Altrec.com, a large retailer selling camping and hiking gear and sporting goods online, registered on eBay last month. The company is a client of Mercent, an online ad agency that is bringing on large retailers onto eBay using the new "Large Merchant Services" API technology that lets high-volume sellers easily list items on eBay. As of this morning, Altrec had zero listings and zero feedback.
Altrec.com is a privately held company based in Redmond, Oregon. It carries major brands, including Columbia Sportswear, JanSport, New Balance, Nike, Nordica, the North Face, Pacific Outdoor, Patagonia, Rossignol, Sorel, and Teva. The addition of Altrec is a continuation of eBay's "Operation Catalog," a major story we broke in September that identified eBay's new strategic direction.
In talking to Mercent CEO Eric Best, it's clear there's a very different philosophy at play between these mega-retailers and long-time eBay sellers. For Mercent's clients, it's about visibility, branding and customer acquisition. I believe large retailers view eBay simply as another channel to which to send their product feeds, similar to comparison-shopping sites such as Shopping.com and PriceGrabber. That's quite different from the traditional eBay seller who viewed eBay as a major venue on which they sold, not as a way to acquire new customers for their own sites.
It's noteworthy that the executive who heads eBay's marketplaces business is Lorrie Norrington, the former President of Shopping.com - the comparison shopping engine eBay acquired in 2005. Her experience at Shopping is likely a major factor in eBay's new direction. But with Google getting into the comparison shopping engine space with Product Search, it's a greater challenge for such companies.
eBay is evolving from marketplace to ad platform. It's hard to be optimistic about this strategy - it didn't work for Yahoo Auctions. Stay tuned for Sunday's AuctionBytes-Update newsletter which will carry an interview with Mercent's CEO for a better understanding of the large retailer view of eBay.