MONEY: Where have all the potato chips gone?

Well it's April Fool's Day. Before you ask, no, I didn't really prank anyone. Not yet at least. On the upside, I didn't get pranked so I'm willing to call it a wash and (hopefully) move on undisturbed.
So let's talk about the economy. Oh and potato chips ... Mmmm chips.
About this time last year, selling a vaguely anthropomorphic snack on eBay could have fetched one quite the pretty penny. In fact, two folks did just that last March when they successfully auctioned off a coupon redeemable for one Corn Flake at the whopping price of $1,350.
Allegedly the flake looked like the state of Illinois, but I don't really see it ...
Anyway, the Corn Flake fiasco got all over the news. Was this a telling sign of rampant American consumerism? A clever marketing ploy by the buyer? A sign proving one really could auction off any old piece of crap in your house and expect to make a profit off of it?
It was all of the above, but many seemed particularly fixated on the latter. I mean, let's face it, no matter how bad the economy is, there's always got to be a market for a "gently used" collection of Skeletors*, right?
Well, it seems like the buyers on eBay aren't so sure anymore.
Of course, that's good news for all you rabid anti-consumerists types, but for eBay, the general downturn in bidders isn't faring well for obvious reasons.
Stocks are way down -- they hit a seven year low in February -- and company officials are reticient to talk about bottom line profits. Their PayPal unit is still growing every quarter, but on the whole, things aren't looking good for the company.
But why?
One would think cash-strapped Americans would jump at the chance to score a quick buck by hawking a potato chip bearing a dubious resemblance to Jesus Christ or Abraham Lincoln.
Well, it might not be that simple. See, it's not that people aren't still buying random crap, because they are, company officials say it's that buyers are shifting to a new model for purchasing, "buyer neutralality," which allows them to sell their antique lamp and use that money to fund their purchase of say, an antique table.
As it happens, Reuters reports that eBay's UK site is seeing an upsurge in just this type of behavior.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out if more folks approach eBay with this mentality, it's going to spell trouble for the company.
More conservative buyers means more conservative auctions, which translates into a dwindling pool of bidders, reduced site traffic and ultimately cascading ad revenues.
But it also spells trouble for us friends of comedy on the Web.
Today's gun shy buyers could mean the death of previously wildly popular "joke" auctions like enchanted drift wood, Virgin Mary toast and all the other "WTF?" auctions we've come to know and love over the years.
And that, well ... that just plain sucks.
Sure there's an upside to eBay's recent troubles -- folks are obviously a bit more cautious with their money today and maybe that will get our economy back on its feet a little bit quicker tomorrow, but you know what? Big deal. I want my funny auctions back.
I haven't seen a bid on Presidential-shaped potato chip up in weeks. Not only is that not funny, it's downright un-American.

*I'm totally going to bid on that, so back off.

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