Ebay 20th anniversary: Online auction giant celebrates 20 years of buying and selling

Joseph Millis
From one man selling a faulty laser pointer pen, eBay has grown into a $32bn empire (Source: Getty)
Auction site eBay yesterday marked its 20th birthday – and it has come a long way since computer programmer Pierre Omidyar began the business, listing a broken laser pointer pen as his first item for sale.
Amazingly, as he found a buyer, Omidyar knew he was on to a winner.
The US-based company is now valued at around $32bn (£19bn) and boasts around 25m sellers and 157m buyers.
Ebay arrived in Britain in 1999 and the first deal was the sale of a three-track CD by hairy German rock group The Scorpions for £2.89. Today, the site is visited by about 18m Britons a month.
Since 2007, eBay has sold more than 241m pairs of shoes across the globe – that’s four pairs for every person in Italy.
Ebay has sold enough wrist watches to line the way from Athens to Brussels when laid end to end. Following an item and bidding for it was difficult, though, because these were the days before broadband.
The best you could get was a very slow dial-up, screetchy modem connection that had a knack of crashing just as you were ready to bid – and, get this kids, took up the telephone line, too.
There are now more than 2,000 eBay millionaires in Britain as the repository for unwanted Christmas and birthday gifts as well as untalented footballers and unloved mothers-in-law has attracted everyone from mumpreneurs to graduates to pranksters.
While eBay is stereotypically seen as a good place to get rid of clutter, a list of the most expensive items bought by Londoners on the online marketplace in the past 12 months suggests that the Capital’s top performers are flocking to the online marketplace to snap up super cars.
Although a Hermes handbag appeared at number three and a signed Banksy print sloped in to the top 20, it is fast cars which seem to be inspiring Londoners with cash to splash.
A Frerrari went for £119,000, while a Porsche 911 Speedster Convertible two-door was sold for £115,000.
Business forecaster Professor Richard Scase said: “Governments try to create entrepreneurs and generally fail. Over the past 20 years eBay has done it for more than 25m sellers.
“With tablets, laptops and smartphones, teenagers through to pensioners can be international traders.”

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