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‘A kinder, gentler Amazon’: eBay tries to charm small businesses

Amazon is known for being strict with third-party sellers. After missing a deadline to mail out a package by 15 minutes, one seller on Amazon said it had its account suspended and eight months later, despite multiple appeals, nothing has changed.

This Amazon seller is not alone. Amazon has royally pissed off many of its third-party sellers for various reasons. Amazon seller forums and dedicated Facebook groups for Amazon sellers are filled with criticism about unfair account suspensions including a lack of correspondence with the platform, an inability to keep up with larger brands’ and the platform’s dropping prices.

“What makes us stand out is that we don’t compete with our sellers, we support them,” said Chris Librie, eBay’s head of global impact. “We win when our sellers win.”

The now 22-year-old company, with 175 million active monthly buyers, is expanding its six-month-old Retail Revival program to other small cities across the U.S. Retail experts believe it’s an effort to follow in Alibaba’s success, becoming more focused on retailers and operating less as a consumer-to-consumer-driven marketplace, while charming small businesses that have become frustrated with Amazon.

EBay’s Retail Revival program began in January as a 12-month pilot with the small city of Akron, Ohio. When the program launched, eBay’s initial goal was to bring between 30 or 40 small brick-and-mortar businesses in Akron onto the eBay platform. It ended up attracting more than 100, said Librie. The Akron businesses that joined the program were a mix of brick-and-mortars and some with online selling experience, according to eBay.

Local businesses applied to the free program to receive monthly training on selling on eBay and access to a dedicated customer service team. EBay also set up a dedicated web page at eBay.com/Akron to promote all Akron companies. It then brought selected Akron sellers, such as Akron Honey Company, sustainable fruit snack company Peaceful Fruits, to New York City on Aug. 14, to sell their goods at a pop-up shop. A selection of items sold at the pop-up was also available for purchase in “Taste of Akron” boxes online.

The next stop for the program is Lansing, Michigan, but Librie said there’s no cap on the number of cities the program might extend to, adding that the company is really invested in the program across internal departments, although he wouldn’t say how much money the company has spent so far on the program. Currently, eBay is promoting its #RetailRevival hashtag on Twitter and will update followers on when items from Lansing businesses are available on eBay. Librie said future locations will depend on the number of eBay sellers in locations. The reason Akron was chosen as the first location was because there were already 240,000 eBay sellers in Ohio, and the company brings in just under a billion dollars in business in that state alone, he said.

“With the success Alibaba is seeing in Asia, China specifically, it seems eBay wants to replicate that success,” said Melissa Lea, managing director at consultancy R3 Worldwide. “Historically, eBay was more consumer-to-consumer, but Amazon is displacing small businesses because they can’t compete on price and is very strict with their merchants. If eBay is patterning itself off Alibaba, perhaps merchants will find a kinder, gentler Amazon in eBay.”

Sucharita Kodali, principal retail and e-commerce analyst at Forrester, believes it’s less of a shift in eBay’s business model and more to do with generating positive PR that might swing some frustrated sellers on Amazon over to eBay.

“This seems like a harder, more laborious way to get more sellers on board, which suggests it’s a PR play more than anything.”

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