While I talked with ‘blue shirts’ (eBay employees and PR agency reps) and vendors, the best part of eBay Live! was the ability to interact and learn from real eBay sellers. But not all eBay sellers are created equal…they seem to fit into 3 buckets; toddlers, adolescents, and adults…understanding these groups will help you understand some of eBay’s opportunities and challenges.
-The toddlers love almost everything about eBay. Sure, they throw temper tantrums, but for the most part, you can use the ‘distraction method’ (I use this with my 3yr old nephew and 1yr old niece) to mollify them. Give them Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (and introduce them to co-founder Jerry Greenfield), start a a sing along with a cool jungle creature (everybody loves monkeys), or send mommy or daddy in with sparkly things (blogs!, wikis!, custom usps shoe boxes) and they’ll quiet down. The toddlers are the life of the party. They dress up in colorful outfits, wear funky hats, and love talking about anything and everything. People take their pictures and play with them for hours. The love and respect they have for their community is undeniable and you have to admire that. Most of the toddlers I met sold goods in the collectibles category. Most were retired, but discovered a new-found passion for life because eBay had given them the opportunity to interact, learn, and grow through new relationships and new friends. These toddlers also make money through eBay, but positive reinforcement (feedback) from buyers is just as important.
-Just like any teens, the adolescents at eBay Live! were awkward, shy, curious, bold, rambunctious, impatient, smart, silly, and undoubtedly, the future. The adolescents I met got into eBay just as they would any summer job, with hopes of a bit of spending money and maybe even financial independence. Some struggle to sell $3K worth of goods a month while some are on their way to $15K a month [I didn't discuss margins] and outgrowing the playground they once loved. They approach vendors with skepticism and jump into new relationships too quickly or not at all. They grew up on eBay and are nervous about leaving the sandbox. The real world is often confusing and often overwhelming. Sure, there are eBay solutions like ProStores, Shopping.com, and PayPal Website Payments Pro, but there are also solutions from Channel Advisor, Vendio, Andale, Infopia, and MarketWorks who talk of the wonders beyond eBay like #1 rankings on Google and Yahoo!, marketplaces like Froogle/Google Base and Shopzilla, and affiliate programs like CJ and Linkshare. Some of the adolescents have been using tools from these vendors to professionally manage their eBay listings, but trying out all these other marketing solutions involves a big investment of both time and resources. Some will take the leap and some won’t. And even the ones who leap are likely to fall and scrape their knees on the first pass.
-The adults manage their eBay sales as just another marketing channel. They use professional eBay listing and management solutions from the Channel Advisors of the world and have long ago adopted a real website and have outsourced feed managment solutions and keyword buying to these partners. eBay has been good to them, but the adults are often cynical and can be extremely critical of the hand that nurtured them, but is no longer their primary distribution channel. They have legitimate complaints about everything from rising cost of sales to fairly undefined rules governing shipping fees. And because they’ve seen the power of the search engines, they are no longer completely loyal. Ask them where they see an opportunity, and they say Google. As them if they’d sign up for a hypothetical Google Auctions, and they’d immediately say yes. A lot of their hot air can be alleviated with strategic account managers who provide incredible service, but when they get together with other professional sellers and speak their mind, it’s clear there’s a love/hate relationship with eBay.
The passion of the eBay community is incredible at all levels. As someone said to me, if you could have produced a heat map of where the passion was in the world last week, Vegas would have been on fire. But that doesn’t mean that all is perfect in the eBay universe. If you look at my classifications above, you can see many opportunities and challenges for eBay at all levels.
Hobbyists are the foundation of the eBay, and I’m sure this group will continue to support the company through whatever fee increases will come. There’s an opportunity to get some of them to grow up, but truthfully, I don’t think this matters much. Without this fanatical base of people who sell everything from Pez dispensers to the odd antique chest, eBay wouldn’t be eBay.
The adolescents, full of awkwardness and big dreams, need hand holding to get them to the next level. I see a ton of opportunity for eBay to help these sellers grow their eBay businesses while simultaneously inching them towards additional marketing channels. This group is the prime target for eBay tools vendors who are now multi-channel marketing companies. Keep an eye on these vendors…Channel Advisor seems to be at every investor conference and Vendio just bought a chunk of Andale. Realize, though, that if these sellers and vendors don’t get respect from eBay (and I’ve heard some grumblings), they could just as easily spend more time working with Amazon, Shopzilla, Google, and Yahoo! and less time with eBay. Just as in the real world, the relationships of youth don’t always translate to adulthood. eBay needs to work hard to keep sellers and vendors happy.
[As an internet marketer familiar with SEO, PPC marketing, affiliate programs, email & media buying, co-reg, blogging, word of mouth marketing, business development partnerships, and more, I love talking to these adolescents and guiding them through the maze of opportunities that await them.]
-Cost of sales are rising. I heard this from way too many ‘adults’ to ignore. Just as eBay realizes the threat Google (with Adwords, Base, etc.) poses, the adults know the opportunity Google represents. eBay Express with its flashy new ad campaign sounds good to these adults, but there’s no guarantee it will attract loyal consumers (although all adults are clamoring to get in). The Yahoo! deal sounds good to these adults, but they aren’t quite sure if they’ll see an increase in sales…it’s not like Yahoo! is going to bias their organic listings towards eBay auctions. These sellers will continue to list on eBay, but are already looking seriously at their marketing metrics, and if PPC (through Google, Yahoo!, or Shopzilla) works better, that’s where their focus will shift.