Nick Wingfield has a compelling piece titled Taking on eBay on page R10 of today’s Wall Street Journal.

His main point is that the dustbins of history are filled with those who tried to compete directly against eBay in the broad online-auction market; however, there are pockets of energy where vibrant challengers are able to compete, including:

  • Event guarantees that buyers will receive tickets in time for events. eBay doesn’t guarantee timeliness.
  • lists classified ads, and as a result has many more listings; furthermore, customers need not purchase their vehicles online. eBay only allows online purchases.
  • Real Estate — The multiple-listings service realtors have relied on for years efficiently advertises homes through a variety of venues including the realtors’ own sites. eBay only has single-site listing, with no syndication.
  • Books, Music, already has a huge business allowing individuals and small merchants to sell these items. eBay, unlike Amazon, does not have “item authority” for a wealth of products, giving customers different buying choices for any given product (Amazon new or merchants used).

eBay may have a wonderful business, but it cannot be everything to everyone. There will never be a single marketplace for all transactions on the Internet, and that’s a good thing.

Longer term, Nick Wingfield evokes the ghost of Paul Ford (see: August 2009 — How Google beat Amazon and Ebay to the Semantic Web), stating

There could still be long-term threats to eBay’s overall franchise. Google, Yahoo, and other search engines could eventually challenge eBay’s dominance if small businesses, which make up the vast majority of sellers on eBay, decide they can do better by advertising on search engines to draw customers to their own Web sites.

That scenario is particularly intriguing to us at CommerceNet, for it points to decentralized e-commerce: a world in which, rather than coming to a common place like eBay to transact, buyers and sellers can transact on their own terms, freeing them to transact in innovative ways, the way real society does business outside the Internet today. Imaginging eBay without the eBay isn’t as hard as it seems.