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State's EBay sales strategy poor, auction expert says

August 28, 2009 |  5:00 pm

Schwarzenegger administration officials have described their auction of old stuff on EBay over the last two weeks as an innovative way to make money for the state’s depleted coffers. But the president of a Los Angeles auction business specializing in EBay sales says the foray into online auctions has been like many of the state's traditional programs: lackluster.

Officials put some used cars, with their visors signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other items on EBay and Craigslist last week as part of what the governor promoted as the Great California Garage Sale and a boost for state coffers. But Eric Gazin, president of celebrity auction house Auction Cause, said the state’s ads for its sale of unneeded and unclaimed goods were so poorly done that “they are leaving a lot of money on the table.” 

For one thing, Gazin said, the pictures did not reflect well on the merchandise, which included a pearl ring, some earrings and a bunch of coat racks.

“A 12-year-old could have taken better pictures of jewelry and cars,” said Gazin, who once helped Schwarzenegger and Texas Gov. Rick Perry auction some boots on EBay for charity. “It looked like someone in their basement that made a very amateur attempt to sell something.”

Gazin pointed out that the state refused to ship the cars, thereby narrowing the field of potential buyers and possibly losing money. And the state’s policy of no returns or exchanges, with “no exceptions,” would discourage buyers.

He also said that the decision to ship small items by parcel post instead of priority mail would indicate to an experienced buyer that the state doesn’t know what it is doing. Gazin noted that the state also referred people through EBay to its own website, where it was advertising the tag sale. Directing customers to off-site merchandise is prohibited.

Erin Shaw, a spokeswoman for the State and Consumer Services Agency, said in a statement: "State workers are not specially trained in listing EBay items, so we are very pleased with the tremendous positive response we've received on each and every item."

Usher Lieberman, an EBay spokesman, said that referring customers to a sale off the site is indeed a policy violation, but “we’re sensitive to the position the state finds itself in, and we’re happy to be helping them to raise the profiles of some items that they have for sale.”

Lieberman also said the state’s return policy notwithstanding, if a customer purchased an item that was not as described, EBay would refund the money and pursue the issue with the state.

As of this afternoon, the state had nearly $58,000 in sales on EBay and $9,000 on Craigslist, plus more than $1 million from sales of items offered in a Sacramento-area warehouse.

--Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento