Holy Cow, Batman! eBay's Top Sellers Converge on Gotham City
By Ina Steiner
A group of eBay's top sellers held a summit in New York over the weekend. Estimating they comprise 10% of eBay's revenue on its U.S. site, the eBay Elite formulated strategies on how they could get eBay to help them grow their businesses.
Over 100 sellers of the nearly 500-member group attended the meeting. Speakers consisted of sellers, analysts and vendors who spoke on various topics throughout the 2 days. Attendees broke off into groups to discuss key issues, including fraud, fees, item specifics and feedback.
Also on the agenda was defining the structure of the group and how it would operate. Members struggled over the question of whether the group should be limited to a small membership or opened up more widely. There was a roundtable discussion to debate the issue and to discuss possible new names for the group. The dilemma for members was that while the name eBay Elite signifies membership of top eBayers, there was concern that the name might give the impression that the group was arrogant.
Sellers went about the summit with a sense of purpose and worked hard to generate actionable recommendations. One seller expressed his feeling that seemed to sum up the reason so many people traveled to New York at the their own expense, taking time away from their demanding businesses. "I pay $20,000 a month in fees to eBay, but I don't get phone calls from my eBay category manager. When an issue arises, eBay says, "You have a problem, but no one else does." With this group, now they can't say that anymore."
Sellers expressed frustration in trying to work with eBay, and brainstormed on how to make things better. eBay did not send a representative to the meeting, and the eBay Elite board did not allow other marketplace representatives to participate.
Consensus was reached on many key issues, despite the fact that attending sellers use a wide variety of business models. In the roundtable meetings to discuss fees, for example, discussion revolved around a fair way to lower fees for top sellers who have different operating expenses than smaller sellers, including the costs of employees and rent. A minority feared lowering fees would make it easier for competitors to enter the marketplace.
One proposal was to have a tiered fee structure, another proposed eBay give incentive volume-discounts to sellers whose monthly fees reached a certain point (fees for each of the 16 participants in the Fees roundtable ranged up to $60,000 a month).
Participants initially wanted to be able to tell eBay they would reinvest the refunded fees in their eBay businesses. But after further discussion, they weren't sure it would be a good return on investment. If eBay could bring more buyers to the marketplace, and stop their efforts at recruiting more sellers to the site, they wouldn't be so concerned about fees, several sellers said. "We want to get something out of our fees." The discussion included suggestions on specific ways eBay could attract buyers to the site.
On Sunday afternoon, moderators from the roundtable discussions presented their recommendations to the group. The board members and moderators stayed in New York on Monday to compile notes and brainstorm. They will spend the next few weeks creating a white paper summarizing their findings. In addition, members are busy planning for next month's eBay Live user conference in New Orleans where the eBay Elite will have an exhibit booth. eBay management will acknowledge the presence of the eBay Elite at the opening address of eBay Live.
The weekend Summit was held at Gotham City Online's offices in Soho, New York City, owned by Jonathan Garriss. Many eBay Elite members donated money, equipment and time to make the meeting happen. Shelly Hudson of Shoetime ran logistics for the group, and she spontaneously donated leftover food from the luncheon to the New York City Rescue Mission.
The eBay Elite was founded in August 2003 by Joe Cortese, an eBay Platinum PowerSeller and owner of NobleSpirit.com. In his opening statement, Cortese revealed his "hidden agenda" in forming the eBay Elite, which was "to ensure that I sell my merchandise on eBay for a profit. My goal is to stay successful and grow my business. That is the common denominator that we share."
Cortese discussed the passion all eBay sellers demonstrate, which he said would enable the eBay Elite to move mountains.
"Someone ought to pay attention to our passion," he said.
Sellers seemed to be looking for answers to the question, as the eBay site matures, will eBay be able to provide a platform where sellers can continue to grow their businesses? Stay tuned.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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