‘Cheating on eBay’ – A Tale Of Retail Romance That Ended In Tragedy

Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest


For 10 months I ran an eBay store that generated between £800 – £1000 profit each month. Here’s how I sabotaged everything and made an enemy of the tax man.

I didn’t cheat by fabricating false listings or writing dishonest product descriptions. There was no scamming involved, stolen goods or any dark arts. I cheated on eBay in the romantic sense, deciding that as time had gone by I’d slowly outgrown the platform. It’s a story you see played out both in fiction and real life. Boy or girl decides they can do better, and whilst a few of them do move on to find happiness many others realise that the grass was not as green as they’d anticipated.

The year was 2009 and I was chatting with my entrepreneurial Australian friends in the coastal town of Byron Bay. One of them had (and still does) a Canadian girlfriend who happened to be making a decent income selling Baby Amber Teething Necklaces on eBay. Demonstrating a generous spirit, she gave me the contact details of her manufacturer in Lithuania. There were no concerns about competition, I was going to be selling from the UK, not targeting her Australian customers although I doubt she felt the least bit threatened.

Like most people, I was capable of sending an email, confirming an order and transferring money but once the first two hundred Baby Amber Teething Necklaces landed at my doorstep it was time to approach, flirt with and seduce one of the most famous e commerce companies in the world. Under the guidance of my friends I soon understood the ‘science’ behind great sales copy and how to use imagery to maximum effect. It turns out that the smallest of details can and do make a difference to your prospective customers.

For anyone wanting to dip their toe in the waters of online retail, eBay comes highly recommended. Long gone are the days when it was the website allowing you to sell that old jumper found in the attic or the Lynx aftershave you never unwrapped at Christmas.


The site is now teeming with professional businesses selling almost anything you can think of. It’s not that eBay is the only place you can sell online, there are great e commerce sites such as Shopify allowing users to build fully functional stores, but eBay takes care of one very real problem that plagues online retail outlets across the globe:



Many people reading this will know of friends, acquaintances and cousins who have thrown their energy into web design, product development, marketing, branding etc, without realising the painful reality of selling online. Unless you have a spare £20,000 to spend on Google adwords, it’s going to be a long time before a significant amount of people discover your business. Thanks to eBay and its marketplace, I had my first order within 24 hours. A standard ‘multi coloured’ baby teething necklace priced at £7 with free P&P.

Had I opted to build a traditional website, the chances are it would have found itself sitting on page 78,000 of Google when people searched for ‘Baby teething products.’ And this is where we reach the moment of insanity.  After 10 months of daily sales on eBay, I decided to go ahead and set up an independent online shop. Clearly the time had come to leave eBay for a more grown up website and a heavy hitting brand capable of total market domination.

To offer some context, my original eBay store was generating between £800 – £1000 profit each month on top of my full time job at the time. Such was the convenience of eBay and its automated systems, it barely took up any hours which made it the most ideal side business ever invented. All that was required of me was to return home each night, package and scribble addresses down, then post the items on the way to work the next day. It was like being given free money on top of a monthly salary (although there was a tiny bit of effort involved at first, with the set up and writing of all my sales listings).

Making this money in a hassle free manner was clearly too easy for a clever and instinctive entrepreneur like myself. It was starting to feel embarrassing selling items on eBay when I should have been competing for a bigger piece of the pie online. I hired a web developer via eLance and immediately registered for VAT (discovering later that this was completely unnecessary). Having spent a fair bit of money and time on the new online store I then came to a realisation:



Lo and behold, there were barely any sales taking place via my new independent store that NO ONE KNEW ABOUT. To add insult to injury, I’d neglected my eBay account during the whole process. Sales were starting to suffer, questions were going unanswered for a little longer than usual and my few competitors were slowly catching up.

I started to yearn for those early days with eBay and her glorious search functionality, ease of use and ability to handle the administrative duties. Above all, I missed the endless messages from curious customers with a question, the positive feedback from customers that felt their purchase had been money well spent and ….well, customers in general. I missed having customers.


Over the next year I had to fork out unfortunate sums of money to my happy accountant, following an endless stream of letters from the HMRC demanding VAT tax returns.

So that’s how to take something that works really well and ruin it. By this time a new job opportunity had arrived, I’d moved house twice, and the energy to pick up the pieces and try again wasn’t there. Still, never say never. A quick glance at the Alibaba website reveals that it’s now possible to import Agrochemicals. Maybe there’s something in that.

Some lessons to take from this post:

  • Selling something? Starting a blog? Getting people to find you online is the battle. Don’t waste to much energy and hours on the perfect design or name for your store.


  • Grow at a sensible pace. If you have a good thing going, don’t jeopardise it if there’s no plan or strategy in place. It turns out that business does not reward the lazy or unprepared.


  • Efficiency and simplicity are your best friends. Don’t sacrifice them for anything.


  • Have patience. Very few people start making bucket loads of money online within one or two years. Some do, but a lot don’t. There are countless blogs and books that will tell you otherwise but if it were that simple, wouldn’t everyone be running around the streets burning money and laughing like hyenas?


For interviews and blog posts with startup founders, click here.

For career related advice, click here.

Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on TumblrPin on Pinterest

2 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. TeachingTravel

    Really interesting post.

    I would love to see what happens if I just quit my job, and tried to make an ebay business full time. Did you ever consider attempt it as a full time job? I mean if you can make £800 profit off one product during your evenings, listing 50 different products could mean big business.


Leave a Reply