eBay Open is eBay’s annual seller conference where they present workshops and vision of the future to sellers. This year, the conference was again in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand and was another sell out with 1,500 sellers participating.
THE EBAY OPEN EXPO HALL
One of the main highlights of the conference is the Expo Hall. In the Expo Hall eBay invites vendors to showcase their technology that can help you sell.
Also, eBay sets up booths from their product departments that showcase existing and future features. They even bring a few ideas to life for people to see where eBay believes eCommerce is heading and how it may show up on the platform.
The Expo Hall opens in the afternoon on registration day (Tuesday), giving sellers an opportunity to browse the booths without interfering with general sessions or workshops they may wish to attend.
EBAY IS A TECHNOLOGY PARTNER
On Wednesday, eBay Open started with a talk by Devin Wenig, President & CEO of eBay to set the tone for the multi-day conference. He talked about where eBay has been, where it is today, and where it is going.
Devin became eBay’s CEO about two years ago and is guiding eBay to a new future after the breakup with PayPal.
While not exactly saying the words, it is clear that his remarks were designed to set a new direction for eBay that focuses on engaging sellers and providing technology to allow sellers to thrive on the platform.
“We are your technology partner”, that was a key phrase during his presentation and he also stated “We want to do it our way”, “We want to be sharply different than anyone else”, and “We want to win”. With “We” he was talking about eBay as a company and all of eBay’s sellers in partnership to build a better platform for shopping.
He repeatedly used “partners” in his presentation, highlighting the fact that eBay considers its sellers partners. Clearly, this term was to differentiate his management from the previous regime that had the perception of indifference to sellers.
Devin wants sellers to believe again that eBay is a technology partner and willing to provide the tools necessary for their businesses to thrive.
THE WORLD SHOPS ON EBAY
Sometimes it was hard to figure out what eBay’s slogan is today. While most eBay sellers are familiar with the “Fill Your Cart With Color” campaign, there seemed to be another secondary slogan of “The World Shops on eBay”.
Devin appears to like slogans, and occasionally during his presentation, he sounded a bit like he should be at an Amway conference. Nevertheless, he made a lot of good points and narrowed down eBay’s primary focus to three key functions:
- Best Choice
- Most Relevant
- Most Powerful Selling Platform
Devin stated he expects all of the 20,000+ employees at eBay to work on one of those three core functions. Jokingly, he said if they are not, they snuck in this room from Amazon.
With 21 million sellers, 170 million buyers and potentially over a billion active eCommerce consumers worldwide, the company has to change to be relevant in eCommerce.
For this reason, eBay is rolling out three new initiatives to better position the platform:
- Price Match Guarantee
- eBay Guaranteed Delivery
- eBay Authenticate
Price Match and Guaranteed Delivery we already covered in separate stories and we will post another one about eBay Authenticate shortly. These initiatives are in addition to enacting “reasonable” eCommerce standards for all its sellers.
TECHNOLOGY IS THE FUTURE OF COMMERCE
Devin stated that eBay historically understood changes in technology. He pointed to eBay taking the lead in 1996 realizing the Internet was not a fad, the company was an early adopter on mobile and continues to march on with wave three which is IOE (Internet of Everywhere).
With a trillion screens from watches to TVs, eBay wants to be everywhere. The company is working on machine learning, image search, virtual & augmented reality and much more. It wants to be where people spend their digital lives.
He mentioned that on StubHub, VR is responsible for selling 1 out of every five seats in the 20 MLB stadiums that are currently fully VR capable. Devin is willing to embrace tech, even if it appears to be whacky right now as one never knows where it may lead.
Devin used the example that 17,000 cars are sold now through eBay’s mobile app. Who would have thought five years ago that people would buy a car on a mobile phone.
eBay is playing with technology, not because it’s cool, eBay is playing with technology because retail is changing. As proof of the changing retail landscape, Devin provided a list of major retailers that already have closed stores in 2017:
- Radio Shack (552)
- Payless (400)
- The Limited (250)
- Bebe (170)
- Gamestop (150)
- JCPenney (138)
- American Apparel (110)
- Kmart (108)
- Staples (70)
- Macy’s (68)
- Abercrombie & Fitch (60)
When it comes to technology driving commerce, he plainly stated “Our job is to figure this stuff out for you”.
BRANDING HAD A SLOW START
Devin acknowledged that in the first year of his tenure, there was not a significant push for branding eBay as he wanted to tweak the platform before investing in attracting new buyers.
But he said that branding is on and will stay on, and sellers should continue to expect eBay to advertise on all kinds of media from billboards to TV.
AFTERNOON SESSION WITH HAL LAWTON AND FRIENDS
The afternoon general session kicked off with Hal Lawton, SVP North America, discussing some more facts about the current state of eBay.
He said that eBay has momentum with $84 billion in GMV (General Merchandise Volume), 171 million buyers (up from 157 million in 2015), and is available in 190 markets.
The eBay app has been downloaded 370 million times on various mobile and tablet platforms.
Hal made three commitments to sellers about eBay’s future:
- Great Reach and Velocity
- Smart, Easy, Profitable, Selling
- Strong Partnership
And he reinforced Devin’s comments about eBay must be ubiquitous (found everywhere). A buzzword that showed up among many of the speaker’s presentations…
He also went into details about eBay needs to drive velocity for your business with:
- Integrated Marketing (full campaigns)
- Performance Marketing (driving business to site)
- Emerging Technologies (AI, VR, experimenting with other channels)
- The Shopping Experience (conversion)
- Customer Retention (keep them coming back)
For the Integrating Marketing segment, Hal Lawton invited Suzy Deering, eBay CMO North America on stage.
She started out by claiming that eBay has historically been active in digital marketing which includes social, search, and email campaigns.
But starting this year, eBay added TV, Radio, Billboards, and other non-digital media marketing to the mix to promote the eBay brand to more consumers.
She stated that in the TV spots, eBay tries to use real buyers and sellers to provide authenticity.
Deering says she wants people to think about eBay as being Real, Spirited, Smart, and Dependable. All traits that brands such as Disney and Home Depot portrait (She used to work for both companies).
Toward the end of her presentation, she provided a glimpse of how the branding of eBay will evolve for the remainder of 2017.
In July eBay offered up a new slogan that will continue for a few months “Did you check eBay?” (Yes, another slogan…). This campaign will be followed up with a back to school drive, a fall campaign highlighting fashion and then bringing back (did you know it had left?) “Fill Your Cart With Color” during the holiday season.
If you are wondering about the difference between Digital Marketing and Performance Marketing, we bet most attendees had the same question.
Hal Lawton took back the stage to discuss what eBay is changing in Performance Marketing. Do remember, that Suzy Deering told us that digital marketing had been a high point for eBay already, so why does it need change?
Hal stated that in search, eBay must first win on Google with SEO, Natural Search, and Paid Search. The second most important platform is Facebook, where eBay must win in Newsfeeds, on Mobile, and on the Desktop.
None of these are earth shattering revelations, but most sellers would agree that these have not been very strong with eBay (even if Deering thinks otherwise).
He also stated that eBay would be active on all 19 social platforms (he did not mention any names, but Wikipedia shows 17 major social media platforms with 150K or more users) driving traffic to the marketplace.
Hal also discussed using AI to improve email campaign response ratios (again, Deering seemed to think eBay was doing good with email…).
He provided details on one change in email campaigns that will see eBay measure responses live as they campaign runs. eBay may have five different email titles and if one title shows better responses, there will be ongoing changes during a campaign.
New technology will bring new ways to drive traffic to eBay. Hal pointed to the Shop Bot in Facebook messenger and gave a demo of the Google Home speaker integration (which is very basic at the moment).
He points to structured data as the key to providing better results with Performance Marketing. The technology will attempt to provide even more accurate search results for shoppers.
Because technology is now evolving so fast in eCommerce, Hal makes the point that sellers will see more improvements on the platform on an ongoing basis. While seller updates will remain, they will focus on the main changes.
Instead, eBay will make better efforts to openly communicate with sellers on improvements and updates as they happen. Well, this didn’t seem to be the case for the Feedback display we posted about the other day, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they are working on being more communicative.
Mohan Patt, VP of Shopping Experience, Product and Engineering took the stage to talk about improving a buyer’s shopping experience. In all, this was a fascinating presentation as he showed live for the first time how image search will work.
Before the image search presentation, he made a point of how important structured data is to an excellent shopping experience. For those sellers that keep putting that point to the side, it will eventually come back to haunt them (our words, not eBay’s).
He stated that 80 percent of GMV comes from search and search engines (Google) keep looking for structured data to provide users better results.
Mohan talked about SEO being on fire as eBay quietly (here goes that communication promise again…) implemented 200 million destination pages.
These pages are either browse or product pages. Permanent destinations for search engine results to link to a product or group of products.
Editor note: eBay’s Product pages appear to look a lot like Amazon Product pages. We are writing an article discussing the pros and cons of that approach.
Depending on the screen, eBay is working on different schemes to funnel shoppers to products. New navigational aids will help customers find items.
Mohan stated this is the largest transformation in search on eBay since its inception. The company will include machine learning, purchase history, search history, and tons of other data to provide shoppers with the most relevant results.
The live image search demo showed innovation in search that looked very slick and about ready to go. Certainly, Mohan picked examples that he knew would provide desired results in search. But the prospects for fashion sellers are tremendous with this technology.
The final area Hal covered was customer retention. Mostly this revolved around email marketing, creating customized incentives, re-engaging in-active customers and returns.
eBay will be pushing free returns. While not mandatory, there will be navigational aids added to the platform to allow customers to use return policies in the decision-making process.
eBay may also step in earlier to resolve transaction issues, especially with newer sellers. Most of this feature will be AI driven, so some sellers will see expedited resolution center cases based on criteria eBay feels will improve customer retention.
DAY TWO STARTS OUT WITH PRESENTATION ABOUT SMART, EASY, PROFITABLE SELLING
Bob Kupbens, VP B2C Selling & Global Trust kicked off Thursday’s morning sessions going over tools eBay has already on the platform and new tools in development.
He started off his talk about eBay and sellers need to provide great experiences and using major brands as examples such as Nordstrom, Virgin Airlines, and The Ritz Carlton. Ironically Bob used to work for Delta Airlines. Presumably, he wasn’t able to change the culture there 😉
The point being, providing great shopping experiences requires both eBay and sellers to take ownership of that process. Setting buyer expectations and meeting those expectations is the key to success. And great brands know that.
His intro migrated into discussing the importance of returns. Bob explained how free shipping and returns drive sales. eBay’s platform will begin to highlight return policies in search to help buyers make better decisions.
An internal studied showed that sellers who offered 60 day free returns increased sales by 30% over sellers that offered no returns. Bob stated the reason for the large difference is that returns are now the second step buyers use to make product purchase decisions.
The assembled crowd seemed less enthusiastic about eBay pushing for free returns with a weak polite applause when prompted by Bob. It seems eBay will have a lot of work ahead to convince sellers that it is truly the way to go.
Next, he discussed promoted listings on how they will replace eBay’s never liked 3rd party advertisements that took customers off the page. This intro did receive a much better welcome than free returns.
Bob stated that as of today about 200,000 North American sellers are eligible for promoted listings and that will continue to increase.
He also unofficially announced that single item quantity listings would become eligible for promoted listings in weeks. This news was received with applause by the sellers in attendance.
THREE WAYS TO LIST
Bob then went into discussing how eBay has three primary methods to list items on eBay via the online selling tool, bulk/feed upload (Merchant Integration Platform or MIP), and API access.
He implied that all three methods would continue to improve and provide better experiences for sellers. He did highlight that MIP received a lot of upgrades recently allowing for more data exchange.
The largest part of his time he spent going over the features eBay’s Seller Hub offers. Bob mentioned how the new Seller Hub was just rolling out when he joined eBay and that in only one year already over 1 million sellers use it.
In short, he went through some of the Seller Hub features and highlighted price and listing guidance features. Specifically, eBay is working to provide more data to give sellers more insight in current listings and sales opportunities.
Another area highlighted by Bob was eBay’s Global Shipping service. eBay continues to try to promote Global Shipping to U.S. sellers that are still a bit nervous about cross-border trade.
The Global Shipping feature allows sellers to ship to a Kentucky warehouse from where eBay will handle the international logistics. Buyers will pay for all shipping and import duties before shipping to KY, so sellers only need to treat the shipment like a domestic shipment.
DELIVERY TIMES AND GUARANTEED DELIVERY
eBay is also introducing new tools that allow sellers to provide more exact shipping estimates based on transit tables, operating hours, and processing times.
The goal is to get away from the range based delivery times still found on the site and provide the buyer with a fixed delivery date.
Guaranteed Delivery is the next step in the shipping program. The transit tables are still only an estimated delivery time, but eBay will deploy a new scheme for eligible buyers to guarantee delivery times.
This feature will be driven by new navigational aids for shoppers to filter listings to products that match the desired time frame. Beta tests on this program have shown more buyers will just purchase a product from eBay with a guaranteed delivery time.
eBay hopes that guaranteed delivery times and better estimates on non-guaranteed times will keep sales flowing longer during the holiday season. Bob mentioned history on eBay shows in the middle of December a huge drop off in sales as buyers become less confident in receiving products on time.
Without saying it, it was evident eBay sees Amazon kicking their butt during this critical last minute shopping time. Amazon owned that period, and eBay wants to change that.
Bob also mentioned that eBay expects most sellers to become eligible to offer guaranteed delivery times by the end of 2018. Some criteria need to be met by sellers to participate in the program.
PREVIEW ON THE FUTURE
Bob invited Sunil Rajasekar, VP, Selling Experience on stage to discuss what sellers can expect eBay to roll out soon.
Mostly his talk involved updates to Seller Hub and data presentations. But he also stated there would be a new listing workflow, bulk updates to existing listings (he hinted at import/export), and creating listings from just images.
The last item seems to be the seller application for image search. Sunil suggested that in the future sellers may be able to list on eBay only using an image (i.e., from their camera) and eBay will use the catalog and image information to fill in the data.
He also said that internal analytics show that many sellers are not using the Seller Hub features available to them today. Only about one-third of sellers are actively checking performance statistics of their listings on Seller Hub.
And he discussed that virtual reality experimentation is already happening at eBay. But this type of shopping experience still requires work before it rolls out. He promised there is a lot of innovation in the works.
AFTERNOON SESSION REVOLVES ABOUT COMMUNITY AND PARTNERSHIP
Sarah Brubacher, Senior Director B2C Engagement, started the segment to discuss community and partnership. She acknowledged that over the last 21 years there had been tough times between eBay and sellers.
Sarah spoke of eBay being an inclusive marketplace that partners with you (sellers) to create commerce and community. She then went into her presentation on how eBay and sellers can build an even stronger community and the tools eBay makes available to do so.
- eBay Radio
- Community Platforms (forums)
- eBay for Business (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
- Seller led Facebook groups and local meetups
- eBay Mainstreet (Government Issues)
REBUILDING SERVICE AT EBAY
Wendy Jones, SVP, Global Operations came on stage to moderate a discussion about transforming service at eBay. She flat out stated that service at eBay is not good enough. The rules are too complicated, too inconsistent, and the process is too slow.
Cathal McCarthy, VP Global Customer Experience, North America and Partnerships took over from Wendy to talk about how eBay is providing great customer experiences with their customer support teams.
He asked attendees to give a round of applause to the 50 CSRs that were in attendance from their Salt Lake City and Austin offices. Apparently, no one attended from their India and Philippines locations, the first level CSRs most buyers and sellers often talk to when calling eBay.
MISSION STATEMENT IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Wendy and Cathal then discussed how the company culture is changing when it comes to customer service. eBay has a new internal mission statement:
“Our Unifying Purpose. We exist to help our customers and solve their problems in the quickest, simplest, easiest way possible… and make them feel great about eBay along the way.”
This transformation is still in the beginning stages, dating back about 6 to 7 months. The mission statement is even more recent as it was announced at their San Jose Leadership Conference two months ago.
Wendy said that this statement is now in every customer contact center eBay operates around the world. She reiterated that this statement applies to sellers (eBay’s direct customers) and eBay’s shared customers.
Cathal then went to discuss a recent program they started last year called Concierge. This program is a service that has rolled out to select sellers (presumably higher volume sellers).
Concierge just brings up eBay’s CSR to industry standards. eBay thinks it is better, but key elements are common functions found at most responsible enterprises today.
On the positive side, Cathal discussed how eBay is investing in new tools and technology and will try to be proactive. The systems will have the knowledge of weather delays or other circumstances that may impact a delivery or sale. eBay plans to reach out sooner with more relevant information to buyers and sellers.
Most of the new approach is part of the invite only Concierge program. However, Cathal stated he expects the program to scale within 18 months to be the standard at eBay.
In effect, it sounds like Concierge is a test program of redefining the entire customer service approach. Early results show increases in customer satisfaction among both sellers and buyers.
In 2016 almost 60 million customers touched the self-service help pages on eBay. This number is increasing with more acquisitions of buyers and sellers and more users using self-service pages to answer their questions or solve their problems.
Wendy again admitted that these pages are clunky, inconsistent, and required a total makeover. The company has been re-platforming, rewriting, and changing the self-service experience.
She expects the first version to go live in Australia this fall with future roll outs planned over the next six months.
She also announced that eBay is implementing a service bot to help with customer service. It is going live this week in the UK starting out to deal with complex claims and returns and will add more use cases over time.
Wendy expects the service bot to become available on the U.S. site after the holidays.
HIRING BINGE IN USA FOR CSRs – IMPROVING THE CULTURE
While Cathal stated there are outsourcing partners in customer service (India and Philippines), eBay is committed to having more in-house customer support staff. The company feels that they may have relied too much on outsourcing and has hired over 400 new employees in Austin and Salt Lake City.
He also said the hiring was accelerating and they are working to train these new folks on a culture of accountability and empowerment. Solve the problem, don’t push it to another department or staff member.
Cathal highlighted that staff today is not bound exactly to the CSR rule book, but able to make decisions based on “what is right”. That would truly be a new approach from customer service at eBay!
He also mentioned that the rules used by CSR’s are living documents and if customer service reps make exceptions, they are reviewed and possibly permanently adapted.
HAL LAWTON SUMMARIZES IT ALL UP
Hal Lawton retakes the stage and summarizes the change in culture at eBay. Again, a bit of a Rah Rah session rallying the troops. But trying to show eBay is listening, is modernizing and is adjusting to the market and technologies.
He also brought up some more “community members” from the crowd to share their stories about eBay. They discussed how the community forums provided information and tips to them.
SHINE AWARDS PRESENTATION
The final act of the general session was awarding the SHINE Awards for Small Businesses. Bob Kupbens lead this segment by introducing the finalists.
The eBay SHINE Awards winners were selected from more than 2,400 submissions that came from across the U.S.
The eBay community voted on 15 selected finalists for category winners: three in each of the five categories. Almost 30,000 votes were cast for the category winners by thousands of voters.
Independent from the community voting, the Grand Prize Winner and eBay’s 2017 Small Business of the Year was selected by a panel of expert judges including Brent Bellm, CEO of BigCommerce, Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends, John Henry, host of eBay’s Open for Business podcast, Hal Lawton, SVP, North America, eBay and Laurie Wong, Owner, Reflections of Trinity and eBay’s 2016 Small Business of the Year.
The SHINE Awards Grand Prize Winner and eBay’s 2017 Small Business of the Year is Angie Cardona-Nelson. Her business, eWaste Direct, is an eco-friendly company that diverts electronic waste from landfills. The company recycles and refurbishes used electronics.
Winners from each of the five categories were also recognized on stage:
- Rising Star: Katy Zilverberg, A Boutique for Him.
- Denise Martell, Al’s Snowmobile Parts Warehouse.
- Minority or Woman-Owned Business: Melissa Crook, Sticky Fingers Vinyl.
- Charitable Business: Nancy Meyer, Community Forklift.
- Young Entrepreneur: Ciara Brown, The Diamond Hanger.
THURSDAY EVENING AND FRIDAY MORNING
On Thursday night, eBay hosted a party at the Brooklyn Bowl for all attendees. For most sellers that was the final day of the conference.
Friday morning eBay still had some workshops for late arrivals, but eBay Open officially closed at Noon on Friday.
THE FINAL VERDICT ON EBAY OPEN 2017
eBay provided a glimpse of the future and acknowledged changes are necessary. A lot of emphasis was on how eBay is changing and transforming.
Changing a company in business for 21 years is not easy. eBay is an enterprise sized company. So with all the talk of fast action, it is still big ship that requires a large turning radius.
Of course, sellers will be skeptical. Many times before promises of change never materialized. Obviously, current management promises to change that.
If you are selling on eBay, we would strongly suggest you watch all the videos presented on their eBay Open 2017 site. In this story, we only gave the main highlights and glossed over details. Many of the presentations offer important details that may be important to you.
Connect With Us And Other Small Business Owners
Please head over to our Facebook Group for Small Business Sellers and interact with other small business owners.