“You have to focus on what customers want”: eBay, 20 years later

Online marketplace eBay has witnessed the Australian e-commerce scene change much over the 20 years since it launched, but the most constant change has been the evolution of its product selection.

According to eBay Australia and New Zealand managing director Tim MacKinnon, the marketplace started out as a place for people to buy quirky and unique inventory that couldn’t be found elsewhere, but has rapidly evolved as product demand shifted.

“It became a habit for people who wanted to sell stuff from their homes, and buy second hand stuff or unwanted Christmas gifts, and that was the next wave of selection on our site,” MacKinnon told Inside Retail.  

“So many people were doing that that businesses came on and started buying from eBay sellers, discounting the product and selling it to another, or getting their hands on stock and selling in bulk.”

The latest shift, according to MacKinnon, is one driven by eBay itself – a focus more and more on new products, and making sure it has what people need every day.

It is for this reason the brand brought Coles on board to add grocery to eBay’s product offer – a partnership MacKinnon teases ramp up in the lead in to Christmas.

EBay also stocks products from retailers such as Myer, Bunnings and The Good Guys.

“At the end [of the day], you have to focus on what customers want, and if you’re not delivering that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the market – 3 or 30 years – if you can’t deliver the product they want at the best prices, you won’t be able to engage customers,” MacKinnon said. 

However, eBay is in an interesting space as far as online platforms go: it is, as MacKinnon notes, the only marketplace in Australia that also doesn’t sell its own product. 

“We don’t compete with retailers, we partner with retailers,” MacKimnnon said.  

“We’re the only marketplace in the retail landscape that is not also a retailer, and I think an important point is that retailers compete with other retailers. Our job is to help retailers grow.”

According to MacKinnon, almost half of all Australians will start their shopping journey on a marketplace, whether they’re there to compare prices, learn about product options, or purchase.

However, in a time when customer spend is dipping and both physical and online sales down, according to the most recent ABS data and NAB online retail sales index, it is becoming increasingly important for retailers to ensure they are delivering what customers want.

“I think this is the most dynamic and challenging period for retail in a long time. There’s more competition, the environment is difficult,” MacKinnon said.

“Our job is to help Australian retailers compete and provide a channel of growth for them, and we see that as an important responsibility.”

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