- eBay has launched a number of services and partnerships to help small business owners build their e-commerce presence.
- "We don’t compete with our sellers, and we don’t have our own inventory. We’re a pure marketplace," Steve Wymer, eBay’s chief communications officer and head of global impact, told Business Insider in a recent interview.
- Amazon, on the other hand, has frequently been criticized for serving as both a marketplace and a direct seller of goods.
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It’s nearly impossible to run a successful retail business these days without some kind of online presence. And when it comes to selling wares online, small businesses have options.
Steve Wymer, eBay’s chief communications officer and its head of global impact, highlighted the tools the e-commerce platform offers to independent sellers looking to move inventory online in a recent interview with Business Insider.
eBay provides guidance on things like inventory management, pricing, and discounting strategy to its tens of millions of sellers, many of whom have never sold things online before.
"What motivates a consumer to pull the trigger to buy something is a sophisticated science," Wymer said. "This is not something you guess at."
The company has made a series of partnerships with small business owners through its Retail Revival program, which has centered on specific cities including Lansing, Michigan; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Akron, Ohio. Small business owners selected for the program receive support from eBay to grow their customer base via the e-commerce marketplace, beyond whatever brick-and-mortar presence they might have.
eBay most recently announced it had selected Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as its next Retail Revival city.
"They can get, sort of, an e-commerce store in a box through eBay, where they can move those items and they don’t have to pay for a content engine to drive traffic back to a site that they have to maintain," Wymer said.
He cited one example of a vintage store owner in Baton Rouge who told eBay: "I have a great website, I just don’t sell anything on it."
Wymer also pointed out a major difference that sets eBay apart from at least one of its big rivals in the e-commerce space.
"We don’t compete with our sellers, and we don’t have our own inventory. We’re a pure marketplace," Wymer said. "We succeed when our sellers succeed. Our whole goal is to help our sellers find the right buyers."
Courtesy of Ebay
eBay has made this kind of comment before. It wrote in its first-quarter earnings release in April: "The company made measurable progress against protecting its unique advantage as a true marketplace in service of — not in competition with — sellers of all sizes, improving how people buy and sell on the platform."
While eBay does not mention any company by name, e-commerce observers might note that this could be seen as a subtle dig at Amazon, which has faced criticism for being both an operator of a third-party marketplace and a seller of its own goods.
Amazon’s push into private label
Amazon has launched hundreds of private labels and exclusive brands in the last several years. Many of them, critics have pointed out, compete directly with third-party sellers on Amazon’s own website.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren in March unveiled a plan to break up tech companies she says have gotten too big. In a blog post published to Medium, she specifically calls out Amazon:
"Many big tech companies own a marketplace — where buyers and sellers transact — while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version."
Warren reiterated those criticisms in a town hall speech in April, to which Amazon responded in a statement to Business Insider:
"Amazon does not use individual sellers’ data to determine which private label products to launch. Private label products are a common retail practice, and Amazon’s private label products are only about 1% of our total sales. This is far less than other retailers, many of whom have private label products that represent 25% or more of their sales. And independent sellers continue to see record sales on Amazon, growing to more than half of all sales on Amazon today."
Studies by third parties have borne this point out. A recent piece of analysis by Marketplace Pulse has suggested that Amazon’s private labels have yet to take off with consumers.
In a survey of third-party Amazon sellers by Feedvisor, 68% said they had not been negatively affected by Amazon’s private-label brands. Only 14% said they had been negatively affected, while 18% were unsure.
Amazon has also not shied away from throwing punches at eBay. In his annual letter to shareholders in April, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos compared the growth in merchandise sales of third-party sellers on eBay and on Amazon in the years from 1999 to 2018, concluding that independent sellers did "so much better selling on Amazon than they did on eBay."
"To put it bluntly: Third-party sellers are kicking our first party butt. Badly," Bezos wrote.
eBay said it has partnered with 300 small businesses through its Retail Revival program so far. The platform as a whole has 180 million active global buyers and 1.2 billion active listings.
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