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April 14, 2009

eBay Announces Spring Changes - buyer/seller/wall st analysis.

eBay is now rolling out changes twice a year and today they announced what I'll call the Spring changes.  While these are announced today, they will 'roll' (as we say in the biz) in mid-June.  I suspect the next set of changes will be fall-based, probably September/October oriented as a Spring/Fall cycle works best within the overall retail cycle (e.g. don't rock the boat in Q4 and early Q1.

I'm going to cover the changes in broad strokes, for sellers that want more details, eBay is offering a variety of opportunities to learn more:
  • Announcement board post is here with details here.
  • Webinars coming April 16  (Thursday) and April 21 - details here.
  • There's a town hall scheduled for April 16 as well - details here
  • And then there's a special discussion board where eBayers (aka Pinks) will be answering questions about the changes. (Warning these boards are not for the feint of heart or people that don't like spending 3hrs wading through some crazy stuff to find a nugget of information).

But first, A brief editorial on the new eBay schedule

I think eBay's move to a two release/yr schedule is a positive for both sellers and partners (yes like ChannelAdvisor).  Historically it was very hard for both sellers and partners to plan and react to the constant monthly barrage of changes that eBay rolled out. Also due to the frenetic schedule, there typically was not access to APIs or a test environment to make sure things 'work' before release, so we were constantly having to 'test in production' which isn't fun for anyone.  I view the move as a clear positive that the company is not only listening, but changing their ways.  Some sellers are skeptical that eBay will really adhere to this and there is some squishiness in there - for example, it's not clear what is considered 'major' and included in the two releases and what's minor and will come out off-cycle.

You can also tell that eBay is making a real effort to improve the communication of these changes - just look at all the opportunities listed above for sellers to learn more.  A year ago, there might be a townhall (not as effective as the webinars IMO, but better than discussion boards at least) and that would really be it.

Moving to two releases makes eBay really think things through and have high impact across the board as well as making sure partners are up to speed and ready when things actually hit production vs. later.

Conclusion: Big thumbs up for both the communication and the move to a two release calendar.

The elephant in the room - what didn't change?

It's been a nail-biting Q1 as eBay sellers have been waiting with bated breath to see if eBay is going to increase fees for 09.  Once the usual Jan. 'fee hike' timeline passed, the anxiety level increased so it's good to get this behind us.  Wall St. has also been very anxious, hoping that eBay would eliminate listing fees to put them more on par with Amazon.

Interestingly enough, eBay is sticking with the fee changes made last year and didn't announce any changes.  I think seller's will breathe a sigh of relief - some will be disappointed that eBay didn't lower fees and Wall St. will now start to wonder if zero listing fees are coming in the Fall.

Now for the changes

As a backgrounder, you may want to read my 'eBay 2.0 series' if you have time as many of my comments on eBay this year will be colored by that series.

For each change, I list the implication for each of eBay's constituents - buyers, sellers and 'Wall St.'  The release falls into three buckets - improved shopping experience, returns+guarantees (aka TRUST) and seller efficiencies.

I. Buying improvements - New item page, basic photo zooming, catalog-pages, multi-sku/variations (there are like 10 names for this one), buyer incentives.
  • Buyers - incremental positive.  These are all good incremental improvements for buyers.  I'm not sure about the catalog pages yet as I don't have any idea how well consumers like them - they are definitely more of an amazonification of eBay so you lose a lot of that 'serendipity' that makes eBay special.  However, do you really want serendipity when you are looking for the Back to the Future DVD?   
  • Sellers - slight positive, but mixed with some negatives - Catalog is going to require a good bit of work for sellers not already using that system (and many fight it tooth and nail).  However multi-sku is going to be a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE (I'd put that in blinking 40pt font if I could) change for sellers.  I'll do a separate post on this later this week,
  • Wall St - neutral -  Some wall st'ers are looking for a silver bullet to eBay's challenges.  I frequently hear: "Can't they just fix search and fix this thing?" My typical response is that if you compare the eBay buying experience to Amazon, eBay has maybe 100-200+ projects they need to execute on.  There are no silver bullets.  There are bronze shotgun pellets.  The Spring release is 5-10 of those which is progress, but incremental non silver-bullet progress.  Another interesting note - multi-sku is going to dramatically collapse the number of listings on eBay.  There are still pockets of analysts that believe there's a direct correlation between eBay's listing data and GMV and they are going to (incorrectly) freak out when listings in the apparel category drop by 75% over the next 6 months.  That should be interesting to watch. 
 II. TRUST - eBay is making two big changes to trust.  The first is they are going to make it much easier for buyers to ask for and receive returns.  There will be some common area on eBay (probably in myebay) where you can say "I want to return X".  This is going to be a big change for eBay sellers -many of whom will argue tooth and nail to not take any returns.  There are also lots of 'as-is' sellers on eBay that will have fun with this one.  Second, there's the "eBay Resolutions".  this is a big one as it looks like eBay is moving to really guaranteeing every transaction, but that message isn't clear in the seller-oriented post. 
  • Buyers - strong positive.  As a buyer on eBay that's had several SNAD/INR claims, and had to get certified letters from handbag experts and junk, this is a big win.  The proof is in the pudding, but I'm going to give eBay the benefit of the doubt on the execution of this. If it rolls out with tons of caveats and limits and 10 step processes, it will go to negative though.
  • Sellers negative - The resolution piece is going to put eBay in the middle of more disputes. eBay+paypal are historically known for quickly siding with buyers and then deducting the amount from your PP account.  Sellers are going to hate that aspect of this -especially smaller sellers.  Smaller sellers are going to really dislike the return policy and, guess what, when you make returns easier and in buyer's faces, returns spike up.  eBay sellers are going to take a hit to their P+L here. 
  • Wall St -  positive - I think Wall St. will see this as eBay closing a big trust gap with Amazon.  Personally, I'd prefer if eBay chose a simpler to understand name like "eBay guarantee" or something, we'll have to see what the buyer side of this looks like.

III. Seller efficiencies - eBay announced a couple of initiatives around making sellers more efficient.  Most of these were around eBay's seller tools which aren't widely used by the larger sellers so I think they positives for the smaller single-channel-eBay folks.  The Smart-FAQ feature could be a big win, we'll have to wait and see there.

  • Buyers - No implication
  • Wall St - neutral 
  • Sellers - positive - It's good that eBay is thinking about how to make sellers more efficient. Most sellers I know would rather they just lower fees though ;-)    

Spring Summary

In conclusion, I think this is a good balanced set of changes - some that favor buyers which make sellers nervous, others that favor sellers and some meaty changes - e.g. multi-sku that we'll be digging into more that are going to require some deeper thought and planning from sellers that want to be ready for June 15.  FYI, ChannelAdvisor will be supporting all of these initiatives (especially multi-sku) for the release so stay tuned for more details on that.


SeekingAlpha Disclosure - I am long Google and Amazon
  


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