eBay Open – Day 1 – Lacked Excitement, but Still Offered Valuable Info for New Sellers

Today, eBay opened its eBay Open Seller Conference with a keynote highlighting some of the company’s recent changes supporting small business sellers and providing a glimpse into the future.

The keynote live portions of the address were hosted by Rebecca Michals, Director, Community & Engagement, eBay, and Lamont Jones, Manager, Consumer Engagement, eBay.

All other segments were clearly pre-recorded, except for the final session ending the keynote.

Jamie Iannone, President and Chief Executive Officer, eBay

First up was the boss, Jamie Iannone, President and Chief Executive Officer, eBay. He welcomed all virtual attendees to this year’s event and highlighted several achievements, as well as providing a soft sales pitch on why eBay is the marketplace to be on.

It’s important to note that eBay says over 60% of attendees to its virtual seller conference are new sellers, so much of the programming is tailored to reach that audience.

Iannone emphasized how essential sellers are to eBay, as the company is reinventing ecommerce for enthusiast buyers. He stressed that enthusiast buyers spend nine times more on eBay than other buyers, and shop on average in 9 categories.

While they may come to eBay through a focus category such as sneakers or car parts, he suggested they tend to spread beyond those categories. However, what he didn’t specify is how eBay is defining categories.

For example, if a buyer buys a muffler and then buys a steering wheel cover, is that one or two categories?

I assume that this buyer is actually staying in the top-level focus category (P&A), but buying from sub-categories, meaning buyers may not be expanding into different primary categories on eBay.

Still, assuming the 9 times spend is valid, these buyers are spending more on the marketplace, so it’s benefiting other sellers that may specialize in different segments of the focus category.

Iannone teased the company’s small business report, which he said would be released tomorrow but is actually already available here. We will have more on this report tomorrow.

Furthermore, Iannone went over a few areas of importance to sellers. He said the company is building relevant experiences, including a new home page design that will be launched very soon. This is the first major redesign of the home page in five years and will modernize the look and feel of the marketplace.

In addition, eBay is making adjustments to its email marketing campaigns that will target buyers better, and the company continues to reduce unpaid items. Currently, eBay is testing unpaid items on select auctions that require buyers to provide payment and shipping details before making a bid.

He highlighted that eBay reaches buyers in more than 190 countries and 40 currencies and that Buy-It-Now limits have been raised in some markets.

Iannone also briefly discussed recent acquisitions such as 3PM Shield and Certilogo on how they will help bring more trust to the buying experience, which will enable sellers to raise sales.

The word “Magical” became a theme during this keynote. It first appeared in earnings calls discussing artificial intelligence, but apparently is now being used in about every new tool or update the company is developing.

He hinted there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to bring more AI-powered selling and buying experiences to the marketplace. While the AI-powered description tool was released earlier this year, they are still working on tweaking it.

More importantly, an image-based AI-based listing tool is in the works that might be a bigger game changer for sellers. He used a corny example of finding an old remote in a drawer that identified the product and helped him sell it on eBay for a good price point.

The tool is not available yet to the public, but it sounds like they might be close to releasing it sooner than later. Having a listing experience that can identify a product and then provide most, if not all, the required title, item description, and fill relevant item specifics could really help in launching products on the marketplace.

Of course, Iannone also discussed promoted listings, which is a way for the company to squeeze out more revenue from each sale.

But as more sellers use one of the promoted listing products, it will mean holdouts will have to pick one to improve their success on the platform.

Two other areas Iannone touched on were eBay Charity, which celebrated its 20th year this year, raising more than $1.25 billion since 2003, and its government advocacies group, which has been fighting various regulatory issues, including the 1099-K threshold debacle.

Overall, there wasn’t any super newsworthy item out of this keynote that regular eBay sellers may not already know about. But for new sellers, it was a good overview of what eBay has been doing, where it’s heading, and why sellers should trust the platform to help them build their business.

Jordan Sweetnam, SVP, Global Markets, eBay

Next up was Jordan Sweetnam, SVP, Global Markets, eBay, providing another overview of the company’s progress, proclaiming “Our strategy is working.”

He revealed that more than 7 million items have been authenticated globally using eBay’s Authenticity programs and that buyers who may have been a bit skeptical at first, now “love it.”

Sweetnam said that Vehicle Parts & Accessories (P&A) has gone big with marketing on TV, YouTube, and social media. I think of all the company’s marketing campaigns, it has been the most visible.

Collectibles continue to expand, he even discussed ‘The Vault’ briefly. Launched with a lot of fanfare last year, it seems to have fallen a bit on the back burner. But Sweetnam claims that some changes, such as allowing collectors to store their products in the vault before being listed, have brought more items into the program.

Furthermore, he continued that the company has been working to build trust on both sides of the transaction. Sweetnam also discussed that the flywheel effect, a fancy word for improving repeat sales, is growing the platform.

The top-level number of active sellers the company reports every quarter is not really confirming this yet, but last quarter, eBay seemed to have steadied the losses. So, it could be turning around slowly.

One interesting stat Sweetnam revealed is that only about 25% of listings on eBay are in focus categories. I have seen a lot of concern from sellers that are not in focus categories that the company seems to be neglecting many categories.

He seemed to address this sentiment by acknowledging that 3/4 of all listings are not in focus categories, and suggesting that some innovations in the focus categories are carried over into these non-categories as well.

Eddie Garcia, SVP, Chief Product Officer, eBay

As the chief product officer at eBay, Eddie Garcia highlighted how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping the future of ecommerce, especially for a technology-led company like eBay.

He reiterated how his team is working to bring more “magical experiences” to the platform that will help small businesses succeed. While the AI buzzword is on fire right now, Garcia pointed out that eBay has been using AI for many years in various areas to help celebrate, not replace, the human experience.

Garcia said the company is working on several AI-powered image tools that can help present a product better through the use of virtual models (fashion) or improving picture quality (more detail).

AI is also playing a role in improving promoted listings that will enable sellers to smart target buyers when they are ready to sell.

Xiaodi Zhang, VP, Seller Experience, eBay

Xiaodi Zhang, VP, Seller Experience, eBay was up next. She said that eBay is continuing to improve the marketplace because of the valuable feedback the company receives.

Zhang said there are ongoing improvements on the platform, some minimal, but others that have a more meaningful effect on sellers.

One pain point I see frequently mentioned by sellers is manually adding item specifics to listings, and she mentioned that they are continuously streamlining this process for sellers.

eBay is even customizing the listing process for select focus categories, which will speed up listing items on the marketplace. Furthermore, she emphasized that directly linking your social media account may boost traffic and sales and expects AI to play a role here as well.

Another area Zhang discussed was the new background removal tool, which has undergone a major update from the previous version and should be available to most sellers this quarter.

She also highlighted how eBay is addressing the “cold start problem” with generative AI to help sellers create listings from basic details. Zhang claimed satisfaction with this tool is currently at 80%, but they want to see that go higher. Presently, this tool is only available in the U.S.

Probably the coolest part of the day was the video during her presentation about the new AI-powered image listing tool. It does look great, but of course, it’s highly edited and may work better in some categories versus others. Zhang said to expect the image listing experience to be released by the end of the year.

Adam Ireland, VP, U.S. General Manager, eBay

Adam Ireland, VP, U.S. General Manager, eBay followed Zhang with his presentation. He focused on international sales a bit, pointing out that the famous first item sold on eBay, the laser pointer, was an international sale.

He jumped into a story about his childhood in England getting toys from the U.S., which highlighted the point that buyers across the globe seek products from the U.S., often hard to find in their country.

This experience can bring joy and satisfaction to buyers, and eBay’s new international shipping program is designed to simplify cross-border sales through technology and government advocacy.

He introduced eBay UK’s General Manager, Eve Williams, who emphasized that nearly every household in the UK has an eBay buyer, suggesting there is a great opportunity for sellers in the United States.

Furthermore, she pointed out that UK buyers have been seeking second-hand (pre-loved) items for cost and ecological reasons and that nearly 40% of buyers plan to buy pre-loved items on Black Friday. I am not certain how buying from America makes it more ‘green’ or less pricey.

Still, one noteworthy point she made is that passionate collectors look for buying opportunities globally, something that frequently may be overlooked by U.S. sellers.

When Ireland came back to his presentation, he added that 20% of eBay GMV today is cross-border trade. He did address that some sellers may have reasons not to sell internationally, mostly due to legal, branding, or licensing restrictions, and that eBay International Shipping has tools to restrict availability.

But more importantly, to those sellers who are still skeptical about international selling, he added that eBay removes all the risk. It’s a list it, sell it, ship it to a domestic hub program! Once an item is shipped to a buyer, “a sale is a sale.” In other words, there are no returns, and eBay will take the risk of any returns.

Ireland said that U.S. sellers sent 3.9 million international shipments to date since the launch of eBay International Shipping last year, but didn’t provide any comparable data of how that compared to the company’s previous shipping solution.

Another statistic he offered up a bit out of context, but I thought was interesting, Ireland said that 81 million active buyers are located in countries where international shipping is available.

Given, that the company reported 131 million active buyers globally in the second quarter of 2023, that means there are just about 50 million active U.S. buyers in total.

There has been a shift of a widening gap in revenue and General Merchandise Volume (GMV) favoring international markets, which may explain some discontent from U.S. buyers about the marketplace domestically.

Okay, I am getting off-topic here, so let’s get back to eBay Open.

Stuart Reichenbach, Sr Director, Shipping, eBay

To pile on the international shipping push, Stuart Reichenback, Sr. Director, Shipping, eBay followed Adam Ireland, along with two active eBay sellers.

Frankly, this was a pretty weak presentation as this segment only reiterated previously made points about EIS, and both sellers generally agreed with what had been presented.

Not that I was expecting any real pushback, but the questions asked really didn’t provide much opportunity to delve into some details and were very generic.

In one ‘leading’ question from Reichenbach, the two sellers suggested EIS removed regulatory issues for them.

However, while that might be true for their businesses, there are regulatory challenges when sending products to some countries in the EU that have enacted ‘green’ packaging requirements. Those regulatory requirements cannot be solved by eBay and must be addressed by the seller.

Considering the general greater willingness of European governments to solve environmental and waste issues, more EU countries may pass additional regulations that will impact U.S. sellers.

One area both sellers mentioned that they would like to see change with EIS is the ability to handle combined shipments. Currently, that is a flaw in the system, as cross-border trade is managed on a per-item basis only. Reichenback said to expect a resolution to this problem by the end of the year.

I am not blaming the sellers, as I believe when using sellers in presentations such as this one, they should be able to bring additional insight to the topic. Instead, they received questions that didn’t give them much to work with, but to agree in principle.

Before the segment with Adam Ireland’s presentation, he and Xiaodi Zhang had a similar segment with two sellers discussing their business on eBay. It felt more genuine, and to me, offered more interesting insights because the questions were not so narrowly focused.

Keynote Conclusion

Rebecca Michals and Adam Ireland closed out the keynote presentations in a live segment. Michals announced that the company has launched eBay for Sellers on Instagram and is inviting sellers to engage with eBay there.

After the short concluding segment, eBay Open continued with virtual sessions on specific topics. Some segments ran simultaneously, but all will be available online by next week. All sessions were more like a PowerPoint presentation with the speaker transposed over the ‘screen.’

I clicked into a few sessions and noticed numerous messages complimenting the presentations from attendees.

eBay Open Day 1 – My View

I like virtual settings as they offer the opportunity for more people to participate. However, many virtual settings are more dynamic than eBay Open, often including direct engagement with attendees or a small audience.

In many ways, the keynotes were a really fancy PowerPoint presentation on a studio stage, while the individual sessions were basically a PowerPoint. A bit dry if you ask me.

The few live interludes by Rebecca Michals and Lamont Jones were short and didn’t make up for what was missing. Neither was the very short final live segment with Michals and Ireland.

Overall, it’s the same format as last year. But now a couple of years removed from the pandemic’s heights, maybe it’s time to bring a live element back in some form to the keynotes, even if it’s just a small studio audience that lobs pre-picked questions at presenters.

Something that brings a bit more excitement, especially when eBay is trying to engage with new sellers, as they constitute the majority of attendees of eBay Open. Okay, not looking for Amway’s too-good-to-be-true excitement here, but if you have seen the previous live versions of eBay Open, you know what I mean.

As far as announcements, there wasn’t a big one here. Last year the new international program fit that bill, but it was already known a bit that eBay was revamping its program.

Still, when taking off the hat of someone who has followed eBay for 20+ years, there is enough here to be interesting for new sellers and even some segments of interest to veteran sellers. The price is right – FREE – and you do get way more than you pay for, that includes your time.

I will continue to check in over the next two days of eBay Open, especially during the remaining keynotes.

If you missed today, eBay will have the presentations on its YouTube channel by next week. I will update this post with the link once it’s live. And, you can still register and participate tomorrow and Friday, so check what’s in store here.

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