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How eBay is navigating the future marketplace model

Rhian Bartlett, eBay’s senior director of soft goods in the UK, talks about the future of multichannel marketplace shopping and the challenge of making a wealth of inventory easy to browse for a global audience

Rhian bartlett

Rhian bartlett

Rhian Bartlett

Bartlett joined eBay, based in Richmond, south west London in March this year and is charged with developing the marketplace’s strategy as well as driving growth in key non-durable categories including clothing.

How did you get where you are today?

I previously held roles at retailers including Sainsbury’s, Homebase, Superdrug and Safeway, mainly in commercial positions but also in marketing and business planning.

My very first job when I was 15 was at the M&S in Richmond High Street so it was quite funny on my first day at eBay it felt like I had come full circle from the shop floor all those years ago. Now here I am working 200 yards down the street in a very new type of retail environment.

I worked on Homebase’s first transactional site and Sainsbury’s non-food online launch so I have always loved online.

What attracted you to eBay?

I am very excited by - and always have been - the future for the customer. The dynamics and habits of shoppers are changing rapidly and more markets are moving online.

Shops will never disappear but they are likely to become showrooms for brands more so than today with orders going through a digital style of operation, which you can see already.

If you just walk up Richmond high street, the windows of lots of stores have signs saying click-and-collect available here, so there are small stores with full ranges available using a multichannel approach.

For me, eBay is the ultimate future digital model because it is completely agnostic to the brands it sells. We are all things to all people and we welcome everyone and everything on our marketplace, which is slightly strange for someone who has come from a buying background where I had to do a lot of range selection. Of course, there are curated parts of the site where we put things together to inspire customers but we would never turn someone away. It’s a marketplace – our whole ethos is that we bring buyers and sellers together.

To have those constraints removed is quite an incredible experience both for me, and for the customer shopping our sites. It is one of our great strengths and also one of our biggest challenges. We have 800 million listings at a global level and our international shipping programme opens the marketplace for cross-border so that is an epic amount of product to navigate.

What is the vision for eBay’s fashion category?

When you have got that much choice, it has to be about discoverability, curation and bringing that to life across multiple screens because people don’t go and log on at home in their home office anymore. There are many stages and people use websites like magazines, flicking through to get ideas as well as for purchasing. On eBay 50% of all transactions are today touched by mobile.

The UK is also more advanced in terms of mobile than the US, so we have the earliest adopting consumers in the mobile space and as a result, probably the most discerning. They have the most informed views, rely on that channel more and use it increasingly on the move.

How many retailers use eBay in the UK?

We have over 200,000 business sellers and 18 million buyers in the UK, which equates to one in three of the population (which is monthly unique and if you consider you can’t use eBay until you are 18, it’s a mind-blowing thing). Even at business seller level, there is a huge spread between well-known bricks-and-mortar high street businesses through to small start-ups and everything in between.

How are you embracing multichannel?

We launched click-and-collect partnership with Argos a couple of years ago but last month we started enabling sellers to drop them off in Argos as a way to make it more convenient for our users. It is competitively priced to allow people to sell their products online without having to wait at a Post Office so it is all about choice.

We are in an exclusive relationship with Argos for click-and-collect at this stage, but that is just for click-and-collect. All these lines are blurring for consumers. If you were to ask a consumer what they want, they want to pick up and drop off somewhere very convenient for them which is often not their home so it could be at work, a local Argos store or a local ’anything else’ store. Without physical presence on the high street, we have had to think creatively about how we can meet that need.

We have had 3 million parcels delivered through Argos so far and it is offered at more than 800 Argos locations. Drop off will start to ramp up to 150 stores by Christmas.

Most of our energy is on how we can help our sellers by marketing to our buyers. As well as providing a technology platform they can trade over, they also want traffic and lots of pairs of eyeballs and lots of visibility for their offers.

Where do you see personalisation going forward?

A lot of our marketing is very personalised so with our emails, we will try and play back where you have been watching something or have viewed things, you will start to see inventory of that nature appearing in your marketing.

We also have something called Collections which tries to curate small collections of product together, sometimes by our buyers, other times by experts in the industry and while that doesn’t display on a personalised basis, we do get users following each other and we build on our community credentials.

The other way that you might see personalisation on the site is through the multifaceted billboard (MFBB) on the homepage. There’s lots of personalised content on there, so it will show you what you last bought, what you last looked at and talk to you about brand messaging, such as Nectar, new services like the Argos partnerships, as well as some key offers and deals.

In terms of technology, we updated our app with a new look and feel at the end of September. If you were to place utility shopping against inspirational browsing shopping, it tries to bring it further towards inspiration and the updates mean you can much more easily access the type of inventory you want to see without having to go through the search function.

Who is the eBay fashion customer?

We serve 18 million customers so it’s a really broad spectrum. Because we serve everybody, what we try and cater to is the mission they are on at the time, rather than define a customer by their socio-economic characteristics. We are more focused on the shopping mission so for example if you are looking for something quickly as a functional purchase, which represents the biggest element of our shopper-base. We also have lots of browse missions for our quirky, interesting inventory, whether that is vintage pieces or previous season stock, or copies of dresses seen on the red carpet.

Where do you stand on resale sellers, such as the hype surrounding the Balmain x H&M collection?

We would only crack down on something if it violated a policy and the chances are that resales like that would be done on such a small scale, that it doesn’t have a big impact. We traded pretty well with the iWatch in the first 24 hours as people resold and it was in very short supply, so that is part of the model.

eBay in the UK

  • 18 million Brits shop monthly on the site
  • Over 200,000 business trade through eBay.co.uk
  • A ladies handbag is bought via mobile every 20 seconds
  • More than 2.5 million eBay purchases have passed through the click-and-collect at Argos programme since launch

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