eBay staff need to meet the people who pay their salaries

A post from Ina Steiner caught my eye last night. eBay stateside will be scaling back their On Location events and instead piggyback on Meet Up style events. The On Location shindigs were regional events in the US organised by eBay after eBay Live! fell by the wayside.

We never had eBay Live! in the UK (Germany had one once) but they were big, glitzy galas and cost a great deal of money. I attended as a staffer and after and always found them hugely enjoyable and affirming. The value they gave to sellers was with learning and networking. The payback for employees who learnt so much by meeting eBay traders personally was worth every penny.

eBay UK ran the eBay University programme for a while over here. I spoke at all but one, I think. From Exeter to Glasgow, Cardiff to York and Dublin too (we took in Norwich, Sheffield, Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester, London, Brighton and others along the way iirc), they were one-day events focused on talking and learning eBay.

Staff and punters would mingle, sometimes long into the evening, taking too many beers talking feedback and postage and the ins and outs of eBay selling. I made a great many friends at eBay University. Not least Chris and Sue.

It’s easy to get dewy eyed about the past. And nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as Richard Ambrose memorably once said on Radio 4.

But when I was an eBay staff member I really loved getting out and about and meeting sellers. It seems to me that the Royal Family are more accessible in 2013 than eBay decision makers. I’m certain that’s not a good thing.

I wonder about eBay staff these days. I hardly know anyone there now (I left in 2006 after 7 years) but doubtless they are all diligent, hardworking and very well educated types. But do they know their eBay customers?

They probably meet big retailers and high end sellers a fair bit, when they summon them to the plush, quiet HQ at Richmond. But that’s not the same. eBay still flourishes because of small business sellers. One person bands. Cottage industries. People like you probably. Not big news but bread and butter. I bet most of eBay’s current staff don’t know you or appreciate what you do.

The value I took from meeting sellers lay with the garrulous discussions, the hearty arguments and those chats that took place, beverage in hand, really trying to get to the nub of a problem. It was always (nearly always: I nearly got lamped once) good-natured but I often returned to my Herman Miller chair after an eBay University weekend with a list of notes as long as my bar bill to share with more senior colleagues. And I was always well received.

And other colleagues did attend too. Often senior ones. Way-back-when PayPal head honcho Geoff Iddison attended eBay University a lot and was always good fun and was never shy about buying the drinks.

We need more gatherings. For fun. For learning. For networking. But mostly because they’re vital laboratories for ideas. IWOCA do a grand job with their Meet Ups which have proved to be a riotous success. I encourage you to attend the next one near you.

But eBay needs to try harder. It’s time they resurrected eBay University, I’d say. But if they don’t want that, they need to improve their play and attend more seller events more visibly. (I was at one meet-up this year where an eBay employee was quite the wallflower and incognito.)

And if the guys at eBay don’t know how to do that, here’s an idea. Tamebay will organise the get-togethers if eBay pay the bills. Now that’s an affordable idea!