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For Millennials, who never really knew a world in which they could not buy products online, easily and quickly, the benefits and appeal of eBay’s initial model might not resonate. When it first entered the scene in 1995, eBay promised a safer way to buy in the Wild West of the Internet. Its auction function helped reassure shoppers that they were getting a fair price, and the ratings function quickly weeded out unscrupulous sellers. Furthermore, it provided a sort of virtual garage sale, where buyers could find nearly any niche product or nostalgic tchotchke they might desire.

But today, few shoppers need an auction to determine a reasonable price; they just search across the vast number of online retailers. Those online retailers (e.g., Amazon, Walmart.com) also make access to niche products easy, whether through their own massive inventories or from small, entrepreneurial partners that sell their products through the site.

Having lost the competitive advantage that its auction structure provided, eBay has responded with an active effort to rebrand and reinvent its image. It highlights that the vast majority of products being sold through its platform are new rather than used, and 86 percent of sales transactions involve fixed prices rather than auctions.

In addition, eBay has altered its demands of sellers, requiring that they provide more complete product information when listing their merchandise. In turn, the platform can establish a more comprehensive catalog of the products available through it, which enables shoppers to search the site more easily and accurately. The process remains challenging though, because there are so many individual sellers, selling products that differ in subtle ways. Still, eBay already has established a process for categorizing different marketing mix elements, such as listing available cameras according to brand, price, or promotions.

As it gathers more data, eBay also seeks to enhance its recommendation capabilities, such that it knows whether a particular buyer is more likely to prefer a high-end, name brand or an inexpensive option that offers a bargain. The platform also can use these data to help its sellers, such as with reports that specify what products are selling well and when inventory might need to be replenished.

Even as eBay seeks to inform consumers that it stocks a wealth of new, never used items (including an advertising campaign that stars model Karlie Kloss relying on eBay to outfit her apartment with brand new housewares), it also wants to leverage its reputation as a site to find nostalgic, quirky, and vintage offerings. Millennials in particular embrace the appeal of vintage items, and eBay wants them to anticipate that they can find unique, otherwise unavailable concert t-shirts, leisure suits, or straw hats that help them display their own hipster style.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is eBay doing to appeal to Millennials?
  2. Which, if any, of these tactics would drive you to buy more on eBay?

Source: Laura Stevens, The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2016