eBay Dreams of Brands

In the conversation about the future of retail eBay is rarely brought up. Despite the $36 billion in sales in the US, three times that of Walmart e-commerce, it has lost relevance in the battle to dethrone Amazon. Things continue to be sold in large quantities on eBay, but in a way which often brands don’t care about.

By all accounts eBay continues to grow, even if slowly. It has 170 million active users and more than a billion items listed for sale. eBay has scale. And yet despite the enormous scale worldwide it has fallen out of consideration for the future of retail.

One of the reasons why eBay is often forgotten is that few brands see it as a channel. Most items sold on the site are coming from the tens of millions of third-party sellers. Which by itself is not a problem, but has meant that few brands have a relationship with eBay in the same way the do with other marketplaces, especially Amazon.

Over the last few years the conversation around marketplaces has started to get increasingly about brands. Of course brands were always sold on marketplaces, but the conversation shifted to brands managing their presence on marketplaces, often selling themselves, and using marketplaces as a direct-to-consumer channel. As a result the relationship Amazon has with brands has evolved and is now often beyond Amazon buying from a brand as a vendor.

The brands with awareness for what Amazon has become are no longer treating it as just a channel. Instead it has key brand assets in the form of reviews and is sometimes used to develop and release new products. Brands are taking control of what used to be one of the channels and are making it a core part of their sales and marketing strategy.

eBay Color Campaign

While all of this is happening eBay found themselves out of the game. Not only many consumers are unaware of the changes eBay has made, but many brands are unaware of eBay as a channel too. As Suzy Deering, eBay’s chief marketing officer, put it “We have all the things that so many brands want, but what we’re missing is the heart and soul.”

It’s not clear what heart and soul brands are missing on eBay. But what they are missing are fundamental tools and services other platforms offer. Like landing pages, branding for listings, creative content like video, advertising services, etc. Or the things other marketplaces don’t offer - rich data and a way to talk to consumers directly.

Brands could have been selling on eBay a decade ago. But what they often want is what eBay lacked - the ability to communicate about the brand and to the consumers. Brands are not satisfied with only being able to create listings for their products. Some fashion brands debating selling on Amazon are asking existential questions like “Do I want to be in the same cart as toilet paper?”; it’s the same on eBay too. The relationship between marketplaces and brands is beyond creating listings.

For many years stuff got sold on marketplaces without much care for what it was. The “everything store” became literally that, trying to get everything into the catalog and in front of customers. However now increasingly brands do care about how they are represented on marketplaces, making them rethink the website experience, data sharing, and other features.

eBay is working on all of those things. Bob Kupbens, the VP of B2C and seller experience at eBay, has recently became in charge of this and has appeared at a few events and podcasts. Most recently he talked about the features eBay is building to make selling easier for brands. For example, one of the things in eBay’s pipeline is the ability for brands to highlight authorized sellers, putting other sellers below the fold.

The harsh reality of US e-commerce is that brands sell on Amazon because they have to, not because they want to. And selling on eBay probably doesn’t even cross their mind. eBay wants to change that. All while maintaining the existing platform, including C2C auctions. This might upset existing sellers and make the platform hard to understand, but is all in an attempt to be relevant again.

In “Nobody Thinks About eBay” Chavie Lieber of Racked quoted Suzy Deering:

“Younger customers don’t have misperceptions of eBay - they don’t have any perceptions. We’re not even in their awareness at all.”

Suzy Deering, eBay’s chief marketing officer

eBay, to put it bluntly, wants to be cool.

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Juozas Kaziuk─Śnas

Founder of Marketplace Pulse, Juozas wears multiple hats in the management of Marketplace Pulse, including writing most of the articles. Based in New York City. Advisor to other startups and entrepreneurs. Occasional speaker at conferences.

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