- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. — If the first California gold rush drew '49ers to Sutter's Mill, and the second rush brought Internet-crazed hordes to the Silicon Valley, then version 3.0 of the boom drew thousands to a glass-fronted convention center here on a June weekend.
About 5,200 people, paying between $15 and $45, thronged the first EBay Live conference 2 days of chatting and seminars about the latest and perhaps most influential craze to hit the Internet and the American economy.
Based in Silicon Valley, EBay is an online auction service where people can sell or buy everything from old Elvis 45s to cars, aircraft parts and Ralph Lauren clothes. New or used, collectible or consignable, everything goes on EBay.
It sells by auction, between a vendor and a buyer, with the EBay service receiving a percentage of the transaction. This year, EBay expects to book $12 billion in sales and pocket $1 billion in commissions. The auctions can be with or without a "reserve" price (below which an item wouldn't sell) and can run from three to 10 days. One-day auctions are highly requested and are being considered by company executives.
"We start everything at $5," said Amy Frasier, general manager of EValueville.com, an online reseller of closeout designer clothes in Hattiesburg, Miss. "If it doesn't sell, we drop it down to $1 and then it always moves."
The firm began its life selling 200 leather coats one July. Now, Miss Frasier said, the company starts 1,200 online auctions a day and has expanded from a 200-foot bedroom to an 80,000-square-foot warehouse. Speaking in a video played at the event, Chief Executive Andrew Waites said the firm turns its assets into cash every five days. Miss Frasier said the company sells "99.9 percent" of its merchandise, which consists of closeouts and other items from designer clothing makers.
Mark and Linda Cordner, a husband-and-wife team from Ogden, Utah, are striving to emulate some of Miss Frasier's success; they, too, want to sell clothes online. The Cordners, who are convention planners, work "two or three months a year" at their main business, "so we might as well make use of the downtime," Mrs. Cordner said.
"This is the business of the future," Mr. Cordner said, the look of a true believer in his eyes. "It's competitive and a level playing field. If you work hard, you can compete with the big guys."
In so doing, EBay has become one of "the big guys" itself. The firm boasts nearly 2,800 employees and has crushed well-heeled competitors such as Amazon.com and Yahoo that have tried to enter its space. Both larger, more-established Internet firms had the brand recognition, money and user base to take on EBay, but neither has been able to displace the San Jose upstart.
Auction mania is a nationwide craze. A book on EBay is garnering media attention. The company has been declared by Newsweek as a "way of life" and is widely praised as one of the few dot-coms to turn a profit. It has had its setbacks in March, it pulled the plug on EBay Japan because of poor performance in the world's second-largest Internet market but the EBay flag waves over the United States, Canada, Britain and most of Europe.
It also has appeared in some unexpected places. A band of native pottery makers in Mata Ortiz, a small town in northern Mexico, now markets its handcrafted wares online via EBay. Families that once could not afford a donkey are earning enough to buy a new truck.
The EBay Web site gets 80 million page views per day, a rate company officials say is increasing 25 percent per quarter. With more than 1,000 computers and servers in their headquarters, the company said it averages nightly prime-time traffic of 2.5 gigabytes of bandwidth per second.
But as President and Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman told a rapt Sunday morning audience here, "Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to live." That spawned EBay University, a continuing series of training classes in different cities. The event here attracted attendees from 48 U.S. states and eight countries.
"I'm going to Mass later today," said Sister Kathleen Moseley of Frankfort, Ill., whose auction name is Nunthing. Sister Moseley, an archivist for the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart, hopes to market the works of the Sunset Crafters, retired 70- to 100-year-old nuns, via EBay and help raise money for her order.
The fanaticism with which EBay users approached the event was close to that one typically finds at religious revivals, sporting championships and rock concerts. More than one attendee sported an identification badge autographed by Mrs. Whitman.
"It seemed the thing to do at the time," Mary L. Brown, a civilian employee of the Arizona Highway Patrol in Phoenix, said of her Whitman-autographed show badge. "I didn't have my Newsweek cover then, but I do now if I see her again."
Miss Brown, joined at the event by co-worker Rebecca Miller, confessed to a weakness for craft and jewelry items as well as doorknobs. It's "the auction fever" that attracted her to EBay and brought both women to the event.
"We searched for EBay University and found this," Miss Miller said. "It's the thrill of the hunt" that keeps the women involved. Both said they hope to become sellers as well as buyers.
"I've been inches from wonderful things, and I've gotten wonderful things," Miss Brown said. "My best was a jar of estate-sale necklaces. We're both into beading and cut the beads loose."
Collectibles such as jewelry, coins and artwork have been mainstays of EBay, and by the last morning of the event here, trading cards signed by Mrs. Whitman were going for $10 and up in online auctions.
More than just beads are being traded online, of course, and the burgeoning business is spawning concerns. At a "power panel" dialogue session on Sunday morning, the audience whooped and hollered in favor of questions seeking more security in transactions, better searching capabilities and other improvements.
Although EBay officials might have hoped for other news angles, reports were dominated by Mrs. Whitman's announcement that the firm would enable its "power sellers" those who generate at least $2,000 a month to buy health insurance.
One power seller, Kathleen Haines of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said benefits were a key reason for keeping her day job, which began as "self-defense" a way to dispose of china, crystal and other detritus of a five-bedroom life now squeezed into a two-bedroom condo.
"I'm trying to learn better technology to manage my selling," Miss Haines said. "There's unlimited potential at EBay."
With EBay fever spiking at the Anaheim conference, one observer, author Adam Cohen, shared his zeal-free outlook.
"I don't think it's ever going to replace retail, but supplement it," said Mr. Cohen, whose book, "The Perfect Store," traces the history of EBay, which was co-founded by Pierre Omidyar. "EBay works best for certain kinds of things, especially those without a fixed price."
At the same time, he said, EBay is "a platform anyone can come to on an equal basis."
"These are regular American mom-and-pop people building a business over this," he said.

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