EBay Inc. last year added 11 million new customers—buyers who contributed to the highest annual sales growth for the online marketplace since at least 2013.
The gross value of goods sold on eBay’s U.S. marketplace grew 22.1% to $37.53 billion in 2020 from $30.74 billion the year prior. Pandemic-wary consumers turned to online shopping to avoid stores, and this helped eBay turn its growth trajectory around. In 2019, U.S. GMV plunged 18.1% year over year.
Global gross merchandise volume, which includes its U.S. and international marketplaces, reached $100.0 billion in 2020, up 16.9% from $85.51 billion in 2019. The $14.5 billion incremental GMV eBay added last year was more than the marketplace’s GMV growth in the previous seven years combined.
EBay ended 2020 with 185 million active buyers, up 11 million from the end of 2019. The biggest growth in active buyers was in Q2—the height of COVID-19-related lockdowns—when eBay added 8 million new customers compared with Q1 to total 182 million. Still, eBay acquired 3 million new shoppers in the second half of the year, even as panic-buying essentials slowed down and stores opened back up, leading experts to believe eBay’s turnaround may last post-pandemic.
“EBay is proving that it has the ability to sustain the gains it is seeing from COVID,” says Ygal Arounian, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. “We expect these trends to increasingly become ingrained in consumer behavior, which will support eBay in 2021.”
Additionally, buying behavior has been similar to pre-COVID-19 new buyer behavior, CEO Jaime Iaonnone said on a call discussing the results, according to a SeekingAlpha transcript. This means eBay executives believe new consumers will be permanent buyers on eBay and that the majority didn’t go to the marketplace just for COVID-19 essential items like masks and hand sanitizer.
In Q4, eBay’s global GMV grew 20.9% year over year to $26.56 billion from $21.97 billion. U.S. sales grew 25.1% to $9.62 billion from $7.69 billion.
EBay’s growth is impressive, but it still lags some of its big ecommerce competitors and the overall ecommerce market. U.S. online sales grew 44.0% in 2020, Digital Commerce estimates. That’s nearly double the pace of eBay’s U.S. growth. Amazon.com Inc. reported a 40.1% growth for 2020 and Walmart Inc., although much smaller than eBay, is projected to grow ecommerce more than 80%, Digital Commerce 360 estimates.
EBay is No. 5 in Digital Commerce 360’s Top 100 Online Marketplace ranking. Amazon is No. 3 and Walmart is No. 10.
eBay’s marketplace strategy
EBay is leaning into areas of its business that it used to thrive in—likely an effort to differentiate itself from Amazon and other large general merchandise competitors. For the last year, it has had a renewed focus on previously popular categories, such as sneakers and luxury watches, refurbished or used products, and its consumer-to-consumer business.
Last fall, eBay launched an authentication program for luxury watches (priced $2,000 and above) and sneakers ($100 and above) to prevent counterfeits and other fraudulent practices on these items. The marketplace also launched new marketing campaigns around these segments, including a campaign on social network TikTok for sneakers that generated 4.7 billion views.
As a result of its initiatives, the luxury watch category grew double digits from Q3 to Q4. The sneakers category had triple-digit growth in Q4 compared with the same quarter in 2020. Before 2020, the sneakers business was declining, executives said. What’s more significant: The average customer that purchased a pair of sneakers over $100, spent a total of $2,500 on eBay and 80% of that spend was in categories outside sneakers.
“While some volume growth is due to the effects of the pandemic, significant growth drivers included the authentication rollout, pricing reductions and marketing changes,” Iaonnone said on a call with investors, according to a SeekingAlpha transcript.
This renewed focus may also stem from the growth in niche marketplaces (or sites that sell items in a particular vertical) that are now direct competitors to eBay. In the Digital Commerce 360 Online Marketplaces Top 100 ranking, for example, 47 sell products from a particular merchandise category, such as apparel or home goods. The 47 niche marketplaces collectively grew GMV 23.6% to $38.76 billion in 2019, faster than the 18.0% growth of the full Top 100 marketplaces.
What’s more, consumers are shopping on niche marketplaces: 29% of online shoppers purchased from a specialty marketplace that focused on a unique category in the past year, according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers in May 2020.
“There are certain areas we let niche competitors take business away from eBay that should be done on eBay, and it shows you the potential we have on eBay if we really focus our technology effort in those areas,” Iannone said on a call with investors in July.
eBay’s mobile growth
Nearly half of global GMV was transacted in eBay’s app, the company says. The app was downloaded 50 million times in 2020, and app purchases continue to grow faster than overall GMV.
Additionally, eBay sellers with store pages increased visits to their storefronts in the mobile app by 20% on average, the marketplace says.
In the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, eBay also reported:
- Net revenue for eBay’s global marketplaces, which comes from the fees paid by eBay’s sellers, increased 27.7% to $2.86 billion from $2.24 billion in Q4 2019.
- Net income was $781 million, up from $469 million.
For the full year, eBay reported:
- Net revenue of $10.27 billion, up 19.0% from $8.63 billion a year ago.
- Net income of $2.54 billion, up from $1.52 billion a year ago.