At a recent e-commerce event, a top eBay executive alluded to plans for a shopping cart to streamline eBay's checkout process.
Dinesh Lathi, eBay's vice president of North America in charge of Buyer and Seller Experience, seemed to suggest users have been asking for a shopping cart system that would let buyers purchase items from multiple sellers in one single transaction—much as they do now on marketplaces like Amazon.
eBay is working with third-party software vendors to develop a unified checkout system the company can "deliver in a way that's great for buyers and sellers," Lathi said.
Though Lathi didn't give a time frame for when eBay might introduce the shopping cart, it's likely that any such system would initially be introduced in smaller markets before being rolled out in the U.S. For example, eBay eliminated Store Inventory Format in the U.K. and Australia as much as 18 months before implementing the change on eBay.com.
One of the complexities of Amazon's unified checkout model is its flat shipping fees
A unified checkout system would be a sea change for both buyers and sellers on eBay, which has always put buyer-seller relationships front and center, as opposed to Amazon, where the focus is on products and pricing.
"Buying from individual sellers on Amazon is a very different user experience because the seller is not at the forefront," notes Auctiva's Communications Manager Robert Green. "Historically, eBay has been a facilitator of the transaction, in which the buyer was keenly aware of the seller's history, location and specific policies. Additionally, eBay sellers may use listing templates and supply their own descriptions and images, whereas Amazon provides a single product page under which offers from multiple sellers might be found.
"With Amazon, you're almost unaware you're doing business with a private seller," he adds. "It feels more like you're buying from Amazon, which might be sourcing from any number of sellers. This can impact buyer confidence, in that Amazon's approach feels more like the company is vetting individual sellers and standing behind how they operate, reducing the need for the buyer to evaluate various sellers so critically."
While unified checkout might sacrifice some level of intimacy between buyers and sellers, it could also be a plus for both parties. Imagine going to eBay and finding a cell phone from one vendor, a case for that phone from another vendor and a car charger from a third vendor, placing them all in one cart and completing the purchase in one transaction. This type of freedom, simplicity and time savings could result in more sales for more sellers.
Still, there are many questions yet to be answered about how eBay would implement a shopping cart. For example, one of the complexities of Amazon's unified checkout model is its flat shipping fees. Were eBay to adopt a similar model, it could mean major adjustments for some sellers, says Auctiva Product Analyst Rebecca Miller.
"eBay sellers may have to rethink their price points if they're forced to meet a flat, predetermined shipping cost, as they do on Amazon," Miller says. "This may or may not be part of eBay's plan, but it's something to keep in mind. It potentially takes away some of the opportunities to offer incentives like free shipping."
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Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.