EBay Gives Online Appraisals a Second Chance

Reviving an idea that never had a chance to get off the ground the first time around, eBay said it has signed a deal that will give its members access to independent appraisals through the auction giant’s site.

EBay said it will work with CollectingChannel.com to provide a new “Ask the Appraiser” (ATA) service to members. CollectingChannel experts will be available to offer appraisals by e-mail on items for sale in 170 different categories.

The service will provide eBay users with “convenient access to valuable objective information, true market value, and qualified experts’ insight,” said Jennifer Lindh, category manager of art and antiques at eBay. “We believe the ‘Ask the Appraiser’ service will help give eBay buyers and sellers greater confidence in making purchase decisions.”

Second Verse

EBay has been down the appraisal road before. Just over a year ago, the company partnered with Eppraisals.com on an almost identical program. That marriage soured quickly, however, as Eppraisals abruptly shut down last June.

Greg Rotman, CEO of Sales Online Direct, the parent company of CollectingChannel, told the E-Commerce Times that his company’s venture with eBay is different for several reasons.

For starters, Rotman said, CollectingChannel will get a cut of all sales made through the program, which he said are projected to reach US$10 million annually.

Secondly, appraisals will be funneled through an automated system that the company bought from a software firm that spent $9 million developing it. And CollectingChannel has a deep well of content, including video and news archives, that will give it an edge.

“The other big difference is there’s really little to no competition left out there,” Rotman said. “A year ago, there were a dozen companies doing 500 to 1500 appraisals a day. Now, I’d say competing with us is going to be difficult.”

Fast System

Meanwhile, David Maloney, an expert on collecting who will head the ATA, said the system can work even at the same price levels that caused Eppraisals to fail because the pool of experts it draws from can recognize items almost instantly.

“We also don’t have to have a big staff, since it’s all automated,” Maloney told the E-Commerce Times. “The appraisal goes right from the customer through our site to the appraiser and back again. That represents a significant savings.”

Regardless of how the new venture works out, eBay can afford to give online appraisals another chance.

“EBay tries a lot of new features and services,” Morningstar.com analyst David Kathman told the E-Commerce Times. “Some catch on and are popular, and others aren’t. But most of them have very little risk for eBay even if they fail.”

Quick Turnaround

To get feedback on the value of their items, customers will fill out an online questionnaire about the item they want appraised and will upload digital pictures to the Ask the Appraiser site. They will receive a detailed appraisal within three days. The service will cost US$19.95 per appraisal.

In addition to delivery via e-mail, the appraisal will be posted on a Web page that eBay users can link to, helping to authenticate the value of the items they are selling.

Besides a commission on sales, eBay will receive promotional aid from the appraisal program. In fact, the appraisal site already has several links to the eBay “Sell” page.

Try, Try Again

It remains to be see whether the new program can overcome the cost hurdles that plagued Eppraisals and a similar online appraisal venture launched by AuctionWatch.com, which also closed its doors after several months of operation.

EBay noted that traditional appraisers charge as much as $75 to $250 per hour.

The appraisals are aimed at solving a key concern for buyers: whether an item they have never seen in person is an authentic antique or piece of art or is actually worth much less. ATA noted, however, that its appraisals are designed for “personal use only” and are not valid in legal proceedings.

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