Leaning Into the Future of E-Commerce

Hal Lawton, SVP, North America

On the heels of the Catalyst Americas 2016 conference, eBay's Head of North America Hal Lawton looks at the opportunities ahead.

Earlier this week, our head of North America Hal Lawton gave the keynote address at the Catalyst Americas 2016 conference in Las Vegas. The theme of the event was 'E-Commerce, Future-Proofed'.

Following his presentation, Hal was invited to contribute a guest post for ChannelAdvisor's blog. Read his thoughts below on how eBay is leaning into the future of e-commerce.

At eBay, sellers are our oxygen. We couldn’t do what we do without them. Since joining eBay almost a year ago, I’ve spent a lot of one-on-one time with sellers to understand their unique challenges and issues. We’ve used those insights to develop solutions that address their needs, but there’s a difference between hearing about a problem and actually living it — so I decided to put myself in the shoes of a seller.

Over the past months at eBay — both in my role as head of North America, and as I worked hard to achieve Top Rated Seller status — I’ve had a front row seat to an industry that’s in a state of flux. I’ve seen firsthand that now more than ever there’s so much opportunity waiting to be grasped. Equally, there has never been more competition in the industry as there is now.

The opportunity is clear. Already, 49 percent of total retail sales in the US are impacted by online activities – reflecting shoppers who either buy or research their purchases online. It’s estimated that by 2018, that share will be 53 percent. Retail sales on smartphones and tablets are projected to reach $252 billion in the US by 2020 — more than doubling over the next five years.

The competition is intense, and isn’t just coming from the big names in the industry. It’s also coming from the traditional retailers that are investing in omnichannel — and, more recently, from the social media players that are migrating into e-commerce.

The good news for eBay is that we have a strong foundation to build on. We’re one of the world’s top brands, with 162 million buyers globally. We really do have the world’s best product selection — with over 800 million live listings, we enable our buyers to find that perfect thing that they’re looking for. And with access to over 200 markets worldwide, we offer our sellers a powerful platform to build their business.

Over the past 12 months, we have made strides to build on that foundation. We’ve invested in new strategies, new technologies and new solutions, and I am confident that we’re heading in the right direction. You’ll see us expanding our focus in three areas in particular — structured data and building our product catalog; new marketing platforms; and increased control for our sellers.

A Bigger Product Catalog, a Better Experience for Buyers

Our marketplace was born 20 years ago, when online selling was in its infancy. Sellers could write whatever they wanted as a description, and scrolling through the vast list of available items was part of the joy of eBay in those early days. Twenty years and nearly one billion listings later, an unstructured marketplace is no longer so charming. It is important for us to build a better browsing experience and make it easier to compare items and surface exactly what our customers want to see.

Since this past summer, we’ve been working to structure our unstructured marketplace, making it a richer shopping and selling experience. To this end, we began asking our sellers to standardize the amount and type of information provided when they list.

We’ve created product related pages with persistent URLs, to create a one-page destination for price trending data, reviews and other content to help inform the purchasing process. We know that trending prices help customers’ decision processes on whether they get a good deal, so by leveraging structured data, we’re now able to display that information on our site.

We’ve made progress over the past six months, but we still have a lot of work to do. When that work is finished, I believe we’ll be a very different eBay. And we’ll have beautiful, curated and relevant content to inspire buyers.

Leaning Into Our Brand

It’s not enough for us to have the best choice of inventory if our customers don’t know about it. It’s simple: To engage our customers, we have to go where they are. And now more than ever, that’s on social media.

We’re beginning to invest in marketing initiatives to help get us to where our customers are. We expanded our presence across 14 platforms to be part of the shopping consideration set for those customers. We’ve had a presence on Facebook and Pinterest from the very early stages, but we’re also on emerging platforms like Imgur and We Heart It, and are continuing to create brand firsts.

We’re also excited about a new partnership we just signed with Facebook to integrate auction updates into Facebook Messenger. Through this capability, eBay users will get the chance to opt in to receive a Facebook reminder 15 minutes before a listing ends, or if they are outbid in the final 15 minutes of an auction. The idea is to help customers win their auctions by bidding when it really matters.

By focusing on engaging content, ideas and inspiration, we’re able to connect with different audiences in new ways, deepening our relationship with new and existing customers. We’ve been happy with the outcome of our social and content efforts and will continue to make thoughtful investments across the marketing channels relevant to our customers.

We’re also focusing on delivering relevant content to consumers at key retail and life moments, such as our recent Spring Cleaning campaigns.

Giving Our Sellers More Control

Above all else, eBay’s success is driven by the success of our sellers. It’s one of our differentiators from other marketplaces — we support, rather than compete with, our sellers. This year, we’ve continued to introduce a number of tools designed to improve the selling experience and make it simpler to sell on eBay. We’ve addressed seller pain points like shipping, by introducing new options like Valet, our professional selling service, and Shyp, a shipping pilot taking place in select US markets. We’ve also created a more frictionless listing experience, cutting down on the time it takes to list a product.

On top of that, we’ve introduced tools and dashboards to support the selling experience. Launched last June, our promoted listings give sellers another way to attract more buyers to their best items – going beyond just search results. We piloted the seller hub with a sample of our sellers, and plan to expand to all of our sellers this summer. This hub puts a seller’s listing and marketing tools — along with insights and selling recommendations — into a central place to help professional sellers manage their end-to-end business.

As new opportunities and challenges — like social buying, investments in mobile and cross-border commerce — continue to emerge and develop, sellers will be faced with constant change. To them I want to say this: We’ll be your trusted partner through it all, reducing friction in our selling experience, and making it easier for our sellers to focus on what they do best. We’ll continue to roll out new tools, features and enhancements to do just that.

It’s an exciting time to sell on eBay, to buy on eBay — and to be at eBay.