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Starboard to eBay: Sell Classifieds, Cut Marketplace Costs

Starboard to eBay: Sell Classifieds, Cut Marketplace Costs

Activist investor Starboard Value LP stepped up pressure on eBay to move faster to separate its eBay Classifieds Group and to cut eBay Marketplaces costs. It also voiced its support for Managed Payments and eBay’s initiative to increase revenue from seller advertising.

Starboard published its letter to eBay’s Chairman of the Board Tom Tierney and interim CEO Scott Schenkel in which it asserted they have not made enough progress since March 2019, when eBay entered into “cooperation agreements” with Starboard and another activist investor, Elliott Management.

“We have been disappointed with the speed and lack of urgency with which the Operating and Strategic Reviews have been conducted since their commencement in March 2019,” wrote Starboard Managing Member Peter Feld.

Starboard also said eBay could improve revenue trends by executing on growth opportunities with its advertising initiative and Managed Payments, and it wrote:

“We also believe eBay should return to its roots in targeting its historical core buyer universe of “self-expressionists and treasure hunters”, who are seeking unique, hard-to-find, or value-oriented items.”

Starboard noted eBay had invested heavily in growth initiatives over the past several years that led to margin contraction in the core Marketplace business. “Unfortunately, despite this significant spend, growth has continued to slow in the Marketplace business, with Marketplace GMV declining 5% in 2019 on a reported basis. We would expect eBay to continue to invest in opportunities for potential growth, but given historical challenges, a more stringent focus on profitability is also needed.”

Starboard said it was pleased that the March 2019 cooperation agreements among Starboard, Elliott Management, and eBay had resulted in the immediate placement of two new directors on eBay’s Board of Directors “as well as the intended appointment of a third new director and the departure of one incumbent director.” However, it went on to say, eBay “has neither added a new director nor announced the departure of an incumbent independent director.”

The intention of Starboard’s letter was made clear when it wrote: “In order to achieve the optimal outcome, we believe Classifieds must be separated, and a more comprehensive and aggressive operating plan must be put in place to drive profitable growth in the core Marketplace business.”

You can find the letter on the StarboardValue.com website.

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Update 2/4/2020: eBay issued a statement in response to Starboard’s letter.

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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). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.

7 thoughts on “Starboard to eBay: Sell Classifieds, Cut Marketplace Costs”

  1. Starboard “We also believe eBay should return to its roots in targeting its historical core buyer universe of “self-expressionists and treasure hunters”, who are seeking unique, hard-to-find, or value-oriented items.”

    Ebay”noooo. we wanna be amazon”

    Unfortunately there are a lot more problems than just that!

  2. Starboard does not understand that Seller Hub, Advertising (promoted listings) and eBay payments is actually killing eBay, all of these are Wenig programs that current management needs to kill, yet they are promoting the very programs that are causing sellers to go broke selling on eBay.

    In eBay’s current form the company is doomed to failure and sellers will continue to move inventory to other venues quickly as they want nothing to do with Seller Hub, the purchase fee raising promoted listings, or eBay Payments which is already bankrupting small sellers and killing cash flow for them. Give up the ghost investors, eBay is done, sellers are leaving for Offerup.com, LetGo.com and Amazon at record clips.

  3. Well, if I were Schenkel, I’d be squirming in my seat reading that letter. For sure, I think we can safely say that Schenkel is not going to get the top position any time soon.

    “While eBay made some progress in driving margin expansion in 2019, we believe that significant
    further opportunity exists and the stated plan of 2% improvement over three years is unacceptable
    without a meaningful improvement in revenue trends in the core Marketplace business.”

    Now, of course they like Managed Payments and Promoted Listings, but I think the Board still doesn’t get the instability of both the Platform and the Management. Just how many stumbling blocks there are for sellers to get on board, build a business when there’s no support at all. There won’t be meaningful change because the current management doesn’t know what to change or even how to get there. It’s all smoke and mirrors and I think we’ll see more of that after Q1 earnings are released. This year is going to be about how far they really have fallen.

    The Operating Review was a complete and utter embarrassment for eBay Management and further shows their complete lack of ability to guide the business and get it back on it’s feet. It is instrumental that the board gets a move on hiring a new leader. What the board expects from eBay’s management team is not attainable until there’s a new King or Queen.

  4. When are these people going to realize that they should be catering to their sellers, not exploiting them? Without their sellers, they have no product to sell. Make it more seller-friendly, while also protecting your DECENT, HONEST shoppers, and I assure you things will improve, be far more sustainable and even produce the growth they want to see.

    Yes, sellers need things to be made easier for them — the listing and fulfillment processes and such — not herded into fewer and fewer options with decreasing control over their own businesses like a bunch of cattle headed for slaughter. Small businesses don’t exist to for already rich people to exploit. They are an integral part of the health of our economy that very real people rely on to survive.

    The government needs to step up their game and start taking action to stop the slaughter.

  5. Another thing they should keep in mind is that a business requires continual investment to produce the growth they want to see. It requires money to provide the necessary resources and equipment for a fair playground where ALL products are made available 24/7 — not “money-saving” Cloud services that are too expensive to produce the same.

    When you are limiting the very core of your business, you’re certainly going to limit your profit and growth potential. As a matter of fact, that core will eventually evaporate, which should be rather obvious at this point. Yet, they keep trying to operate a criminal machine. Did these people actually earn their degrees or did they cheat their way through college?

  6. Picky Chicky, you have seen the light, you are being exploited by White Collar Criminals running eBay, you have a choice, look at other venues like Offerup.com who is now running a program for sellers who ship their own items, there is also Letgo.com as a new option to eBay sellers.

    1. Oh, I would never sell there in its current state. They’d have to do a complete overhaul of the site before I’d consider it. The same goes for other venues before I’d consider returning to them. The only marketplace I trust is eCrater, anymore, so I, like many others, am building my own site. I actually have the site done; I just need to get a lot more products added.

      With the way things are in eCommerce, at the moment, it’s best for small businesses to branch out on their own and stop relying on these crooks.

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