Today we take a break from the Tamebay 2020 Back to Work Tips whilst David Brackin, managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading eBay trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor, sets up his wish list for eBay in 2020 with Five New Year’s Resolutions for eBay.
Five New Year’s Resolutions for eBay
2020 is likely to be an interesting year for eBay – at a corporate level, the activist intervention by Elliott last year has led to the loss of Devin as CEO and a strategic review that will likely see many of the non-core businesses such as StubHub sold off. The remaining marketplace business will be more “bite-size” for any trade or private equity purchasers looking to take it private away from the frenetic quarterly reporting of the public markets. Locally, the UK remains one of the best-performing blocks of the business, well-managed and with a strong community of buyers and sellers, but with Brexit changes coming. There will be many distractions in 2020, but eBay mustn’t lose sight of its natural mission – to be the marketplace with every legitimate offer on the planet.
So what would be my top five new year’s resolutions for eBay if I were in charge?
- Let seller service shine
I think we’re pretty good at what we do. We had orders placed at midday on 23rd December which arrived before Christmas, but our listings couldn’t promise this, and if they could have, buyers couldn’t search for it. On the other hand, I bought a really cheap egg-timer from China in November, and it just turned up in January. A shirt I bought last year didn’t fit me, but I couldn’t return it as it was from a private seller who doesn’t need to offer the 30-day returns that I do. As a buyer, I love having that spectrum of offer, but I’d really like to know about it, and when it matters, I’d like to be able to search for it.
The current item pages are a clutter of irrelevant information hiding the three or four things that buyers really care about. As an experienced seller, I’m often confused by what I’m seeing – I can only imagine what it is like for people who are casual buyers. Once I’ve found an item, I want to know the price, the delivery time, if it is what I think it is, if the seller is reputable and what I can do if it goes wrong. These should be front and centre and usable as search filters. Any of these factors which aren’t “gold standard” should be highlighted, and the buyer encouraged to make an informed choice. Will I buy a shirt with no returns? Sure if the price is right. Do I mind waiting for my egg-timer? Next month was just fine, as it turns out, and boy did I get a bargain!
Committing to providing every legitimate offer means there are some slow, not-so-good ones in there too – and buyers can choose the price for those. eBay’s previous approach of announcing some “retail standard” and demanding that sellers hit it or face search demotion damages the buyer experience as well as making sellers do unnecessary work. eBay needs to inform but not judge: let the good sellers shine and buyers choose what is important for them.
- One size doesn’t fit all
How often do we hear from eBay a pronouncement that something or other is “the best” and so is now compulsory, before a group of sellers point out that it’s wrong for them. Free shipping on bath-tubs? No pre-sale communication for sellers of customised goods? Mandatory barcodes for second-hand goods? Product based shopping for just about everybody? The most egregious change last year was the removal of the ability to choose the duration of fixed price listings – 3-day, 5-day, 7-day and 30-day listings swept aside for GTC. Utterly bonkers to throw away the time-based incentive to buy – something Amazon would kill to be able to offer. These changes are being made with good intent by clever people looking at data which shows that in large part it makes sense, but there are always “edge cases” and it’s time that eBay realises that almost all of its competitive advantage comes from those edge cases. The ingenuity, resourcefulness and grit of the many millions of sellers on the platform will always outperform the central planners, no matter how smart, well-intentioned and data-driven they aspire to be.
For eBay to embrace its mission, it must recognise that it exists to serve and support its sellers. Rather than restricting options, where there is a gap in their ability to express their legitimate offer, eBay should fill that gap. Does this create a buyer-side challenge with proliferation and confusion? Should eBay champion and make the right answer the “default”? Yes – of course – but when sellers are unleashed the resulting width and depth of inventory, and the buyer experience of finding a bargain far outweighs the cost of complexity.
- More & better marketing tools
Since the late 90s, I’ve been hearing how data-driven retail is going to change the world; that Lord Leverhulme’s successors will finally know which half of his advertising is wasted. I am intimidated when I log-in to my Adwords account at the array of options available. On eBay, however, I can’t even see how much traffic went to my listings, let alone tell if the tweaks I make have any effect. There’s been some baby steps at translating traditional retail tools online by offering discounts and promotions, as well beefing-up the lucrative promoted listings product. Like listening to the radio on your television, these fail to exploit the true power of eBay, but their biggest fault is that universally they are accompanied by poorly executed reporting, leaving sellers none-the-wiser whether anything actually works.
Retail is not just about selection, price and convenience. That little bit of magic of a bargain, a timed discount, the fear of missing out, the delight of sneaking an offer. An auction triumph over a last-minute sniper. These are all things which persuade our customers to open their wallets today and buy from us and to keep coming back, rather than delaying or going elsewhere, and it is critical that eBay gets better at this.
- Help cross-border trade by being a truly global company
Sterling has taken a bit of a beating over the last three years with Brexit uncertainties and this has been great for exporting. However, I know that of the issues that come to me each month to resolve, most of them will involve dealing with overseas eBay sales (or UK transactions mysteriously transacted on the .com site so subject to US customer services and policies).
The Global Shipping Programme provides a great solution for the international shipping problem, but when things go wrong with cross-border trade there isn’t a great solution to the customer service problem. That we should have to log into multiple sites and deal with multiple customer service teams in multiple languages seems ludicrous when eBay is a global company. Surely the line of communication between eBay in Dublin and eBay in Dreilinden is better than between me and my German buyer? This is not a new problem.
Indeed – when things go wrong even with GSP deliveries, the chances are that they will find their way to us to resolve instead of being picked up by eBay themselves. There’s a chance for eBay to genuinely add value by internalising the border, but the process feels piecemeal and like it’s nobody’s problem to fix. eBay’s corporate structure, broken up in to highly separated geographic silos, means that in fact it might really be easier for me to deal with the buyer directly in a foreign language, and that seems ludicrous.
Time for a much more joined-up approach to supporting global sellers serving the global marketplace.
- Get the details right
So many policies, product and changes seem great when you see eBay make the announcement, but then the delivery is a disappointment and the fixes never seem to happen. The tech platform is over-run with eccentricities, bugs and downright failures. Products are released to deadline rather than when ready. Billing is unfathomable, unwieldy and unchanged in over a decade. How many times do you hear customer service explain that something “should” work that way but it doesn’t. No-one expects everything to be perfect out of the gate but it takes the right mindset to make continuous improvements. To prioritise essential maintenance rather than novelty.
Caring about the details requires two cultural changes within eBay. The first is a long-term focus. The quarterly reporting cycle of a public company is bad enough pulling executives in all directions, desperate to show progress every few months. Managers can’t move around endlessly between initiatives – they need to stick around for long enough in an area to gain a deep understanding and make many cycles of changes. Furthermore, they need to have success or failure in that area stick to their reputations. The second is being open to feedback at a detailed level. Really wanting to find all the tiny things that are not right and working to make them better. How many times have you reported something to be told that “no one else has mentioned it”, or not received any satisfactory answer at all? The first step to improvement is institutionally opening eyes and unblocking ears.
Cultural changes are hard but eBay will need to move towards this growth mindset to make all its initiatives more effective.