19 May 2024, 15:02
By Paul Farley Apr 18, 2013

Jeremy Paterson, eBay

No company typifies the global consumer market potential of the internet better than eBay. Founded in 1995, eBay is a multi-billion pound business, with operations across more than 30 countries. It is surprising, then, that eBay has not yet become a byword for furniture sales. Despite encroaching upon almost every retail sector, the web giant has not yet turned its full attention to the UK home and garden market – until now. Paul Farley finds out more about the eBay Accelerated Growth programme in this exclusive report …

In June last year, eBay UK launched its Accelerated Growth programme, tailored to SME independents selling home and garden (H&G) products. It is the first time the company has engaged with this particular sector so closely – the programme provides a simplified, tailored route to selling furniture and furnishings through one of the biggest web portals in the world.

H&G director Jeremy Paterson joined eBay six months ago. “Coming into eBay,” he says, “the biggest thing that struck me was that H&G was probably the best-kept secret the company has, boasting a huge size and rapid growth. eBay’s H&G business across the EU is a multi-billion-pound operation – and the UK business is growing at two to three times the market rate of online growth. If we continue on this trajectory, in about three years’ time we will be the market leader in H&G.”

“The eBay Accelerated Growth programme gives retailers the easiest route to selling on eBay”

Surprisingly, much of this growth to date has been purely organic. eBay’s renewed focus on H&G has seen it create a new department, which is tasked with developing a streamlined route to the online market for independent furniture retailers. Specific services include support with listing creation and presentation, a new format specifically designed for furniture retail, and the ability to set up a full e-commerce facility.

For Jeremy, whose background includes work with Amazon, and website builder yourdepartmentstore.com, the mission is personal. “I’m adamant that independent retailers fully exploit the online market,” he says. “Some are doing a very successful job of selling on eBay – but nowhere near enough.”

Around 200 retailers – aside from those large multiples already established – are on board so far, drawn from a relatively small pool. Although the programme has not yet been marketed officially, they are in good company – around 180,000 business sellers now operate on eBay in the UK. The biggest draw for newcomers is reach – the cost of setting up an independent site rarely takes into consideration the work necessary to drive traffic, and eBay’s audience is already in place. In fact, its UK traffic amounts to an incredible 17 million people each month – half of all the UK’s online browsers.

“I can say from experience that this solution is much more affordable than launching your own website and developing it,” says Jeremy. “E-commerce retail has moved on a great deal in the last few years, and eBay has to keep up with the latest developments, which means continuous investment.

“I spoke to 15-20 of our sellers of all different sizes during my first few months. Nearly all of them started trading online in the last four or five years, and all very quickly became part of the growth story.”

“I’m adamant that independent retailers fully exploit the online market. Some are doing a very successful job of selling on eBay – but nowhere near enough”

The team’s research has been thorough. The portal will focus on female buyers, who comprise the majority of online shoppers. It will lean heavily towards first-time buyers, and families upgrading, refurbishing and extending their properties. The research also identified many of the crucial “small things” essential to selling successfully.

“We looked closely at how people browse the furniture categories on eBay,” says Jeremy. “Previously, we used the US model – so, for example, you’d see closets rather than wardrobes in the home section – but now there’s a localised UK method in place.”

Retailers will be able to offer multiple versions of the same product, to account for the many permutations of size, colour and material they can offer in store, within one listing. Says Jeremy: “This is part and parcel of what every H&G retailer does on a day-to-day basis. For example, items such as bedding sets often come as part of a bundle, which is easy to execute on the shopfloor, but you need specific tools to do that online.

“We also found that the shopping journey is often driven by life events, and people like to shop by room – so now we offer each room as a category.”

Multi-channel retail options are crucial, as people increasingly embrace tablet and mobile technology, and eBay H&G is exploring all the options. Although furniture tends not to be a spur-of-the-moment purchase, browsers looking for inspiration can enjoy a particularly rich shopping experience on a tablet such as an iPad.

“Small businesses are tremendously under pressure for their time – which is one of the biggest barriers to selling online – so we coach them through a bespoke scheme”

“Online shoppers are often mums with children, who are very time-pressured,” says Jeremy. “The multi-channel offering comes into its own here.

Customers will use a combination of devices – they may start by browsing products using a mobile outside the school gates, and move on to a PC at home to make the purchase.”

That’s not to mention the ‘third wave’ of augmented reality selling, already being exploited by the fashion market – browsers can try out sunglasses on a photograph of their own face, but the potential of room simulation technology for visualising furniture, fabrics and wallpaper in situ is huge.

All of these findings are critical – the new programme represents a significant investment by eBay, but Jeremy is confident that the medium-to-long-term growth will more than justify the effort.

“The eBay Accelerated Growth programme gives retailers the easiest route to selling on eBay,” explains Jeremy. “We start with a phone call to the retailer to understand their business, as the programme can be tailored to suit – in retail, one size doesn’t fit all! We then ask for a product spreadsheet, and outline the fastest way to start selling their first 10 items.

“The first few listings are created by our in-house team. It’s tremendously important to get the product page right – you need multiple photographs, and we explain what constitutes good photos, as well as how to put across product descriptions rich in search terms, and how and where to place everything. We then provide instruction on how to link it into their current systems and automate the processes as much as possible.

“Small businesses are tremendously under pressure for their time – which is one of the biggest barriers to selling online – so we coach them through a bespoke scheme. It’s all managed through regular check-ins, training modules and learning steps.”

Although hand-holding is important, Jeremy asserts that traditional retail skills remain crucial to successful online selling. Strong listings are important, but good customer service is essential, and for many it’s simply a case of ensuring these skills survive translation.

eBay represents the biggest collection of retailers in the world, and each new seller that joins the marketplace further bolsters the site’s appeal. Of course, it is a global platform, so a participating retailer can be “as international as they want”, says Jeremy. “The German H&G market, for example, is very, very large, and is growing – and eBay is the dominant player out there.

“Naturally, eBay helps out with country-specific regulations – our lawyers have already done that job, and we’ve learned all the pitfalls. As there’s a trend in any accelerating market towards cross-border trade, retailers are definitely right to be looking at this possibility.”

Greater buyer protection makes online purchasing an increasingly attractive option for UK consumers, and the proportion of business carried out on the internet is rising steadily. According to Mintel, the value of home goods purchased online annually exceeds £3b, with spend rising by more than 10% each year.

eBay’s Accelerated Growth programme promises a clear route to one of the greatest sources of consumer traffic available. Whether or not it delivers for newcomers is yet to be proven – but it undoubtedly represents one of the best opportunities UK retailers have ever had to realise the potential of online business.

Fee facts

Fees on eBay vary for business sellers. Generally, they will pay a listing fee and a fee of 10% of the final sale price if selling furniture or homewares. However, discounts are available on final value fees if they achieve the highest standards of customer service. Retailers opening an eBay Shop pay a monthly subscription, but then benefit from lower listing charges – between zero and 10p per item. 

Retailer commitment

“Subscription is free for six months,” says Jeremy. “After that, it is up to the seller to determine if they see value in the software and if they want to continue. The cost of subscription depends on the software we give them, but the minimum is £120 a month.

“After the six-month programme is over, we expect you to be well on your way to building a sustainable business on eBay, and therefore you’ll be able to make an educated decision on which services you want to continue to use and pay for. Those services are entirely optional. This means that eBay will no longer pay for your zero insertion fees, free shop subscription, subscription to selling tool technology or a dedicated growth specialist. 

“That’s not to say that you won’t necessarily have a need for continued support. eBay will help facilitate a smooth transition for your business at this point, regardless of which services or technology you choose to use.”

Selling skills

Successful online selling requires a distinct set of presentation skills. Here are a couple of Jeremy’s top tips for creating strong listings …

Take great photos

“This is the single factor that most encourages buyers to buy. Include at least four, from different angles – front, side, above, detail. If you can, take the item in daylight and against a white background.”

Think about what your buyers want from the item you’re selling

“For example, if selling a sofa, the price, material, colour, size, and brand are the most important things for a buyer – so check your item against others on-site, and make sure you clearly state the benefits.”

Originally published in Furniture News, issue 282.

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