Earlier this year, Rob Hattrell became UK Vice President of eBay and the point man for the UK. The buck now stops with him regardless of whether things go well or not, so today I went to eBay Towers in Richmond to meet Rob, find out what he’s been up to and discover his vision for the future shape of eBay.
It may have been a couple of months since Rob took up the reins at eBay UK, but we’ve only just managed to find space in our diaries to meet – Rob’s been busy travelling up and down the country and has met some 70 odd eBay sellers so far, mainly visiting them in their homes, warehouses and lock ups – wherever they happen to work from.
I was a bit naughty and asked Rob who his favourite seller so far was, but he (rightly!) dodged the question and instead explained how he finds eBay businesses fascinating. He told of two sellers who both sell a refurbished product, but although the end results may be the same the way they run their businesses was totally different. Rob’s favourite type of seller is a business which no matter how small it may have started is growing and prospering. And he’s met a ton of them.
Who is Rob Hattrell?
Rob is a friendly approachable guy, a family man with children but acutely sharp and I’m glad to report he brings fresh ideas and a renewed sense of purpose to eBay. He was wearing a shirt which I’m pleased to say he purchased on eBay and appears to be very in tune with the uniqueness of eBay and it’s heritage rather than being obsessed with building a box shifting marketplace.
Coming from a large UK supermarket, Rob has big ideas for the UK. He’s not revealing what these will be yet, but he’s used to working in a company with somewhere in the region of 2,500 stores and hundreds of thousands of product lines to promote to customers both on and offline. He’s thinking big and exploring what can be done for the 150,000-200,000 professional sellers and the millions of consumer buyers and seller that use eBay. We’ll be watching with interest to see developments over the months and years.
What has Rob learnt from sellers he’s visited
Rob was very clear that he’s learnt sellers want more sales, his number one job (and the one that doubtless he’ll be measured on) is how he delivers on that goal. Speaking to Rob he’s forthright and recognises that eBay doesn’t have enough sales growth and the numbers need to increase. That’s not to say eBay isn’t doing pretty well, it’s just that it could do even better.
eBay sellers have also been clear that they want eBay to grow and succeed. Rob tells me that the message has come through loud and clear that they don’t want eBay to turn into another Amazon. Sellers are embracing Amazon because the site generates sales but eBay don’t compete with sellers and it’s a very different platform. Rob wants to stand back a little and provide the tools for sellers to enable them to run their own businesses in the way that works best for them, not to chase competitor marketplaces but to do what eBay does best.
“The world doesn’t need another Amazon, it needs a better eBay”
– Rob Hattrell, UK Vice President, eBay
What about the constant change and glitches sellers face?
It would have been remiss of me not to bring up the problems that sellers face on a daily basis when trading on eBay. Things like the current £2.50 gallery fee glitch, the issues that sellers of custom made items face, the fee changes that mean it’s sometimes cheaper to sell as a private eBay seller rather than as a legitimate business and what often appears to be a deluge of changes sprung upon sellers each time there’s a new Seller Update.
Rob was very clear that he knows eBay needs to do a better job, to be transparent from a communications perspective and also to deliver on things that they promise. He said “Execution needs to improve”.
Rob explained about how eBay obsess over details when making changes to attract buyers with constant tests to ensure that they’re positive and increase sales. However Rob would like more focus on seller changes. It’s not intended, but often one team will be working on something like Trust & Safety (leading to measures such as Active Content removal and banning contact information in listings) and what might seem like the perfect solution has some unintended consequences which aren’t seen until the changes are live. Rob wants to work across the company to reduce negative impacts and leave sellers able to get on with the day job of selling and serving eBay buyers.
Home or away?
In recent years, eBay has heavily focused on cross border trade, which Rob points out that with the current relatively low value of Sterling is a quick short term win. That’s not guaranteed to always be the case however and Rob brings a new home turf focus to eBay.
Yes the UK already has the highest online spend per head of population in the world, but there’s plenty of room for growth and Rob wants to see home sales accelerating. Cross border trade won’t be ignored and will definitely be encouraged, but not to the detriment of growing the domestic business.
What can you expect to see in the short term?
TV Advertising in the UK. Look out this coming Autumn for new eBay UK TV adverts and don’t worry – it won’t be quite the same as the eBay.com TV campaign that’s recently gone live but will be tailored for the UK audience.
eBay have been remarkably successful with vertical advertising campaigns such as their Curve Fashion, Car Challenge, Men’s Grooming hub and countless other initiatives. They speak to a specific sector of the UK population and Rob tells me that they can see the success with sales generated in the categories as the campaigns go live.
Now Rob wants to step things up a gear with a bold advertising campaign to appeal to the mass population and re-engage them with eBay. The aim is to drive awareness of the eBay brand, increase the frequency of buying and connect the best group sellers in the world with buyers who are ready to purchase.
Rob showed me some of the early drafts for the adverts on his laptop as I was leaving and they’re looking superb – eBay will definitely be making an impact in the run up to Christmas so watch this space and we’ll bring you more information as the campaigns go live.
Meeting Rob has made it clear that eBay in the UK is now headed by someone just as passionate about buying and selling on the site as he is about running the business side of the company. Whilst just about every senior eBay employee has been happy to talk to eBay users, Rob is without a doubt obsessed with finding out what goes on in a grass roots eBay business… From talking to eBay staff I get the impression that for his first few weeks he was out with eBay sellers more than he was actually in the office!
Rob is also a practical guy who wants end the impenetrable barrier between the average eBay seller and imposition of new edicts thrown out from eBay Towers. He’s definitely engaging with sellers on an unprecedented scale and he’s not just listening, he intends to bring his retail and big business experience to bear and get eBay UK firmly cemented in place as the UK’s favourite marketplace.