April 11, 2024

eBay: from the auction of a piece of toast to the ideal marketplace

Everyone has heard of Amazon; however the first real global marketplace was eBay. It is one of the best-known and oldest online sales portals, comparable to Amazon itself.

The first item sold was a broken laser pointer

eBay creates ways to connect millions of sellers and buyers in more than 190 markets around the world. It's the place to find and sell just about anything you can imagine. You can come across brand new products, second-hand goods, and purchase items on sale at very competitive prices. It's just as easy to sell unwanted items on eBay or put them up for auction.

The first item sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer, which sold for $14.83. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, listed it as the first product on a newly created website then called AuctionWeb. The starting price was $1. Omidyar was very surprised at the time that anyone would pay for a broken device, but the buyer assured him that he was deliberately collecting broken stuff. After all, a new laser pointer would cost him far more, so he would rather fix a broken one. The sale of second-hand goods very quickly proved to be prospective.

By 1996, 250,000 auctions had been held on this site, and in the first month of 1997, over 2 million auctions were run. By the middle of that year, eBay was holding around 800,000 auctions a day. In 1997, Omidyar changed the company name from AuctionWeb to eBay and began advertising the website on a massive scale. Originally, Omidyar wanted to buy the domain, but it was already registered with a Canadian mining company. The removal of the "cho" led to the name

A charming but untrue version of eBay's origin story

Legend has it that the founder created the company so that his fiancée could expand her PEZ dispenser collection online. However, this isn’t the case: eBay was founded to create the perfect market economy. Naturally, no one found this version of the story interesting, but the moment the PEZ rumour surfaced, the media didn't cover anything else. The PEZ element of the story played an important role in making founder Pierre Omidyar realise that people were passionate about collecting things!

The perfect marketplace where supply meets demand

 eBay quickly became a huge hit on the internet. Already in its third year of operation, when it only had about 20 employees, it generated a turnover of over 3 million USD. At that time, eBay charged auction fees ranging from 2.5 to 5% of sales depending on the bid price.

You can find lists of dozens of bizarre items that have been sold on eBay. Those worth mentioning include:

☝️ Britney Spears‘ used chewing gum

🥤 A paper cup that Elvis Presley drank out of at a one of his concerts.

🍞 Burnt toast depicting the face of Marilyn Monroe.

🚘 One lucky man sold his used car for over double its price after he discovered that one of the previous owners was the Pope. Cars, after all, have become a highly sought-after commodity on eBay. The founder of eBay himself admitted that when he first saw the listing of the car, he couldn't believe his eyes.


💯 One American created an auction after breaking up with his girlfriend called "Everything I Own" where he sold all his possessions (including his house and car). He auctioned off his personal belongings for several hundred thousand US dollars. Thanks to this, he earned enough money to travel the world!

🎥 In 2005, the original Hollywood sign was sold on eBay for $450,400.


🇳🇿 In 2006, a man from Australia tried to sell New Zealand on eBay for the starting price of $0.01. Before eBay got a chance to cancel the auction, the price had risen to US$3,000.

🍞 In the year 2000, a piece of toast that was half eaten by Justin Timberlake was sold to a 19-year-old fan for $1,025. It was put up for auction by a radio station DJ after Timberlake left his unfinished toast in the station's studio upon giving an interview.

The fall of an empire

eBay, however, began to lose out on sales in the first decade of the new millennium, especially to Amazon. This was mainly due to technical limitations, as eBay wasn’t optimised for selling everyday items. After the spin-off of PayPal, which became an independent company, eBay remained a mere auction platform.

eBay doubled the number of products sold on the platform between 2007 and 2014. However, between 2014 and 2021, the volume of goods sold remained essentially unchanged, similar to eBay's turnover, which hasn’t seen drastic growth in recent years either.

A giant that comes with great opportunities

During the onset of the pandemic, eBay sales increased by about 20% due to shops closing.

eBay currently isn't, and likely won't be the leading global supermarket in the near future. However, it still has a gigantic base of both sellers and customers and a strong market share in many categories (for example, 3/4 of all second-hand products in the US). It is also prominent for its wide range of car accessories. Compared to Amazon and other newer marketplaces, eBay has a slightly older user base, explains our marketplace specialist David Cikánek, Head of Sales at EXPANDO.


eBay is one of the most powerful sales platforms, comparable to Amazon! At EXPANDO, we carefully select sellers who have the potential to increase their sales opportunities with us by reaching over 142 million customers worldwide.

Contact us for a personal consultation and we will help you boost your sales on eBay! 📨

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