Shouldn’t eBay be recession-proof? eBay in Germany has been a phenomenal success over the past decade and for much of that time DE was in actual recession or not enjoying growth like the US and UK. (It’s a shame the team that made that happen have been let go because I’m sure there were lessons to be learnt.)
eBay should be able to prosper and flourish in the bad times. But I’m not certain it will. The new interventionist streak exposed by the executives in 2008 (DSRs, compulsory Free P&P in some categories, Best Match) means that sellers have less flexibility to make eBay work for them. Nanny doesn’t necessarily know best and I generally have more confidence in the collective wisdom of eBay sellers over that of staff at eBay central.
A new year is a time to take stock and plan for the future. We now know that the US economy has been in recession for a year and the British economy is heading that way too. Retail has been hit hard and eBay is, by any stretch of the imagination, a retailer. So I’d guess there will be people at eBay HQ thinking about how they should react to the economic environment. After all, simply sticking to the course laid in, shouting full steam ahead and sending an order to the steward to rearrange the deckchairs immediately regardless of the iceberg on the horizon, simply isn’t an option. Is it?
So, imagining that this is some sort of 2009 brainstorm*, here are some of the ideas I’d rattle out.
Concentrate on generating demand.
eBay’s sellers need buyers. eBay needs to concentrate on generating demand so that means marketing. Two thoughts. Is the huge sum spent on Google adwords, working hard enough? Might it be better spent elsewhere? Email marketing. Does eBay do enough? I’ve noticed that Amazon (as well as other online retailers) is much, much more ‘in your inbox’ than eBay. There must be opportunity to do more there. Email marketing is attractive because it’s inexpensive.
Reward loyal buyers
Some efforts have been made to encourage buyer loyalty and reward valuable returning buyers to eBay. But there must be more that can be done. Look at the supermarkets. I’m constantly offered discounts and incentives by them if I’ve been away for a while (via email and in the post). Is a coherent buyer loyalty scheme feasible and profitable?
Incentivise sellers to send traffic and buyers to eBay
The ‘walled garden’ approach that prohibits links from eBay to sellers’ sites and Shops is the flipside of a culture that means sellers have no incentive to send buyers to eBay. If eBay liberalised the rules for linking out, more people will link in (probably). Another example.eBay charges sellers to send Shop marketing emails over a basic minimum. This is crazy. If a seller brings a buyer back to eBay they should be rewarded, not penalised.
Buyer marketing: eBay is the smart place to buy.
Cheap. Reliable. Safe. Convenient. It’s a jungle out there. Make sure everyone knows that eBay is the only sensible choice when it comes to buying online.
eBay Fees + PayPal Fees = a lot of fees.
When a seller tots it all up, eBay and PayPal fees are a huge line item on the balance sheet that’s comparable to what the taxman takes from biz sellers. There is surely latitude for some cuts. In any case: there is no room for increases. Can’t make cuts? Make a promise: no increases in 2009. Give sellers decreases or certainty that there will be no increases.
Time is Money
If there is no possibility of fee reductions, invest in serious time savings for sellers. Improve the management tools. Turbo Lister is a disgrace. Selling Manager Pro should be free. Decent services for Macs: it’s time. Just make it easy to manage a huge inventory on eBay. Or even a medium sized one. Even managing 100 items should be much easier. And free. Taxation through fees isn’t the only way of stimulating supply.
The MD of eBay in the UK can pick up the phone and talk to whomever they like, right? And estimated £4bn in eBay sales in 2008 makes that easy. What can eBay do on behalf of the mass of sellers and buyers to help them through the downturn in 2009? Genuinely beneficial deals could be done with Royal Mail, a major bank (for biz loans?), insurance companies, Jiffy, Tesco for cheaper petrol or anyone you can imagine. How about the tax man? Fancy an HMRC contact who gets eBay? They could actually ask. eBay could stop being coy and start flexing a bit of muscle. Stateside the Postmaster-General is a regular attendee at eBay Live!. Over here? Lord Mandelson is sure to have some bright ideas. :O)
Bail Out Hotline
If an eBay business is about to go down the tubes, what can eBay do to help? Maybe not a lot. But a phoneline eBay sellers could call in the event of terrible problems (with handy advice etc) would be nothing more than common courtesy to loyal sellers.
*What would you suggest? This is a brainstorm. No stupid ideas. Quickfire. Be creative Call for more information. Challenge assumptions. Ask a question. Essays not required. Lots of hats to choose from: not just a black one. Suggest something new.