David Brackin is the managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading eBay trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor. Today David considers why retailers don’t list their entire inventory on the marketplace, what barriers hold them back and how eBay could become the Real Everything Store.
eBay: Can it become The Real Everything Store?
If you were to ask an Amazon employee what defines the company, they might well tell you that they start with the buyer and work backwards. It runs through their culture like the writing in a stick of rock. And while it isn’t always 100% true, you can see that any innovation is at least measured by the yardstick of whether buyers will love it, and products and offerings are refined through that lens.
eBay does not have that clarity of purpose, and I think it’s time it did. It cannot compete toe-to-toe with Amazon by appealing to the buyer-side of the marketplace. However, marketplaces have two sides that transact together: there are buyers and there are sellers. Amazon’s bet is that if it has all the buyers coming through the door, then the sellers will queue up to use their services. eBay can make the alternative bet: if it has all the sellers, and in particular, the best selection of goods and offerings, then the buyers will find their way to the store. “The Everything Store” was a phrase that Jeff Bezos used to describe his aspiration, and it’s that mantle that eBay can wear with pride.
What does it take to be the most seller-centric marketplace? Well it doesn’t mean screwing over buyers – for example doing away with trust and safety, allowing dangerous goods or banning returns. While we might mutter in moments of frustration that these things are a pain, sellers all recognise that we want safe and fair transactions with buyers – marketplaces are where we come together with buyers with a common goal of a fair exchange, not to oppose one another. And all the usual marketplace functions of search, reputation, checkout and transaction support are all still things that are absolutely essential. The real question is what benchmark does everyone measure those activities by. For example, when a product manager thinks about how returns work, say, how does she cut through the clamour of competing stakeholders and departments all wanting different things? When her boss says “do it this way”, on what grounds can she say “no this way is better”?
I think it is simple to articulate (although fiendishly hard to achieve): If you want to be the Real Everything Store, then you need to do nothing that prevents people from putting inventory in your store:
“Every seller on the planet should have no reason not to want to place their legitimate offering on eBay”
This raises lots of questions, but I think it’s the process of thinking about these questions that is every bit as productive as the process at Amazon when someone wonders what the buyer wants and starts with them.
Coming back to our hypothetical product manager thinking about returns. She’s been told by her boss to enforce 30-day returns because it’s what buyers want. However, she realises that might put off some sellers who are not obliged to accept returns and those who want to simply offer the legal minimum. So she can come up with some different solutions: maybe a search option for 30-day returns, and she works with her colleagues in shipping, reputation, etc to come up with an eBay “gold standard” service which appears on listings (or shows the reason they aren’t gold). Buyers are properly alerted to the terms of the offering and can make an informed choice: I might accept no returns from a private seller if it’s super cheap. She then provides information to sellers about how being “gold” affects sales and the sellers – who know their business better than she does – can decide whether to join in or not, knowing that the can always continue with the inventory live on the site as it is. If her product is good, then many sellers adopt it. If not, it dies on the vine.
Isn’t this just what is done at the moment? I think seller impact is taken very seriously but is an add-on, not at the very core of the culture. I wonder how the product managers thinking about off-ebay sales, https implementation, image standards, postage, free returns, product reviews, catalogue structure, structured data and payments intermediation – to name but a few –might have approached things differently if they had this one question in mind when they approached their tasks: How do I achieve my project while giving no seller a reason not to put all their stuff on eBay?
eBay already has the edge when it comes to selection and price. As one of its sellers, I really hope that it can drive this advantage home and become truly great.