More than just ‘stuff,’ eBay peddles a revolution, company says

From boosting small businesses to giving consumers something to do on Saturday nights, eBay’s had a major impact on Israeli society, says its local director

A Miki Mottes original on the walls of eBay's Israel R&D center in Tel Aviv (Courtesy)
A Miki Mottes original on the walls of eBay's Israel R&D center in Tel Aviv (Courtesy)

Online retail site eBay sees itself as far more than just a place to buy stuff, according to its local business chief.

“We’ve had a profound social impact on the economy in Israel, and everywhere else it operates, helping people to earn an income and having a huge impact on buying habits,” said Elad Goldenberg, business director of eBay Israel.

“For example, we have many examples of people in Israel and abroad who are using eBay to build their own retail online businesses.” said Goldenberg. “There are thousands of people in Israel who are using eBay to supplement their income, or even earn a full-time income. It makes us feel very positive about the work we do.”

eBay is 20 this year, so at an event Monday the Israeli branch of the Internet retail giant took the opportunity to celebrate and talk about its accomplishments, both local and international.

“Worldwide we have about 850 million items on the site on average, and we flip 20% of them each week, with most of the products taken off the site because they were sold,” said Goldenberg. “We have 160 million registered users worldwide, with representation in 190 countries.”

Formerly known for its auctions, eBay has moved solidly to a retail sales model; direct purchases from independent sellers who use the platform to market their products now constitute 80% of purchases on the site, said Goldenberg. On eBay, users search for a product and are presented a list of sellers, their prices, and their rating reputation – indicating how other customers felt about their products and the service they received.

While eBay has a strong “retail” presence in Israel – a product is sold on the platform every four seconds (just two years ago, that statistic was 50 seconds) – it also has a large R&D facility in Israel, said Goldenberg. “We have 250 people working on several projects here, including the eBay search engine. With so many products online that are always changing – and so many choices in each product category – you need a very sophisticated search engine to enable people to find what they are looking for quickly.”

Online sales are booming in Israel. According to eBay statistics, said Goldenberg, 62 percent of small-sized Israeli businesses sell online both to Israelis and customers abroad. “That’s another example of eBay’s democratizing technology,” said Goldenberg.

“It turns out that only 20% of very large brands in Israel sell online, which means that the Internet is helping small businesses to make up in communications what they miss out by not having a ubiquitous presence like the large mall chain stores and other large outlets. The average Israeli Internet seller reaches customers in 30 countries.”

eBay takes special pride in Israel’s online retailers. “Forty-eight percent of them started their online sales career by selling on eBay,” he added.

In Israel, the biggest buying category on eBay is cellular phones, followed by high-end kitchen equipment and athletic shoes. Each of those categories tells an important tale about the Israeli economy and local buying habits, said Goldenberg.

“Kitchen equipment – whisks, mixers, bowls, etc. – are expensive in Israel, and many customers find that even with the shipping costs, those products are cheaper on eBay. And athletic shoes highlights the new way of Internet shopping, called ‘showrooming.’ In a large number of cases, customers try on the shoes in a store and then search for the specific model and size on eBay.”

The fact that they are not browsing, but homing in directly on a product, indicates that they checked out the shoes before.

Cellphones – the average cost sold on the site in Israel is over $300 – also indicate just how deep-rooted online sales are in Israel. “A few years ago, the biggest selling category on eBay Israel was smartphone cases, but since 2012 buyers have graduated to the smartphones themselves,” said Goldenberg. “That customers are willing to spend that kind of money to buy what, initially at least, is a picture on a screen as opposed to a physical product, is worthy of note.”

But perhaps even more interesting is what Israelis are selling abroad. “The biggest category for sellers is diamonds,” said Goldenberg. “Obviously, trust is a major part of buying a diamond, so the fact that customers are willing to buy expensive stones online based just on the eBay reputation rating of the seller is, to me, amazing.”

Like elsewhere, Israelis tend to buy the most as the holidays approach, and the holiday that brings out the most Israeli buyers is Black Friday, the American retail phenomenon that, in past years saw people lining up at retail stores in the pre-dawn hours to grab bargains, but is gradually moving online all over the world.

And, in a uniquely Israeli twist, said Goldenberg, 20% of all eBay Israel’s sales for the week take place between 9 and 11 p.m. Saturday nights. “We figure it’s because people spent time with their friends on Shabbat and saw them with items that they decided they wanted for themselves, so they turn to eBay to shop the world to find them. It’s another example of how online buying has changed habits – and we at eBay are proud to be at the center of that retail revolution.”

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