Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Has eBay "Jumped the Shark"?

For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase "Jump the Shark" here is a good description from Wikipedia:

"The term jumping the shark alludes to a specific scene in a 1977 episode of the TV series Happy Days when the popular character Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli literally jumps over a shark while water skiing. The scene was so preposterous that many believed it to be an ill-conceived attempt at reviving the declining ratings of the flagging show. The phrase has become a colloquialism used by U.S. TV critics and fans to denote the point at which the characters or plot of a TV series veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Such a show is typically deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has "jumped the shark" fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original appeal ...

The term has also evolved to describe other areas of
pop culture including movie series, musicians, actors or authors for whom a drastic change was seen as the beginning of the end or marking the moment the subject is "past its peak." (bold is mine)

Since 2006 when eBay launched SIS (Stores in Search) and then reverted back a month later, these are some of the changes that have transpired on the site:
  • Store listing fees were raised by up to 150% per listing because "the clutter" was ruining the beauty of eBay. Inventory left the site because it was too expensive to list the "Long Tail"
  • eBay Express was launched with a weak advertising campaign and went from a vehicle to bring new buyers to eBay to a method for getting "more share of existing buyers wallet"
  • The focus of management was on fixing CORE and fees were reduced for auctions with low starting bids.
  • The T&S Crackdown of 2007 began and the "buyer experience" mantra was coined. Basically, sellers didn't do what eBay wanted so they started picking them off one-by-one.
  • DSRs were launched as a way identify the good sellers because Feedback failed to do this.
  • "Shop Victoriously" and Windorphins became the marketing strategy - Auctions (Winning)really were the beauty of eBay.
  • More fee changes with FVF discounts for 'good sellers" and the famous Stephanie Tilenius quote from the ChannelAdvisor's Catalyst conference; "by this time next year we will not recognize compared with how it looks today.”
  • Best Match, Finding 2.0, Feedback 2.0 and the list goes on and on.

So my question for you is: Has eBay "jumped the shark"? Are they grasping at straws with these changes in order to save the business? Has eBay passed its prime?

I am very interested in hearing what you think, so I will step out of the way and let you speak. Let me hear your 12%.


Tony P. said...

Need to set the stage: some peeps believe that ebay has made a series of well thought out business decisions and has decidely put Plan to Actions.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, but I disagree. Judging their previous business acumen, based upon their decisions since about 2000, they appear to be Stumbling and Bumbling their way around. At one time, they stumbled upon Paypal; for that, they get one gold star. (it is from our Gold, not theirs)

This isn't to say that they don't set far-range goals, nor haven't done so in the past, it just stands to reason that they have been forced to change those goals. NOTHING works out the way we mere mortals intend, and in an industry that has few precedents or points of reference, it's very doubtful that any well-laid plans won't need changing at some point.

Therein lies ebay main problem; IT believes it can force anything it wants, whereas it should simply be *nudging* expansions, improvements, etc. Treading lightly in unknown territory - that should be their mantra. Instead, they proclaim that The Gorilla Do Whatever The Gorilla Want To Do.

Ebay is jumping a series of sharks, that they themselves have stocked into their own waters. Self-destruction through ignorance, arrogance and avarice.

Anonymous said...

Oh....I SO agree with Tony - especially that last sentence. I'll go back even further, Randy, since 2004 when they started moving away from the excitement of an auction (doing away with things like Going, Going, Gone) they seem to be "dancing as fast as they can" - striving from quarter to quarter to look good for the wall street game - crunching numbers and who-knows-what with listing manipulation. they're not really producing success just driving everyone crazy with changes and trying to put on a good act of great success. They should have been putting this energy toward cleaning out bad sellers and scammers but instead as business declined because of their own mismanagment, they chose a relentless path of raises and squeezing money out of sellers and mainly just being pests and throwing obstacles in their paths! One sometimes wonders what is the purpose of the ebay site? I hear its to bring buyers and sellers together.....but you sure could have fooled me? Absolutely nothing they've done to date will get one new buyer to try ebay or convince one old buyer to return - absolutely nothing! On the other hand their bull-headedness has caused countless sellers to seek other venues. I know because I see them everywhere I go. They haven't yet learned that the secret to going elsewhere is to convince your buyers to follow...but they'll learn!

I am patiently waiting for that day when ebay finally self-destructs. They're a company that has made money hand over fist in spite of themselves and their poor management...that's changing now because in their stupditiy they began cutting that one all-important nerve - they are alienating sellers - the meat and potatoes on their table! At the present rate, I foresee doom for ebay and maybe its well deserved - maybe it has to happen in order to show the next up and coming site what not to do. I'm hoping against hope that some really big fish will come along and swallow them up because run the right way ebay could be king of the internet again. Right now, they're just a total mess with a very bad reputation!

Anonymous said...

Look what happened to the Coca-cola company when they messed with a product that was working. They "blinked" and their competitor took a lead Coke had had for decades.

The eggheads started arriving at eBay around 2002. They had no people skills, and working with them was intolerable, but they had a diploma that said they were smart. In fact, back then there was a quiet "purge" of employees that didn't have college degrees. People that helped build the company had their positions "eliminated" over time. Those were the salt of the earth people that made eBay 1.0 such a fun place.

But the new MBAs didn't have time for the silly flea market mentality. They were thinking BIG. Trying to raise the GMV of their category by going after quick sales and big accounts. The homegrown sellers were getting less support. When sellers complained, they'd say, "tsk tsk - don't they know we have college degrees?" We don't need the opinion of users, we have "numbers" and we'll follow "the model".

It is arrogance. They have a bunch of book-smart Ivy-Leaguers that have a strong disdain for the average eBay buyer AND seller. Buyers and sellers (especially small ones) are viewed as ignorant NASCAR watching, Republican voting, people who live primarily in fly-over states. So of course the highly educated people such as John Donahoe think they know best for them.

eBay will not self-destruct one day, as anonymous says above. It is happening over time. And it will make for a great book - ironically it will be one that is likely covered in the college classes for new MBAs.

Henrietta said...

My opinion is that eBay made a series of plans designed to appeal to stock analysts, none of whom have retail experience. Plans were then reviewed by lawyers none of whom have retail experience. Then they were improved by eager Level B execs, none of whom have retail experience and put into place after yet another legal review.

We know that eBay has no real idea what actual results will be, all they know is what they want them to be and their sole experience is 800# gorilla style. Everything is pointed at 2Q results. Numbers not people.

We also know they are not listening to their mathematician and nobody with any statistical or analytical skills is high enough up to be listened to either.

They are all far too important to listen to mere sellers and have been so busy denigrating sellers as crooks and worse - the buyers with more than 3 brain cells have to be nervous.

There comes a point at which even the most willing of camels can't move any further with a broken back, it simply lies down and quits. We are reaching that point and once the camel is down it is only a matter of time before it starts stinking..

I should be ordering my Christmas goods this month. The rep I talked to today told me none of her etail sellers are buying. Even if eBay saw the light and reversed course immediately I am not sure I would want to return. Not the way I stocked 2 years ago. I can't trust them.

Stephen said...

In another light, I would say that thousands of third-party ebay sellers (myself included) "jumped the shark" by staying as dependent on ebay, as their primary revenue stream, for way too many struggling years.

Meanwhile, lots of other 3P sellers are already entrenched in Amazon and doing stable and consistent, (if modest) business in several closed up/or/overcrowded catagories....

I think by 2009, many of us ecommerce veterans, are going to be just tired of the whole game of "shark jumping". Personally, I'm about ready to go back to the brick and mortar world of business and day jobs; it actually looks slightly more inviting these days....


Randy Smythe said...


Very well said. Many sellers "Jumped the Shark" in their eBay business awhile ago.

Those who diversified early are in pretty good shape.

Keep your head-up, a day job will never be as good as owning your own business.

Bill said...

An interesting reply to a blog on Ina's site with a link:

Looks like a major house cleaning to me. A number of high management positions up for the taking. In all they total over 1,400 jobs that eBay is looking to fill.


Anonymous said...

As an experiment, I currently have a single listing created on Google Base. Over the last week, that single listing has had 3 times the views as the identical listing on eBay, and resulted in the sale of a quanitity of '2', vs eBay's zero.

Google Base is boring and dull. But it closes the sale.. and seems faster for both parties to transact as well.

Has eBay Jumped the Shark? My Magic 8 Ball just said: 'signs point to yes'.

Anonymous said...

They are turning the eBay we knew on its ear, and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon with the infamous "you won't recognize it" line.

Those who haven't diversified yet - START NOW - it's not too late to start building off-eBay avenues for yourself to fall back on if eBay implodes as a results of all of these changes, or cuts you off with a policy change like the magazine subscription sellers or digital delivery sellers.

Don't let them take you down!

Tony P. said...

The latest Shark appears to be the deal. I wonder if The Street sees that as the shark it is? I can imagine that even the Fonz would simply shake his head and walk away after that 'scene'.

The Stores board has a posting about a sports/trading card seller that is ramping up their business. This seller's listings have grown to almost 200K, from around 20K, within this past week.

The board poster states knowing this seller and talking to him - claims that the seller says he didn't receive a special deal from ebay, yet says he will have over 1M listings by summer's end. You do the math on that "no deal" and try not to laugh.

I'd say that the latest group of sharks being released into the waters will have a nice effect upon the listing metrics, but little else. Actually, if we extrapolate the facts so far, the picture for the future is fairly grim.

Only LARGE sellers will be recruited, to balance out the exiting sellers in listing numbers, but that type of seller is only enticed by way of the 'free' business model. The majority of such LARGE sellers generally sell products in limited diversion.

Like Media type sellers, their product branches make for a scraggly tree. covers quite a few categories, but when viewed from all of ebay's category offerings, it is pitiful in the Diversity Dept.

For some reason I am thinking of that Alternative Site that has 12 Million listings at auction. It looks too good to be true, until you figure out that 11 Million of those listings are all sports cards. If this is ebay's future, they will need a killer whale to jump.

Anonymous said...

eBay needs to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Letting big ventures throwing millions of listings up is plain chaos and will never work.

They claim that sellers are their customers but ebay's customer service which used to provide great information has become totally inept. Try asking a representative to explain DSR to you and you will get a response that is incomprehensible.

Perhaps they should outsource customer service to Amazon...Amazon is not perfect but they use live human beings.

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