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eBay Competes with Sellers by Offering Shipping Supplies

In a rare move, eBay will compete against its own sellers, and, while it’s in a narrow niche – shipping supplies – it raised concerns among sellers when eBay announced the news as part of its Spring Seller Update this week. eBay will also subsidize the cost of its shipping supplies to its Store owners by providing them with quarterly coupons.

Brian Shenker knows about shipping supplies and about channel conflict – he’s Vice President of Customer Development for ULINE, a leading distributor of shipping, packaging and industrial supplies.

“There are hundreds of sellers selling shipping supplies on eBay, and now eBay is going to compete with them,” was his reaction upon hearing the news.

He said eBay knows how much shipping supplies are sold on its marketplace. “Just like Amazon, eBay can analyze the market and say, we can get into it ourselves. That creates a conflict.” Merchants are increasingly finding themselves in a position where “the channel becomes your competitor,” Shenker said.

One of those sellers eBay is now competing with is Jason Archambault of Fastpack Packaging Inc., who sells through multiple channels including eBay and his own website. “It will be a challenge,” he said of having to compete with eBay, “but there have been many challenges in our 16-plus years in this business. It will be a challenge but we will adapt and overcome as we have had to do many times over the years.”

On the one hand, he says, eBay’s mailing list, and loyal customer base will be impossible to compete with, but “depending on who they partner with to handle these sales, I doubt they will be able to offer the wide line of Shipping Supplies that we are able to offer.” Fastpack’s catalog features over 10,000 different Bubble Mailers, Shipping Boxes, Bags, Poly Mailers, Bubble Wrap, Tape and much more.

Another area that will be a challenge for eBay, according to Archambault, is the fact that so many sellers sell on multiple channels. The eBay-branded packaging “may be good if you only sell on eBay, but if you sell on another channel, I don’t think you would want to advertise eBay to your Amazon or your website customers.”

Sellers discussing the news had a mixed reaction regarding helping to promote the eBay brand by using the packaging. “Now eBay wants us to pay for advertising for them. Heck, I go out of my way to keep the word eBay OFF of my packages now,” one seller wrote on the eBay discussion boards.

But a seller posting on Facebook thought his customers would get excited when they see the mailman coming with their purchase – “I think allot of it is just that anticipation,” he wrote. “I dig them, I’ll price them we will see,” he said.

Others worried about the risk of theft by advertising the fact that a package contained an eBay order. But one seller said, “to me, the branding argument fear is unfounded…millions of Amazon boxes go out and no thief is going after a box just because it says eBay.”

The eBay Shipping Supplies store will be operated by a third-party fulfillment partner with a license to use the eBay trademark, the company explained. But it has not revealed who it’s working with and did not respond to our inquiry before press time.

Initially, sellers will be able to buy 100 percent recyclable boxes in 10 different sizes; airjacket bubble mailers; polyjacket mailers; and tape. Listings on the eBay Shipping Supplies store state, “The Store is managed and operated by Bascom, a trusted fulfillment partner licensed to sell eBay branded supplies.”

As for the coupons eBay is giving its Store sellers – eBay raised the subscription costs of its eBay Stores on Tuesday and as a sort of consolation prize, told sellers, “North American registered Store subscribers will also receive a new coupon for eBay-branded shipping supplies.”

Basic storeowners will receive a $25 coupon each quarter; Premium storeowners will receive a $50 coupon/quarter; and Anchor storeowners will receive a $75 coupon/quarter.

It’s worth noting that sellers who ship using USPS Priority Mail (a popular service with small online sellers) are able to get free boxes from the Postal Service.

Longtime eBay sellers may remember in 2004 when Jeff Jordan, then Senior Vice President of eBay North America, announced a deal with the Postal Service in which it provided sellers with eBay co-branded USPS Priority Mail boxes. Back then, there was more excitement among sellers about shipping in an eBay branded box.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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 ina@ecommercebytes.com.