eBay in 2009: Boom or Bust?

ebay logoShouldn’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.

Collective Bargaining
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.

11 thoughts on “eBay in 2009: Boom or Bust?”

  1. Is eBay still buying AdWords? Thought I heard that programme had been changed, I know that there is no direct linking any more, eve for FP or store listings. Clicking on an eBay Google Ad just takes you to the home page and the ever lovin arms of best match.

  2. The first thing they need to do is address the mess they have made of the “level playing field” and stop scaring the little seller.

    DSRs for example are totally slanted in favour of a large seller, anything that uses percentages is always going to be.

    They also need to sort out best match, because you have sold one more widget than me should not be rewarded with higher search standing, it is a rediculous notion IMO.

    They also need to bring the US policy on choice listings to the UK, I am totally baffled as to why this has not been done, I for one would quadruple the number of listing I had, and I am certain plenty of others would too.

    Fee reductions although nice would not be necessary, a promise that they will simply stop changing things every 5 minutes and leave sellers alone to sell would probably be the best they could do to raise confidence.

  3. Inventory management. That actually works. And will work off-site too. Where’re the eBay-sponsored plugins for Magento or OSC, for example. I’d like to see eBay recognise that we’re not just trading on eBay any more…. and realise that their recognition of that is paramount for some of us to stay trading on eBay *at all*.

  4. Ebay can’t make it now, STRICTLY because it banned Money Orders and Checks.
    Why is this FACT so tough to get your Heads Around ?
    Money Orders and Checks are PARAMOUNT to Recession “Proofness”.
    Apparently College SUCKS THE BRAINS OUT.
    We have to Hammer the Brains back in.
    3rd party payment “Buttinskis” suck, are uninvited, and useless.
    I only do business with checks and money orders.
    Nobody gets between Me, the Money, and my Client. NOBODY.
    Life Is Good.

  5. @ Sue…Tamebay…

    Please get cozy with a DICTIONARY .
    it’s …recogniZed
    Children are watching.
    Teach them WELL.
    Not like Public School.

  6. NYM Arts:
    Great idea, I love dictionaries. Here’s our Oxford English one:

    Verbs in British English that can be spelled with either -ize or -ise at the end (e.g. recognize/recognise) are always spelled with -ize in American English.

    Here’s your own Merriam Webster one:

    chiefly British variant of recognize

    Shall we talk about proper use of capital letters now? 😉

  7. I with Sue on both posts she made (shock horror – now there’s a change!)

    eBay organising a plugin for osCommerce that would allow a single inventory record to have the inventory volume shared between eBay and the seller’s own site would be fantastic – it would be even better if the seller could allocate from the central inventory pool to each eBay site they want to list on.

    e.g. 20 widgetisers in stock? Let’s put 3 on the UK, 3 on Belgium, 3 on Australia, 3 on Singapore, we’ll try 1 on Canada, then leave 5 on our own site and put the other 5 on eBay US … oh! We’ll have to rename them as Widgetizers for the US and only the US, therefore the original 20 on osCommerce will need to be split to 15 and 5 with different names and inventory codes.


    Joking and rib-poking aside … NYMarts – did you know? … In the late 1950’s, NATO agreed that all member countries would adopt the short-date code DD Mmm YYYY (e.g. 25 Dec 2008) and the USA actually initiated this.
    In the early 1960’s, the UN thought this was a great idea and an accord was signed by all members (including the USA) that all countries would have universal adoption of this format, in all usage, before the mid 1970’s.
    Today, 35-ish years after the deadline, the only country that has not adopted it … is the USA.
    The USA is also the only country that evangelises the use of “ize” instead of “ise” in international English … apart from maybe the Caribbean Isthmus nation of Belize … or is that Belise?



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  9. Recent changes to feedback and fees has made selling an Ebay a hassle.

    I buy all my merchandise from the USA and a combination of the bad exchange rate and Ebay’s 10% selling fee means my business has tried up.

    You ask Ebay for help and you get the standard no response.

    Feedback is just as bad, how can sellers make Ebay a better place it you cannot tell other people of the non payers.

    I will have my own website up and running within a couple of weeks.

    I would like to hear other peoples opinions on these matters.

    Thanks Cameron

  10. Pingback: Time for a break : TameBay : eBay news blog and forum

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