The eBay Effect

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Garage sales are dying, says Charlie. He should know-he spends as much time at garage sales as some people do with their families and has a house whose disarray and furnishings show it. There's nothing of value at most garage sales anymore and he points to a recent estate sale where he showed up at the opening time. Normally, he would have expected dozens of professional dealers. There were two.

"eBay," said the dealer. It used to be that dealers could scour garage sales and pay little for a treasurer find whose value the seller didn't recognize. Those days are gone. Anything of value is being sold on eBay, leaving garage sales with little but toys, children's clothes, and other non-descript household items. Not only that, where once people paid a premium for items because they weren't sure they would ever find them again, now they can shop the country.

Anyone who wonders whether the regular people who are their clients use the Internet regularly should consider how radically eBay has altered the dynamics of the garage sale economy just as they should pay attention to the way that consumer electronic tax preparation exploded this year.

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Intuit reported that while its retail sales of TurboTax went up only slightly, its sales of WebTurboTax increased by 50 percent

Granted that this is a do-it-yourself crowd, but these are also often professionals, many of whom tend to turn to a paid preparer to double-check their math and how well the software works.

The change in the buying patterns for TurboTax, a reversal from the pattern that had held until the prior year, appears to fall into that concept called a tipping point, in which change doesn't occur gradually until a new method or product takes over, but suddenly cascades to the new era.

It's hard to decipher all of the implications of these otherwise unrelated practices for tax and accounting professionals. But they do mean that the population is becoming accustomed to doing business on line and that the change is occurring at an accelerating rate. It's easy to believe that taxpayers are going to become comfortable with online preparation involving professional preparers, and that this will spread beyond the do-it-yourself crowd.

The other potential for change is the impact on pricing-remember how buyers can now shop the country for old furniture, novelty items, all those things that normally sat in suburban driveways waiting for buyers?

Things are changing radically, which likely means that those with businesses are changing their attitudes there as well. That could include a more willing reception to all kinds of Web-based business applications.

If you're waiting for the Year of the Web-It's here.

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