September 4, 2007

City of Ithaca Leads U.S. International eBay Sales

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While Ithaca may not be the most bustling town in the world, it has certainly been quite active lately, at least on the World Wide Web. An eBay study done earlier this year found that eBay sellers in the Ithaca area had the most international sales of any U.S. ZIP code.
Based on the online marketplace’s data, the majority of Ithaca’s international sales in the first three months of the year were to Canada. Other nations across the globe purchasing from the City include the United Kingdom, Australia, Russia, French Polynesia and several others.
According to Jim Griffith, dean of eBay education, the results of the study were primarily per capita and were not skewed by demographics.
The numbers, however, speak for themselves, and although Ithaca is certainly at the top of the international sales charts, the reason the City in particular is selling so many items overseas is not as clear.
“There is no reason any of us could give for why Ithaca is at the top. That’s part of the beauty of the results; they are surprising and there is no way to explain them,” said Griffith. “We are often amazed by the interesting things that turn up on our data.”
Jim Curran, owner of Ithaca Books on the Commons, and Liz Kitney, the customer service manager, both seemed surprised at the findings of the study.
“I don’t see what would be the difference between Ithaca and other similar-sized towns,” said Curran. “Perhaps one possible reason is that Ithaca’s overall population is not wealthy, and many individuals look for more than one way to make money.”
Kitney added that a decent percentage of Ithaca’s population is self-employed, and eBay often becomes an important source of income for such individuals.
Ardel Alling, manager of Habitat of Ithaca and Pete Wolfanger, owner of Volume Records, both located on the Commons, were no less surprised at the study’s results. Neither could state a reason for the high rate of international sales, but both seemed to agree with Curran and Kitney that many eBay sellers in Ithaca are not selling items on eBay to make a quick few bucks but, rather are doing so in order to make a living.
“Ithaca is so isolated from large cities and main roads … people need to find a way to support themselves locally,” said Wolfanger.
Although aware of the popularity of online shopping, none of the store owners believes Internet sales present a serious threat to retail business. The store owners also mentioned that their businesses were not affected in any way by the recent rise is sales on the Internet.
“A lot of people buy items online and then regret doing so later. You can’t be certain that the item is really what you need from an online description, and you can’t be guaranteed that it will be undamaged,” Alling said.
“Internet sales will certainly have an impact on retail business,” said Kitney. “However, there is a growing fatigue of online shopping and an increase in shipping rates, both of which are resulting in a return to retail sales.”
It is unknown whether Ithaca has been at the top of eBay international sales in past years, or if this is a new record.
“This is the first study of its kind, so we don’t have past surveys with which to compare our recent results,” Griffith said. “We will probably do this again in the next year to see how the trends play out.”