If you've ever bought an item off eBay, then you probably know about the misery of snipers. Just when you think that you're about to get the cell phone you wanted at an incredibly cheap price, some scumbucket sweeps in and outbids you by a lousy fifty cents. You find yourself staring at the screen, empty handed, as you beat your breast, tear out your hair, and cry to the heavens, wondering how the universe could be so cruel.
Having been both a buyer and a seller, I have learned that the misery of eBay cuts both ways. No matter how much research you do, how carefully you craft your posting, the ultimate price of your item depends upon the whims of the markets. Sometimes, last-minute bidding will drive your item's price through the roof. Other times, it just lies there like a slug, not doing much at all.
What makes this even worse is the fact that most items have a reasonable range values, a truth that seems to elude many eBay patrons. As a buyer, you often find yourself getting outbid on items because some maroon in Outer Bumpkinville hasn't done his research and is willing to massively overpay on a cell phone. On the other hand, as a seller, you sometimes find yourself getting rid of items for far less than they're worth because your listing isn't as slick as one put up by a professional salesman.
Ideally, eBay would pair buyers and sellers in an exchange-style market, where they would be able to determine the best price for an item at any given time. They wouldn't be undermined by the pressures of uninformed buyers or boring webpages. In the absence of these distractions, the ultimate sale would lack some of the drama of eBay, but would be a little more satisfying for all concerned.
Of course, the exchange method has some inherent limitations. First off, the items in question would have to be identical, or at least easily graded. Otherwise, the exchange structure wouldn't work. After all, if every item was different, then the exchange's attempt to derive a perfect, consistent price would be undermined by inconsistencies in the product. Thus, while this wouldn't be a useful method for selling art or curios, it would be perfect for selling things like cell phones, clocks, computers, and other mass-produced consumer goods.
There have already been attempts to develop this sort of exchange structure. For example, Yoonew has set up an exchange for sports tickets, in which users can sell ticket futures for championship games. However, people who are interested in selling other items have been out of luck. Until now.
James Chong, a former Charles Schwab online designer, is in the process of unveiling Wigix, a new online trading platform. Basically an online exchange, Wigix makes it possible to buy and sell an almost endless variety of items, from first-generation iPods to Burberry bags. The site doesn't charge listing fees, and only collects a payment on transactions that go through. While the site won't offer the incredible bargains and occasional windfalls that one sometimes gets on eBay, it will offer a consistently reasonable price for any of the items that it lists.
According to a recent interview, Chong hopes to add in additional features, such as a ticker that constantly updates the prices of items and a feature that makes it possible to view the history of price fluctuations. This would be very useful; in addition to letting you know how well your cell phone is holding its value, the history analysis could give you useful information about the health of a company. For example, if all Verizon cell phones started dropping in price, it could indicate a problem with Verizon's stock.
I'm looking forward to seeing where Wigix goes. Learning from eBay, Chong is apparently trying to build numerous levels of interactivity into Wigix. Ultimately, some users will become "homesteaders," working on the site and sharing some of the revenue. This is a pretty revolutionary concept for eCommerce, and I hope it works out. Of course, eBay will probably end up buying Wigix in a couple of years, after which it will either integrate the site into its existing structure or will allow it to wither on the vine, as it did with Half.com. In the meanwhile, though, it's nice to see someone putting a fresh face on interactive sales!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Right now, he's wondering how much an Amazon Kindle Personal Reader is going for on Wigix...
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