Interview with Jim "Uncle Griff" Griffith eBay's Dean of Education

19th August, 2005

Not only does Jim Griffith know everything about eBay, he also knows pretty much everything about fragrance. Who better for Basenotes to talk to about buying fragrances from eBay!

What is your role at eBay and how did you end up there?

My current role at eBay is multi-faceted. My official title is Dean of eBay Education. In this capacity, I head up our team of eBay University instructors and help write the content for eBay U. I also act a spokesperson both for our education programs as well as for anything related to eBay Community, eBay history or eBay fun stuff. That was the easy part. The hard part is describing in brief how I got here. Let's just say I didn't plan to be in this position.

Back in 1994, I was 40 and totally burnt out after nearly ten years of hammering away at a career as a decorative artist in NYC. My life at that point was on "pause" while I tried to sort out what it was I was going to do next. I moved back to my home in Vermont and tred water for two years, taking whatever work I could find and getting into computers, specifically, taking them apart and putting them back together.

I was a neophyte Internet user in 1994 when in May of that year I received an email from an online friend and source of computer parts. He wanted to tell me about a website he discovered where I could buy computer parts from other people in the auction format. The site was called eBay's AuctionWeb.

I clicked the URL and in an instant, my life changed. Ok, so I maybe didn't realize it right at that moment but that email and that one click really did change everything for me. I found a part I had been looking for in vain for weeks. Put in a bid. Won the item in a few days and bingo, I was hooked. I spent the rest of that summer buying and selling on eBay. Now, don't forget this is very early in eBay's ten year history. The site was a simple gray background affair with no graphics and no fancy services. It was as bare boned and frills free as you could imagine.

It was about a week after I started using eBay that I discovered a chat board there called The AuctionWeb Bulletin Board where other eBayers where chatting with each other, sharing tips, tricks and stories of transactions gone good and sometimes, gone bad. I started hanging out there every day, dispensing tips on HTML and digital photography as well as acting as the resident weird cut up. I took to this chatting and by August, was on the chat board abot 90 hours a week (remember, I had no life beyond my computer monitor).

Things were merrily rolling along through September but in October, I had a serious breakdown of sorts and ended up offline for a few weeks in recovery. When I returned to my dark, cold Vermont studio I couldn't turn my computer on because the electricity had been turned off for lack of payment. Same with the heat but for some miraculous reason, the phone was still on.

And it rang.

I picked it up and someone asked for Uncle Griff. I didn't recognize the voice and was hesitant at first to respond in the affirmative (could it be a bill collector?) but it turned out to be Pierre Omidyar from AuctionWeb calling to inquire as to my well being. He and his business partner had been watching my chat board antics all summer and were distressed when I suddenly disappeared.

That's when they offered me a job.

Dumbfounded at first, I didn't know what to say. Of course, I did accept and that was how I started that day as eBay's first customer support rep. For the next two years I worked from my studio in VT answering emails, helping to create policy, and something for which I am most proud, hiring others in my area to be support reps. By 1999, I had trained and hired about 15 remote support reps.

In 1999 I relocated to the Salt Lake City area to help build and train our brand new support team at our new center in Draper, Utah. In 2001 I moved to the Corporate Communications department. I eventually made my way to San Jose (eBay Headquarters) in 2003 and I am now the longest surviving eBay employee. A living relic.

My first "how to"--The Official eBay Bible--was published in 2003 and became a best seller. It is now into it's second edition and 12th printing.

Where did your love of fragrances come from?

Hard to say. I have always had a real fascination with smells, even as a toddler when I used to dose myself in my mom's perfume (you can imagine the anxiety THAT produced). In high school, I started to purchase colognes of all types and my collection numbered about 20 which I thought back then was absolute decadence. My tastes are defintely catholic, and not exclusively high brow. I have a weak spot in my heart for the cheap and tawdry in everything, scents included.

Then came eBay and I started buying and experimenting with a whole new world of fragrance that opened up to me. I went completely mad after reading The Emporer of Scent and by 2004 I had acquired about 200 bottles. The madness continues and I am embarrased to say how many bottles I own but let's just say, it's a lot. In the end, very few smells actually repulse me. I am indifferent to none. Enraptured by most. Excited by all.

What was the first fragrance you owned?

With my own money? It was 1966. Dana English Leather. So sue me.

What has been your best fragrance-find on eBay?

Before Chanel released Egoiste, they had a prototype of the mix called Bois Noir (right) that was only sold in Chanel Boutiques for just a few months in 1987. It was pulled from the shelves and remixed and released as Egoiste in 1990. Bois Noir was MUCH better than Egoiste with a different balance between the top and base notes. More robust and long lasting sandlewood and edgy orange zest. I bought a full bottle of this on eBay last year with a mixture of intense excitement and trepidation. What if it had gone bad? Imagine my glee when I discovered it was as fresh as the day it was made. And I bought it for a song. It is my prized possession.

That and of course, my sealed box of Sex Panther. (please don't request decants. I simply cannot oblige)

What is the best way to use eBay as a fragrance collector?

Well, obviously eBay is a great source for collectors (any collector who claims they don't shop eBay is fibbing). But it's also a great place to get an idea of market value for new and out of production colognes and fragrances as well as to learn about fragrances from those more seasoned sellers who are free with their expertise and guidance. Most of these sellers are well known on Basenotes. I adore them all.

Finally, eBay is a great place to trade in and trade up objects from your wardrobe that no longer appeal but still have many fans.

What can buyers do to help ensure they win an auction?

Oh that's easy. Just bid more than any of the other bidders. Seriously, that is the ONLY strategy that really works. When you find something you really want to add to your collection, first give serious consideration to the absolute maximum amount you are willing to pay that special bottle. Once you have settled on a maximum, bid that amount and walk away. If you win it, fabulous. If not, then you can breath easy since you bid your absolute maximum bid and was out bid by someone whose maximum was higher than yours.

What pitfalls should you be aware of when buying fragrances from eBay vendors?

Exercise caution when buying fragrances from sellers who have little or no track record selling scents on eBay or who are offering older bottles of fragrances from an estate. It's not that these sellers are dishonest but many are not experts at determining which scents have gone bad. Of course, the integrity of the juice is not that important if you are collecting bottles but most of us are more concerned with what is inside the bottle.

Estate fragrances may be VERY tempting, especially for hard-to-find or out of production products but in my experience, these are the ones that often turn out to have gone bad. Also, keep an eye out for those sellers whose listings may raise questions about the authenticity of the juice. If something doesn't seem right, move on. That said, one of the great appeals of eBay is the risk of the unknown. It's how I ended up with that bottle of Bois Noir that I now cherish dearly.

And of course, always check a seller's feedback comments before you bid on or purchase their wares.

What fragrance are you wearing as you type this?

Sniff, sniff... what? What was that you asked? Sorry I didn't hear you. I was busy sniffing my wrists to drink up the magnificent dry down of Caron's Poivre. A timeless masterpiece that never fails to drop jaws in awe.


Griff is author of The Official eBay Bible, the authoritative eBay guide for the beginning bidder or seller as well as the professional entrepreneur. Griff is also the host of eBay Radio on

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About the author: Grant Osborne

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes. Grant has two children, and a dependence on tea, haribo and bacon.


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