Inkspot's Finding Antiques and Collectibles Online:

The changing market for both buyers and sellers

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In 2000, if you wanted to find antiques or collectibles online, your first stop, and perhaps only stop, was ebay. Many other specialty internet sites also existed at that time for collectibles (or collectables if you prefer [1]). Some of the biggest early merchant internet sites in the 1990s served the coin, stamps, sports card, and comic communities, long the big-four mainstays in the collectibles markets. Many of these sites were created by established companies that were already leaders in mail-order sales. High end antiques dealers and companies also joined in the fray, as did smaller dealers or even collectors who were also part-time dealers, often serving small niche markets with websites of simple design. Still, in 2000, ebay dominated the e-commerce antiques and collectibles market.

In the ensuing years internet sales of antiques and collectibles have changed dramatically. The biggest drivers of this change was the advent in the early 2000s of easy to deploy third party payment systems such as PayPal and Google Checkout, now called Google Wallet. The cost of processing credit card payments online usually involved contracts with credit card companies, sometimes with steep monthly fees. Brick and mortar antique shops were already paying these, so these charges were not an issue for selling online. However, once the third party credit card payment systems became available and easy to deploy, it was much easier for collectors and part-time dealers to sell merchandise on their own websites. Increases in eBay fees drove even more dealers to create their own website, or to join alternative sales sites like Etsy. Google began offering a free internet product shopping page called Froogle, which was later called Google Product Search, then eventually Google Shopping.

The other change occurring during this period was the price of antiques. Once ebay came online, it became an equalizer destroying regional price variations in antiques. The site also burst the price bubbles of many "catalog value" collectibles. An excellent example of this effect was on the value of Hummel figurines. Reaching their pinnacle of price and collectability in the 1980s and 1990s, with the advent of ebay, coupled with already changing tastes, caused prices to plummet, often to 10 to 20% of catalog value. With collectors and non-collectors selling on ebay, and with numerous websites offering merchandise, supply and demand forces worked their magic, and the new price of collectibles and antiques reflected their "true" market value. In this way, many collectible collectibles decreased in value, but others increased in value, including items that were truly rare.

Another change in the antiques and collectibles that resulted from the growth of internet sales of was the decline in the number antique and collectible shops and markets. With the introduction of sales by non-collectors on ebay, where there was no profit margin objective by the seller, competition for prices was stiff, and the difference between by and sell prices narrowed. Because of the costs of maintaining and operating a brick and mortar store are high, and many dealers chose to close shop.

However, brick and mortar stores do have important advantages because of a fundamental problem with antiques and collectibles market. This problem is that each item is available in only a limited number, and the condition of each item. For most small businesses, even in the big four collectible categories, this means only one of each item is at hand. This cost and time of photographing, describing, and listing a piece must be factored into its price. For many lesser-valued items, the cost of listing is not warranted. For this and many other reasons (people like to handle and carefully inspect what they are buying), brick and mortar antique stores will remain viable, and the most successful will be those that also have a strong online sales presence.

A final issue in the antiques and collectibles market is that total sales volume for these items is a tiny fraction of the volume of sales in new merchandise. So while ebay initially catered to the antiques and collectibles market, and even Google's Froogle market initially seemed to court both buyers and sellers of antiques and collectibles, both venues (unsurprisingly) have made business service decisions that favor high volume mass produced merchandise

Best Antiques and Collectibles Search Sites for 2013

So it is 2013, and you want to expand your collection of your favorite collectible; where do you look? Here is our 2013 list of the top 10 antique and collectible search and merchandise sites.

[1] "Collectible" was long the preferred American English spelling, while "collectable" was the preferred British English spelling. Both usages are acceptable, except of course the Oxford English Dictionary lists the British preference first.

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