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Alibaba and the eBay Thieves

Two rivals of eBay came to Las Vegas to do guerilla marketing during eBay's user convention, but only one got real up close and personal with eBay.

That was Alibaba.com Corp., the parent of eBay's main auction rival in China, Taobao.

Alibaba set up shop inside a restaurant at the Mandalay Bay resort, where the eBay convention was held, and offered free lunch to eBay sellers who stopped by to learn about Alibaba's products.


Alibaba wooed eBay sellers from a restaurant at the Mandalay Bay resort. (Leslie Walker-The Washington Post)

Several eBay employees entered the restaurant and tried to persuade the manager to kick out the Alibaba team, offering to pay the restaurant more than Alibaba, according to Alibaba employees and a bystander who witnessed the conversation.

While the restaurant did not take eBay up on the offer, the hotel insisted that Alibaba take down its signs beside the restaurant entrance inviting eBay sellers to come inside, said Alibaba Vice President Porter Erisman. Word of mouth, however, brought plenty of sellers into the large basement area where Alibaba offered speeches, food and demonstrations, including a "Trade or No Trade" game mimicking the "Deal or No Deal" TV game show.

Alibaba took a more aggressive marketing tactic here than eBay's other rival, Overstock.com, which wooed eBay sellers from a respectable distance at a different hotel.

But Erisman said that unlike Overstock, Alibaba was not promoting its Internet auction site, Taobao, or any product competing with eBay. Rather, he said the company came to market Alibaba.com, a Web site that offers a service that could help boost trade on eBay. The site provides an online directory of Chinese suppliers that produce goods that eBay sellers can import for sale in the U.S.

"We are spending a quarter of a million dollars here to promote ourselves, and we are not talking about anything that competes with eBay," Erisman said.

Bill Cobb, president of eBay North America, said Alibaba is a rival and that eBay had negotiated with the hotel to make sure Alibaba was not allowed to do any marketing in the hallways of the convention area, which eBay had rented.

But it all seemed especially funny, considering Yahoo owns a 40 percent stake in Alibaba Corp. and Alibaba runs the Yahoo China business. Just last month, eBay announced a major strategic partnership with Yahoo that calls for Yahoo and eBay to cross-market each other's products.

Those, however, apparently do not include Alibaba, which must have least-favored-rival status with eBay.

By Leslie Walker  |  June 15, 2006; 8:54 PM ET  | Category:  EBay Live , Leslie Walker
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Comments

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I met several of my current suppliers of stuff I sell on ebay (and elsewhere) through Alibaba. I found it unsurprising that ebay will use underhanded tactics when dealing with anyone they perceive as competition. Ebay consistently reacts with extreme paranoia that somewhere, someone might make some money without them getting a cut, and that fear permeates almost everything they do.

At the same time, they have grown so big that they can't even clean up the more egregious abuses of their system by the millions of fraudulent sellers they have attracted. Ebay has gotten to be the Big Bad Bully that everyone loves to hate. You hate to sell there because the place is so overrun with thieves and arbitrary (and sometimes completely unjustifiable) reactions on the part of ebay. But you really have no choice but to deal with them simply because none of the current crop of competitors can deliver the traffic or the buyers.

I believe that there is nothing wrong with ebay that some viable competition would not cure in a heartbeat -- and I am especially happy to see that Google is on the verge of supplying what might be that viable competition through a combination of Froogle, GoogleBase, and GBuy (the latter is supposed to roll out at the end of this month). I suspect that some of the recent announcements they have made (such as cracking down on the 1-cent BIN scam) are in response to the fact that they might soon be seeing some major defections by sellers. The 1-cent BIN scam, in particular, is so incredibly easy to spot and correct that you have to wonder why they haven't taken care of it long ago (the answer, of course, is that cleaning that scam up will cost ebay tens of thousands of accounts, and cost them lots of money).

Meanwhile, I am not putting all my eggs in one basket, but using the #2 auction service (according to the listing count published on http://www.powersellersunite.com/, that is http://onlineauction.com/), and a free marketplace called www.blujay.com (where I have managed to sell a number of items). I would normally put my full name and a link to some of my listings when I post, but since I have given out some positive information about ebay's competitors in a place that might catch their notice, I don't want the risk that they will NARU my ebay ID. Their TOS is written so that they can shut down anyone they don't like completely arbitrarily.

Posted by: Howard | June 16, 2006 3:03 PM

Ebay is the big mega corp of the online auction biz, they use there arbitrarily tatics to suspend sellers and buyers that do not agree with them.
Small time sellers pay the most fees, while the powersellers barely pay a dime.

In time they will loose what business they have, in the end people will just put up with it.

Posted by: S Carpenter | June 16, 2006 4:10 PM

I am an eBay PowerSeller and was happy to find Alibaba's reception at eBay Live this year. I brought along 5 other PowerSeller friends of mine and we all had a great time. We thought it was a breath of fresh air from what was going on in eBay's Solutions Center. We were surprised to hear eBay was, essentially, preventing them from educating us about our options.

Posted by: Joanne | June 16, 2006 4:33 PM

"Ebay is the big mega corp of the online auction biz, they use there arbitrarily tatics to suspend sellers and buyers that do not agree with them.
Small time sellers pay the most fees, while the powersellers barely pay a dime"

I bet this guy thinks that wealthy people don't pay any taxes, either.

Posted by: Buuba Jones | June 16, 2006 5:41 PM


I use eBay and continue to use it.
I beleive eBay is getting better over time as new features come out to make the site easier and safer against fraud.

I don't think Google Base is a threat. Its a collection of junk and anyone can put incorrect stuff to get classified wrong.

I really am curious why anyone would want to use GBuy. While I do use Google for search they havn't really produced anyting else that useful. There gmail still is far behind Yahoo.

Google is know to crawl sites and often indexes pages it should not. It has had its own set of issues with privacy and I am unclear why as a seller and buyer would risk using a un-proven payment system.

eBay needs to continue to focus on getting better deals on its site. Remove shipping fees that are too high.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2006 11:23 PM

Put stores back in SEARCH!!! Greedbay!!!

Posted by: Gong Show | June 17, 2006 12:58 AM

"Ebay is the big mega corp of the online auction biz, they use there arbitrarily tatics to suspend sellers and buyers that do not agree with them.
Small time sellers pay the most fees, while the powersellers barely pay a dime"

Absurd! My fee's are the same as your fee's, 8% of Bid, listing fee's etc. The difference being I sell much more than you do and pay eBay MUCH more than you do.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 17, 2006 8:50 AM

eBay is in turmoil! I know, because I work there. They are being sued left right and center by the big corporations mainly due to trademark misuse, text and image theft. Their legal department is being overun, and eBay are running scared. Seller accounts are being suspened on a huge scale, even if they have a hint of a word/image that may upset a corporation. A word to the wise,if you have shares in eBay, sell, sell sell!!!

Posted by: James X | June 17, 2006 11:24 AM

Once upon a time Ebay was a fun experience for the online shopper and seller.

Unfortunately, that time is long past.

The long slide into obsolescence has already begun. While their core business decays, Whitman and her crew are out buying internet phone companies (Skype) or nervously attempting to fend off challenges to their fading status (Yahoo).

Ten years from now people will ask "Ebay? What's that?"

Posted by: Laura | June 17, 2006 2:02 PM

The core of Ebays problems lie in the fact that they lack a strong leader that knows how to lead a large organization.
Meg Whitman is not a great leader, nor is she much above a good follower. She is however very good at making Pierre Odymar and the lazy group that follow him around very, very wealthy.
This is the crutch of ebays problem, the leader is a great follower in a position that is above her natural inborn abilities. Ebay is slowly drowning in a endless game of finger pointing.
Whitman is a bookworm CEO, a numbers pusher for sure, but is not a LEADER of this organization. The poster child for ebay I agree, but she is lacking in what this sinking ship needs to sail again.
Until Pierre Odymar realizes he must find a new leader for ebay and then get himself out of the way. He hired his CEO PUPPET and he likes his toy, Whitman takes all of the media spotlight and he takes all of the sellers money! What a great world we must live in??
Ebay is not being run for long term health and prosperiety, they are running the ship onto the shoals. (A fancy, expensive ship it is but ships are supposed to float!)
Mr Donald Trump were in charge, Miss Whitman would go back to her cubicle of beanie babies. She's a great bookworm, she is just completely absent in leadership abilities. It doesn't help her cause that she is being used as a puppet, but she actually believes she is a leader.
Donald Trump would of fired her ass a long time ago. You've got to BE A LEADER or the job will eat you alive. Unfortunate for everyone else is on the same sinking (stinking) boat with her.
It's a cinch that as long as Pierre counts his billions stolen from the seller base on ebay. And he has his PET on a short leash, that ebay will most assuredly decline and disintegrate from a lack of leadership.
The obituary reads: They made alot of money when it was easy. They had the good intentions of 40,000 sellers floating the boat on the ocean on commerce. They got so fat with money that they didn't care. They thought raising fees was all they had to do to stay in business. They've got a puppet leader and that was not good enough to sustain a bright future. Ebay died from cancer yesterday, the affliction was caused by GREED and a LACK OF LEADERSHIP.

Throw me a lifevest, this ship is going down! Dennis.

Posted by: Dennis | June 17, 2006 3:11 PM

EBay is slipping steadily in the eCommerce market...sales slipping...stock slipping...buyer and seller confidence slipping.

North Americans are footing the bill while Asia and Eastern Europe flood the market with cheap baubles and counterfeits with ZERO listing fees or final value fees.

I am a powerseller on FeeBay...a VERY disgruntled one. I've had Skype on my listings for 6 months with ZERO interest from my buyers to use it...very bad acquisition indeed...Net2Phone now suing their pants off...UGH!

I am one of many who has recently been affected by the arbitrary ban of an entire sales category with no warning or announcement. This has financially devastated many long-time loyal, ethical, and solid sellers with a firm customer base.

We had worked for years to woo and convince our customers that eBay was a great buying opportunity because it was "just a venue" to connect buyers and sellers...

we were wrong!

We believed eBay would stand up for sellers who legally, legitimately, and ethically sold their goods according to the First Sale Doctrine...

we were wrong!

We believed that eBay would clean house and rid itself of unscrupulous sellers...

we were wrong!

We believed that eBay had the good common sense to know that there are legitimate customers who purchase teacher materials such as teachers, missionaries, schools, homeschoolers, book collectors, etc...

but we were wrong!

So now you can safely click ONE BUTTON on eBay that says, "Yes, I am over 18" to view PORN.

You can buy gun parts...
You can buy grow lights...
You can buy bootlegs by the score...
You can buy "supplements"...

but the teacher, homeschooler, private school, missionary, book collector CANNOT buy a teacher's edition of any textbook, even if it is Dick and Jane from 1962.

Why is it that eBay's User Agreement states you must be 18 to enter a contract and that most sales require a credit card, yet eBay says it cannot verify that the recipient is a teacher? I thought that was MY JOB as the seller to verify the sale (if you truly are JUST A VENUE).

eBay has lost its rudder, its common sense, and probably about three million potential customers because of this lunacy.

So you're the size of the 5th largest country...would that be a fascist one by any chance?

Posted by: *~p0wErsEller~* | June 17, 2006 4:11 PM

Why is it that we are not allowed to list key cutting machines in Australia? They are a legal business tool indeed an essential tool for a locksmith.

What moron said we can't sell them?

Stupidity on a grand scale and there are many more examples!

Posted by: Me in Oz | June 18, 2006 4:16 AM

I used to be an ebay powerseller with over 20,000 feedback.

And yet i was treated like piece of **it there. I lived in fear everyday that my account will be suspended for absolutely no reason, and yes it is.

The first time, i was suspended because ebay wanted to check whether my address is correct. All my listings were ended without any warning. it costs me over $3000 for their action cause i have to pay for their listing fees, not including the fees to relist it.

The second time, i was suspended again because ebay wanted to know i have the right of ownership for all items i am selling. Again another $3000 lose for me.

The third time, i was suspended again because i move to sell jewelry items and watch at ebay. Again no prior warning when my account was suspended.

The fourth time, i was suspended again because of shill bidding. I have over 20,000 feedback and why on earth i need to shill bidding? no reason provided.

The fifth time, i was suspended again because i have vero warning against my account. yet the items i am selling was legitimate.

The sixth time, i was suspended again because my housemate used ebay and has some unpaid strike on his account. We were not related as we were just housemate.

AND, the funny part is my sales per month is over $30,000 and during the peak season might sometimes hit $200,000.

Yet ebay treats me like absolutely nothing and made my life so miserable cause i am always live in fear despite what i am doing is wrong.

If there is any other venue then ebay where there are buyers, i will immediately move.

Ebay please add as venue and don't add like a police and judge without listening. Listen to what your customers say. Listen to what your sellers say. Listen and listen.

Posted by: Feebay | June 18, 2006 10:48 AM

"yet eBay says it cannot verify that the recipient is a teacher"

They also claim, however, that they can't enforce their own Dangerous/Hazardous Goods policy because they cannot verify if any particular seller has a contract to post dangerous/hazardous goods.

Funny, you'd think that a billion dollar business like eBay would be able to afford a fax machine, wouldn't you?

The problem is that eBay selectively choose to enforce some things and not others. If they were TRULY "hands off" that would be one thing, but they definitely do get involved in an active way, and it's haphazard and frequently stupid.

It's only a matter of time before eBay collapses under the weight of their own arrogance and stupidity. With any luck, other auction/selling venues will be available by then to take up the slack.

Posted by: PerfumeSeller | June 19, 2006 12:37 AM

"We were surprised to hear eBay was, essentially, preventing them from educating us about our options"

Oh for the love of....

This is no different than if you went to a Microsoft convention and Linux set up shop in the hotel. Why would you want the competition (BTW, a competition that thrives on fakes) to steal your customers away? It's basic business 101.

"Their legal department is being overun, and eBay are running scared. Seller accounts are being suspened on a huge scale, even if they have a hint of a word/image that may upset a corporation. "

Cite? I'm a seller and I've seen no evidence of this in the 5 years I've been there.

"Put stores back in SEARCH!!! Greedbay!!!"

If you're that upset, put your stuff in auctions. You pay the same fees overall.

Bottom line: if you all hate eBay so much, don't sell there. There are plenty of alternatives. I'll be happy to sell to your former customers.

I don't understand why people are so upset over eBay/Paypal. In 5 years of selling, I've never had a complaint. Have I been through the VERO program? Yes, and I got through it just fine. Have I always used PayPal? Yes, and never had a chargeback, because I follow the user agreement.

Of course, that's never brought up in stories like this, since it doesn't make good copy.

Posted by: Maryland | June 19, 2006 12:52 PM

I hope most of the above commenters aren't foaming at the mouth so much they are ruining their keyboards. I am a Powerseller on eBay, have been for nearly 7 years, and pay the same fees as anyone else. I have a Store and also sell a lot of items on auction, both bid and buy it now. I agree with Maryland above, if you want to have search function work, then put your things on buy it now, closing fees are the same. In any business, either online or brick and mortar, the conditions are ever-changing and the successful business person adapts these conditions. I have changed my product line completely 3 times in 7 years to adapt, and each time it resulted in more sales. These general accusations made by people who won't publish their names are just that, accusations. IF they are true, then step up to the plate and cite sources and out yourself. If you don't want to abide by the rules, then don't sell on eBay period, end of discussion. If you want to sell, then go along with the "venue" and its rules. I for one am really glad eBay provides such a venue that anyone can become a success with a little luck, a good product, and a lot of hard work. As for Alibaba at eBay Live, why didn't anyone see that no company wants a competitor to display at its convention....seems like Alibaba was a little underhanded and that greedsellers went along for the price of a free lunch.

Posted by: Susan Gearing | June 19, 2006 1:15 PM

eBay can shove IT!

Posted by: *~p0wErsEller~* | June 20, 2006 5:47 PM

I was an eBay member for almost two years.
I have now discovered (the hard way) that it is a fraudsters paradise. Account hijacks, listing hijacks, shill bidding, spoof email etc. The scammers have penetrated the system like a cancer and this cancer is malignant and aggressive. It now seems totally beyond eBay to rectify this ever spreading disease.
Time to lift your game eBay if you wish to survive.

Posted by: Tired of the same. | June 21, 2006 1:09 AM

If you have ever posted on eBays discussion boards and express an opinion which for some reason seems to breach Ebays one sided policies or merely a comment that challenges or even purports to question such policy, your posting is more than likely deleted and a warning issued. Australia does not have a constitution, though the following may apply under International Law:-

"International Background
In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 19 affirms the right to free speech:

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.(1)

Members of the Commonwealth Parliament reaffirmed the principles of the Declaration during a sitting on 10 December 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the UDHR and pledged to give wholehearted support to the principles enshrined in the Declaration.(2)

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression ... (3)"

Most of eBays discussion forums are public forums, for which Ebay members do not require an invitation. Members in fact pay for this so called privilege and are often asked to openly discuss any eBay related topic.
Just a thought !!!

Do eBay stifle our right as individuals to this unique freedom?

Posted by: Tired of the same. | June 21, 2006 5:50 AM

You've never been on the Stores or PayPal boards, have you? I see PLENTY of people saying eBay sucks on the boards, and have never seen a post deleted. They're only deleted if you swear or if you post user information on a transaction you weren't involved in.

Whatever problems eBay may have, stifling discussion isn't one of them. And again, if you hate it so much, leave. I'll be happy to sell to your customers.

Posted by: AG | June 21, 2006 5:10 PM

I no longer buy nor sell on ebay, though I am still a registered user. I look at their chat forums from time to time. It would appear ( if current eBayers take a look at the round table ) Oz Ebay, some problem now exists with their Escrow service --- Paypal.
From what I gather a scammer or an internal leak has allowed access to private details.
Oh dear !!!

Posted by: tired of the same. | June 22, 2006 2:03 AM

Let's see -- Ebay is a US company outraged that its monopolistic tactics were usurped by a would-be competitor.

This competitor, who used a clever marketing tactic, to reach out to the monopoly's customers, happens to be from the "evil Communist empire" that squashes competition and capitalism.

In addition -- EBAY, a company based on open customers bids and a free marketplace -- attempted to squash its competitor by trying to SHUT DOWN this particular marketplace, via a CLOSED bid.

While I get a chuckle out of this hypocrisy, the bit of outrage that rose inside me after reading through this story comes from the headline of the article itself. Given the points I just made based on the article, a pun casting the Chinese company as thieves is neither clever or informative.

Posted by: superfancy | June 22, 2006 10:08 AM

"In addition -- EBAY, a company based on open customers bids and a free marketplace -- attempted to squash its competitor by trying to SHUT DOWN this particular marketplace, via a CLOSED bid."

Where? Not at eBay live. No one here has taken business classes, have they. NO COMPANY would allow a competitor to set up shop at their event and try to steal business. Microsoft wouldn't allow Google to set up a booth outside the Redmond campus, why is this any different?

And I, for one, am glad they tried to shut it down - most of the fraudulent items these days are coming from....CHINA. What a surprise.

eBay is a business. Why do businesses exist? Usually to make money. eBay seems to do that pretty well.

Posted by: AG | June 22, 2006 11:06 AM

Regarding the above response, in my preceding post I NEVER argued that eBay was bad at business -- or was making a bad business decision by attempting to force its competitor off the premises of a venue at which its own services were prominent. On the contrary, as an American who successfully ran a business in a communist country -- I am well aware that the only thing superior to a level playing field is a monopoly (when you run the monopoly! Let's remember that if this weren't so there would be no Washington DC, after all.)

My comment was mainly directed at the headline writer who has judged the Chinese company STOLE from ebay by finding a way to legally disrupt its little marketing event. Daring, clever, ballsy, entrepreneurial, yes. But stealing? Let ebay argue that in court -- unless the Washington Post is also on ebay's payroll along with that mall (and you, I'm guessing)-- rather than throwing around possible slanders (can you imagine the paper writing such a headline about ebay rather than the chinese co?) they might have called the chinese company for a response -- from a marketing perspective this is a huge victory!

And as far as your own comment about "after all, chinese steal everything else...." unless this chinese company did copy something owned by ebay, you, mr. business school, should go back and retake your ethics class. Slander is quite naughty!

Posted by: superfancy | June 22, 2006 1:50 PM

AG: You won't be serving my customers any time soon as they have left also...you see when you say you don't want sellers or buyers around, eventually they believe you.

The up and comers will take our business AND our customers that come along for the ride. Now try to grasp this...when you wipe out an entire sales category, then you force your customers out the door to those new awaiting venues.

Those other venues actually have a responsive CS dept. They don't want ALL the pie like eBay, just a healthy slice and they will certainly get it from us (with Google's help of course).

As for your pronouncements on the frauds out of China, aren't you pleased as punch that eBay is bleeding you through the nose in fees just so all those fraudsters can list on eBay China for FREE so eBay can compete with TaoBao?...I use that term "compete" loosely, 'cause it's more like throwing money down a bottomless pit rather than competing.

The fact is that TaoBao is a better site, much more attractive, more culturally-centered for the audience, and totally devoid of the ethical problems that all we who respect international trademarks and/or copyrights are hindered by...sounds a lot like another company I know.

Posted by: *~p0wErsEller~* | June 23, 2006 7:20 PM

alibaba is rubbish in China now, do you know?

Posted by: goldbless | June 27, 2006 4:17 AM

Alibaba is only thought of in China as expensive (for Chinese companies to use) NOT as rubbish at all. I have an office in the PRC - I know what I am talking about.

Posted by: Oz | June 27, 2006 9:54 PM

Ignore the above they are all SCAMS!

Posted by: smart chika | July 30, 2006 4:40 PM

The posts discussing the ebay live event and the evolving world internet marketplace are interesting and helpful. The problems with conterfeit or stolen goods confronting ebay sellers and ebay, the corporation, are real. They reach to every level of the ebay marketplace.
The Ebay market is experiencing the same problems the rest of the international markets. No one has come up with a solution that protects intellectual property rights, as we perceive them in the North American/European systems. Unfortunately, it appears that there will not be any leadership in this area from our current administration, as they are preoccupied with other "issues". It is not a good situation. In fact, one could definitely say the US administration, is making things worse for these emerging marketplaces.
Hopefully, we, the small internet based businesses, who sell mostly to individual customers, around the world, can be the tail that wagged the dog. We are becoming a big enough portion of the world economy to influence the development of universally agreed upon standards. The computer "age" has made us all impatient for changes that in the past have taken generations (human generations not computer generations!) to effect. Things happen at lightning speed now. And, nothing emerges or begins such as ebay, as a fully developed, problem free situation. It takes some time, and there must be input/consensus from all the players for the end result to have validity. In the case of copyright, the result must have the force of law as well.
Oh, one other thing. It seems that the previous posts, listing hundreds of electronic devices for sale, violates the Post's stated policies regarding posts, and should be deleted from this site. They are annoying and inappropriate.
To the Post's Tech. writers, kudos, thank you, keep it up! I look forward to reading the tech articles. I always learn something useful and interesting.

Posted by: Jo | August 1, 2006 7:48 PM

First, why do you allow ads on your forum? They are tiresome and irritating. Is there no way to get away from commercialism? You should delete them.

Second, After buying about than half a dozen items on eBay, I found the merchandise to be largely misrepresented in some way, sometime seriously.

I quit and that was three years ago. From reading the comments here, I can see that things have gone from bad to worse. No eBay for me.

Posted by: mtndance | August 3, 2006 2:10 PM

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