Online marketplace eBay is probably most closely associated with the early days of ‘web 2.0’ – the 1990s and the early 2000s – when the internet was just becoming established as a place to sell things, and ecommerce was new, exciting and a little chaotic.
More than two and a half decades on from its founding, however, the online shopping space is much more crowded and competitive, and eBay is no longer necessarily top-of-mind for brands or consumers. When it comes to generalist marketplaces, Amazon Marketplace dominates, at least in the west; Alibaba and its subsidiaries Taobao and Tmall are also key for businesses selling in, or to, China and the surrounding regions. Is it still worth having a dedicated presence on, and strategy for, eBay in 2021?
eBay in 2021: Some statistics
Just how big is eBay in 2021, and how does it stack up against other major online marketplaces? Although Amazon Marketplace holds the top spot as the world’s most popular online marketplace in terms of pure traffic, eBay is holding fast at #2: according to Webretailer, 5.2 billion visits per month are paid to Amazon (across all of its localised sites), while eBay receives 1.7 billion visits. (Latin American marketplace Mercado Libre ranks third, followed by Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten and finally AliExpress).
Of course, traffic isn’t the only way to measure size, and in terms of gross merchandise value (GMV), Chinese marketplaces Taobao and TMall top the list, with Amazon coming in third and eBay ranking a distant fifth (according to Digital Commerce 360’s Top Online Marketplaces in 2020) with $100 billion in GMV. Even by this measure, eBay is still the second-biggest online marketplace in the United States, just edging out Walmart (which has $92 billion in annual GMV).
eBay owes at least some of its continued strength in 2021 to the Covid-19 pandemic and the surge in online buying that accompanied it: like many online platforms, it was well-positioned to ride the wave, and enjoyed a 29% jump in GMV in the second quarter of 2020, the best growth it had seen in 15 years. Its active buyer numbers also rose by 5% to 182 million. Altogether, eBay acquired 11 million new buyers during the course of 2020, with GMV increasing by 17% to $100 billion, and revenue increasing by 19% to $10.3 billion. And while it, like many other online businesses, has predicted slowing momentum as the year progresses and a semblance of ‘normal life’ re-establishes itself, eBay is determined to stay relevant, particularly to a new generation of younger consumers that it is targeting with mobile-first campaigns and social shopping initiatives.
eBay’s international presence
While eBay’s popularity is most often discussed in the context of its home region of the United States, there are several other international markets where eBay has a significant presence that shouldn’t be overlooked.
When measured in terms of traffic, eBay’s customer base in Europe is almost comparable to its base in the United States: it is the second-most popular online marketplace in Europe after Amazon (Webretailer), attracting 664.8 million visits per month (in the US, it receives 688.9 million monthly visits). While this is a way behind Amazon’s 1.4 billion monthly visits, it is also some way ahead of the next-biggest European competitor, Polish Allegro (185.5 million monthly visits).
Moreover, eBay has managed to take second place in a fiercely competitive region for online marketplaces, with 68 different European marketplaces that draw in at least one million monthly visits (versus 53 in the United States). eBay is also the second-most popular marketplace in the UK when it is taken as a region on its own, with 297.9 million monthly visits.
In regions like Latin America, Southeast Asia and China, eBay has less of an established foothold, ranking 15th among Latin America’s most popular online marketplaces with 9.9 million monthly visits, and just clearing the 1 million monthly visits threshold in Southeast Asia (1.1 million/month) and China (1 million/month).
However, in one other part of the world, eBay reigns supreme, eclipsing even Amazon: Australasia, where eBay is the most popular online marketplace with 61.7 million monthly visits, more than double Amazon’s 28.5 million and more than triple the biggest local competitor, New Zealand marketplace Trade Me. Amazon finally made its official debut in Australia in late 2017, but its reception has been lukewarm in a region that prizes offline retail, and it has not made much headway against eBay’s established dominance. Thus, any sellers who want to break into the Australasian market would do well to position themselves on eBay.
What sells best on eBay?
For businesses that might be weighing up the merits of a presence on eBay, what product categories are most enduringly popular on the site?
The best place to find out what sells well on eBay is direct from the source: eBay has a best-selling items page that documents the most popular product categories on its site at any given moment in time. At the time of writing, those are:
- Jewellery and Watches (particularly engagement rings, watches and earrings)
- Computers, Tablets and Networking (including office equipment like printer ink, and computing components such as graphics cards)
- Mobile Phones and Accessories
- Video Games and Consoles (including associated merchandise)
- Clothing, Shoes and Accessories
- Cameras and Photo Equipment (both digital and film)
- Health and Beauty (particularly vitamins, anti-ageing products and fragrances)
- Music, DVDs and Films
Demand for medical equipment and protective gear is also noted to have surged on eBay during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and eBay lists ‘Medical, Lab & Dental Supplies’ as an additional trending category. Some additional product categories that have been noted to sell well on eBay over the past 18 months include craft supplies, home and garden products, baby essentials, pet supplies, and musical instruments and gear.
Is eBay just for consumers?
eBay is both a B2C (business to consumer) and a C2C (consumer to consumer) marketplace, and much of its reputation was built on the latter: it became known as a place where people could sell, and buy, almost anything. But what is eBay’s proposition like for brands? Does it equip them with the tools for success, or are they an afterthought?
In Econsultancy’s Third-Party Marketplaces Best Practice Guide, author Colin Lewis acknowledges that the positioning in the shopper’s mind of eBay as an auction or used goods site “creates a challenge for brands”. However, he adds, “Battling competition from Amazon and DTC ecommerce, eBay has been trying to core part of its pitch to larger brands by pushing personalised service and hands-on account management to drive customer traffic to branded stores, and by offering assistance with marketing and advertising.”
Lewis notes that major brands like Dyson, Jack Wills, Acer, Adidas and Ted Baker all have their own stores on eBay. And eBay is making an effort to court brands who will list on its platform, as well as to offer a distinct proposition from other marketplaces like Amazon. “eBay’s main pitch to brands,” writes Lewis, “is to own the relationship with their customers, instead of with a marketplace that may develop copycat products. Instead of presenting itself as a marketplace that brands plug into, eBay is selling itself as a tool for brands to build their own marketplaces.”
Aidan Duffy, Ecommerce Consultant at DF5 Ecommerce, notes that eBay can offer particular advantages for small- to medium-sized brands, as they can sell internationally on eBay without needing salespeople on the ground overseas. “I have certainly seen it work very well for a small- to medium-sized B2B business who is selling specific products for a defined market segment. The cross-border aspect has really helped … they are going from strength to strength on eBay.”
The guide highlights a case study of one such brand, Parnells, a specialist supplier of wheels and tyres. Parnells has been selling on eBay UK since 2008, and has since been able to expand to a number of other European markets, including Italy, Austria, Spain and Germany.
“On eBay, the seller, rather than the eBay platform, is important to the shopper, which is how we win because eBay highlights the seller brand, profile and history on the platform to shoppers. Shoppers on Amazon shop for products, and frequently are unaware of the seller fulfilling the product,” notes Richard Parnell, Director of Parnells. Thanks to its initial success on eBay, Parnells now sells across 24 different marketplaces including Amazon, Wish and Cdiscount. However, eBay stands out as a marketplace that offers particular attention to sellers.
“eBay teams have offered great support over the years with personal attention and through various programmes such as ‘Retail Revival’ where we were invited to take part,” says Parnell. “We found eBay were willing to invest time to help you grow, which you cannot say about Amazon.”
eBay’s ‘Retail Revival’ programme in the UK is an initiative launched in 2018 in partnership with the City of Wolverhampton that is designed to help small retailers get online. A year on from the launch of the programme, eBay revealed that participating businesses had brought in more than £7 million in sales, and experienced an average growth rate of 33%. eBay runs similar initiatives in Italy, Germany, Michigan, and Ohio.
It has also set up awards, such as the eBay for Business Awards in the UK and the eBay Latin America Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, to showcase its commitment to supporting businesses and entrepreneurs who sell through eBay.
Although this article has mostly focused on eBay’s consumer-facing marketplace, it’s important to note that eBay also has a B2B (business to business) offering. eBay has focused more attention on the B2B side of its marketplace in recent years, rebranding its B2B offering in 2016 to eBay Business Supply in order to cater to the growing demand for B2B purchasing online. Marni Levine, Vice President of Merchandising at eBay, told Digital Commerce 360 in 2019 that,
“eBay has been optimizing the consumer customer experience for more than twenty years, and we’re applying that experience and technology to the B2B buyer segment. We are constantly evolving to make purchasing simple and easy, which comes as a pleasant surprise to those in the B2B space who are familiar with traditional procurement methods and more complexity.”
How to maximise your prospects on eBay
If you’ve taken the decision to start selling your products on eBay, or perhaps have decided to devote more attention to it as a platform – how do you give yourself the best chance of success? Our Third Party Marketplaces Best Practice Guide contains much more detail on how to optimise for eBay, but here are a few fundamental things to consider:
Optimise your listing
This may sound obvious, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Listings on eBay are sorted by default by ‘Best Match’, meaning that the site displays the most relevant listings first based on a shopper’s search terms. This means that accuracy of listings and the quality of their descriptions are key to make sure that your products will appear highest up the list for anyone searching for something like them.
High-quality product images are also a factor: eBay allows sellers to include up to 12 images with each listing, and there’s nothing to lose by taking advantage of this.
Pay attention to feedback
Ratings on eBay are, and always have been, incredibly important to the site in determining which buyers and sellers are trustworthy and should be promoted. The better your feedback and the higher your star rating, the higher up the listings you will appear. Obviously when you’re just starting out, you won’t have any feedback (which is where the other elements of listing optimisation come into play), but be sure to provide a consistently excellent experience for your buyers so that they will feed back favourably.
Be sure to also practice reputation management by responding to and addressing the concerns of less favourable reviews, which shows you are proactive and may persuade some customers to change their rating or remove a negative review once it has been addressed.
Aim for Top Rated seller status
On the 20th of each month, eBay assesses the performance of all of its sellers, assigning them a level based on their sales history and the quality of service they provide. Top Rated status is awarded to the very best sellers on eBay; Above Standard status is awarded to those who are performing fairly well; and Below Standard is awarded to those who do not meet the minimum standard expected of sellers.
Issues like late delivery, cancelled purchases, and cases where eBay is required to step in and offer the buyer’s money back all count against a seller’s status (known as “defects”). Top Rated sellers are expected to have below a maximum number of these defects to qualify, and must also meet certain other criteria, such as having an eBay account that’s active for at least 90 days, and having at least 100 transactions and £1,000 in sales (or whatever the local currency amount is for a particular eBay region) over the last 12 months to buyers from that region.
While achieving Top Rated seller status unquestionably takes work, it is also worthwhile: Top Rated sellers benefit from increased listing visibility, and get an eBay Premium Service badge on qualifying listings.
eBay’s size and international presence put it head and shoulders above many other marketplaces available to brands, and it can be a particularly valuable visibility boost for smaller brands and B2B sellers, who can more easily sell to overseas markets through eBay.
While it may not have Amazon’s outsize presence (except in the Australasian market, where eBay overpowers Amazon), eBay is working to make up for this by showing businesses that it is willing to work with them to grow their prospects. For those product categories that are noted to do well on eBay, businesses will find a ready-made customer base, and they can take steps to optimise their listings for maximum visibility as well as aim for Top Rated seller status to attract more business.
More detailed advice for selling on eBay as well as a wealth of guidance on why and how businesses can approach selling on third-party marketplaces can be found in Econsultancy’s Third Party Marketplace Best Practice Guide.