eBay performance (blue) compared to the NASDAQ (red) over the last year
Chart courtesy of AOL money and finance.
I ruminated a few days ago about What should artists do about marketing their art in a recession? This produced a lot of responses including suggestions that there was no recession as yet. Which is true - but there are lots of indicators that say that a lot of people are already experiencing an economic slowdown.
eBay is also very much feeling the pinch and needs to act. eBay's market performance had been falling until its 4th quarter results. Predictions about performance in 2008 do not meet market expectations which caused the share price to fall still further. Some are saying it's now a 'don't buy' stock mainly because its share price is expected to go even lower. The only bright spot seems to be the non-auction parts of the eBay business - particularly Paypal. Overall it appears that eBay's auction business has been hurt by raising fees, reducing advertising and long-standing problems about fraudulent items and behaviour.(edited/revised post publication)
amazon=blue; ebay=red; overture.com=green; etsy=gold
In addition, Audit Integrity currently rates eBay Inc. has having an Aggressive Accounting and Governance Risk - well below the industry average - and identifies a number of material areas of risk in current operations. The Accounting & Governance Risk (AGR®) rating is an assessment of the quality and transparency of corporate behavior.
eBay felt change was needed. There's major change at the top of the organisation - John Donahoe replaces Meg Whitman as eBay CEO at the end of March and on Tuesday, before stepping down as CEO for North America , Bill Cobb's last act was to announce a package of changes aimed at bolstering ebay's market share and revenues.
It was supposed to bring sellers and buyers back to ebay - but looks as if it might have only succeeded so far in enraging rather too many sellers. In addition, although the share price which has taken a battering of late has rallied, expert comment recommends not buying eBay stock as predictions are that it is set to fall even further....
These are the links to:
- the e-commerce forum announcement on new pricing and other news by Bill Cobb.
- last Tuesday's press release eBay Announces Bold Changes Aimed At Improving Overall Customer Experience
- the statement for sellers: Seller Update: Fees, Rewards & Standards
Donahoe hopes the changes will force sellers to improve their performance and make buyers feel more comfortable shopping on the site. He's gambling that happy buyers will lead to higher sales (and higher Average Selling Prices) that will keep sellers listing.Overall, eBay is aiming to improve the eBay experience from the buyer perspective - which is a totally laudable aim.
Auction Bytes: changes rock eBay world - Ina Steiner
What are the changes? In a nutshell,
- Listing fees have been reduced.
- Fees charged when an item sells have increased
- Feedback: buyers can still leave negative feedback for sellers - BUT buyers can only receive positive feedback. eBay rationale is that negative feedback left by sellers was 8 times higher than that left by buyers and had risen dramatically.
The results, so far, is that eBay appears to have been successful in enraging rather a lot of regular e-bay sellers and powersellers. The noise has been so loud and newsworthy that the level of disenchantment has been covered by prominent newspapers such as the New York Times and the CNN/Fortune/Money site - see links to articles and blog posts below for more detail.
Sellers on eBay's normally rancorous message boards were apoplectic, using phrases like "extortion" to describe the news. On Wednesday several began calling for a general strike, under which sellers would withhold listings for a week.On the feedback issue, it just struck me that eBay was being naieve as to the level of defaults that are now occurring in the marketplace generally from merchant banks and mortgages on downwards. I'd be very surprised if eBay sellers haven't also been experiencing an increased level of problems with buyers also defaulting.
As one friend put it - what is the point of having feedback if you're only going to get the good news stories? An eBay seller commented
Ebay discounts the fact that there are fraudulent buyers out there, apparently believing that the sellers are the problem. I will have to reconsider how much I sell on Ebay as it may no longer be worth the effort.On the other hand one of the posters in the eBay forums suggested that buyers will no longer feel blackmailed into giving top ratings.
Unless sellers are willing to turn orders around inside 24 hours every time and offer free shipping too, how can they expect a large percentage of 5/5 shipping ratings from buyers who are no longer blackmailed by the threat of bad feedback in return? And don't tell us you never realised this was the unwritten feedback deal with most experienced sellers.Make your own mind up. Here are some links to blog posts on this topic - it was difficult to find any which were positive. You can find more news results about the changes here.
- Forbes (28th january 2008 - pre-announcement): Donahoe's task - Goosing eBay
- New York Times (29th January 2008): Sellers Give Negative Feedback on eBay Changes
- Auction Bytes (29th January)
- eBay Bans Sellers from Leaving Negative Feedback for Buyers
- eBay Lowers Insertion Fees, Raises Commission Fees
- ecommercetimes.com: (29th January 2008)
- Wired (January 30th): Ebay Sellers Riled Up About New Fees, Rules
- Pheebay (30th January): Angry eBay Auction Sellers Threaten Strike Action As Feedback To Fee Hikes
- [update] Techcrunch (30th January): eBay changes structure to Drive Growth
- cnnmoney.com (31st January) EBay fee hike sparks seller rebellion and the forum response which has many people angry about the "no negative feedback for buyers" issue
- and this one which is a funny spoof of The Secret Diary of Meg Whitman
Other people are talking about walking away. Some have already walked.
Maggie Stiefvater used to be a die-hard eBay enthusiast selling both original paintings and ACEOs on eBay. Not any more. Now, apart from giving more time to her literary endeavours (she's an 'about to be published' author), she also pulled out of listing her original artwork on e-bay last year and isn't planning on listing any more there any time soon. She's selling prints from her website and doing original commissions to order - and artwork for her own pleasure.
"I used to be a diehard eBay enthusiast until late last year when they cut their advertising funds and views dropped 40%. That was when I pulled out, tired of eBay jerking the sellers around. We always seemed to be the brunt of their experiments and they don't mind losing one or two or forty of us -- there's always more to take our place."Diversification is one option for independent artists - that and increased self-sufficiency and awareness of alternative options. Etsy, overstock.com and google base might possibly be the beneficiaries of this action. That line running along the bottom of the chart below relates to the relative minnow called Etsy. However Etsy is totally devoted to all things handmade and what you can't see on this chart from compete.com is the fact that it had a 280% rise in the people visiting in the last year, as well as a 330% increase in visits. In fact it rivals eBay for the length of time people stay on the etsy site when they visit. In addition, I don't hear the concerns about fraud that one hears again and again in relation to eBay and I do hear lots of satisfied noises from etsy sellers.
Maggie Stiefvater - Greywaren Art
amazon=blue; ebay=red; overture.com=green; etsy=gold
Perhaps more concerning than competition from Google is the ongoing infiltration of scam artists upsetting the fine balance of trust between buyers and sellers. These include well-documented online "gangs" that pilfer retail establishments and re-sell stolen goods and international crime rings that attempt to hijack sales by posing as high-rated buyers. The latter group will attempt to close auctions early and send false PayPal payment information in an attempt to obtain free goods.
In a few years, when we have the advantage of hindsight, eBay's stock price may be as much as $10 lower if the company is unable to curtail the international interception schemes seemingly spreading like a cancer in their auction business.
If all of this sounds far-fetched, take a moment to ponder the company's recent announcement that it is acquiring Fraud Sciences for $169 million. Obviously there are deep concerns surrounding the security of eBay transactions.
Forbes (Do Not) Buy It Now: eBay To Get Even Cheaper
Andrew Horowitz, The Disciplined Investor
If I were currently selling on eBay - which I'm not - I think I'd be wanting to make sure I had an alternative distribution channel set up and ready to go as an absolute minimum.