Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
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by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Tue Feb 11 2020 14:43:35

eBay CEO Takes a Vertical Approach to Compete with Rivals

By: Ina Steiner

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eBay is looking at getting back to its roots and is willing to experiment more in vertical markets, according to eBay interim CEO Scott Schenkel. The strategy comes as eBay faces growing competition in various niches, such as the sneaker category where a marketplace now headed by the former head of eBay Marketplaces Scott Cutler is engaging buyers.

The chief executive gave a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, where he also discussed two dynamics that negatively impacted the company's sales growth in 2019: state sales tax collection requirements and reduced marketing spend.

Schenkel said he hadn't expected 30-plus states to roll out sales tax laws so rapidly and expects it will have an impact in 2020 as well. That was a reference to laws that put the burden of collecting and remitting sales tax on marketplaces rather than third-party sellers.

When it comes to marketing, he said eBay proactively reduced the marketing spend last year, and he referenced the recent reorganization of the marketing team. As eBay reached the end of the frontier of bringing in new buyers, it pivoted back to spending more on those buyers to get them to activate more. "It will negatively impact a little bit of the active-buyer growth and will impact GMV a little bit," he said.

He doesn't want to leave growth on the table, but he doesn’t want to go overboard in "pushing the efficient frontier," he said.

The ethos of eBay is the "enthusiast buyer" and the "value seeker." They tend to index towards collectibles, vintage, last year's model - it's the "spectrum of value" eBay provides, Schenkel said. "They're not the "efficiency buyers,"" he said.

"I think that's what we have to lean into," he said. "I think there's a market there." It may grow less than ecommerce, but it probably grows in-line or better than retail - for eBay, it's a great business, he said.

When asked about growth, Schenkel said, "Regardless of who's running the company, it's about what categories or verticals make sense for us."

He referenced eBay's experiment with different revenue models and participating less as a horizontal marketplace - "which we're good at," he noted parenthetically - "but how can we operate as a vertical marketplace?"

In eBay's sneaker category, there's now zero take rate over $100. While he said, "Free is not a strategy for us," he said the plan was to iterate on, "what do we see the behavior of those sellers?"

So far, he said, sellers are buying more promoted listing ads - "so we are getting a take rate." The number of listings is going up, and the buyer base is starting to get more interested "because now the inventory is here." And eBay is working on the product behind the scenes to make it more engaging. 

Schenkel said this year eBay will be expanding a number of categories and experimenting with different revenue models, with different seller engagements, different capabilities for sellers within those categories, and different visualization for buyers.

When asked where eBay was seeing incremental competition, Schenkel said ecommerce is seeing a lot more funding into vertical niche players. The hardest part for those startups is becoming profitable given the marketing spend required to scale. eBay already has that, he said.

"But they are bringing an engaged user base to an ecosystem that we haven't in recent years. They're bringing in a user experience that's more fresh, that's differentiated, that's mobile only, etc.

"You can expect us to lean into that side of the equation more," he said.

"They are helping to expand the market, and we've got to compete to win in these categories, and think about ourselves a little bit less from a user experience standpoint as a horizontal."

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by: Chicago48 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 03:12:15 2020

I agree w/ Scott about sales tax.  It's slowing the roll, as the kids say, and Posh is the same.  Very slow sales.  I got notice from Tradesy that they will be collecting sales tax.  There probably needs to be a universal one tax amount for all the states, not to mention counties and cities that probably want in.

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by: Geetar This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 08:36:42 2020

@Chicago48

  yes, sales tax definitely has a lot to do with business slowing. But not too much I dont think. Yes, there should have been some kind of universal sales tax. Instead of everyone agreeing to that, they fought and fought and fought saying there should be no sales tax. So this is how we got here.

    I see quite a few sellers that have websites now, and do not charge sales tax. I am the opposite. I was planning on having a website, but postponed that due to the sales tax issue. I dont need 5-6 yrs down the road some state from 1500 mi away saying I owe them 15k. I just dont need that headache. I know that I can use shopify, and use the app tax jar. I dont know the costs for tax jar. But having a website thru shopify is expensive if you want a shopping cart that has calculated shipping (I think it's useless if you dont have it). Add on to that the tax jar subscription...$$$$$. I know about the sales tax thresholds, and maybe quite a few states I wont reach that. But what if I dont reach the threshold, not charge sales tax, and then towards the end of the year I do???

Alot to consider, but dont have the time for it right now.

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by: kazaly This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 09:09:54 2020

One of the most sensible ideas I've seen from eBay management in years.
The one size fits all approach does not work with the multitude of categories encompassed by eBay.
If they went to the trouble of finding product specialists for each vertical and then giving them free reign to make each category specific to the needs of both sellers and buyers, what a difference that would make!
The overheads in skill, will and technical expertise however, are way beyond eBay's capabilities and budget I fear.
It is a great idea though.

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by: toyman This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 09:58:46 2020

This has proven to be one of the better, and more thoughtful, discussions to appear here, in quite some time. As opposed to the typical eBay name calling and regurgitated complaints, so often read here, there has been thoughtful discussion and shared info.

I have felt, for some time, that eBay would have been better served to split into two arena, one Marketplace, selling as an Amazon type entity, with mostly BIN pricing, and an OOAK/Collectibles Arena, with mostly auction pricing, to allow the consumer base to decide the acceptable base. This would allow for the same base of rules for both Arenas, but with different conditions for Sellers dealing in a rarity/low production situation.

It sounds like eBay may have, finally, come around to, at least considering the possibility of adjusting rules, a bit, to allow for the differentiation, but actual action will still be the ''proof in the pudding''.

There is no doubt that after years of telling us that eBay was not going to be an online Flea Market, and running off many of the people who helped build it into a highly profitable, and very viable, outlet, they have opened their eyes to the possibility that what they needed was already here, a higher quality Flea Market, that Buyers worldwide would think of exploring when they were looking for something unusual, or rare, as opposed to being the SECOND place they would come to look for the cheapest box of band-aids or light bulbs.  

We can only hope...

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This user has validated their user name. by: NoMoreEbay

Thu Feb 13 10:02:39 2020

I guess ebay is off to a good start going 'vertical.' I wonder how many millions they've already lost.

https://www.ebay.com/help/policies/selling-policies/manag
ed-payments-restricted-items-policy?id=5009

Sellers
enrolled in managed payments are not allowed to list the following items:

Adult only items, including movies and video games
Airline, rail, and cruise tickets
Auction services
Bullion
Coins & paper money
Event tickets
Gift cards & coupons
Lodging, timeshares, vacation packages, and car rentals
Memberships for campground and RV parks
Motor vehicles
Wine

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by: spooky This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 10:13:46 2020

"zero take rate"??? I need this post translated!

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by: gzorpe This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 10:59:07 2020

Absolutely fantastic discussion. Makes me proud to be an American.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Number 6

Thu Feb 13 11:40:11 2020

NoMoreEbay

'Sellers enrolled in managed payments are not allowed to list the following items...'

But they can still list sneakers...and guitars/musical instruments....oh, hang on a minute, they're all on other more seller-friendly sites now...

Those 'vertical' sites the current CEO is on about that eBay once had under its wing before chasing off their skilled, knowledgable and money earning sellers.

I've been pondering lately, exactly 'what' is eBay?  It's not Amazon for sure, Amazon sells its own items, has distribution, warehouses, etc.  It's not any of the newer, smaller specialist sites that cater to a knowledgable buyer base with equally knowledgable sellers.  It's not the new of-the-moment sites like Mercari or Facebook marketplace.

Leaving aside its unique online auction site element, what is 'eBay'.

Well, its what its always been.  The online equivilant of placing a For Sale advert in a local or national paper at the back.  Or perhaps a specialist magazine/paper.  You pay your insertion fee, they run the advert for a set period of time.  The contract between you and the magazine/paper pretty much ends there.  Buyers and sellers deal with all the rest of the matter themselves with no interference.

eBay made this system national and international, so sellers could reach buyers from outside the target area of a given printed item, and this was/is unique - it made for great sales and great buys, finally you could buy x from y whereas before you had to go search for that old book, old CD, old tool, whatever, in your local area at best.

Nothing's changed - that's all eBay still is - but somehow over the years its managed to get its claws in every single aspect of the simple For Sale ad the seller lists for a fee.  In so doing its started to destroy its unique place in the ecommerce world, one which, not long ago, was a byword for where to go to find virtually anything - 'Bet you can find that on eBay', 'I sold that for a good price on eBay', and so forth - never hear that anymore.

And unlike paying a fee to have your advert in print, eBay decides either not to actually show your advert in some editions, or take the money and not run it at all.  

Then suggest you pay an additional fee to sell the same item you've already paid to list as a 'promoted listing'.

When we first listed on eBay there were no photos, no fiddly contradictory 'item specific' boxes to fill in, no eBay's own item condition inventions to fill in (none of which match any of the long accepted gradings in any specific category, be that books, music, stamps...they're all ones eBay's made up that don't match gradings used by sellers/buyers for decades), no payment systems in place, no Billpoint, no Paypal, no Managed Payments - and guess what...we sold vastly more of the same things we've always sold despite all that...

I've heard it said many times 'eBay's golden days are over' and we can't go back to that, and so on - but, why not?  Why can't listing/buying/selling be so simple and streamlined that most people can do it fast and effectively?  Websites that make it easy make money, Chewy, Amazon (for all their faults they're a remarkable place to buy/sell most things and quickly and simply), etc.

The world's population doubles every so many years, since eBay started there are twice or more people in the world to sell to, and yet here many of us are selling less and less each year - and don't even get started on the delcine in international sales year after year - partly due to ridiculous postage rates to export now, but also because when you list on eBay now your items don't show up on any site apart from the country you list on -

If eBay thinks promoted listings are where future easy revenue lies, its making a terrible mistake, if the deal is ultimately to pay twice to list items or you don't get shown or a sale, eventually only those using promoted listings will be listing - then, obviously, there's no point in 'promoting' your listing because you're one of only a handful listing in the first place.

I suspect a stream-lined, seller friendly, easy to list/sell/complete transaction eBay with the least amount of interference possible at all times and easy seller/buyer contact when needed, could turn it around...but then what would all those employees who come up with all this complicated nonsense do all day?

Actually, what do they do all day anyway.  Anyone know?

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by: JohnGermaine This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 11:58:17 2020

Vertical Schmertical - more psycho babble from one more idiot CEO. Still not gonna pay them MORE to not provide the service I already pay for. It's just wrong!!!

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by: Geetar This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 12:36:42 2020

@ Number 6

Wow. You hit the nail on the head DEAD ON!

But I would like to say one more thing.

They really need to get a good CEO. Hopefully one that will own a very very large percentage of the stock. So they would treat the company like their own. I really dont think that a cookie cutter CEO at this time would be able to turn the company around. Most of them are worried about the cash that they could put in their pocket in the short term, instead of the long term gain of the COMPANY. I think this was the biggest problem with Ebay for the last 10-15 years.

At this time I think there may be a sale of ebay some time in the near future. I think that may be the goal of the BOD, or a few large stake holders right now. Like I said before on here, if you do not see a replacement of the current "interim" CEO, that says it all right there. He is just in place to tow the line and put all the pieces in place for a sale or take over. Elliot Mgmt., and Starboard are just modern day Gordon Gekko's.

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by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 14:24:45 2020

"Those 'vertical' sites the current CEO is on about that eBay once had under its wing before chasing off their skilled, knowledgable and money earning sellers." - %100 true - eBay chased off all those sellers, because they did shady, dirty, quasi-legal things in order to try and bleed selles dry (to make buyers happy all the time - even when they were clearly in the wrong)

"When we first listed on eBay there were no photos, no fiddly contradictory 'item specific' boxes to fill in, no eBay's own item condition inventions to fill in (none of which match any of the long accepted gradings in any specific category, be that books, music, stamps...they're all ones eBay's made up that don't match gradings used by sellers/buyers for decades), no payment systems in place, no Billpoint, no Paypal, no Managed Payments - and guess what...we sold vastly more of the same things we've always sold" - %100 correct all the NEW "verticals" have those easy listing abilities - that eBay walked away from - so where's eBays head" ?

"nd unlike paying a fee to have your advert in print, eBay decides either not to actually show your advert in some editions, or take the money and not run it at all.

Then suggest you pay an additional fee to sell the same item you've already paid to list as a 'promoted listing'. - again %100 correct. Its a sleazy mafioso move - designed to charge you 2x for a 1x experience. Cities do it with parking spaces. You no longer pay 25 cents for a spot - you pay just "for the time", and since you dont want to get an expensive ticket or have your car towed you 1) over pay for the time amount and 2) the next person who takes that spot - pays again for that time - which has already been "bought" by the person before them.

"I've been pondering lately, exactly 'what' is eBay? " - its the San Jose mafia. Its protected by a cadre of lawyers who all owe their existence to keeping eBay right on that line of what is legal/illegal - by TOS stuffing.

"The online equivilant of placing a For Sale advert in a local or national paper at the back. Or perhaps a specialist magazine/paper. You pay your insertion fee, they run the advert for a set period of time. The contract between you and the magazine/paper pretty much ends there. Buyers and sellers deal with all the rest of the matter themselves with no interference." - Its more akin to you renting out a space in the mall. The mall owner signs the lease with you (or his agent) and you never see him/her again ... unless its ebay. The mall owner doesnt tell you how to display your goods, what your returns policy should be, they dont hide your store by building a wall in front and then telling you that you need to pay AGAIN if you want customers to see you, and the certainly dont get a cut of each sale, or a piece of the "shipping" for a sale that you make.

There are people here though that think its all normal - maybe they never had to sign a retail lease - I did - its how I know - and it was in NYC - the most onerous group of anti small business people on the planet.

eBay can go vertical or horizontal or any which way - but as said before by many others - better then I - but until sellers are no longer enemy #1 ...nothing will happen.

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by: RightbrainWoman This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Thu Feb 13 14:31:05 2020

I heard what he said. He said he is leaning. Will he fall?

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by: nsc This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 15:37:08 2020

Like the few other sensible things eBay management has said in the past dozen years, moving to restore verticals is not something they wanted or thought of themselves, but something that has been forced on them by failure of their other schemes. Even now, I doubt they mean it or understand what it entails.

Do they even understand that their site has become an ecommerce dollar store so that good economic times actually hurt them? Who goes to the dollar store to save three bucks on detergent when they are feeling flush? Not me, or anyone else I know!

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This user has validated their user name. by: DZT

Thu Feb 13 17:00:18 2020

The original post was full of nothin' but double talk.

The only thing that will be going '' Vertical '' will be the fees that sellers pay.

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by: Whatever This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 17:09:33 2020

"Ebay fee'ed their sellers to death. Many sellers left. The sellers that stayed just raised their prices to compensate for the higher fees."

Ain't it the truth? I think at a minimum at least 60% of the posters here are more than qualified to take that CEO position. AND I'm pretty sure they'd be more than happy to do it for a heck of alot less that the current multi multi million dollar salary the current wanna be CEO is taking.

The truth is there are no do-overs or most of us would be rich by now.  All eBay's deceptive misdemeanors have brought them to the current sad state of affairs. It ain't brain surgery.  The higher up's are being thrown off the Titanic with just floatie's and those have pin holes in them

For the sellers that have their own websites now and are actually generating sales from them (thanks google) - well their just not going back. E bay forgot they need so make money too.  Maybe ebay should make a Chinese site? See how long that lasts with American buyers.

Their reputation is so bitterly tarnished now I have no clue how they can repair the damage. Even your dog will bite you if you kick it long enough.

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by: Geetar This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 18:54:53 2020

All I will say is that anyone in this business using ebay to sell should plan as if they will be off ebay in 2-3 years. I think if you dont think / plan this way you may be in a really bad position. I mean yea, ebay has been great to sell on, but they just cant help themselves when it comes to botching up just about every aspect of ebay. Putting selling and sellers aside, buyers are leaving also, we all know that, for the multitude of reasons. When ebay needs to make more $$, we know what they do, come up with a half dozen schemes,...promoted listings (take rate, obsessed with take rate). Couple that with buyers leaving...prospects are not good. It's just the way it is. Us as sellers cant do anything about the problems on ebay, but we can sell at other places / own website. So you cannot have all your eggs in ebays basket. And in 2-3 years plan to possibly have 0 eggs in ebay's basket. if it works out and they do improve, good. But if not at least you will be established elsewhere. They did all this to themselves (despite what all sellers told them would happen), but at least you do not have to go down with them. It's their pile of crap. let them sit in it.

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by: nsc This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 13 19:03:34 2020

@Geetar, excellent advice, that I should have followed earlier, but will now.

@Whatevs, I will slightly disagree with the statement "eBay fee'd its sellers to death." The fees are high but not insupportable. What is insupportable is the service--not just bad but wholly unpredictable. Sellers pay eBay to show their wares to buyers. But sales are good one month, then fall off the cliff the next, for no discernible reason.

The seller has no feel for whether sales are bad because his goods don't please customers, or whether eBay hid his listings. And when sellers complained, eBay removed their obligation to show listings from the TOS. Then they wonder that sellers are leaving.

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by: Geetar This user has validated their user name.

Fri Feb 14 08:57:43 2020

@nsc

Yes, they did fee sellers to death. FVF on shipping. No free auctions / $$ for reserve price. Price to list (all other sites are free). They constantly come up with schemes the way the calculate youe bill t make sure they collect more  $$.

When ebay started, they had no FVF on shipping, they had no fee to list / no fee for auctions, no fee for a reserve price in auctions. No paypal, so no paypal fee. Then the cost of selling was 1/3 of what it is now.

The quickly went to control the flow of listings and how they are shown (first to basically keep out scam sellers witch is good). Then somewhere around 2007 they decided they could make more $$ by limiting sellers exposure, and sales, to make way to sell more ebay store subscriptions to new sellers. From there came more and more control. You cant do this, and cant do that, and if you do, your listings will disappear (fast and free, global shipping, guaranteed delivery, Free returns, promoted listings....).  Whats next? They just cant help themselves. Thats why they are loosing both buyers and sellers!

Margins are so slim after all that, that the average joe who wants to clean out his closet isnt doing that on ebay anymore. One of those joe's my brother "it's just not worth it anymore, too much time and aggravation for nothing".

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by: industrystones This user has validated their user name.

Fri Feb 14 11:41:51 2020

@PACE

- Through the countless sleazy things Ebay has put upon us, there is ONE that sticks in my craw unforgivably. Think about all the multitudes of money grubbing- hand in your pocket schemes that they have come up with over the years.

One even more disgusting and annoying than the ever expanding TOS which by now has grown larger than the Declaration of Independence. An added buzzword or some added legal verbatim inserted by lawyers on a weekly basis so as to always being sure to cover themselves through possible litigation.
Who DOES this kinda garbage unless you are literally "trying" to get one over on someone?  I.E:"Sellers"

The one thing I am referring to is the charge on "Shipping".

Who is to blame?  US. The sellers, who actually let it happen. Weak enough to let them roll over us and get away with it.
After all, Per the TOS, "If you don't like it? Don't use our site".

This mandate in a nutshell should be illustration enough of what a bunch of henchmen these guys are.
As I type this, I am guilty of letting them roll over me too. "The fees on MY shipping" fiasco 'should' have been my green light to exit Ebay forever.

Guess what?

Try me on the mandated "Manged Payments" thing. Watch me man-up and shut down 100% of my selling activity. Only each of us truly know when the bluff is to be called within us and what the breaking point is. This will be the one hands down. Not getting any of MY checking account numbers and routing numbers. No dice.

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by: Geetar This user has validated their user name.

Fri Feb 14 12:56:45 2020

@nsc

   An another thing.

Yes, it is better to expand to other market places / own web site. And here is a way to use ebay's convoluted carrot stick, hide/suppress listing scheme in your own favor. This works. This was a discussion on another webiste I had between a few sellers and one mentioned this:

If you sell multiples of the same items, have a pretty steady inventory, have a decent sell through rate, and have a pretty steady seller rank/rate. Your sales are pretty much about the same every month, not deviating too much, and you probably have quite a few steady customers like I did.do. And quite a few.

With most marketplaces, your search result and rank usually is calculated by popularity, both as a seller, and individually. If you take you regular customers away from ebay, and send them to the other market places to buy from you with whatever incentive you can give them it is a win win. You boost your sell trough rate on the other market place, helping you to the top, meanwhile your sales dont decline on ebay (they have that magic number every month they allow you ($xx sales). So you wont be loosing sales on ebay from taking YOUR customers elsewhere. It's their crazy system, use it to your advantage.

Despite what ebay thinks, if they are YOUR regular customers, they are not ebay customers, they are your customers. They are not buying anything from ebay, they are buying it from you. One poster here says all the time, they have no inventory and dont own anything that is for sale, they rent pixels. And that is very much the truth, despite what ebay thinks.

That ebay system is crazy, and unfair most times. But there are noticeable patterns, and when you put 2 and 2 together you can use it to your own advantage sometimes. In the past I may have felt guilty about doing something like this. But they run it the way they do, so all is fair game, and business is business. I will do what ever I can do to steal the sales away from ebay as long as it doesnt effect my sales # on ebay.

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