EBay Inc.’s U.S. marketplace sales grew 3.4% in 2016—far below what e-commerce is projected to grow during the year. But analysts say the online marketplace’s Q4 and 2016 results were encouraging because of the progress it has made with a longer-term initiative to spur sales: structured data.
A highlight for eBay last year is its progress toward its goal of having sellers define their products using structured data, which makes it easier for eBay to show relevant search results. 180 million structured data pages are live on the site, CEO Devin Wenig said on a call with investors, according to a transcript from SeekingAlpha. The live structured data listings pages represent about 4% of eBay’s traffic, Wenig added. 55% of listings with structured data requirements have been processed, but are not live yet.
“On the back of broadening the coverage of structured data throughout the year, we have built and are just beginning the rollout of new consumer experiences that are modern, simple and most important, differentiated,” Wenig said. “By understanding inventory, we better understand what products to show our consumers and highlight the incredible price and selection.”
When product listing pages conform to eBay’s new structured data requirements, the intent is customers will be able to find the products they are looking for more quickly, which may result in higher conversion rates. Some analysts say eBay’s progress in the area is encouraging and may begin leading to sales growth.
“Structured data commentary should help alleviate lingering growth concerns,” Colin Sebastian, investment analyst at Robert W. Baird, wrote in a note to investors. “While Q1 guidance suggests a gradual rollout, we now expect the shift toward better-converting listings to drive visible improvement in the user experience and correspondingly, volume growth trends.”
Additionally, as part of its goal to have sellers define their products using structured data, eBay added product reviews across all categories beginning in Q4 2015. As of the end of 2016, eBay customers had added 20 million product reviews. Previously, consumers could provide feedback only on eBay sellers, not products.
The online marketplace reported that the gross value of goods sold on the U.S. marketplace grew 3.4% to $34.58 billion in 2016 and sales globally increased 2.5% to $83.76 billion.
Monthly traffic to eBay.com was flat in 2016 versus 2015, increasing 0.3% year over year, according to data from web traffic measurement firm SimilarWeb. During the holiday months of November and December, traffic to eBay grew 12.4% for the two months year over year, according to SimilarWeb.
“I don’t see any major surprises. [It’s the] same trend for at least a few years: GMV [gross merchandise value] for marketplace is growing relatively tepidly,” Keith Anderson, vice president of strategy and insights at price monitoring firm Profitero.
Having structured data will help eBay, but not to the extent that it can catch up to online marketplace rival Amazon.com Inc., Anderson says. While relevant product detail pages may improve conversion rates and visibility in search engine results, eBay doesn’t compete with two of Amazon’s most compelling attributes: Prime and Fulfillment by Amazon. Prime customers pay $99 for an annual subscription that gives them such benefits as free two-day shipping, streaming video and music services and other perks. In Fulfillment by Amazon, marketplace merchants pay Amazon to store and ship inventory. Both programs allow Amazon to grow its inventory and deliver products to customers quickly.
“The reason it’s so challenging for eBay and other marketplace competitors to compete on that dimension is that it’s capital-intensive. Amazon has invested in logistics and technology as well as its relationships with third-party carriers,” Anderson says. “EBay needs to find a way to reinvigorate the marketplace for consumers and its merchants.”
For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, eBay also reports:
- U.S. gross merchandise volume of $9.14 billion, up 2.7% from $8.90 billion in the same period a year ago.
- Gross value of goods on eBay’s global marketplaces grew 2.2% to $22.34 billion from $21.86 billion .
- Net revenue grew 3.1% to $2.395 billion from $2.322 billion a year ago.
- Net income of $5.95 billion compared with $523.0 million. Excluding a $4.6 billion income tax benefit and an $800 million gain from selling its stake in MercadoLibre, net income is $601 million compared with $600 million in Q4 2015.
- The value of goods sold on eBay’s marketplaces, not including sales on online ticketing marketplace StubHub, grew 2% to $21.10 billion from $20.68 billion.
- StubHub’s gross merchandise volume was $1.24 billion, up 4.6% from $1.18 billion.
For 2016, eBay also reports:
- Gross value of goods sold on eBay’s global marketplaces was $83.76 billion in 2016, up 2.5% from $81.70 billion in 2015. Excluding the impact of the strong dollar, global sales increased 5%.
- Net revenue of $8.979 billion, up 4.5% from $8.592 billion.
- Net income of $7.29 billion compared with $1.95 billion. Excluding the $4.6 billion income tax benefit and an $800 million gain from selling its stake in MercadoLibre, net income is $2.16 billion, down 3.1% from $2.23 billion in 2015.