What Happened to eBay?

It was musical theatre camp in the early aughts, and my summer camp was putting on an abridged performance of My Fair Lady. Looking back, I definitely had a crush on the slightly older girl who played the lead, but at the time I attributed her allure to her bohemian fashion sense — so unlike my middle school classmates! — and her killer voice. Let’s call her Nellie, because that was her name. I must’ve gone home and regaled my mom with stories of Nellie’s outfits, because my next memory is my mom and I sitting cross-legged on the guest room bed, scrolling through listings of fringed vests and flared denim. It was my first time on eBay, and I was hungry for love, bargains, and screen time. Until now, secondhand shopping was done in-person at Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and my only online auction experience happened on Neopets. eBay enchanted me, and I trawled it for hours on end. I never bought anything; I didn’t have a credit card or parental permission to spend hundreds of dollars on pilling Abercrombie polos, but browsing was all I needed.

That’s all changed. I haven’t peeked at eBay in years, and apparently I’m not the only one who’s forgotten it exists. At Racked, Chavie Lieber reports that eBay is struggling to keep up with its resale market competition, primarily Amazon Marketplace and sites like Poshmark, ThredUp, and the Real Real. What happened to make eBay this way? Was it the strangely ugly user interface? The lack of a luxury authentication process? And what does the future of eBay, if there is one, look like?

One of those things that so many brands want is scale: eBay is enormous. It has 171 million users, with 1.1 billion listed items at any given time. But it’s also no longer the only game in town…It’s dedicated to remaining an online marketplace — nothing more than a platform on which buyers and sellers can interact — a position that’s hard to justify as it’s become less enticing to both kinds of users. It hasn’t invested in warehouses or inventory; it hasn’t introduced competitive shipping programs. It now needs to both differentiate and elevate itself, and then it must communicate all of that to the customer…

eBay also thinks it’s positioned to acquire Millennial and Gen Z customers who have largely ignored the site. “Younger customers don’t have misperceptions of eBay — they don’t have any perceptions,” says [Suzy Deering, eBay’s chief marketing officer]. “We’re not even in their awareness at all.”

The company’s research has found that a younger audience wants unique products and “is searching for items that push against conformity.” In this way, Deering believes eBay can be something of a foil to Amazon: “People felt like they were becoming anti-human because Amazon is so habitual, but that isn’t us. If you love Converse, you come to our site because there’s every color, every graffiti-ed version, vintage. You’re not going to get that if you go onto Amazon or into a department store.”

 

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