Life as eBay consultants and writers has been like running a 50-yard dash lately, considering the rapid speed with which eBay has introduced changes to its platform. While the company has made some missteps, within just a few months eBay seems to have steadied its ship.
Barron’s suggests the financial results eBay posted for the quarter that ended June 30, 2009, represent "a long promised turnaround in its core-auction business." Given the number of people struggling in this economy, it would seem to be a great time for eBay to revitalize itself. Where else will people find such a ready channel for raising some much-needed cash?
For example, the New York Daily News recently reported many people are taking a hard look at some of those expensive collectibles they just had to have not so long ago. Whether it's a vintage poster from the Fillmore, or a beautiful Roseville vase, when you're having trouble paying the mortgage and worrying that your next paycheck may be your last for a while, cash-in-hand is more desirable than those once cherished nonessentials. How can you easily turn those now-tarnished treasures into cash? Why through eBay, of course.
Here are some of the things we're seeing out of San Jose that bode well for sellers, buyers and eBay, as a whole.
Reduced insertion fees
eBay has been reducing insertion fees for some time now and the news announced in June is even better: Your first five auction listings per month are now free. So no matter what starting price you've set, you can list up to five items in auction format every 30 days and only pay a final value fee if the item sells. This is in keeping with how Amazon sets its fees for third-party sellers—you only pay on the back end.
Multi-variation fixed-price listings
Now buyers can have the kind of experience they've come to expect from top e-commerce sites
Until recently, sellers with the same item available in different colors and sizes had to create separate listings for each variation. Using the example of pocket T-shirts, that meant creating listings for the red shirts, the blue shirts (the light blue shirts, the dark blue shirts, the royal blue shirts), etc. As of June 15—in the case of women's shoes and men's shoes, at least—sellers can list variations of a product all within one 35-cent listing. eBay has promised to make these types of listings available for other products in its Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories and its Home & Garden categories sometime in "late summer."
This is a huge change, not only for sellers who can more easily and cost-effectively create listings for such items, but for buyers, too. Now buyers can have the kind of experience they've come to expect from top e-commerce sites such as Zappos.com. They can locate the item they want and zero in on their preferred size and color, without having to review multiple listings. If eBay is going to revitalize its core marketplace—which it wants and needs to do—this is a big step in that direction.
We recently bought the audiotape version of Larry King's new autobiography on eBay and were quite happy to use an eBay coupon to reduce our cost by 20 percent. Besides coupons, the company is also offering various cash-back programs for registered buyers, as well as those who sign up for one of its credit cards. Finally, eBay has also introduced Daily Deals, which it sends out through Twitter to drum up excitement.
Free shipping's now prevalent
"On eBay, it's all about free shipping," says Gary Richardson of GogglesandGlasses.com. That's great news because there's nothing e-commerce buyers like better than free shipping—something Amazon seems to have learned long ago.
Namely, if you spend $25 or more on Amazon, shipping is free (unless you've bought the item from a third-party seller who does not use the Fulfillment by Amazon service). Even better than that is the company's Amazon Prime program, which for a flat fee of $79 per year entitles you to free two-day shipping on any purchase. Regardless of price, once you sign up for the program, whether you buy a bookmark or lawn mower, your shipping is free.
Sellers find that free shipping means better placement for their listings, and therefore higher sell-through rates
eBay's efforts to follow Amazon's example appear to be bearing fruit. According to eBay, nearly 30 percent of its listings now feature free shipping, and customers are loving it. Sellers find that free shipping means better placement for their listings, and therefore higher sell-through rates. This is a great incentive for sellers to find a way to make incorporating free shipping part of their selling and listing strategies.
More work to be done
It's gratifying to speak of eBay in glowing terms for a change, but we're still watching the company closely. Now, we don't mean to imply that battleship eBay has turned on a dime and completely corrected its course. As we've discussed in this space before, it can still be difficult to find the items you're seeking on eBay—meaning that sellers are not getting the bidding activity they expect and need, and therefore not realizing the prices they would like. The corollary to this is that buyers on the lookout for these hidden gems can get great deals.
But even here eBay is working to refine its "finding" feature with improvements promised as part of sweeping changes to the platform that will be rolled out this fall. And as part of its move to greater transparency, eBay will introduce a "Search Visibility tool," to help sellers gain insights into how their listings are performing and what steps they can take to improve performance, if necessary.
Some sellers have scaled back their eBay businesses over the last couple of years, but new sellers are replacing them every day. And even some of those who have left for other venues have told us they would revisit eBay if things changed. Maybe things are changing and the time for another look is here.