Merchants complain that eBay Express doesn’t attract sufficient shoppers and generates an inconsequential volume of sales, although eBay says it is satisfied and remains committed to the site.
EBay Express is designed to draw shoppers who dislike the complexity and risk of eBay’s core marketplace by offering a simpler, safer online shopping experience similar to the ones from mainstream e-tailers like Amazon.com and Wal-Mart’s online store.
For example, Express features only fixed-price items, most of them new, from experienced sellers with outstanding track records, and offers buyers a shopping cart. Meanwhile, eBay.com lacks a cart, many items are used and sold via auction, and many sellers are novices.
But Express, which was launched in April in preview mode and has been heavily promoted since September, remains an irrelevant, mostly deserted sales channel, according to several large merchants interviewed recently.
"We’ve certainly not seen the results we and many other sellers had anticipated for eBay Express," says David Yaskulka, president of Harris Michael, an online jewelry store.
There is no additional cost or effort required of qualified eBay merchants to appear on Express, because qualifying products listed on eBay.com automatically show up on Express as well. Still, the promise of benefiting from new, convenience-minded shoppers created high expectations among the star merchants Express was built for.
"We were hoping it would be a good driver of additional sales but we haven’t seen much in the way of sales from eBay Express," says Jonathan Garriss, executive director of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance and CEO of Gotham City Online, an apparel store on eBay that also has its own site.
George Trantas, president of footwear and apparel vendor Designer Athletic, estimates having about 4000 items listed on Express, yet so far in December, the company has made 33 sales on the site, versus almost 8000 on the eBay marketplace. "The Express hype and publicity have been good, but the sales have been very slow," Trantas says.
Lara Housser, director of eBay Express in the U.S., declines to disclose the site’s traffic and sales, but says eBay is pleased with the results. "I can’t comment on individual seller experiences but I’d say we’re certainly in the early days of the site. It’s a new channel and we’re seeing traffic grow organically," Housser says.
Almost 90 percent of Express shoppers rate the site as either meeting or exceeding their expectations. EBay.com shoppers who also buy at Express spend more time and money at the site than those who haven’t tried out Express, she says.
Still, based on the experiences of merchants interviewed, Express resembles a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing through it rather than a busy shopping mall.
Ironically, merchants have no complaints about the design, mechanics and operation of the site. They praise its search feature, navigation system and interface. "EBay did a great job in building this new site. It was a great, ambitious undertaking, but it just hasn’t connected with consumers," says Garriss from PESA, which groups about 600 large eBay sellers that collectively generate over 70 million eBay transactions and $1 billion in eBay gross merchandise volume annually.
So what’s the problem? The optimists say it’s a matter of giving the site time to generate a following. Others think the issues are more complicated and that eBay will have to make adjustments if it wants Express to survive.
For example, some say that Express now lives in a sort of middle ground where it appeals neither to the typical eBay shopper nor to the typical mainstream shopper. In other words, it is uninteresting for those who like the thrill and unpredictability of the eBay auction environment, as well as for those on the other end of the spectrum who don’t find it safe and convenient enough.
"It’s a flawed concept," says financial analyst Philip Remek from Guzman & Co., who thinks Express has little chance of success and will likely be scrapped. "This effort will bear little fruit and potentially will be a management distraction. I don’t see any revenue driver in eBay Express."
Express will never be fully like Amazon.com or Wal-Mart’s online store because at its core is still a universe of individual merchants, and mainstream buyers distrust that scenario. "Express is trying to have a retail front to what is still a marketplace operating model," Remek says.
That marketplace model carries inherent risk of fraud. Trantas, for example, sees in Express, as he does on eBay.com, many instances of counterfeit tennis shoes marketed falsely as brand-name products. EBay must raise the merchant-eligibility requirements, he says. Now, to qualify, merchants must have been rated a minimum of 100 times by other buyers or sellers, with a minimum 98 percent positive feedback. "They should require 1000 feedbacks. You can get 100 feedbacks in a week. They need to make it harder to get on Express," Trantas says.
Yaskulka agrees that Express still isn’t as safe and convenient as it should be, and, like Trantas, suggests tightening the merchant requirements. Express must be more distinct from eBay.com, where fixed-price and new items can also be bought, he says. For example, eBay should force all Express merchants to offer money-back guarantees.
Another idea: adding a charity component to Express by integrating eBay’s Giving Works listings into it, which would give Express a strong community differentiator. "Let’s make it Amazon.com-like in ease, efficiency and safety, and eBay-like in its community spirit," Yaskulka says.