eBay Open 2023 Day 2 Recap

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


eBay Open 2023 kicked off today with a keynote from Chief Business and Strategy Officer Stef Jay, VP Consumer Insights Thomas Walker, CMO Adrian Fung, and VP Buyer Experience Blair Ethington.

Chief Growth Officer Julie Loeger was also originally slated to appear in this keynote, but her name was removed from the agenda and no explanation for the switch up was given.

Stef started her segment by touting eBay's 132 Million Active Buyers and how her strategy is working to reinvent the future of ecommerce.

A big reason you all partner with eBay is because of our massive buyer base, our mutual customers.

We have a community of 132 million active buyers worldwide and today, we'll talk about our enthusiast buyers, their buying behaviours, and how we'll attract them and we'll preview our newest innovations that will enhance their shopping experience.

But first I wanted to expand a little bit on what Jamie shared about where we're going and how we're getting there...

...Three years ago, we shared our ambition to become the best global marketplace for our customers. We saw the enormous untapped potential of this company. Our teams rallied around the tech-led reimagination and we executed on the foundational platform upgrades and key technology advances necessary to move closer to that aspiration...

...To achieve our vision to reinvent the future of ecommerce, we need to accelerate relevant experiences, leverage our scale to deliver value added solutions for buyers and sellers, and build magical innovations that keep eBay at the forefront of ecommerce.

It's telling that the "tech-led reimagination" is now being referred to as merely an aspiration to move closer to, rather than a serious initiative with specific goals and metrics for success, highlighting just one of the ways in which "the more things change, the more they stay the same" at eBay.

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Having apparently given up on making any meaningful progress on technical aspirations, the strategy has now shifted to even loftier goals of reinventing the entire future of ecommerce - though once again this appears to be purely aspirational with very few concrete initiatives and metrics in place beyond some magical hope that "if you build it, the enthusiasts will come."

One thing Stef forgot to mention about that "massive" buyer base is that for five quarters in a row, it has been smaller than it was at the beginning of 2018.

That's right - not only has eBay lost any buyer growth from the pandemic boom, they've also squandered any gains that had been made for 2+ years prior.

Since Stef seems to love the eBay magic just as much as Jamie does, we'll call this the magical disappearing buyer trick!

Unfortunately for them, it's going to take more than shiny new AI gimmicks to pull more buyers and GMV out of a hat.

Next, VP Consumer Insights Thomas Walker & CMO Adrian Fung gave more details on eBay's buyer strategy.

They've dropped the previously controversial "high-value buyer" moniker in favor of "enthusiast buyers" but many sellers in the chat were still not convinced the vertical focus is relevant to their businesses or will help grow the core marketplace to benefit a wider variety of sellers.

As noted during the Q2 2023 earnings call, the supposed growth in the "enthusiast buyer" cohort is also somewhat questionable.

CFO Steve Priest said eBay is seeing great results with this strategy but looking back at previous earnings reports, it's difficult to see much progress here.

Q2 2022- "Enthusiast buyers made up approximately 17 million of our active buyers in Q2...average spend among enthusiast buyers grew sequentially and remains over $3,000 annually."

Q3 2022- "Enthusiast buyers accounted for approximately 17 million of our active buyers in Q3...average spend per user grew sequentially and continues to be healthy at over $3,000 per year."

Q4 2022- "Enthusiast buyers accounted for over 16 million of our active buyers in Q4...average spend per enthusiast rose again sequentially and continues to be healthy at above $3,000 annually."

Q1 2023- "Enthusiast buyers remained relatively stable sequentially at 16 million in Q1...and on average, spend approximately $3,000 annually."

Q2 2023- "Enthusiast buyers was stable at 16 million in Q2...spend per enthusiast grew modestly year-over-year, averaging roughly $3,000 annually."

Adrian shared some of the influencer, brand and media initiatives that eBay Marketing has undertaken this year under his leadership, calling out their partnership with Vogue to promote pre-loved fashion & luxury accessories as a specific positive example.

Particularly since we're targeting a younger audience, we needed to make sure we are showing up in the places that were most relevant to them. And for a younger audience, one of the places we know we need to be heard is social.

So we've been activating new partnerships on sites like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit and YouTube. We're creating both really original unique content as well as leaning in with the help of our passionate influencers across our enthusiast community.

On top of social, really to stand out in the fashion category, we are partnering with titans in the fashion industry...We've partnered with Vogue to spread the eBay word to fashion enthusiasts around the world, whether it's in print, online or at some of the biggest fashion events of the year, including this year's Met Gala.

Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to be aware that Vogue partnership has resulted in some very questionable paid promotional sponsored content, coming dangerously close to deceptive advertising practices and calling into question eBay's commitment to their Code of Business Ethics.

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VP Buyer Experience and Focus Categories Blair Ethington says eBay has focused on improving search this year, including better visual search capability.

My teams build tools and products that simplify the buyer experience and create a magical place for enthusiast buyers to find treasures they love. Today I'll touch on important ways that eBay is connecting sellers and buyers.

This past year, we've focused on creating a simple design across the site that helps buyers purchase the items they love on eBay. We've also made significant changes to our search experience, utilizing AI and machine learning to enable buyers to find your items...

...Now, let's talk about the experience for buyers who know exactly what they want when they come to eBay. For a sale to happen, a buyer needs to quickly search for and find the right items.

This year, with the help of AI, we've improved our visual search results to be more relevant, with image similarity predictions closer to real-world expectations. This is more convenient for buyers as it does not require the use of specific keywords.

At eBay, we're committed to creating a platform that is user-friendly, innovative and impactful. By improving magical experiences across the buyer journey, we're helping sellers reach more buyers and ultimately convert sales.

Blair is another boomerang rehire who rejoined eBay in January, so she should be aware of the myriad problems with search this year (among many other ongoing business impacting glitches that plague the site).

In FebruaryJune, and August of this year, eBay had multiple events which caused the search engine to be completely non-functional, returning 0 results for search terms that should have had 10s of thousand of results.

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We'll call this one the disappearing search results trick, though it remains to be seen how eBay thinks they are helping sellers reach more buyers and convert more sales if they cannot even do job number one for any ecommerce marketplace - display relevant items for sale for interested buyers to purchase.

At other times, search has repeated page one results over and over and autocorrect continues to show wildly inaccurate and irrelevant results to buyers - is that the magical AI component taking over?

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As for visual search capability, eBay has had search by image in the mobile app since 2017, but had to remove the feature for several months in 2021 because there were "inconsistencies" in results.

When they finally re-enabled search by image 3 months later, the results were even less useful than before and the feature often struggles to identify truly relevant or similar items in search.

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More recently eBay has been testing a "find visually similar" feature on the View Item page that supposedly uses AI image recognition to suggest similar items to the buyer.

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However, this tool still needs a lot of work - the results speak for themselves!

Blair also highlighted the ongoing work eBay is doing to redesign the View Item page.

We're always looking to develop new experiences and features that help our buyers thrive...

...One important way to improve the buyer experience is through design. For instance, we've made design changes to the View Item page, including changing to a two column design that focuses on larger images. And we will now feature a seller info box that more clearly introduces the buyer to the seller, increasing trust.

However, one iteration of this new design being tested hid important seller-provided description information in a secondary tab that required additional clicks for the buyer to see details.

It's not clear how exactly that fits with the goal to simplify the experience or increase trust for either buyers or sellers.

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The first keynote of the day closed out with what was supposed to be a Gen Z "consumer" panel but all of the participants were actually eBay employees.

Several sellers in the chat noted that fact didn't exactly make them feel like they were getting trustworthy, unbiased insights and suggested next time perhaps eBay should find some young people they aren't paying to give a more balanced perspective.

Wouldn't it have been more insightful to get Gen Z buyers who aren't connected to eBay?

Would have loved to hear from more "influencer" type Gen Z, not eBay employees.

This whole thing has "hello fellow kids" energy.

Asking eBay employees what they want from eBay is fake. Ask actual buyers that are not paid by eBay.

Speaking of fake - the panel's discussion about Gen Z's fondness for "dupes" created some interesting back and forth in the chat that highlighted just how much a generational divide might really be in play between sellers and this particular buyer segment.

So this next question is something I think is on a lot of folks minds. The economy, you know, that's sort of a concern, especially for younger people like us who, you know, are fresh out of college, so we're thinking about things like rent, student loans.

Is that something you're considerate of when you're looking to buy things on eBay or other marketplaces, like are you willing to buy second-hand fashion or dupes?

One panelist answered:

I will absolutely say, you know, the dupes, that was my big thing in college. Fake it til you make it.

We're in college, you know, I'm not going to walk around with you know, a pair of Gucci slides or anything, but I will wear you know, a pair of dupes until I, you know, find myself in a position where I can buy those. So I'll definitely say, you know, the dupes were a big thing for me.

Many sellers in the chat thought eBay must be crazy to have these employees speaking so glowingly about buying fake or knock-off items, especially with the focus on authentication and a whole marketing campaign aimed at Gen Z encouraging them to shop on eBay to "never get f(a)ked over again."

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However, others in the chat were quick to point out "dupes" for Gen Z may not necessarily be fake or knock-off items pretending to actually be luxury brands, they are "inspired by" or made to look similar, allowing buyers to still be trendy, even on a budget.

Of course this isn't the first generation to be more comfortable blurring these kinds of brand loyalty lines, nor would it be the first time eBay catered to the trend.

For example, in 2014, then president of eBay Marketplaces (later CEO) Devin Wenig went all in on selling eBay users' search data to Chinese manufacturers to help ramp up "vintage" reproductions to compete with popular authentic items on the platform.

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"We send [manufacturers] data about what people are looking for on eBay and they respond and turn it around incredibly quickly," president of eBay Marketplaces Devin Wenig told me. "We have a really big China export business to Europe and the United States. And they respond very, very quickly to consumer taste, whatever it might be. It's really remarkable to see how quickly the manufacturing base adapts to the demand signals they get."

In other words, that red wool-blend Cross Colours hat on eBay might not be the relic from 1989 it appears to be, but instead a newly manufactured replica. (It is, of course, against eBay's policy to sell counterfeit items.) Yes, there's a huge and thriving "new vintage" manufacturing sector built around—and tailored to— your online searches.

The final keynote rounded out the day by announcing the eBay Up and Running Grant winners for 2023.

The rest of eBay Open 2023 day two was filled with breakouts and seller-led sessions. Many of these sessions were again overlapping and I'll update if there is any interesting information from the replays.

Catch up on the recap from Day 1 here:

eBay Open 2023 Day 1 Recap
eBay Open 2023 Day 1 keynote from CEO Jamie Iannone, SVP Global Jordan Sweetnam, VP Seller Experience Xiaodi Zhang & more!

And Day 3 here:

eBay Open 2023 Day 3 Recap
eBay Open Day 3 recap - Trust & Safety, seller-led training, breakouts & a final keynote seller panel
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Liz Morton Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!