eBay CEO Jamie Iannone and CFO Steve Priest called in to the Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference for a fireside chat with Eric Sheridan today.
Right off the bat - if you've been tuning in to any earnings calls, seller check-ins or other eBay events in 2020-2021 there's a good chance you've already heard most of this before. As someone who follows eBay very closely, I'll just say, Iannone's comments about speed and scalability aside, 99.99% of this call felt like Déjà vu all over again.
Coded coupons - announced in March, rolled out in April.
Computer vision technology - introduced in April with the scan to list feature for trading cards.
So from a customer experience perspective, if you think about it from the buy side, we've made it a whole lot easier to transact on a platform, because I don't need to go create a separate account and fund a separate account to buy on eBay. It's now integrated as one single experience.
This isn't the first time I've heard Iannone use this statement and must say I'm honestly baffled - for many, many years buyers have been able to checkout on the site in a single integrated experience, no separate account needed.
Yes, if you preferred to use PayPal as a buyer, that would technically be a separate account (some people actually preferred it specifically for that reason), but fact of business is buyers could just as easily checkout on site with a credit card of choice, no Paypal or any other separate account needed, long before Managed Payments was just a glimmer in now disgraced ex-CEO Devin Wenig's eye.
The fact that Iannone keeps trotting this one out leads me to believe he either never purchased anything on eBay during the many years this has been the reality or this statement is a bit disingenuous at best.
Ads - Iannone first talked about Promoted Listings Advanced CPC and Promoted Listings Express for auctions on the Q1 earnings call in April. The CPC option was officially announced for early beta stage at eBay's Connect 2021 dev conference in June and has finally been released to the masses this week. Promoted Listings Express for Auctions appears to be in early release stage now as well.
High Value Buyers - Iannone has said focusing on high value buyers has been his strategy since last year, but he's been leaning on it more publicly in recent months.
I said it after the Q2 2021 earnings call and I'll say it again - I find it very odd that Jamie has not mentioned eBay's Top Star buyer loyalty program on any of these calls.
Top Star is an invite only program that rewards "eBay's most loyal buyers in sneakers and watches" with special events and exclusive access to purchase in demand items at retail prices. It's specifically designed to target and reward exactly the "high value buyers" Jamie is talking about - why would he not mention it?
Vertical approach - We've been hearing this since Iannone took the helm almost 18 months ago yet eBay has barely broken out of the very limited verticals they originally focused on - sneakers, watches, trading cards, handbags, certified refurbished....does this sound familiar yet?
eBay has been hinting at Parts & Accessories being the next big vertical to tackle since at least March, but they're just now starting to take small steps in that direction.
The most heavily pushed of all of the verticals has been sneakers, but Iannone had to admit they've seen a slow down there despite the massive amounts of effort (and resources) they're throwing at it.
If you think about sneakers, we were doing double digit comps last quarter on the backs of triple digit comps. So really, I think changing the growth opportunity for the business.
Interestingly, Iannone mentioned this slow down on the Q2 2021 earnings call on August 11th, but over a week later Garry Thaniel, eBay General Manager of Sneakers, did an interview with Yahoo Finance wherein he said "We are seeing triple-digit growth for the last few quarters here at eBay Sneakers" and an official eBay Twitter page ran with it.
When I questioned the triple digit statement with a screenshot eBay Newsroom themselves had shared previously from the earnings call, their initial reaction was to block my post - a bit ironic given some of Thaniel's statements about credibility, trust, and transparency later on in the interview. They unblocked it only after I called attention to it.
Iannone likes to focus on the authentication programs, painting them as a rosy picture of unbridled success, but there have been many issues reported with these initiatives that eBay doesn't seem to be too keen to acknowledge, let alone address.
On top of that, despite the promise that authentication provides protections for both buyers and sellers, I've seen many reports from sellers showing eBay doesn't always have their backs - even in these categories that are so critical to eBay's "vertical focus" success.
The most troubling instance of this I've seen cost a seller tens of thousands of dollars in penalty fees that should never have been assessed if eBay was really committed both to the promises of their authentication programs and their stated vision to be the "partner of choice for sellers."
Speaking of seller relations - Iannone said:
And look, I've known sellers from my eight years in the company before, sellers generally hate change on eBay. And there's always bumpiness as we introduce new features.
If Jamie really thinks this, it just shows he's really not listening to sellers despite all the lip service to the contrary.
No, sellers don't just "generally hate change" - they hate change that is harmful and disruptive to their businesses (category and item specifics changes in all important Q4; poorly coded untested site updates that cause technical glitches and errors with real measurable business impacting losses; changes to policies that make it easier for buyers to perpetrate fraud against sellers; a labyrinthine customer service experience that makes it near impossible to get the support they need....I could go on, but hopefully you get the point).
These complaints aren't just noise or the change averse grumblings of a small group of discontents - these are the voices of real sellers who have felt very real negative impacts on their businesses from some of eBay's changes.
I wrote an open letter to Iannone last month about integrity, transparency and seller trust. There has been no public or private response, which in and of itself speaks volumes.
Ultimately, I couldn't find one thing in this call that was new, innovative or particularly noteworthy.
As Q3 2021 draws to a close, it's unclear exactly where Iannone is taking his tech led reimagination from here. eBay appears to simply be using phased roll outs and beta version releases to draw out the timeline on the same ideas they've been working on all year, but there's a limit to how long eBay can string things along and it is approaching fast.
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