eBay vs. Amazon: An Overview

Whether you list things while at home in your pajamas, have money sent directly to you, or drop packages off in the mail, using eBay or Amazon is easier than the yard sales of yesteryear. But which major e-commerce site is best? It might help to understand how each of these companies makes money.

Key Takeaways

  • eBay has made selling on its site easier over the years by implementing a simpler structure for calculating the fee for products sold.
  • Amazon’s fee structure is a bit more complicated, having variable referral and closing fees, with the latter being based on the product's weight.
  • Listing on Amazon allows buyers to purchase right from the Amazon website and sellers can even have Amazon fulfill the order if they choose to have it stored at one of the Amazon warehouses.
  • eBay offers more customized listings, as well as the ability to have eBay employees put together listings for sellers.
  • Getting paid from Amazon as a seller involves having money deposited directly into your bank account, while eBay still uses PayPal for the most part.

eBay

The company that many, many people used a decade ago has fallen out of favor a bit in recent years. However, the eBay of today has snapped up quite a few companies since it first launched in 1995, including PayPal, Kijiji, and StubHub, and had 180 million active buyers as of the first quarter of 2019.

So how does eBay make money? First, and most importantly, is PayPal. PayPal was spun off from eBay in 2017. The money transfer/payment website is enormously profitable for eBay and makes up almost half of the company’s revenue. With a 2.9% + $0.30 fee for each sale, PayPal fees can easily cut into a seller’s margins.

But let’s focus on the part of eBay that’s comparable to Amazon—the Marketplace. Back in its heyday, the eBay Marketplace would charge users an insertion fee based on the item’s starting bid, and, when the item sold, a final value fee. Today, every seller on eBay gets a number of free listings. Unfortunately, eBay still charges a final value fee. However, the final value fee calculations have been simplified, and these days, eBay is charging a flat final value fee of 10% of the sale price.

For power sellers, eBay offers subscription packages which, for a monthly fee, give sellers a number of free listings, a lower insertion fee for sellers who go over their allotment, and a less-simplified but lower range of final value fees.

Along with the Marketplace, sellers can choose to upgrade their listings (better placement in the search results, more pictures, etc.) or to list their items at a fixed price. Fixed price listings are subject to the same fees as auction listings.

Amazon

Amazon has an even more complex fee structure than eBay. The company offers two options for sellers: they can either list as Individuals or as Professionals. For Individuals, Amazon charges $0.99 per item to list along with a referral fee that ranges from 6%–45% depending on the item’s listing category. On top of that, there is a variable closing fee which, for BMDV (books, media, DVD, and video) items, is not variable at all, at a fixed $1.35 per item. Other products are charged a variable closing fee that is calculated by the item’s weight.

Sellers can list their items in 20-30 different categories (depending on whether they are selling as Individuals or as Professionals) and for BMDV sellers, have set shipping rates set and collected by Amazon. These set shipping rates are great for buyers who know that, when purchasing BMDV items on Amazon, the total price can be easily calculated without searching for individual sellers’ shipping rates.

Amazon allows those selling products already listed on the site to list their product simply by entering the item’s UPC or SKU number. This process cuts down on the time a seller needs to prepare a listing because the relevant information has already been input by Amazon employees. Payment is completed by periodic bank transfers to the seller’s account and sellers are protected by Amazon’s Fraud Protection service.

Key Differences

eBay, the original auction site, used to have complicated and expensive selling fees. Since streamlining their fees, the structure actually looks simple and easy to understand. Amazon, by comparison, can be confusing and frustrating to navigate.

Sample calculations would be helpful to compare the two sites, but with multi-tiered pricing structures and closing fees which vary by item category, item weight, and buyer payment option, any examples could be construed as cherry-picking or biased towards one company or the other.

Amazon has a few advantages over eBay. For starters, the site does a really good job of making a buyer feel that they are buying directly from Amazon. Seller’s items are listed alongside Amazon’s, purchases can be made using “1-click buying” and, unlike eBay and PayPal, buyers can complete their payment without leaving the Amazon site. With Fulfillment by Amazon, a seller can even have their items stored and shipped directly from Amazon’s warehouses.

On the other hand, a seller might prefer to use eBay in order to customize and personalize their listings. With the ability to post catchy full-color ads within a listing, it might be more appealing and more likely to result in a sale than Amazon’s neutral listings. In an effort to improve efficiency among sellers, eBay has begun a Valet Service that allows sellers to have their items listed and sold by eBay employees.

If a seller is worried about being scammed, they need not bother. Both companies offer seller protection services as well as the ability to directly contact a buyer if an issue arises. Both companies also offer tutorials and customer support for sellers who are just starting out.

Finally, there’s the question of getting paid. Amazon has a multi-step procedure to set up a seller’s account. Users are automatically signed up for a Professional account and for Fulfillment by Amazon. Account information is input based on a user’s existing account (if any). Finally, there’s a section for Tax Identity Information.

For eBay sellers, the process is simple—open an eBay account (or use an existing one) and start selling. Getting money into a bank account is a bit more complicated. Amazon users get paid via a direct deposit to their bank account whereas eBay users (usually) get paid through PayPal.

The Bottom Line

Whether selling through eBay or Amazon, the key is research. Given the different pricing schemes associated with each company, an item that might be cheaply sold on Amazon could demand high fees from eBay. For others, the higher price could be justified for the customer service received and a specific audience reached.