Sellers Grow Weary of eBay's Vertical Strategy Focus

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


eBay CEO Jamie Iannone has been talking about a "vertical approach" to his tech led reimagination of eBay since returning to the company to take the helm on 2020. He's also said his plan is to "focus on the core" and "getting back to our consumer selling, that's individual selling, that's really important to the platform."

As Iannone approaches his 18 month anniversary as CEO, how is the vertical approach working? Is it complementary to the goal of focusing on the core and consumer selling or a distraction from that core?

Anyone who has listened to eBay earnings calls, participated in events like eBay Open Online and monthly seller check ins, or tuned in to the eBay for Business Podcast or weekly eBay community chat will tell you in the last 18 months the conversation has been heavily dominated by sneakers, luxury watches and handbags, trading cards and certified refurbished goods.

Iannone and CMO Andrea Stairs frequently tell sellers that buyers who come to the platform to shop in these key verticals will typically shop across 8 other categories as well, in theory making all of the effort and money being spent on this strategy pay off for all sellers, not just sellers in those verticals.

Many sellers were willing to give Iannone a fair shot, but 18 months in they are starting to lose patience with the slow pace of the vertical strategy, especially when it seems "tone deaf" or exclusionary to other categories or the wide range of consumer sellers Iannone says are so important to the platform.

The first day of eBay Open Online featured breakout sessions divided by category. Many sellers were frustrated to find that the "Collectibles" session focused almost exclusively on trading cards.

eBay Open Online - Day 1
eBay Open Online - Day 1 Recap

The backlash from the seller community was so strong, eBay added a specific Collectibles sessions to the end of the September Seller Check In.

eBay September Seller Check In
Highlights & Commentary on eBay’s September 2021 Seller Check-In.

Unfortunately, even this session somewhat missed the mark - focusing on comics, trading cards, Funko Pops and other modern toys, coins and bullion, and NFTs but completely leaving out huge segments of the collectible seller base like antiques and glassware/pottery.

Many sellers in the chat side bar during the check in where asking "what's an NFT?" - an embarrassing indication of just how off base and out of touch eBay might be in regard to what sellers think about the collectibles category.

eBay had also created a new Seller Voices segment in the community that was supposed to be a pilot program allowing sellers to engage directly with category managers, starting with the Collectibles category.

Unfortunately, this initiative has suffered from severe execution failure from the beginning which begs the question, does Iannone really care about "becoming the seller platform of choice" and "defending the core" or is it just lip service?

Does eBay Really Care About Seller Engagement?
eBay says they value seller feedback & engagement - are they living up to their commitment or is it just lip service?

The weekly eBay community chat is usually a general chat, open to any topic. However, occasionally they will designate a week to a dedicated topic and this coming week it will be a "virtual trading cards Q&A session" to discuss Price Guide and Collections beta.

In June, eBay had a similar dedicated chat on the trading card image scanning feature, and it did not go over well with community regulars - apparently eBay didn't learn much from the experience.

Community Chat, June 2 @ 1:00 pm PT - Trading Cards Image Detection
Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us for the Weekly Chat. This week we’re joined by the trading cards team. They are here to address any questions you may have about the image detection feature on the app. You can read the announcement for this feature here, as well as viewing the FAQs here: And…

One seller expressed frustration with this upcoming dedicated chat:

I'm happy for the trading cards sellers. Really, I am.

But, on the off chance that someone from ebay might read this:

Many of us do not sell trading cards, or luxury watchers. We aren't all sneakerheads.

It's now Q4.

Here are some thing ebay has mentioned as "coming"...with no definite date of course:

  1. The new store features, as mentioned in the Fall Update. Still not here.
  2. The reduced FVF for using Social Media to drive traffic. Still not here.
  3. Video for listings and store home pages. Still not here.
  4. Immediate payment on offers. Still not here.

I'm sure I'm missing a few. All of these features would benefit ALL sellers, not just those in the verticals ebay is pushing.

ebay, your competition is growing and innovating, and they aren't taking forever to do it.

You can do better, ebay....or at least, I hope you can.

This seller makes a great point about eBay lagging behind the competition when it comes to growing and innovating, as Etsy's new augmented reality experience highlights.

Does eBay’s Tech Led Reimagination Stack Up Against Competition?
Etsy’s new augmented reality experience draws a stark contrast to eBay’s somewhat tepid tech led reimagination.

Other sellers chimed in:

They're all about 'verticals' now. Meanwhile a lot of sales are horizontal.

Yes - that's basically what is happening. They did this with the fidget spinners - put everything into it and it blew up in their faces. Well, this is a bit less faddy, but they're building a large structure on shifting sands unless they expand their efforts.

The original poster responded

Oh, I believe they will expand their efforts to other categories, that's certainly the plan. But , meanwhile, promised changes that would benefit everyone, not just the vertically chosen, seem to be far down on the Priority List...

I'd just like to see them come through with some of this stuff in time for us to benefit from it in whatever is left of Q4....I'm guessing we might see the stores stuff before the end of the quarter, but the rest of it....probably next year, and maybe not even then....

Other sellers on the thread brought attention to the new holiday themed items recently released in the eBay shipping supplies store - tape, tissue paper, and thank you cards conspicuously featuring images of sneakers, watches, handbags, and trading cards.

You've seen the new holiday shipping supplies, right? Icons of trading cards, handbags, sneakers and watches all over them. It certainly reinforces where eBay's priorities are.

OMG, I hadn't noticed the designs on the tape. Glad I didn't order any! LOL I "get" the verticals thing. It's not a bad strategy from a business point of view. In fact, I'm all in favor of ebay recognizing that different categories have different needs. But I don't think ebay is winning hearts and minds with a tactic that inevitably feels exclusionary. By all means, put out new tools for the verticals. But don't prioritize them to the disadvantage of the rest of us.

More seller opinions about Iannone's strategies for eBay can be found in this illuminating community thread from July.

Has Ebay Gotten Worse Or Better Since Newest CEO?
I remember how bad things got towards the end of Wenig, ebay’s previous CEO before Lannone. But since Lannone seems like everything ebay does is in the wrong direction, sellers are treated in many cases far worse and with less “representation”, CS has gone bad to incredibly horrid, site itself is a…

Many sellers outside of the "focus verticals" seem to be feeling abandoned or at least they don't see the cross category added value that eBay leadership claims this strategy is bringing to the table.

Are Jamie and Andrea paying attention to this all important "feedback loop"? Does eBay leadership care that the ways they are pursuing the "vertical strategy" might be having a negative impact on the "core of consumer sellers" outside of those verticals?

If recent eBay events and media appearances are any indication, I'd have to say the answer is a resounding "no."

What do you think of eBay's vertical strategy and how it is affecting consumer sellers? Have sellers outside those verticals benefited significantly from Iannone's plans? Let us know in the comments below!


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!