To get an in-depth look at how eBay is involved with helping buyers and sellers engage in B2B ecommerce, B2BecNews interviewed Marni Levine, vice president of merchandising. Levine oversees eBay’s B2B business as well as its Electronics, Automotive Parts & Accessories, Home & Garden, and Business & Industrial categories. She drives strategic partnerships and strategy as they relate to procuring inventory to be sold on the eBay ecommerce platform.
Before joining eBay in 2017, Levine worked for major retail brands including Macy’s, Gap and Zulily. Overall, she has more than 25 years of experience in merchandising, planning, ecommerce, business development and strategy.
Q: How important is B2B ecommerce to eBay, and why?
Levine: In 2018, e-commerce B2B sales totaled $1.1 trillion in the U.S. and are forecasted to reach $1.8 trillion by 2023, according to Forrester Analytics. Business buyers are looking for better value and price transparency, are purchasing more frequently, and are spending more annually in comparison to general consumers. This makes them an important customer segment for eBay. Regardless of their industry or need, buyers can turn to eBay’s marketplace to find a huge selection of electronics, equipment, tools and business supplies at an affordable price.
Q: At last count eBay was doing about $4 billion annually in B2B gross merchandise volume. What was B2B gross merchandise volume in 2018 and what’s the projection for 2019?
Levine: While we don’t break out our reporting in this segment, B2B continues to grow and is a bright spot in our business. We can share that the business customer’s annual spend is 10 times more than that of the consumer customer.
Q: Are all B2B sales done through the eBay Business & Industrial section of eBay, or also in other sections?
Levine: We see a significant amount of sales across all verticals, not just Business and Industrial. Other categories include Automotive Parts & Accessories, Electronics, Collectables and Fashion.
Q: Is your B2B business profitable? If so, how was profitability attained and how are you maintaining it?
Levine: Yes, the B2B buyer segment is profitable. We serve this B2B audience by understanding that their behavior differs from our consumer customers’ behavior. They are less inclined to make an impulse purchase or wait for a specific deal price because they’re shopping more based on need. We also see more loyalty from this user segment, knowing that if they have a positive experience, they’ll continue to come back to eBay for our product selection.
Q: Amazon Business is aggressive in the B2B marketplace and some analysts suggest it could do north of $20 billion next year. What does eBay Business see as its competitive advantages in the B2B marketplace segment?
Levine: The number one reason shoppers come to eBay is to find value and wide selection, both of which make us a convenient destination for B2B buyers and sellers alike. Our wide array of inventory and spectrum of value are important purchasing incentives; shoppers can browse new, refurbished and used items from trusted sellers that can only be found on our marketplace. And when customers find that hyper-specialized piece of equipment they’ve been looking for, they pay the price they want while supporting the small businesses that make eBay so diverse. Finally, we don’t compete with our sellers, and we continue to see growth as they add their inventory to our marketplace.
Q: How many B2B sellers currently sell on eBay and what measures are eBay taking to grow that number?
Levine: We have millions of B2B sellers with listings across a variety of categories. More broadly, there are millions of small businesses buying and selling on the eBay platform across the globe in more than 100 countries.
EBay cultivates this community by acting as a partner to our sellers, and giving our merchants the opportunity to manage their brand and run a successful business. For example, sellers can feature promotions on eBay in conjunction with those they are running on their own websites. Our merchants trust us to be a cost-effective channel that provides significant traffic, incremental sales, international expansion capabilities, mobile commerce and B2B expertise.
This part of the business is important, and eBay continues to invest in its growth through partnerships, customer programs and targeted marketing campaigns that enable us to deliver an enhanced customer experience.
Q: How many B2B SKUs are currently listed on eBay and eBay Business and what new B2B categories have you most recently added? What other categories are planned?
Levine: While we don’t break out listings specifically to B2B, there are tens of millions of listings on eBay. Our inventory covers a wide range of industries and categories including Electronics, Fashion, Collectibles, Automotive, Healthcare, Dental and Construction.
Q: What new website features have been added to eBay Business in the past year and what new features are in the works for 2019?
Levine: We continue to make strides in discoverability, including search optimization and personalization. For example, our buyers have the option to self-select into the inventory they find most relevant, ensuring eBay surfaces items that are in-line with what shoppers want. Further, we’ve made the shopping experience seamless across all platforms and continue to make refinements across web and mobile.
Q: What are the three biggest challenges eBay Business sees in growing its B2B marketplace and how are you overcoming them?
Levine: As a marketplace with millions of sellers, we strive to deliver a seamless shopping experience regardless of the merchant customers purchase from. To do this, we consistently work with our sellers to optimize the end-to-end experience through programs like fast and free shipping.
We are also focused on honing discoverability so the inventory we present to customers is continuously tailored to their needs. And finally, we’re simplifying the checkout flow, which has become a priority amid changing Internet sales tax laws here in the United States that impact the purchasing process for buyers with tax-exempt status.
Q: B2B e-commerce is complex and specialized, but buyers say they want an easy and personal purchasing experience. How is eBay addressing these B2B buyer expectations from a website feature and customer service perspective?
Levine: EBay has been optimizing the consumer customer experience for more than twenty years, and we’re applying that experience and technology to the B2B buyer segment. We are constantly evolving to make purchasing simple and easy, which comes as a pleasant surprise to those in the B2B space who are familiar with traditional procurement methods and more complexity.
To further deliver an intuitive and efficient experience, we offer a concierge customer service program with which many business buyers are actively engaging. EBay has also implemented an exclusive loyalty program, giving B2B buyers access to special promotions, and we connect with our buyers and sellers to understand and adapt to their needs.
Q: Is B2B ecommerce a global market for eBay? If yes, how do U.S. buyers differ from non-U.S. buyers, and what makes the purchasing experience of each group different?
Levine: EBay is a global marketplace and the B2B strategy is a global initiative. Each country has unique needs in the B2B space, but top categories vary across regions. For example, we see U.S. buyers purchasing heavy equipment more frequently than those in other parts of the world.
Q: How is eBay marketing eBay Business, and what are some of the newest ways eBay is marketing it?
Levine: EBay looks at marketing holistically and with experts leading our strategy in paid search, social, display, and even traditional methods like print. Later this year, marketing will expand to a broader category mix and utilize different channels for specific business buyer segments within the restaurant, dental, electronics and manufacturing industries.
Q: Can you provide a specific example that’s delivered results? What are those results?
Levine: We saw increased category traffic in both search and social for our targeted marketing program. Looking ahead, we will continue to build on these programs, and explore additional channels for future Marketing efforts.
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