As I write this, a global debate about the role and responsibility of technology companies is playing out around the world. Facebook is under intense scrutiny for its handling of customer data; the President of the United States is tweeting about Amazon; and authorities in almost every jurisdiction globally are looking to impose punitive and novel new taxes on tech companies or the business they enable. This was not always the case. There was a period of time when the tech sector seemed immune from any substantial scrutiny or regulation. That was neither sustainable nor healthy, but now it seems as if the pendulum has swung fully back.
I have always believed in the positive role technology can play in society. It represents the best of what humans can do — to strive, invent, build and serve. But technology only works over the long run when it enables people. Over the next few years, there will be a fight for the soul of the tech sector, with algorithms and robots pitted against a more humanistic vision of the future. eBay has always been an enabler of people and a champion of human values. The entrepreneurs who grow their businesses, support their families and connect to communities on our platform are the lifeblood of our company. For these reasons we will defend the role and benefits of technology, and the necessity of innovation and competition. In particular, we will continue to take public positions in support of free and fair trade, tax structures that do not penalize small businesses, and responsible immigration that allows us to foster innovation by attracting the best and brightest talent from around the world.
We will continue to take public positions in support of free and fair trade, tax structures that do not penalize small businesses, and responsible immigration that allows us to foster innovation by attracting the best and brightest talent from around the world.
eBay is a special place. It is a competitive, innovative and technology-driven business. At the same time, it has a human spirit and an authentic purpose. We are champions of inclusive commerce, where winning in the market is not subject to who you know, how you look or where you are from. Tens of millions of entrepreneurs use our platform to connect to 170 million customers around the world. Our sellers are real people building real businesses, and we are driven to serve them. In Silicon Valley’s hyper-competitive talent market, we attract great people and have low attrition because our employees feel that the work they do matters.
We also understand that purpose only matters if it is sustained, and sustainability only happens if you win in the marketplace. We are driven to succeed, to innovate on behalf of customers and to fulfill the potential of one of the world’s great brands. We are engineers and product people at heart. I spend the majority of my time on our product and customer experience. There is nothing that makes our teams prouder than shipping a great new feature or product and having it embraced by customers. We are restless and love to experiment. At any given time, we have thousands of tests underway, and we are always looking for ways to increase our capacity to test and learn. We run an extremely data-driven business but recognize that data doesn’t always tell the full story. Follow an individual customer through their journey, and you may learn as much as looking at the aggregated data from millions. We believe that we can and should be a growth business, and every action we have taken over the past three years has been to drive growth in a disciplined, value-creating manner. And we run the business for the long run, with investments that we believe are critical, but may take years to pay off. We are not afraid to forgo short term growth or profitability for long term impact if it is the right thing to do for our customers and business over time.
Repositioning eBay’s Business
When I took over as CEO in July of 2015, my priority was to address the hard truths of the business. Our consumer experience was too complex. Our seller platform should have been unlocking customers’ profitability but instead was holding it back. Our approach to payments was anachronistic. And while our brand was universally known, it was almost universally misunderstood. None of these core issues had easy solutions. It is nearly impossible to fundamentally change a company or its long-term growth prospects without going straight at the biggest and toughest issues.
With that in mind, we embarked on a strategy to address those hard truths. We started foundational projects like structuring our data, re-platforming our seller tools and investing in our brand. We also made significant investments in future platform technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) that will define the next generation of commerce. All of this activity was directed at driving the best choice (the breadth, depth and pricing of our inventory), the most relevance (our consumer experience) and the most powerful selling platform (our seller experience).
eBay’s Progress in 2017
I know we are delivering the best choice when I see us providing our customers with great selection and value. In 2017, we focused on bringing differentiated inventory to eBay. We announced new collaborations — with Disney, Spring, Shopify and others — to bring more unique brands and inventory to our platform. We offered our tens of millions of buyers unique and exclusive inventory — from limited-edition variants of Marvel comic books to art that made a difference, like our charity sale of Ai Weiwei works which raised nearly $800,000 for the New York Public Art Fund. As many brands look to our platform to help them adapt to a changing retail environment, we also saw the number of global business sellers on eBay’s platform accelerate during the year.
2017 was a significant year of progress for delivering the most relevance. We launched major improvements to the customer experience on eBay’s site and on our apps. On top of our structured data foundation, we built millions of new consumer-oriented browse and product pages which are simple, insightful and easy to shop. We launched an entirely new homepage tailored to each user’s interests, passions and shopping history. We introduced Image Search, enabled by AI, which allows users to search for any item by an image. And we introduced a new authentication program to further increase consumer confidence when purchasing high-end merchandise on eBay. We also began testing a new way of searching on eBay called Grouped Listings, where — for the first time in our history — users are able to organize their search results by product, instead of by listing, at the click of a button. And we introduced Guaranteed Delivery in three days or less for tens of millions of items on eBay — many of which also ship for free. I believe the eBay experience changed more in 2017 than in the prior decade combined.
To help drive the most powerful selling platform, we continued to improve and evolve Seller Hub, a centralized toolkit for sellers to effectively manage their business on eBay. During the year we acquired Terapeak, which will provide additional functionality to eBay’s Seller Hub — from sales history and performance enhancement opportunities to price guidance and comparisons — to help merchants manage and scale their business on eBay. We also enabled more sellers to leverage promoted listings to drive sales velocity — with more than 100 million live promoted listings and over 160,000 sellers using the product in the fourth quarter. We also engaged our developer community by hosting a developer conference at our San Jose, CA campus and announced significant enhancements to our suite of application programming interfaces. This will enable better innovation on our platform, benefitting sellers of all sizes. For our C2C sellers, we leveraged AI to simplify the selling experience, enabling them to choose the item they are selling from our product catalog and then use our price, format and shipping recommendations to easily complete their transaction.
Finally, we launched a sharper, more clearly differentiated brand campaign called “Fill Your Cart With Color,” which we rolled out globally. Historically, we focused on marketing the products that customers purchase on eBay. In 2017, we began marketing eBay itself — through digital, outdoor and TV channels. This campaign differentiates eBay, addresses consumer misperceptions and brings to life the eBay we are building for the future. We will sustain this brand campaign through 2018.
Our StubHub and Classifieds Platforms in 2017
StubHub is the world’s favorite destination for fans looking to buy event tickets. Our strategy for StubHub is focused on extending its reach through supply expansion, including increasing consumer selling on the site and broadening StubHub’s international footprint to provide a global major events catalog for our customers. In 2017, StubHub had strength in genres such as college sports, theater and concerts.
Our Classifieds platforms, which help people find whatever they are looking for in their local communities, had continued strength in 2017. We are working to increase traffic and engagement on our Classifieds platforms by improving the mobile experience and focusing on new vertical opportunities. At the same time, we continue to integrate inventory between our Marketplace and Classifieds platforms. By sharing the broad selection of eBay Marketplace inventory with our Classifieds sites, our Classifieds buyers have access to more selection, and our Marketplace sellers have access to more buyers, thereby increasing sales velocity. I was encouraged to see our Classifieds and core eBay platforms adding significant value by working closely together in 2017.
As technology platforms like AI, augmented and virtual reality and blockchain rapidly advance, they will continue to upend the way commerce is conducted across the globe. I believe there will be further consolidation across the retail landscape, and what will emerge are a few large shopping destinations that are customer-centric, technology-forward and global in nature. eBay will be one of those destinations as we continue to embrace disruptive technology, innovate on behalf of our customers and drive the growth of our business around the world.
Editor's Note: This was originally published in eBay's 2017 annual report, which can be found here.