibalization for existing sellers who are using PayPal today on eBay for under $10 items and who will move to this payment structure.

What would be great is a true wrap account from PayPal that would mix together a true micro-payment pricing (sub-$1), low price item band (sub-$10), and regular merchant fees, with PayPal handling all the aggregation and management to deliver payments for a broad product line at a fixed rate based on monthly volume.

Still, I’m sure there are a few people at PayPal who slaved over this recently, and I do want to say to them thank you for shipping it.  I’m hoping this will help make selling lower price items viable again for me.

Marc Andreessen Joins eBay Board of Directors

This is literally yesterday’s news, but was worth a mention here.  From the eBay Ink blog:

Marc Andreessen has joined eBay’s board of directors, effective immediately.

Andreessen is most noted for co-founding Opsware and Netscape, and served as AOL’s CTO immediately following its acquisition of Netscape. His current venture is Ning, a new consumer Internet company founded in 2004 that is focused on building a next-gen platform for social networking. Rather than having its users join one all-encompassing social network, Ning encourages and allows users to create their own social networks for anything they’re passionate about. In four years, more than 480,000 social networks have been created by users on Ning.

I had a chance to meet Marc briefly as part of the OpenSocial launch @ Google last year.  There is no question in my mind that eBay will benefit from having his perspective on the board given their current challenges.

Some interesting facts & links:

In particular, I’m going to flag a post I wrote over a year ago about how eBay missed its opportunity to buy Ning cheaply, and why that acquisition would have made sense.  I caught some flack for that last summer… feeling at least partially vindicated here.

Welcome to World of Good

Seema may be a pretty miserable blogger, but she’s a great product manager.  And her site just went live last week.

Congratulations to the team, and welcome worldofgood.com.

World of Good is an attempt to produce the first, global-scale marketplace for socially beneficial goods.   Yes, when you shop the site you will see badges for:

  • Eco-Friendly
  • People Positive
  • Animal Friendly
  • Supports a Cause

It’s a nice initiative because it combines some of the raw, positive economics from aggregating demand for these poorly distributed goods, allowing many of the vendors to reach buyers they otherwise would be unable to find.  It’s a classic eBay play to try and make an inefficient market more efficient.

I’m not sure of the overall business opportunity here for eBay, but it’s great to see this two-year effort pay off for Seema and the team.  Congratulations.