Expectations for eBay Express are running high among experienced eBay sellers, who view the upcoming specialty site as a potentially significant new channel and have their fingers crossed that the company will build and market it properly.
EBay Express, due during the second quarter, will feature only fixed-price items, most of them new, from experienced sellers with outstanding track records. On eBay.com, many items are used and sold via auction, and many sellers are novices.
The new site will offer a shopping experience that is much simpler and quicker than eBay.com's main marketplace. With eBay Express, the company hopes to attract buyers who either shop little or not at all on the main site, and deliver them to its best sellers, accomplishing two important goals: broaden its shopper base and keep its star sellers happy.
These sellers generally work full-time on their eBay stores and often have annual sales of over US$1 million. Many over the years have set up parallel stores outside of eBay.com precisely seeking to reach mainstream online shoppers who find eBay.com complicated, time-consuming and even unsafe. These sellers have also wanted to differentiate themselves from less-experienced peers and from fraudsters on eBay.com.
Although excited by the impending launch of eBay Express, some veteran eBay sellers also say they feel some trepidation, as they wait anxiously to see how the site actually works. If it's not truly quick, easy to navigate, intuitive to use, safe and aggressively marketed, eBay Express will go down in history as a great concept that was badly implemented, sellers say.
"The success will depend on eBay's execution and promotion of the site. If they do it right, this could be monstrously big, because it's really reaching out to a new audience with a completely different buying experience," said Adam Hersh, founder and president of Adam Hersh Auctions, who began selling on eBay about eight years ago and specializes on movie posters and memorabilia.
David Yaskulka, founder and CEO of Blueberry Boutique, a shirt and tie online store, thinks eBay should tighten the eBay Express seller requirements. Right now, eBay's plan is to only allow items on eBay Express from sellers who have been rated a minimum of 100 times by other buyers or sellers, with a minimum 98 percent positive feedback. Yaskulka would like eBay to require a minimum of 500 ratings, and that all of them be from buyers. He also thinks sellers should be forced to accept returns, which right now eBay doesn't plan to require.
Still, he has high hopes for eBay Express. About a year ago, he also set up shop on Amazon.com seeking mainstream e-shoppers. He might not have opened the parallel storefront on Amazon.com, which was costly and time consuming, if eBay Express had been around then. "We think eBay Express will be a very important new market for us," Yaskulka said.
In a first for eBay, Express will feature a shopping cart where shoppers will be able place items from different vendors and pay for them in a single checkout process. Sellers are also required to accept PayPal transactions and credit cards.
Still, eBay Express will not fully replicate the shopping experience on a traditional online retail site. For example, items will be shipped separately by each vendor, and sellers will not be required to accept returns. However, eBay will stand behind every purchase, offering to reimburse dissatisfied buyers, a broad protection it doesn't offer on eBay.com.
Although eBay has come a long way from its beginnings, many shoppers still picture it as the online flea market it was when founded in the mid 1990s. EBay Express can change that, sellers say.
"It will let eBay showcase the strengths of its marketplace and put its best foot forward," said Jonathan Garriss, executive director of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA), which groups about 600 large eBay sellers that collectively generate over 70 million eBay transactions and US$1 billion in eBay gross merchandise volume annually. He is also chief executive officer of Gotham City Online, an apparel store on eBay that also has its own site. "I hope eBay markets this very aggressively."
Products featured on eBay Express will come from existing eBay.com listings, as long they meet the Express requirements, such as having a fixed price and being offered by a seller who qualifies. Sellers don't have to do anything nor pay anything extra. In fact, if they don't want their products on eBay Express, they need to opt out. In its Web site, eBay describes Express as "a streamlined point of entry to the best of the vast eBay inventory."
Patti Freeman Evans, a Jupiter Research analyst, sees eBay Express as the latest move by eBay into the territory of more traditional fixed price e-tailing, along with the previously instituted Buy It Now and eBay Store features. "For several years, eBay has been moving into a more direct selling, non-auction environment, which gives it the potential to grow its business. This eBay Express site is another step in that direction," she said.
When it launches, eBay Express will be limited to the U.S. market, but the intention is to extend it to other countries later, said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy.
Company officials avoid direct comparisons to Amazon.com and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s online store, but Blueberry Boutique's Yaskulka definitely sees a competitive move here. "EBay has been losing significant amounts of customers to the Amazons of the world who present a more efficient, quicker platform, where it is also easier to get a secure shopping experience."