There are only about 4,000 Malaysians who trade on eBay, but those who do get on, find online shopping suits them fine.
Zara Mohd Yusof, a former IT project manager and mother to four grown children, is not your typical retiree.
“My daughter Farah calls me an ‘eBay addict’. I don’t know what she means by that,” she says with a hint of laughter, “but I certainly do love eBay.”
“I first bought a handbag on eBay Singapore for S$15 (RM34). I have bought handbags, shoes, clothes, jewellery, shoes, a sofa bed, divans, a sewing machine, collector items like notes and coins, and even an evening gown for my daughter.
“Sometimes I buy things to give away to my sisters and nephew. With eBay, it costs so little to give so much pleasure. When I see a good bargain that matches what they like and need, I just buy it. I have given away a dining set, a microwave oven and jewellery,” says Zara, who gets online every day.
According to Zara, her best bargain to date is a marble dining table with six marble-top chairs (above), which she bought for only S$200 (RM456).
“While unloading the set, my neighbours asked if it cost S$2,000. That made my day!”
The enterprising lady is now starting to sell on eBay.
“Selling is even more exciting. I have sold a couple of handbags, my son’s Xbox and a couple of Oakley sunglasses.”
Having chalked up almost a hundred trades, Zara is pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of eBay members she has encountered have been honest.
“So far so good. I’ve not encountered any online fraud. The only unpleasant experience was a seller who refused to sell me an item after I won the bid. Probably I got it for too low: S$5 (RM11) for a two-month old microwave oven. But it’s not my fault that he set it so low and no one else bid for it!
Other less than pleasant incidences include a few occasions when things arrived looking worse than the pictures posted. Over the years, Zara has also seen some funny things.
“This guy offered a mirror for sale. And I saw his naked image in the mirror.”
Fortunately none of these incidents have put her off eBay.
“The only really bad thing I can think of is that I may one day end up buying things I don’t need. This is far outweighed by the real bargains I find. Who knows, I may even get rich selling on eBay. Already I have a partner who supplies me with Oakley sunglasses. We split the profits 50-50.”
At the end of the day, Zara thinks eBay is great for people with discipline, who know what they are looking for, and have set a maximum limit for the price they will offer for any item. She thinks shopaholics should stay away.
“Compulsive buyers shouldn’t go anywhere near eBay. I think my daughter Farah would be better off staying away, too!”
All names in this story have been changed at the request of the interviewee.
eBay quick facts
# eBay has a global presence in 33 markets
# eBay has 212 million registered users worldwide
# In Q3-06, the total value of all successfully closed items on eBay (GMV), was US$12.6bil
# eBay users worldwide trade more than $1,590 worth of goods on the site every second
# There were 584 million new listings added to eBay worldwide in Q3-06. At any given time, there are approximately 105 million listings worldwide, and approximately 6 million listings are added per day. eBay users trade in more than 50,000 categories of goods and services
# Based on Q3-06 GMV, the following categories delivered $1bil or more in worldwide annualised GMV: eBay Motors at $16.1bil; Clothing & Accessories at $3.7bil; Consumer Electronics at $3.9bil; Computers at $3.6bil; Books/Music/Movies at $2.8bil; Home & Garden at $3bil; Collectibles at $2.2bil; Sports at $2.5bil; Toys at $1.7bil, Business & Industrial at $1.8bil; Jewellery & Watches at $1.6bil; Cameras & Photo at $1.4bil and Antiques & Art at $1bil
# The most expensive item sold on eBay to date is a private business jet for $4.9mil
Aqmal Hadi Shapee (pic) was probably one of the first active Malaysians on eBay.
“I started in late 2002, when Internet access was mainly through a 56k dial-up modem and you could go make a mug of coffee before pictures fully displayed,” the young IT engineer says with a laugh.
“Nowadays, I go online several times a month to buy camera parts. I bought almost RM10,000 worth of equipment last year.”
It all began in 2002 when Aqmal was searching for a rare camera part. Nobody in the regular shops in Kuala Lumpur or even abroad seemed to have it.
“The only lead I got after googling, was a seller on eBay. So I applied for a credit card, went online, and the rest is history.”
Today, Aqmal gets on eBay regularly, buying an average of five items a month. Some of them are for himself but over half are for “friends, and friends of friends”.
“When my friends found out that I buy and sell on eBay, some asked me to buy things for them too. Once I bought a dark room set for RM5,000 and another time, I bought spark plugs that cost RM75 each. Even my company asks me to buy things for them, like software.”
Usually, Aqmal charges a 30% finder’s fee to cover his time and miscellaneous charges. The search for a product and monitoring an auction can take eight to 10 hours.
“I need to monitor each auction as some people have a nasty habit of waiting till the very last minute and submitting a bid that is 50 cents higher than the last highest bid. In such cases, I have to counter-bid immediately!”
Ever helpful Aqmal explains that a lot of people in Malaysia find it a hassle transacting on eBay internationally.
“There are language difficulties, and sometimes prejudice on the side of the sellers. Some just tell you, ‘We don’t ship to Malaysia’, even though there’s no good reason why they shouldn’t.
“As an experienced seller, I can sometimes get around this situation by getting references from people I’ve bought similar products from. And if they still won’t ship to Malaysia, I have a mate in the US who will accept and forward the item to me.”
Another major problem that Malaysian sellers face is the payment system preferred by eBay: PayPal.
Malaysians who get paid through PayPal cannot withdraw their money via a Malaysian bank account. The nearest alternative is to open a Singaporean account and take out the money through there. Luckily for Aqmal, who is constantly buying and selling, there is no need to withdraw the money. He simply keeps any money he receives in his PayPal account for future purchases.
Despite these problems, and an incident where his account was hacked into, Aqmal is absolutely devoted to eBay.
“It’s not just being able to buy things that are hard to find, it’s also the joy of surfing around and seeing funny things like people who put up US$15mil nuclear warships for sale.”
If you would like Aqmal to help you buy something on eBay, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also look him up at http://myworld.ebay.com/aqmal.