Not just a thrift store: eBay exec says consumers today are more comfortable to engage with food and beverage on its site

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock/Prykhodov
Photo: iStock/Prykhodov
The online vending platform eBay is often associated with used and refurbished products or auctioning. The truth is, 80% of the items it sells are new—only the remaining 20% are used or refurbished. Moreover, 87% are sold fixed-price instead of auctioned. Can food and beverage brands thrive here too?

There’s an endearing cultural stigma around eBay that the company wants to shed, especially in a time when e-commerce competition is getting tighter.

A great way to see this is in 2005 flick The 40-Year-Old Virgin​, where Steve Carell’s love interest, played by Catherine Keener, runs a brick-and-mortar store dedicated only​ to dropping off items to be sold on eBay. A young Jonah Hill plays the minor role of a perplexed customer​ who tries to buy silver-sequined platform shoes with goldfish in their soles, only to be told that he has to buy them through eBay.

Multichannel financial software company nChannel reported​ that eBay’s weirdest purchase in 2014 was a $1,209 Dorito shaped like a pope’s hat, compared to Amazon’s 1,500 ladybugs priced at $8.99. Pop culture has helped solidify eBay’s ‘treasure trove of the internet’ status, which the company’s execs seem to be embracing in their current repositioning efforts.

“We talk about our buyers as treasure hunters and self-expressionists—when they’re on eBay, they’re in an emotional state, they’re passionate about what they’re shopping for,” ​said Hal Lawton, SVP of eBay North America, during a webinar the company hosted titled ‘How Brands Can Take Control of Marketplaces to Drive Share in 2017 (which you can watch HERE​). “It’s not a transactional ‘come-in, look, find exactly what you [came] to buy and move on.’ We think we have a very unique set of engaged buyers.”

What’s in it for food and beverage?

When it comes to food and beverage, Bridget Davies, VP of eBay advertising told FoodNavigator-USA that “this is a category where we know there’s a lot of disruption and consumers are really getting more comfortable engaging with this category online. We’re starting to see these trends on eBay and would love to partner with brands in that space.”

Online shopping for food and beverage is miniscule compared to its brick-and-mortar counterpart. In calendar year 2015, financial research firm Cowen & Co. reported​ that at $33bn, online grocery shopping made up only 4% of $795bn in grocery sales total.

Online's low market share has led to some experts saying online grocery shopping is failing​, while the more entrepreneurial sorts are using the opportunity to come up with creative ideas to digitize online food shopping​. Experimenting with formats other than home delivery, Walmart has just opened its second gas station click-and-collect store​, while Amazon recently announced its Amazon Go concept​, where shoppers simply take the items they need and sensors will detect what they shopped, charging directly to an Amazon account.

eBay is differentiating itself by emphasizing product pairings with seasonal moments. During the webinar, Davies used Hershey’s campaign on the site as an example for food and beverage brand opportunities. In an Easter themed page, the confectionery company sponsored ‘curated pages’ that compile cooking appliances and flatware, and when customers click on a bakeware set, shoppers will see complementary products from Hershey’s.

“We index and play significantly in people’s passions around certain retail moments and certain holidays, and we know food and beverage is integrated in those moments with your family and friends,” ​said Lawton.

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