Friday, November 30, 2007

Perception is Reality! So Where is eBay Going Really?

I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out what direction eBay is heading in the short-term as well as long-term. Unfortunately, I have to base most of my posts on observation of one side of the equation (the outside). I rarely have enough data to make hard and fast assessments. I also have a bias towards the seller so I often inject that bias into my observations. The problem with this approach is I have as many misses as hits. Its like playing a game of Battleship, trying to figure out where the boats are and then surrounding them until I can blow them up.

A former colleague of mine used to say "Perception is Reality" and it doesn't matter what the truth is its the perception that counts. For instance, if you drive to a sales meeting in a new BMW, the perception is you are successful. It doesn't matter that you are in debt up to your ears. So, reality rarely has much to do with how you are perceived and this can have negative consequences as well.

In the case of eBay right now, many Sellers have the perception that eBay doesn't care about them, they are just numbers in a P&L, even with all of the talk about being the first social network, community, etc. Is this the truth? I don't think so, many employees that I've spoken with care deeply about the seller community but the perception has become the reality.

This is also a problem in the buyer community, the perception is that eBay is full of fraud and scams but is this the reality? It doesn't appear to matter because buyers are not flocking to eBay like they used to. I could go on and on with examples but I'm sure you get my point.

So, as a blogger and observer of eBay what am I to do? I try and look past the perception and see what is really going on and then share my observations with you.

Based on conversations with sellers, analysts, vendors, current and former employees, I try and cobble together an opinion that I think is at least close to the mark, though sometimes I just throw stuff against the wall to see if it sticks (eBay buying Channel Advisor was one of those occasions and that post got a lot of run). I'm sure the eBay employees that read this blog often say, he doesn't have a clue. Many of them call Scot Wingo "WingNut" I wonder what nickname they have for me.

Everyone wants to know what eBay is now and will become. Sellers and service providers want to have information to help plan their futures; investors want to know whether to stick it out or jump ship; competitors want to know what the plans are so they can take advantage of any areas of weakness; employees want to know what the plan is so they feel secure; buyers want to know if it is safe to buy on eBay and well, you get the point.

There has to be a way for eBay to communicate more effectively with the different constituents so as not to give away secrets to the competition, run afoul of the SEC, or start a mass exodus of buyers and sellers.

I've used the phrase "eBay Speak" quite often in my posts and it seems to be the preferred method of communication for the company. "eBay Speak" is vague, ambiguous language that leaves the listener asking what did they say. "eBay Speak" is using the same buzzwords year after year without any real changes. "eBay Speak" is saying "We Here You" when a problem is discussed and then 5 years later saying "We Hear You" about the same exact problem. What "eBay Speak" does is form a perception for the listener that eBay is "full of it" and you really can't believe much that is said.

I'm going to throw something against the wall right now or yell out "E8" to see if I hit the mark. I believe that 80% of the problems eBay is facing at this time are directly related to negative perception. How else can you explain beating estimates quarter after quarter and seeing the share price stagnate, seeing sellers leave for Amazon because they can't get a fix on where eBay is going or not being able to attract buyers because they think they will be ripped off. 20% of the problems are real, like glitches on the site, seller economics, problems with search, fewer buyers etc. but some of these problems could be fixed with a change in perspective.

With eBay, "Perception is Reality" and as I see it, the problems will continue until the perception matches the reality. That will only happen when eBay is communicates better, ceasing the use of "eBay Speak". Sure, it is not as simple as this but if eBay doesn't grab hold of this simple concept and begin telling a story people will believe all the changes they have planned won't accomplish much.


Anonymous said...

Great article... I think many within eBay ask the same questions, and it is almost impossible to figure out what they are doing some times.


Randy Smythe said...

Scott, its not in their nature to be open so they will always have problems with perception unless they realize they need to change.

What's funny is several ebay employees and ex-employees have told me they think they are very open. Somewhere there is a disconnect.