eBay’s Multi-Year Long Plan Goes Home – Not Big


Steve Fisher, Chief Technology Officer at eBay, lays out eBay’s multi-year plan for improving the marketplace in a blog post titled “Replatforming eBay: How We Are Delivering the Shopping Destination of Choice”:

Over 20 years, we’ve built one of the very best search engines optimized for ecommerce — we pretty much find you what you want to buy almost all of the time. And, we’ll keep investing in search science innovation.

But one of the biggest opportunities we have is to organize, catalogue, curate, and present our vast inventory in ways that enable every person who shops on eBay to find their version of perfect, no matter what it is.

That’s why we have embarked on an ambitious, multi-year evolution of our shopping platform at eBay that aims to deliver relevant, persistent and personalized experiences for consumers.

This replatforming will manifest itself in the form of powerful, new ways for consumers to shop, moving well beyond the listing-based approaches that have typified the past. And, this new approach will reduce reliance on search as the only path to discovery.

​This part of eBays multi-year long plan is very much an inward looking one. It is about improving what eBay has. It is about increasing the value existing participators get out of eBay. Nothing wrong with that. But this is not the way significant growth lies. It is strange that eBay seems to see this as the company’s bold move into the future. (See also the eBay CEO talking about AI in interviews.)

This should be an (albeit important) side project whilst agressively growing in a growth market that enables new opportunities everywhere. (Not to play the A-card but look at what Amazon is doing at the same time.)

However, structured data by itself doesn’t deliver the ultimate promise to consumers. It’s an enabler. It’s a platform.

No, it is not. Structured data is not a platform.1 eBay itself is a platform, Uber is a platform, AirBnB is a platform; these have something in common an eBay executive should be familiar with.

There is something interesting here in there. eBay runs one of the biggest marketplaces in the world. It is one of a handful of companies that are even in a position to set (and mold) the stage for the next phase of e-commerce. (Which, by the way, looks increasingly likely to have highly evolved marketplaces at its center.)

How do you personalize the inventory? How do you bring supply and demand together in the best possible way? Or, in other words, how do you create discoverability? How do you bring diverging ways of discovery together under one (interface) roof? How do you handle having (quite literally) all imaginable item categories available on your marketplace?

There are a lot of fascinating questions in there.

I am not sure, eBay is up to the task though -the words ‘mobile’ and ‘smartphone’ aren’t mentioned once and the blog post sports desktop screenshots, desktop!, my grandma writes in, she wants her view of the world back-. But theoretically, eBay has the inventory and market position to still do great things.

These pages are curated algorithmically through machine learning, and can be scaled across all categories and products. Also, the most popular pages can be further manually curated by experts to deliver the ultimate shopping experiences.

​Going from the consumer/buyer side to the seller side, things get a bit more interesting:

We need to empower consumer sellers with new tools to help them identify real-time opportunities to list fast-moving products. We are in the process of equipping our business-to-consumer sellers to figure out buyer demand gaps that need to be addressed and help them re-configure inventory accordingly.

New tools, like our Seller Hub — which was launched with a sample of our sellers earlier this year and is beginning to roll out across our markets — will support this. And, beginning later this year, we’ll be making major enhancements to the consumer selling experience.

The benefit to the consumer is clear: The more the sellers are aware of the supply, demand and price fluctuations across the categories they are in, the more they are able to tailor their items to demand.

Let’s see what this will look like in practice.

More on this topic:

  1. And stop using that monstrosity of a word, “replatforming”. By this point, I expect the next press release of eBay to read something like this: “We will platform our platform to the platformest possible, says Chief Platform Platformer Platy McPlatface.” 
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