The Sharing Economy Pays it Forward

Devin Wenig, eBay President and CEO

Marketplaces are driving economic empowerment and social change.

When Oprah Winfrey decided to sell high-end couture from her closet to raise money for her Leadership Academy for Girls*, she turned to eBay as a means to quickly and efficiently turn unused items into cash for a favorite charity.

This is just one of the ways in which online marketplaces -- ours was the first, but several others have since taken up the mantle -- have become engines for a different, more enduring kind of commerce.

It’s clear that consumers in the post-mobile age are prioritizing accessibility over ownership; leaning toward a more considered and intentional kind of shopping over fast fashion; and embracing circularity, and the idea that a product’s useful life can be extended, over throwaway.

Consumers are increasingly expecting -- even demanding -- that big companies deliver more than just great products.

With the largest global companies outstripping many national economies, there’s a growing consensus that corporations should play a role in improving economic and social conditions in the community. Millennials, in particular, align themselves to companies and brands they perceive as having a higher sense of social responsibility, and it can influence everything from their spending, to decisions about where to invest or work.

Delivering a fantastic consumer offering and positive societal impact is shaping the business models of new generation of companies.

Consider companies such as Uber, Zipcar, Lyft and Airbnb. These ‘sharing economy’ companies offer a smarter way to use resources and, in a relatively short space of time, have become deeply embedded in people’s daily lives. Together, we are opening access to goods and services in new ways; extending economic empowerment; and driving positive environmental, social and charitable impact.

 As more and more consumers prefer to use on-demand transportation, instead of buying a car, they are helping in their own way to alleviate traffic congestion and pollution, while enabling the more efficient allocation of manufacturing resources. Every time an Airbnb listing is booked, an economic opportunity is created for the homeowner, while residential capacity is better utilized, reducing the impact of over-development.


These marketplaces are driving utilization and using technology to unlock hidden value -- the hidden value in unused inventory, empty rooms and shared transportation.

This phenomenon started on our platform over 20 years ago. Our founder, Pierre Omidyar, sold a broken laser pointer on the website that was later to become eBay. An item that Pierre no longer had use for had a value to a new owner only a few states away. Closing the circle, as only eBay can, that same laser pointer finally made its way back to Pierre last year.

Today, one product can have many lives: buyers benefit with access to quality items at prices they can afford and sellers benefit by turning stuff they don’t need into cash they can use.

The downstream benefits of this peer-to-peer economy are profound and self-perpetuating.

Take the example of the consumers who traded up their old iPhone 6 last September to fund the purchase of a newly-launched iPhone 6s.

The arrival of the iPhone 6s precipitated an immediate spike in both listings and sales of the iPhone 6 on eBay, with demand for those older iPhone 6 models coming from buyers in 203 markets. In the 90 days after the launch of the iPhone 6s, over 175,000 models of the iPhone 6 sold on eBay, with significant demand coming from developing economies, including Georgia in Eurasia, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.

The iPhone 6 gave many buyers in those countries a faster, more reliable means of accessing the Internet. With it, they were able to stay informed and in touch; engage in mobile commerce; even launch and run a business from that phone. When it’s time to upgrade, they’ll likely sell it back on the same marketplace and in turn, someone else will benefit.


Our marketplace was one of the first to give charities the opportunity to sell for free, and allow consumers to both buy and sell to benefit charity. eBay customers have raised over $650 million for charities globally in the last 10 years.

In the last five years, 15 million people either bought or sold something on eBay for charity. And today we’re continuing to make it even easier to buy, sell and donate.


Better utilization has direct and powerful environmental benefits too. Take that iPhone 6 again. The estimated greenhouse gas emissions for every iPhone 6 over its lifecycle are 95kg, most of this generated during manufacturing. Extending its useful life helps mitigate that impact.

So for eBay, the role that our business plays in positive societal change isn’t just a slogan or corporate propaganda. It isn’t just for the privileged. It doesn’t require huge effort or sacrifice. It is simply an integral part of how we do business. It’s part of our heritage and embedded in our marketplace.

The funds raised from those 200 items from Oprah’s closet will provide education and leadership development opportunities to young women in South Africa.

If, like her, you’re planning on cleaning out your closet for spring, think about using this moment as an opportunity to pay it forward. And think of the marketplaces which - every day, and in every part of the world - are creating a more enduring, better kind of global commerce.

* The auction was a partnership between eBay and O, The Oprah Magazine.  This article originally appeared on Devin's LinkedIn page.  You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.