During the last 20 years, our shopping experiences and habits have been changed forever by the internet - it's said today that over 90% of people in Britain shop online. This booming trend of e-commerce has challenged traditional high-street stores, with their ability to offer people low prices on products. People now don't have to take time out of their already-busy lives to travel to the high street – they can shop from the comfort of their own home. Many people believe that e-commerce has made trading more difficult for the high-street store, but on the other hand, it does give consumers a better deal and increases competition, which again, can only benefit the consumer.

Even though many of the traditional high-street stores have cottoned on and have rolled their businesses out online, there are many other industry leaders who actually started life as an e-commerce business and continue to expand. Starting off as tiny, sometimes one-man band enterprises with very little money but very bright ideas, many businesses have gone on to make billions. One such business is the online auction giant, eBay – the world's most popular person-to-person trading service. Aside from helping consumers to locate products that they want to buy, the website offers businesses to present their products with their own eBay store design.

With the amount of people who shop online increasing every year – it makes perfect sense for anyone who is interested in selling online to open up a store in the busiest marketplace around. The beauty of the website's listings is that it can give the smaller businesses a great advantage to promote themselves, as they are easily able to create a quality, professional design that you would normally associate with big companies that normally can afford to take their time on such things!

Broken laser pointers: The dawn of eBay

It can be hard to believe that a multi-billion dollar industry started life in someone's tiny front room – but that's how internet shopping giant eBay began! The shopping website is famed for selling pretty much anything, as it allows individuals and businesses alike to sell their products, be they second-hand or new (or even broken), over the internet to anyone in the world. It sounds like a simple, yet brilliant idea. But how did this enterprise start? Surely it was an investment from a conglomerate with hundreds of support staff and programmers at its disposal (which should explain its rapid rise in such a relative short space of time?)

Nope - you couldn't be more wrong!

French-born American student Pierre Omidyar left university in 1988 and worked developing programmes for Apple Makintosh computers. In 1991, along with 3 friends, he founded Development Corp (later eShop) which would go on to be sold to Microsoft. Still fascinated by learning about the burgeoning eCommerce industry, he continued to build his ideas. With his combined knowledge, he would go on to found an umbrella company called 'Echobay Internet' which included four websites - a travel site set up with a local travel agent, a personal shopper site and a site about the Ebola virus. The fourth was a website named 'Auctionweb', which was launched in September 1995, to provide a 'person-to-person shopping experience'. The first item that was sold on Auctionweb was a broken laser pointer – Omidyar was surprised when someone bought it for $14 and tried to explain that it was broken. 'I know' said the purchaser in his e-mail 'I collect broken laser pointers'. If a tale summed up eBay, that's pretty much it!

The website was simply ran as a hobby by Omidyar, until the day he got a message from his internet provider informing him that he'll need to upgrade his account because of the amount of traffic his website was receiving. The cost (an increase from $30 a month to $250) led to the website charging a small fee to users for listing items, which far from having a negative effect on the amount of users, saw the website's membership increase over time and soon, Auctionweb was making far more than the cost of the server. This led to the hiring of the website's first employee - just to count the cheques that Omidyar was receiving, which had started to pile up, uncontrollably.

The continued rise of Auctionweb

With business continuing to grow, Jeffery Skoll was hired to be the company's first President in early 1996 and in November of that year, the site entered in to its first deal with an outside company; Electronic Travel Auction, to use their technology to sell plane tickets and other travel products. By the following January, growth of the site at rocketed to an unprecedented 2 million auctions, compared with 250,000 for the whole of 1996. In September 1997 the site officially change its name to 'eBay' – originally the intention was to name it 'Echobay.com' to recognise Omidyar's umbrella firm that the site belonged to. The name was already taken by an Echobay Mining Company, so the idea was shortened to simply 'eBay.com'. The decision to change the name was taken, mainly because many people (including the media) had been referring to the site as eBay, referencing the parent company, rather than the actual website. Later that year, eBay received funding of $6.7m from investment company Benchmark Capital and by September 1998 the company was floated on the stock market and Omidyar and Skoll became instant billionaires. All this, after just 3 years of the site being launched!

eBay expands – and builds an empire

As the company expanded – so did the amount of categories that people could sell on and the features that it including – including eBay store design. By 2000, you could pretty-much sell anything on the website, which only helped to further increase their user base. That base grew further in 2001 when eBay, now armed with funds raised from selling shares to the public, purchased a number of other similar online auction services, including South Korea's 'Internet Auction Co.' and 'iBazar', a French classifieds website. These acquisitions helped to push eBay's influence into the European and Asian markets. This era also saw the emergence of electronic payments growing in popularity – for the first time, people that were paying for products by cheque or postal order was in a minority. Noticing this trend, eBay quickly completed the purchase of the most-popular payment system at the time in 'PayPal' in late 2002. By this point, PayPal was used to close '1 in 4' sales on eBay alone - and now, thanks to the in-house promotion, PayPal processes the vast majority of payments on the website.

The future of eBay

Very much like their earlier acquisitions of auction websites around the world, the company are always looking to expand their influences – by promoting their website on the most-popular platforms on the internet. This can only help to drive more traffic to the website, which is good news if you trade your products on there. Having seemingly cornering the world shopping market, eBay have continued to purchase other internet technologies. In 2005 they acquired the voice and video-calling app 'Skype' (but would go on to sell it just 4 years later). Other notable acquisitions include the ticketing website 'StubHub', the social networking site 'Meetup.com' and the online building supplies portal GSI. More recently, eBay 'span-off' PayPal into its own independent company, which as of 2015, they valued at a staggering $46b. In 2015 alone, the company made a net profit of $1.22b – in 2003 the whole operation cost them $1.5b to purchase!

Meanwhile, as of February 2016 Pierre Omidyar has a personal worth of a reported $7billion. Not bad for something that started off as a hobby!

Interesting eBay facts

Here are some interesting facts – and bizarre items – that have sold on eBay, showing that you can pretty much sell anything in their marketplace!

  • After the broken laser pointer became the first item to be sold on Auctionweb, the next items sold included 'Marky Mark' (better known as actor Mark Wallberg's hip hop alias) autographed underwear for $400, a Toyota Tercel for $3,200 - and a metal Superman lunchbox for $22!
  • The current most-expensive item purchased on eBay was made by Chelsea Football Club owner, Roman Abramovich, who bought a Frank Mulder-designed 'Gigayacht' for $85m– smashing the previous record of $4.3m paid for 'Gulfstream II' jet! Although the fee was just for the deposit – the reminder of $168m price was handled by a brokerage firm in Florida.
  • NASA used to make use of eBay to acquire old computer chips and floppy disk drives that were no longer being manufactured, but would still be of use in their space shuttles. This saved them millions of dollars in designing and building completely new parts for their spacecraft, until their space shuttle program was put on hold.
  • Whilst famous for its second-hand auctions – over 70% of the purchases from eBay are from 'new/buy it now' sales, showing the influences that businesses have on the website. Using bespoke eBay store design, their professional outlook makes all the difference.
  • In 2003, Bobby Cave, an insurance broker, purchased the town of Albert in Texas (population, 5) for $216,000. Just a few years later, he sold the town on eBay for $2.5m! To be fair, Cave did do some work on the town, restoring its frontier imagery and building a tavern for visitors, so the profit was well-deserved!
  • In 2008, an Englishman in Australia, Ian Usher, was going through a tough time – divorced from his wife and presumably sick of his life and all of his possessions - he sold it all on eBay for $399,300AU. Thankfully for him, he did go on and make quite the life for himself – travelling the world, writing a couple of books, finding a new love and purchasing a Caribbean Island. I'd imagine undertaking all of that would have been extremely difficult without eBay around for him to sell his goods!
  • Whilst eBay is an American company – it's actually here in Britain that buys more items from the website per capita than anywhere else in the world. Good news if you've got a store on there!

Take advantage of eBay's marketplace – with your own bespoke store!

All businesses need a presence on the world's most-popular online auction site; with an audience of 162 million active users all over the world, it offers an opportunity that simply can't be passed up. Using custom eBay store design, you are able to stand out from the crowd and attract customers, as they'll be looking for the most professional service they can, in order to leave their trust with them.

Here at eStore Design, we have vast experience in providing high-quality design for eBay stores. Our professional design team has worked with businesses of all sizes to help them to take full advantage of the potential that eBay can offer. If you feel that you have everything to gain from the world's largest online marketplace by improving your knowledge of eBay, as well as setting up a fantastic store design, don't hesitate to get in touch with us today! You can contact us on 0845 050 3500 or alternatively, send us an e-mail at sales@e-store-design.co.uk and we'll get back to you as soon as possible!

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