Even though I had always been a pretty good Citizen of the Internet (band message boards! AOL chat rooms! Online dating! MySpace whore!), eBay was one realm where my fingers had never tread. I have a distinct memory of my friend Drew, perfect Southern girl, wielding a Fendi Spy bag in front of her one morning as she beelined to our cafeteria table.
“I can’t believe what a great deal I got on it,” she kept saying as she fooled with clasps, opened pockets. These were the after-effects of the thrill of the hunt, and she gazed at that bag like it was a bloody buffalo. I was kind of weirded out by whole thing and just never really thought about it until I had worked it. I went off to college wanting to become an editor, and when I came out only eBay found me employable.
My first day of post-grad work as a “luxury fashion copywriter” (way too fancy term for eBay lister) was the first day of three other employees as well. The three of us crammed around one computer with a girl manning the mouse. I was shown a program that looked like it came from the early 90s with its ugly gray, overcomplicated design that I would use to enter item-specific information into the system to get these pre-owned items up for sale on eBay.
We worked with headphones on, lost in the world of quota. The listing manager would bring us black Hefty bags half her weight filled with stained and ripped Diane von Furstenberg dresses, stained Hermes scarves, overwashed Splendid tees that, aside from the label, had no real value. We painstakingly picked items one by one from a garbage bag and described all of their flaws with such a formulaic, cheesy description. “Don’t miss out! You won’t want to miss this! What a steal! DO NOT MISS THIS!”
In my second week, I opened one bag full of Ralph Lauren Purple Label pants. While listing, as I usually did, I spread the legs of the first pair like a perv to make sure there weren’t holes and -- alas! I was greeted with a bright red blotch.
I did a double take and looked inside for the spot. Unwashed. I was touching unwashed period blood pants that this client expected us to sell to other people for profit. Like, we’ve all had leakage, but to just get your p and not bother trying to mop the mess up with anything? Not even washing the pants before sending them for consignment? I was horrified, but I described the shit out of that period blood stain, and the rest of the stains on the pants in that bag after those.
The entire time I was listing -- well, the entire 13 months I worked for this company -- I completely withdrew from my life. My drive home from the office was 50 minutes on a really good traffic day, and more often than not I’d be waiting to get back into the city for an hour and a half. My boyfriend and I were living in a windowless studio apartment we rented out of time constraints when our previous lease ended. I went months without seeing my friends. I couldn’t write anymore, and writing had been a constant in my life since I’d picked up a crayon at age 3.
I was completely miserable and only became more so after my “promotion” to the Customer Service department. If there’s one less desirable fate than describing pre-owned clothing, it’s getting to answer the complaints of the people who hadn’t yet received those items and their disgust at the item’s incorrectly described condition when they had.
While the Purple Label, Red Crotch pants had been taken off the site, other listers just didn’t bother looking for the problems. I received complaints of chunky discharge -- yum! Coats had food crumbs, used Kleenex and melted chocolate in the pockets. Chanel handbags, sold for a second time still at thousands of dollars, had tampons and hair ties still left inside. Van Cleef Arpels jewelry, guaranteed 100% authentic, arrived without a stamped signature.
With eBay’s regulations, if we didn’t do something about the flaws that were undisclosed in the listing, the buyer could leave something called negative feedback. Negative feedback results in lower approval ratings, which results in less business, which results in more restrictions on the account -- all leading to less profit. And to the wife and husband running the business, less profit was never an option.
Instead, by being lucky enough that hundreds of thousands of people were just fine with the state of their pre-owned shoes and shirts, they were able to buy off the people who weren’t okay with it. Sellers who don’t run on such a large scale on eBay don’t have this luxury and are kicked off the site if they can’t meet the demands of their buyers and of the selling platform. It’s a system catering to the big moneymaking machines and forgetting about the little guy until he’s wiped out completely. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, my fellow Americans?
The job went from dirty and isolating to dirty and overwhelming. Seven hundred new emails a day with four women also answering a five-line, nonstop phone system. Most of the emails were hardly translatable and the calls were even crazier.
There was a man who was convinced every time an employee picked up the phone it would be the company namesake, and he sent us photos of his prized dog Chompers dressed in fake Louis Vuitton. Multiple women had their choice of preferred representatives, and mine was Gayle, who always had me pull Chanel from storage and give her exact descriptions of the items emblazoned with interlocked C’s. Most of the time there were flaws not described in the listing.
My favorite calls, though, were from Wanda. I don’t even think that was her name, I just very much got a Wanda vibe from her. I got to listen to her talk about how weird the Swedes in Minnesota were because they ate cream cheese and sugar on Ritz crackers. She told me about a bill she wrote that was placed right in Bush II’s hands, about her sister who only allowed her daughter to eat spinach at age eight, and about the phone sex company she had started from the ground up by hiring amputees who weren’t getting hired anywhere else. She was inspired to start it after her own daughter was in a car crash leaving her amputated and confined to a wheelchair.
She told me, after I listened to her in clammy sweats thinking about all of the emails piling up after our hour-long conversations, that I was too smart to be at that job.
It wasn’t the buyers or the clients who drove me to the edge -- it was the day that I didn't get my direct deposit until six hours into my Friday shift. The way it was handled made me start looking for new jobs.
While I’ll use eBay in the future and completely respect the hard work most sellers put in to the job, I’m just not made for that world. I’m made for the one in my head, with words swirling around that I’ve been itching to get out since graduation. With a tax return in my bank account, a self-inflicted shopping ban and a very supportive boyfriend, I’m prepared to live on much less for much more satisfaction.