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Saturday, October 15, 2005

eBay Singapore experience

eBay, that venerable e-commerce site, has been in Singapore for a while already (more than a year, I think) and over the past month, I sold two items. During these two experiences, I learned that there are differences in the mindset of Singaporean buyers versus American buyers.

Some background: I bought two iPod minis over seperate periods, both times with the intention to keep them.

For the first one, I held onto it for almost a month. Then I noticed that my bank account was pretty low on cash, so I chose to sell the player. But I procrastinated again until the iPod nano was introduced. And since the nano replaces the mini, that meant that the one that I was holding onto may depreciate quickly. So I listed it on eBay quickly.

Aside: I wanted to sell it on sgselltrade, but I need to give my bank account details to the moderators. Now why would I want to do that???

I then bought a used iPod mini, but the bank account still didn't look good. This time, the kicker came from the introduction of the new video iPod. Without a doubt, the mini's price would go down even faster now, so I listed it pronto.

And no, I don't plan to sell another iPod mini.

Back to eBay Singapore. I had sold things before on eBay America, and I thought the procedure would be the same here. Here's how it's done in eBay America:
  1. Seller lists item.
  2. If buyers have any questions about the item not mentioned in the listing, they email the seller, and the seller replies.
  3. Buyers either buy item at the fixed "Buy It Now" price or start bidding.
  4. Auction ends.
  5. Winning buyer pays seller at the auction's final value price.
  6. Buyer sends money to seller.
  7. Seller sends item to buyer.
  8. Both sides leave feedback for each other.
  9. The End.
Easy peasy, right?

Now here's the Singapore version:
  1. Seller lists item.
  2. Buyers email seller, asking either or both of these questions:
    1. "Can I meet you to see the item?"
    2. "Can I buy it from you now?" (with the implication that the seller will cancel the auction)
  3. Seller responds to buyer.
  4. Buyer haggles for a better price
  5. Seller may or may not relent.
  6. Buyer most likely buys item at a price fixed outside of eBay.
  7. Seller and buyer meet to exchange item and money.
  8. Feedback may or may not be left.
  9. The End.
So what's my problem? It's in step 6. According to eBay's policies, the seller is not allowed to make an offsite sale, i.e. a sale on the item outside of eBay. Also, let's say the seller agrees to sell an item to a particular buyer at a certain price. If the auction's price goes above the agreed price due to third-party bidding, then the buyer has to outbid in order to secure the sale (though he won't be bound to it by the seller). This may be viewed as shill bidding, i.e. bidding by parties to push the price higher for the seller's advantage.

If the seller is unscrupulous, he may agree to the buyer's price and ends the auction early. That's in step 2(b). Then eBay does not register a successful auction and both the seller and buyer have no chance to leave feedback for each other. Both parties' reputations do not increase or decrease. This will affect how they are perceived by others at future auctions. It may seem like a minor issue, but in eBay, trust is built through positive feedback. No feedback means you have nothing to show that you are trustworthy.

I would advise eBay Singapore to step up its education efforts for buyers and sellers. For buyers, they should be made to understand that they have to follow whatever is stated in the auction. For sellers, they must be made aware of the negative repercussions of violating eBay's policies.

Likewise, for buyers and sellers, especially those who are new to eBay, they should be aware of the policies and follow them closely. The policies aren't there to take up bandwidth. They protect buyers and sellers from bad transactions. eBay isn't just another pasar malam (night market) where you can haggle over an item.

So that's what I've learned from selling on eBay Singapore. BTW I made a profit from both sales. Where's the money? I gave it to my mum for her birthday. Happy birthday, mum!


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Tym said...

Another idiosyncrasy of functioning in a geographically small space. In the US, or any country larger than Singapore really, eBay puts amateur buyers and sellers in touch with a market that's otherwise beyond their reach. In Singapore, because the place is so damn small, rather than trust the buyer/seller, people prefer to deal face-to-face, since it's not that inconvenient to do so. So eBay winds up working as a system to connect buyers and sellers --- not unlike the existing Classified Ads --- as opposed to tapping all the advantages of a genuine online, geographically-unencumbered system.

Plus ├ža change, plus c'est le meme chose.

Indi said...

I can agree with you 100%!!!
Singapore market is very strange when it comes to online bidding.

The main reason? They are afraid to lose in bidding, which is a part of the kiasu attitude towards any game/competition.

What's so sad is that eBay and Yahoo! Singapore do not seem to want to actively educate (or penalize) those who break the rules of the online auction.

Maybe we both should talk to eBay and Yahoo! Singapore about this. After all, if everyone only uses them as classified ads, it will not be a good business for online auction providers.

Yuhui said...

I get this feeling from eBay that they don't give two hoots about their customers, unless you're a Power Seller racking up thousands of U.S. dollars in sales every day. So talking to them may be liberating for us, but it'll do nothing on eBay's (or Yahoo's) end.

Indi said...

PS: I believe it is still acceptable for both parties to meet to view the merchandise as long as they honor the auction rules, i.e. no quick deals outside eBay arena.

Here is what my wife wrote:

Yuhui said...

Yeah, I read her post. Viewing the item is fine. It's just that it also usually implicitly means that the seller is going to sell it to the viewing buyer as well.

Chris - Typozay said...

To be fair this often happens in the UK too - and it's particularly true in densely populated areas like London.

Probably also explains their interest in Gumtree - a regionally organised classified ads site. said...

Very interesting topic you guys wrote about online auctions in Singapore.

My point of views for yahoo auctions, some sellers may have a very low starting bid but with a high reserve price. For instant one of them had a starting bid at SGD 10.00 but with a reserve price at SGD 70.00. And not only that, the seller has added a buy it now option at SGD 70.00. The seller could have just listed the item with the buy it now option at SGD 70.00.

About auctions, there will be hardly more then 1 bid on any items you list. had encourages sellers to sell worldwide but they are not assisting the sellers by having the postage and handling set up as those in It will only state ships to Singapore. Further more when items listed in, it cannot be found in search even with the same title in, & If you want your items to be notice by internationally, you will have to pay for those listings in What is the point of encouraging sellers to list items in a wedpage without having the notice from international buyers? I guess it is just a free service.

About yahoo and ebay auction for our local market, everyone is hoping to have a good deal out from it. And not many will be willing to pay for shipping or handling fees. I had Singaporeans won my auctions in and my shipping charges clearly stated worldwide at USD 9.99 (Isn't Singapore worldwide?). When they won my auction, they expected me to give them a discount or suggested meeting up to save cost for them. As a seller, we will have our cost too and shipping and handling are just a part of my revenue income.

Currently all my listings stated very clearly with local and overseas market and with my shipping and handling charges but still many will try to negotiate again and again with the handling charges. I have one buyer hoping to win on my item at SGD 3.50 and expected free handling and delivery! I'm a driver and I'm not willing to travel 30 kms for a meet up. In Singapore, it is all about cost and who is going to pay for my petrol then?

Perhaps it is really kiasu Singapore, our own style.

The above just 2 cents worth.
Thank You & Best Regards.
Eugene Tan.

Yuhui said...

Hey Eugene,

Wow, it sounded like you really needed to get that off your chest!

Yeah, I agree with you that S'porean buyers want free handling. I guess it's part of our social mindset, i.e. Singapore is a small country, other (and larger) merchants provide free handling, etc.

I guess that the best that you can do is to include your handling fee in your sale price (and of course make sure your sale price is high enough to cover it). To the buyer, it'll seem like free handling, but to you, your cost is covered.

All the best in your auctions!

Anonymous said...

Hi I got some brand new nokia n95 in a box which i intend to sell @ sgd $650 to $700 @ ebay but i don't noe how can anyone help me ? mail me at

Yuhui said...

Hey Rudy, you could just follow the instructions on eBay to list your phone. They have pretty clear steps.

Matthew said...

Singaporeans are simply too scared to bid because there's a fear of seeing the price going higher, higher and higher. Kiasu/Kiasee S'poreans don't like paying high, they like paying low. If it's free, even better. That's further compounded by the fact that local auctions never start (genuinely) at a low price, which is the case for most successful auctions (ie: where the item gets sold). Auctions in Singapore thus end up looking more like classified ads, in which price is negotiable and price on the auction is not strictly adhered to. I auction (buy and sell) on both SG yahoo auctions and Ebay (SG and US), so I know how different they are. I tend to do most of my buying on Ebay US, as opposed to selling there, cos they're bloodsuckers. Firstly, they charge you fees for both posting your ad, take a percentage from the final sale value, and even also charge on the Paypal transaction (for the seller), which I think is ridiculously expensive and can nullify any profits you made, depending on closing price.

I have one thing to say to SG Yahoo Auctions, if you're tuning in to this... GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER! Auctions don't show up on searches almost all the time, and the site is wayy too buggy. Learn to code, please, for Pete's sake, and what the hell is Yahoo paying you for if you've been "maintaining" a buggy site for like the past year? Or maybe longer? Y'all are probably sitting on your asses and are on coffee break the whole day...

Yuhui said...

Hi Matthew, to be fair, eBay/PayPal is a business that earns its revenue from the fees. If it didn't charge anything, it'd probably become a dot-bomb, especially given the cost of maintaining the businesses.

Anonymous said...

hi Yuhui... it's many years since you posted this I'm not surprised if you do not reply... but...
if you do not mind helping (it concerns money matters) please help me out:

I tried to open an ebay account, listing items... it was stated over pages and pages and pages (even at the next-to-last listing page) that my fees are $0.00.... however, comes 'confirmation page' and it was demanded of me my credit card details.

are you able to help share your advice/experience - is it true that ebay does not charge for sales, locally?

Because that is what is said (via websites, their info, etc). But then they still demanded details of me, even as I am not selling internationally (which they said required details). I am selling locally... and yet they refused to process me until I gave credit card details.

I am quite worried they will go against their words and simply (I did even proceeded to call them) as in their phone call said "some procedures (and implied, some charges) are expected, even if unspoken."

unspoken, unspoken??? They clearly stated "fees: $0.00" (I took screen shots) yet demanded credit card details.. and when called, said some things are expected even as unspoken !!

wow. I feel like ive boarded some pirate ship, really.
Hope you can write,
shed some light,
and perhaps allay some pain that came from this horrible experience.

Sorry for bothering,
hope you can help


Yuhui BC said...

Maine, I believe eBay asks for your credit card details regardless of whether it's free or not. There are some premium promotions that are not free, e.g. premium placements, bold titles, etc. If you use them, eBay will charge you for them. But if you don't use any of those premium placements, then eBay won't charge you for anything.

Binspiration said...

How to sell internationally as my ebay account doesn't permit me to.

Yuhui BC said...

Binspiration, check with eBay.

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