In a keynote presentation at the ChannelAdvisor Catalyst Americas conference in Las Vegas yesterday, Hal Lawton, senior vice president, eBay North America, detailed how the online marketplace is evolving in an effort to reverse stagnant sales and gain market share.
“The opportunity for e-commerce has never been brighter,” Lawton said, “but the competition has intensified.”
That competition includes other online marketplaces, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers now also selling online, social networks that are rolling out commerce solutions (e.g., Facebook, Pinterest), and disruptive startups. Then factor in rising consumer expectations, and it becomes evident the challenges are many for eBay. But what eBay does have in its favor is one of the strongest brands in the world – which the company plans to leverage more effectively going forward.
The marketplace boasts 262 million active buyers, is one of the top purchasers of Google product listing ads (PLAs), includes sellers in more than 200 markets globally, has had over 300 million downloads of its mobile app, features a full spectrum of product categories (80 percent of which are new, and 60 percent ship for free), and executes over 300 million searches per day. And for good measure, eBay has raised $650 million for various charities over the last 20 years.
To help it better compete in today's ultra-competitive e-commerce environment, eBay is shifting its approach and beginning to do seasonal marketing. That involves being active on social media – eBay has a presence on 14 social platforms – investing in digital media such as video and radio (YouTube, Hulu, Pandora), and a return to television advertising starting next week with Mother's Day messaging.
“eBay at heart is a technology company,” said Lawton. “Historically it hasn't done a lot of consumer marketing, but we're constantly testing and learning.”
Data Key to Future Growth
For the better part of its existence, eBay has been plague by unstructured data, from product data to seller data to customer data. This has led to a less-than-seamless experience buying or selling on the marketplace. That's changing, according to Lawton.
eBay has made structuring its data a key initiative this year, with a specific focus on product listings. Each seller on the marketplace must now have unique product identifier for each product. This will help connect product listings back to products and simplify the listing process for sellers, particularly consumers selling to other consumers. Furthermore, product reviews are connected to a product's identification number. eBay has added 2 million customer reviews to its site in the last year, which has helped drive conversion.
“We're creating a more relevant, user-friendly experience for shoppers with visual navigation, reviews and up-to-date pricing,” Lawton said.
In addition to improving the shopping experience on eBay, the online marketplace is working to make it easier for its sellers too. It's introduced promoted listings, which enable sellers to elevate their rankings on search results, and leveraged its structured data to “bring sellers' product catalogs to life,” Lawton said.
“What makes eBay unique is that we don't compete with our sellers,” said Lawton.
Lawton offered a glimpse into eBay's future by talking about some of the company's plans for the remainder of the year. By the fall, eBay will have an API-first mentality, Lawton said, citing ordering, accounting, listings management, and promotions and price management as just some of the areas that will be improved for sellers.
Continuing to grow its cross-border trade is also on eBay's to-do list. Lawton noted that 97 percent of sellers on eBay have sold to an international customer before. This is a unique selling point for the online marketplace that it wants to leverage even further.
“Cross-border trade is a big business for our sellers,” Lawton said. “It expands their [sellers] horizons, and is a value-add of selling on eBay."