The annual general meeting of eBay was in a distinctly different mood from the past euphoric events full of happy small traders celebrating their enjoyment of eBay lifestyles. The traditional small traders were there to continue their protest – see previous CTO Blog post – about being disfranchised from the very business that they had created. It’s the other side of the story that I want to comment upon, the question of whether or not the eBay model can survive at all with out serious change in the face of an increasingly different online business world.
This blog is about the up shifting in expectations for online channels, changes in ratings engines and most of all about the experience that You the user get.

The facts and figures of eBay would be serious in any business, and enough iconic businesses have vanished in the past ten years to make the point that even icons need to change. Some figures; eBay has a strong profit engine in Paypal, but the core business has had almost no growth in active members, listings are up by only 4% from the previous quarter, with analysts predicting around 9% for the year. Now some facts; the comparison with Amazon who is growing at 32%, by continually changing and expanding its business model online, is one way of looking at the challenge eBay is facing in the market as more players come into its space.
The real issue is expectations are changing and the novelty value of treating the local flea market or car boot sale as an on line experience is simply not enough; instead the expectation is focussing around safe, (i.e. no risk of fraud), trading with good reliable customer service. Take a look at the search engines for finding a branded product at the best price and see how many have improved the way you can order the listing by the vendor’s service rating. When I wanted a particular washing machine recently the deciding factor in the end was the vendor with the best service rating, and I choose to pay £5 extra than the cheapest price to get that best rated service provider. Sure enough it turned out to be well worth while as the machine was a special compact model and turned into one of those terrible games of the vendor chasing the manufacturer to see when a batch would become available, but best of all keeping me continually updated with what was happening.
As my interface to the vender was through a browser throughout the two months of our relationship then believe me the importance of a good clear interactive interface became all to clear. At this point the second point hits home, Google has made a virtue out of the simplest cleanest interface, Amazon is different, but still clear, and eBay? Well what you see is what you get might be the slogan, but that’s not good enough, if the packaging was for the store shelf then it would be done just right for the audience attention, and so it should be for the experience that you and I want.
So next time you go to buy online try to follow what makes you choose the sites and finally decide where to buy; I think we are way past the eBay stage of amateurs selling and up into the professionals competing against each other – the YOU experience has become a crucial decider of where we buy. Now try the second test is the chosen environment a catalogue or is it interactive? Does it respond to your inputs with suggestions? That’s called customer service in conventional shops, and for online business it means really thinking through the design of the web based architecture and capabilities to support this. That’s pretty specialised stuff to do, but even the web 1.0 icons are going to have to face up to the change.
Good luck eBay, I still have a soft spot for you.