Why can’t eBay be more like Amazon?
This week saw both eBay and Amazon release their Q1 figures, with what’s becoming a sad norm: eBay underperforming, Amazon bucking ecommerce’s downward trend. Mark T. posted the obvious question in our comments: why?
“Let me get what I want”
So to answer Mark, here’s what I think: shopping on eBay is too damn difficult.
eBay is the only site on the internet where you can be told off for changing your mind. If I’m buying from Amazon, I can
- put an item in my shopping basket and take it out again
- get halfway through checkout and decide I don’t want it
- go to pay, and decide I’m not going to
- pay, and then decide I prefer something else, and cancel in the click of a button so long as my item hasn’t been dispatched yet.
I can’t do *any* of that on eBay. eBay should join the 21st century, and get a shopping cart and a buyer-initiated “cancellation before dispatch” process, before all buyers quit in frustration and go somewhere else where it’s easier to shop.
Every time I suggest eBay needs a shopping cart (and yes, I say it a lot ), a seller tells me that it wouldn’t work because buyers would leave things in their carts, and those items would be stuck in limbo. Funnily, Amazon Marketplace has made this work just fine: the item isn’t yours until you’ve paid for it and someone else can still buy it from under your nose. So in fact, you’ve got *more* incentive to buy now, *more* incentive to get on and check out – rather than doing the eBay thing of popping that BIN item on your watch list and forgetting about it. If we made it easier for people to shop, they would shop *more*.
Of course, a shopping cart would require one other change to the eBay system: the much-needed addition of instant payment required for multiple items. It’s utterly ridiculous that this hasn’t be implemented, meaning that those of us who commonly sell multiples have to sit on unpaid eBay orders for sometimes weeks at a time. If eBay needs an incentive to make these essential changes, think about the extra PayPal-funded sales that multi-item IPR would bring in.
“But you will change your mind”
The easier shopping = more shopping rule also applies to order cancellation. Buyers – whether we like it or not – have a legal right to change their minds. The current system of UIDs undermines that right. It’s too complicated, it’s too easy for either party to get wrong, it relies on clear and accurate communication when tempers may be getting frayed. And it should be gotten rid of. Lets replace it with:
- a buyer-initiated “cancellation before dispatch” process: until the seller has marked the item dispatched, the buyer can cancel their purchase. The PayPal payment will be refunded, the eBay fees (all of them, including featured) will be refunded, and the item will be automatically put back “into stock” – either added back into a live multi-item listing, or if on a single listing, made available for relisting to the seller.
- a seller-initiated “cancellation before payment” process: if the buyer hasn’t paid after a stated amount of time (3, 5, 7 days…? could be seller-selectable) the seller can just cancel the sale and get their fees back. Without arguments, without negative feedbacks, without “disputes”.
And for both of these, I would envisage saying that as no transaction has taken place, no feedback can be left by either party.
eBay will doubtless worry that some sellers would abuse such a system to avoid fees. IMHO eBay are so obsessed with the idea of fee-avoidance that they’re ruining the site because of it. They can see which sellers are potentially abusing the system easily enough, and they can take action against them. And the rest of us can quit feeling like we’re in some Kafkaesque nursery school where childish bureaucracy rules, and get on with buying and selling.
“You’ve got everything, now.”
In last week’s earnings call, John Donahoe said that eBay is outperforming ecommerce in general in every selling format it has, apart from auctions. Fixed price revenue is up 12%. Classifieds revenue is up a massive 23%. Auctions, on the other hand, are down 20%.
So what is eBay doing? Encouraging sellers to list auctions. On .com, auctions’ insertion fees are 15c; BINs’ are 35c. On eBay UK, private sellers’ auctions starting at 99p or less have no insertion fees; BINs are 40p each if you don’t have a shop. On eBay.fr, auctions are 15c and the headline price for BINs is 50c. eBay Germany’s vastly complicated fee structure largely favours auctions. Sellers across all eBay sites are being pushed to list auctions. But (except perhaps in a very few specialist areas) the novelty of online auctions has worn off: buyers don’t want to sit around for a week to see if they’ve “won” – they just want to get on with their shopping: eBay’s own figures show that.
“What eBay does best” is a phrase that’s used often to back up arguments, and I’m going to use it again here. Meg Whitman said that auctions were what eBay does best. John Donahoe seems to think that “secondary market” retailer clearance is what eBay does best. I disagree. What eBay does best and always has done is to provide a marketplace, for everyone, for everything. Amazon, Ebid, Bonanzle, dozens of start-up wannabees: nothing comes even close to eBay’s breadth of inventory, nothing comes close to the huge variety of sellers from the mother selling her kids unwanted toys to the biggest high-street names, nothing, in fact, comes close to eBay.
eBay should stop being an auction site, and reposition itself as a shopping site. Sellers should be encouraged (financially) to list in the formats that work: the fixed price ones. eBay should teach buyers to think of eBay as the site where you can buy everything, right now (not a site where you can “win” that thing you want next week, if you haven’t bought it on Amazon in the meantime).
“I’ve already waited too long”
Given the figures that JD announced last week, I don’t think it would take much to turn eBay around. Not much except, perhaps, some rather radical thinking: to get out of the auction mindset into the shopping mindset. eBay seems to be moving in the right direction – easier returns and multi-variant listings being two such recent moves – but they’re doing it too slowly. We’re due another announcement of site changes in September; rather than the fiddling for the sake of something to do while Rome burns we had this month, let’s next time see some really radical change that will make eBay a great place to shop again.