‘They should embrace the fact that they’re not Amazon’: Inside eBay’s pitch to brands

Battling competition from Amazon, Shopify, and retailer e-commerce, eBay is making a core part of its pitch larger, non-DTC brands. Part of this is a new way of marketing itself, as an e-commerce “concierge” that can help large brands like KitchenAid or Acer build their online stores on its platform.

And it’s doing that by pushing personalized service, help with directing customer traffic to branded stores, and assistance with marketing and advertising.

The crowded market is adding pressure on eBay to hold its own, especially as fewer Amazon sellers concurrently list products on it, a recent Feedvisor study reported. Large consumer brands are a major opportunity for eBay, and they’re reaching out to it in bigger numbers, according to the company.

“They’re coming to eBay because the retail landscape is changing,” CEO Devin Wenig said in an earnings call earlier this year. “They get sales from multiple channels that may not be around in a few years and they’re looking at their alternatives, and eBay is one of the very few at-scale marketplaces in the world, and we don’t compete with our sellers.”

eBay’s pitch to brands is being able to let them own the relationship with their customers — a “friendly face” instead of a foe that may develop copycat products.

The company is building out its platform to become as user friendly a place as possible for brands that want to develop customized storefronts and generate traffic to those sites through tagging in search results, said Bob Kupbens, vp of seller and marketplace operations at eBay.

eBay has 175 million active buyers, according to the company. Brands are reaching different audiences through it than traditional channels, Kupbens said. eBay currently has “hundreds” of brands currently selling direct through the platform, including Acer, Microsoft, KitchenAid, Dyson and Quiksilver. Some of these companies also sell on Amazon, but eBay has the benefit of being a pure marketplace, an enabler that lets brands acquire and retain customers.

Instead of presenting itself as a massive marketplace that brands plug into, eBay is selling itself as a tool for brands to build their own marketplaces through personalized daily interactions. eBay also emphasizes its ability to amplify brands’ outreach to customers through online campaigns and events.

“We work with the brand to get their inventory shown and available in the marketplace, and those relationships get consummated between the buyers and the brand directly; we also don’t have private label products,” Kupbens said. eBay is emphasizing transparency and marketing assistance through and 1p ad placements; promoted listings and analytics through the seller hub, which provides sales and performance information; and aggregated customer data.

Through its emphasis on service and efforts to develop direct relationships with customers, eBay seeks to address some of the pain points some Amazon sellers have expressed about the platform, including the desire for more control over data, unresponsiveness, and frustrations over the growth of counterfeit sellers. It’s also marketing the launch of its in-house payments platform this week as a pro-seller move, because the company said it will result in lower costs for sellers.

Still, with 100 million Prime Members, Amazon is a force brands can’t ignore.

Despite interest among brands to sell directly on the platform, Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali said eBay has lost ground to competitors.

“Amazon is more of a first stop for shoppers and delivers more sales for brands than eBay,” she said. “eBay unfortunately has lost mindshare with shoppers and marketing is the only thing that will quickly regain that.”

To grow market share, she said eBay needs to invest more heavily in paid search and SEO for its own brand, citing an example where Wayfair and Williams Sonoma appeared higher up in search results for Kitchenaid.

eBay, however, has one lagging challenge from its brand story history — evolving from its previous role as an auction house or a liquidation center for a range of items.

“When eBay first opened its doors, it was an auction house for people who wanted to sell the stuff they no longer wanted,” said Feedvisor CEO Victor Rosenman. “Over the years, eBay evolved to be a marketplace similar to Amazon, with a range of new products and fixed price points. However, Amazon was already winning over consumers across the country by providing consistent shopping innovations, like Amazon Prime.”

The “liquidation store” model is still somewhat true today. Kupbens said eBay is a place some companies sell refurbished items (Dyson, for example), liquidation and factory outlet shopping (Guess Factory Outlet Store has a presence on eBay). Brands also don’t necessarily have to do all the heavy lifting selling the items, since authorized resellers have access to similar analytics tools and help that brands can use. Kupbens emphasized that eBay is moving beyond the liquidation model to a bigger marketplace where a range of merchandise is featured; he said some brands start with liquidation, and expand when they see results.

To succeed, eBay needs to play up what makes it different from Amazon, including one-on-one service and a more direct relationship with sellers.

“They should embrace the fact that they’re not Amazon — the amount of control of the brand is higher and they control pricing, and it’s more integrated; they should market eBay as if it were a one-shop shop,” said Mudit Jaju, global head of e-commerce at Wavemaker.

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