I don’t seem to be able to escape the ads for eBay Outlet at the moment. Not only are they all over the site, and in my inbox, they’re following me to Waterloo tube station too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen eBay push one specific part of the site this hard – and as I had a long train journey to follow my spotting of this ad, I got to wondering why.
Clothes and shoes were the first things I sold on eBay, back more than a decade ago. And I wouldn’t go back there if the stock were free and there were no DSRs. I have serious admiration for those who can sell any kind of apparel on eBay, because personally, I just don’t have the patience to deal with all the emails saying “well I’m always a size 12 normally but I can’t squeeze my fat bottom into these jeans you’re selling and so that must be your fault”. 😉 By the time I closed down that Shop, I swore that I would never again sell clothes to anyone that they couldn’t try on before they bought.
Of course, if you’re a great big catalogue company selling off its returns and end-of-line, things are probably a bit different. eBay creates a new market for you that just doesn’t exist if you’re trying to sell those same goods instore: as one Outlet-owner said to me, “eBay’s made our end-of-line actually profitable”.
John Donahoe has said many times that the “secondary market” is where eBay sees its future. Clothes make sense: everyone needs them, so the market is huge. The “secondary market” itself is huge, because online clothes merchants always do have huge quantities of returned stock to shift. And perhaps most importantly, Amazon doesn’t yet seem to dominate this huge sector.
Amazon UK does have a “Clothes, Shoes and Watches” section but it’s still in beta, and it’s not what most Brits would associate with Amazon’s product range. If I were eBay, I’d grab this opportunity with both hands.
I’ve seen a lot of smaller sellers complaining bitterly about the preferential treatment being given to Fashion Outlets at the moment. I don’t have any good news for you: quite the contrary, I expect eBay to keep pushing these merchants, to push them harder and to add to them with any other big name retailers they can sign up. They will get better deals on fees than you get; they’ll get great leniancy on feedback than you get; they’ll get more promotion to more buyers than you could ever dream of. And they will kill off a lot of smaller sellers.
But for those who can survive it, who can diversify beyond eBay and yet still maintain an eBay presence, there’s an opportunity here. eBay is positioning itself as a destination site for fashion lovers. And some of that traffic will, inevitably, filter down from the Outlets to other clothing sellers. For those who can take advantage of that, there may yet be something to be gained from Fashion Outlets.