I've been around the Internet for a long time. Actually since before it was public. I was there at the beginning of the World Wide Web. I've owned my own Internet Service Provider companies. I've sold on eBay since its early days. I've been an eBay Power seller. And along the way I've learned a little about e-commerce and selling things on eBay. I can tell you that things are different, much different, today than they were only a few years ago. eBay is not the same as it was and it is still changing.

That eBay is not the same as it was shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. eBay, like all big companies, must change with the times in order to survive. The changes at eBay, however, are different than that. It's not just survival, it's a deliberate change in direction. It's a change in corporate policy and vision about where they want to go, about where they want to be in the next ten years. It is significant change that has affected, and will continue to affect, tens of thousands of eBay sellers.

For those of us who operate small, more personal, businesses, often from our home, the change at eBay is a significant issue. It is still possible for individual sellers and small business owners to sell on eBay and, indeed, to make some good money there. It is my opinion, however, that it is no longer a good idea to consider eBay as the one place, or even the primary place, for a seller to conduct business.

eBay's focus seems, more and more, to be on the big retailer. They are catering to large corporate enterprises and eBay's policies, procedures, and site functions seem to be changing in favor of the big seller. eBay is not going to dump all small sellers any time soon -- they are making too much money from them -- but numerous policy changes have moved large groups from the site. Sellers of digital delivery merchandise are all but gone. Sellers of specific product/service categories like magazine subscriptions are no longer welcome. eBay senior management has clearly stated their policy to move from "fleamarket" to "shopping mall'.

As an e-commerce business consultant I used to recommend to my clients they should have an eBay account as a part of their online portfolio. I can no longer do this for many clients. I firmly believe that many are better served by not having an eBay presence at all. I do still think that every online seller should have these three things:

1. their own domain name

2. their own website

3. an alternate selling site

and I believe that the alternate selling site should be other than eBay.

Is there still any reason to have an eBay account at all? Sure there is. Besides being able to purchase things on eBay, sometimes there are things that will sell better there. And eBay can still be a great place to promote your business and develop leads. Sellers just need to be in a more flexible position so that future changes won't leave them suddenly out in the cold.

Planning ahead, and building a business outside of eBay, is just good common sense. Even if you are doing really well on eBay now you should be prepared for coming changes that may affect your business in a significant, and possibly negative, way. Don't be caught unprepared. Begin now. It takes time and effort to build a successful business online. Branching out to another selling site is no different. Don't wait until you are forced to make the move. Make the choice ahead of time to expand your business. This expansion may be what saves you in the future.

[The Rev. Stephen B. Henry, PhD., known online as "the wiz", is a professional website designer and e-commerce consultant who has been involved in online business since 1989.]

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