eBay CEO Jamie Iannone and CFO Steve Priest once again joined Eric Sheridan for a fireside chat at Goldman Sachs Annual Communacopia Conference.
As usual, I'll pull some quotes from the transcript and add in commentary from an experienced seller perspective - acknowledging of course that all opinions are mine alone and none of this is financial advice.
Jamie confirmed eBay is making changes to Promoted Listings specifically to show more ads of same/similar items on listing pages.
So I'll give you an example is recently we launched a visually similar Promoted Listings part of the experience, where if I'm in let's say apparel and I'm looking at black cocktail dresses with red roses on them, I'll see visually similar other dresses like that. It's a Promoted Listings product but it's also providing benefit back to our buyers on the platform...
..So the idea with advertising is really just this continual march to make it better every single day. And as Steve talked about, that's why we said, for the foreseeable future. We expect our advertising revenue to outpace volume because of the innovation that we're doing from the product and technology standpoint.
If he thinks the current experience is providing benefit to buyers, I'd suggest looking at any listing page with the ad blocker turned off and then hiring a competent UX expert, stat!
I did a full rundown on the many ways eBay's over-zealous pursuit of ad revenue is ruining buyer experience with irrelevant search results and ads stuffed onto every spare pixel here:
In one example, I found 116 ads for competing products just on one listing page - that's massive overkill and much more likely to cause confusion or decision paralysis from being presented with too many options than to really help buyers find the perfect item to fit their needs.
If this is what Jamie calls "making it better every day", I'd hate to see his definition of worse!
And while he says he's pleased with the pace of innovation, I can't help but note we're still talking about the same ad products that have now been in existence for 18 months, which is not "nascent" no matter how many times Jamie and Steve repeat that magic word.
Meanwhile, the new ad products promised for this year have still yet to be seen, including Offsite Ads beta that briefly made an appearance in Seller Hub in July before being almost immediately pulled from testing.
Authentication & Focus Verticals
Jamie mentioned the new authentication partnership for fine jewelry, but forgot to mention how they've increased fees on all jewelry categories to pay for it - meaning sellers of non-fine jewelry will effectively be subsidizing these efforts.
However, several parts and accessories sellers I've spoken to are skeptical that myFitment will be able to address some of the biggest challenges eBay faces with fitment and compatibility.
Jamie once again made it very clear he's not focused on active buyer numbers, shrugging off the massive drop eBay has seen in the last few quarters.
Yes, I would say, if you go back to 2019, the company was really focused just on acquiring active buyers, doing things like couponing and offering percentages off, et cetera, to bring more active buyers on the platform...
...For example, the lapping of COVID effects that we have, also what's going on in the macro impact, but the strategy of going after and acquiring enthusiast buyers is absolutely the right one. And so, I think, a better indicator for investors than looking at active buyers, which we're less focused on is to look at our focused category growth, because it's a better leading indicator of what's happening in the business and the success of the strategy that we've laid out.
First of all, as I've said many times, the couponing and discounting strategies from 2019 didn't really go away, eBay has simply pushed the cost burden of them almost completely on to sellers.
Secondly, sorry Jamie, your falling buyer numbers are not just a result of lapping COVID effects - you've actually gone back to 2018 levels and that's a huge problem, whether you want to focus on it or not.
Investment In Innovation & Talent
Toward the end of his remarks, Jamie wanted to assure everyone that it's not just about the verticals, they're also investing horizontally in innovation and talent.
So we're investing in things like eBay stores. We're in the middle of launching a new unified listing experience to make listing on the platform so much easier. We're investing in the overall experience in our apps and our technology and computer vision. And so those horizontal investments are also incredibly important for us.
Our two biggest horizontal investments of massive scale are advertising and payments. And what I'd tell you is I'm really excited by the pace of innovation that's happening at the company...
...The second key part of that has just been the talent in the organization. We brought in a ton of new talent into eBay and obviously a tough macro environment is also another good time to bring in great talent. So we continue to hire world-class talent.
I've changed out more than half of the leadership team with amazing great leaders. We've got new heads of various -- new Head of AI, a new Head of Selling. That talent is a really important part of our strategy as well. And we've been really successful there.
Ah yes, the Unified Listing Experience - a feature that was so universally panned by the seller community when it was first introduced in Spring 2021 that then VP Seller Experience Harry Temkin was forced to publicly walk back some of the many changes that had been made.
Most recently in the last few weeks eBay released another iteration of the Unified Listing Experience and based on seller feedback, the third time still isn't the charm and listing on the platform definitely is not easier.
I've already covered ads, but on the subject of payments, sellers continue to experience problems with signing up and using on demand immediate payouts and spendable funds - perhaps indicating these two nascent payment features are not quite ready for primetime.
Progress also seems to have stalled on Jamie's efforts to "eliminate unpaid items from the platform" and many sellers are still frustrated as far too many sales go unpaid.
As far as Stores, we haven't seen anything new and exciting for stores in months and eBay just recently lost their VP Stores, Tom Pinckney, in July.
That brings us to Jamie's claims about bringing in new talent. eBay's careers page certainly paints a picture of a company that may be slowing down hiring, at least in some areas.
Open job positions have fallen from 696 in July to 484 today, with the largest drop seen in North America. Some of those positions were likely filled of course, but it's also possible eBay may be going through a bit of belt tightening as well.
That being said, there have been some significant high level departures from the company in the last 6 months, with some leaving holes in the leadership team that have yet to be filled.
A few notable changes:
SVP Chief Product Officer Pete Thompson left in April, replaced by Eddie Garcia.
VP Buyer Experience Product & Engineering Mohan Patt left in April to become VP, Engineering, Commerce at Meta/Facebook - no replacement announced.
VP Buyer Experience Bradford Shellhammer left in June to become Chief Product Officer at Etsy owned musical instrument marketplace Reverb - no replacement announced.
VP Engineering Seller Experience Scot Hamilton left in July to take a role at Amazon as VP Planning and Routing Technology - no replacement announced.
VP Stores Tom Pinckney left in July and VP Core Product Engineering Mark Weinberg quietly slipped out the door in April - apparently replaced by Michelle Warvel.
Mark Weinberg leaving is a particularly interesting situation - back in March at the Spring Seller Check In, CMO Andrea Stairs announced Mark would be leading the seller experience team going forward, finally replacing ex-VP Seller Experience Harry Temkin who had left in June 2021.
Then, a month later, with no announcement or explanation, Mark left the company. What happened?
Jamie says he's brought in a new Head of Selling and I'll admit I was confused at first. There's been no public announcement yet but I dug around and found the answer buried at the bottom of the speakers list for eBay Open next week.
It looks like we have another boomerang rehire with Xiaodi Zhang returning to eBay to take on the role of VP Seller Experience.
And finally, eBay also bid farewell to Head of Europe Rob Hattrell and SVP International Joo Man Park in July.
However, eBay is not hiring for those positions, they've instead opted to consolidate all domestic and international operations under Jordan Sweetnam, previously SVP GM Americas, now SVP Global Markets.
While I'm sure Jordan is being appropriately compensated for taking on more responsibility, there's no question combining three jobs into one must represent a significant cost savings for eBay and sorry Jamie, that doesn't count as bringing in new talent. 😉
Overall, despite Jamie's best efforts to paint a positive picture, I see nothing in this presentation that gives concrete guidance about anything possibly new and exciting coming out as we close Q3 and head into Q4.
Maybe they're just holding the good stuff for eBay Open next week, but if so, they're running dangerously short on time before the all important holiday season.
Stay tuned for full coverage from the big event starting Wednesday, September 21!