eBay Tries Two New Ways to Sell: Drop-Off Points and Home Pick-Up

Gail Weber had never sold anything on eBay, but she was interested in the concept after inheriting a number of antique vases, platters and plates.

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“I’m not intimidated by going on eBay, but I don’t know how to sell, and PayPal is another deterrent,” she said.

But the San Jose resident lucked out after hearing about eBay’s new pilot program on the radio.

The program offered to send an eBay employee to her home to pick up the items and deliver them to an expert, who would attempt to sell them — for a cut of the proceeds.

“I can’t tell you how fabulous this is. You never know what’s going to sell, but you might as well try,” said Weber, who was visited by two eBay employees in December.

The program is one of several pilots that eBay is experimenting with as it tries to figure out ways to connect with consumers locally by having a physical presence, rather than conducting everything anonymously over the Internet.

Last month, I got a close look at the pick-up service as well as a similar pilot that allowed people to drop off clothing and small consumer electronics at a mall. The two trials are being conducted in a small number of markets for a limited period of time, but could be expanded if successful.

A third pilot that falls into the local category is something called eBay Now, a same-day delivery service that is being tested in San Francisco and parts of New York City. The program allows users to place orders at major stores, like Macy’s or Toys “R” Us, from a mobile phone and have them delivered to their door within a couple of hours.

Last month, I met briefly with Vikram Singh, director of eBay’s consumer business, who is heading up the pick-up program, and with Amanda Thomas, the director of new business pilots at eBay, who is leading the drop-off centers, to get the scoop on both programs.

Both Singh and Thomas said the trials have been great for introducing eBay to new customers. But what stood out about both programs was how little risk eBay was taking on their end for conducting them. While it must pay for some infrastructure, like the drivers, vans and mall kiosks, there’s no fear that eBay will end up with inventory it doesn’t want. For both trials, eBay is tapping into its network of selling assistants, who are registered with eBay to sell items for a fee.

In Weber’s case, her items were picked up by two eBay employees, who took careful inventory of every plate and serving dish before delivering the items off to a selling assistant.

Once the item is logged by eBay, it is then up to the seller to come up with a fair price to get the item sold, keeping in mind that the pick-up program takes a 25 percent cut. In the future, Singh expected to experiment with charging a fee for the pick-up service, as well, to see if consumers would still be interested.

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Singh said of the 70 pick-ups conducted by mid-December, no one had questioned the cut. He said he has also been happy with the quality of items being picked up, except that there have been too many books.

If the items don’t sell, the owner can either choose to donate them or have them returned to their home. The owners receive payment in the form of a printed check or via Paypal within three weeks of the items being picked up.

The mall pilot worked a little differently.

During the trial, consumers were invited to drop off a bag of used clothing or small electronics for evaluation while they shopped. When they returned, a registered seller would offer a set price for the entire bag. The consumer could either accept the offer and receive payment via PayPal, or choose to list the items on eBay using their own account.

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If they opted to sell the items themselves, the registered sellers on site would provide advice on how to price the items and how to list them to get the most attention.

For instance, a seller told me the best way to sell something was to use every character allowed in the headline to describe an object. For instance, some of the keywords to describe the navy blazer in the photo on the left included navy, peacoat, blazer, new and buttons. Within just a few minutes, she draped the blazer over a mannequin, snapped a photo of it using an iPad and had it listed for sale.

Thomas said during the first week, of the 2,000 people who stopped by the booth, 30 to 40 percent were new to eBay. The pilot operated out of a mall in San Jose between Nov. 26 and Dec. 25.

In a separate interview, Devin Wenig, eBay’s president of global marketplaces, said the experiments are focused on keeping eBay competitive — against large commerce companies like Amazon, as well as against start-ups that are constantly entering the space.

By being proactive about getting new sources of inventory, it ensures that eBay has a good selection of items for sale, not just the items from people who have sold on eBay before. A key component of eBay’s success is to list both used and new items side by side to give consumers the most choices, he said.

“We have 350 million items for sale, which is nine times larger than Amazon,” Wenig said. “That wouldn’t be the case if we separated out the two businesses.”

Wenig said he plans to use the pick-up service to sell a number of lawn ornaments that came with his home, which he doesn’t personally care for. Listing them on eBay and being responsible for shipping, however, seemed like a burden. Getting them out of his garage, however, is something he’s definitely interested in.

“People make their living on eBay and that feels good, but to be the belle of the ball, we have to step it up. We can’t get complacent,” he said. “We have to move faster and innovate at a quicker pace.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik