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INTERVIEW From Covid-19 to sustainability: Rob Hattrell of eBay on what’s driving change in the way we shop

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In today’s interview, Rob Hattrell, chief executive of online marketplace eBay UK, talks about the factors that are currently driving the way we shop – and how retailers can respond

Internet Retailing: Coronavirus appears to be changing the way we all shop – what are the most noticeable changes you’ve seen on eBay UK so far?

Rob Hattrell, chief executive of eBay UK: We’ve noticed a marked shift in the types of product that customers are opting for, as people adapt to the ‘new normal’ during the coronavirus lockdown. For example, we’re seeing a huge rise in purchases of office equipment, like monitors and routers, as Brits look to set themselves up with the essentials to work from home. The nation is also taking the opportunity to pick up new hobbies in their newly-found spare time. Purchases of home gym equipment such as yoga mats and weights have also soared with fitness fans up and down the country finding new ways to stay active from their front rooms. It’s also clear the nation is in need of some relaxation, we’ve seen a big uptick in purchases of hot tubs and home spas as Britons look to recreate those experiences at home.  

IR: Retailers that aren’t now selling through shops will be looking again at online. How can they move quickly to sell via marketplaces – do you have one or two pieces of advice for them?

RH: Moving sales online represents a lifeline and a real opportunity for any brand right now, but particularly for small retailers who have been forced to close their physical stores. eBay is a convenient and easy option for these small businesses to generate sales and income during such a challenging time. With minimal investment, small retailers have access to a global shop window through eBay and can reach over 27 million customers a month, as well as having a 24hr support team to help them list items, create ads and promotions, and manage payments, shipping and returns.

There are more than 300,000 small businesses who already trade on eBay UK and are reaping the benefits. But they are currently facing unprecedented challenges. That’s why we have announced a series of measures to support SMEs up and down the country, including those who have had to shutter their high street stores.  New businesses registering on will not have to pay fees to list or sell until May 31. For our existing sellers, we’re giving a 30-day fee payment holiday, to help address the very immediate cashflow issues they face.

My best piece of advice for any small business setting up on eBay UK during this difficult time is to be focused on the basics. Simple things like good photography and accurate descriptions can make a real difference to buyers, as well as great customer service. Keeping your eBay store up to date and making use of what’s on offer – for example multi-buy listings or the Terapeak research tool – will help attract more customers. We offer plenty of support and guidance for both new and existing sellers to improve listings, generate more consumer interest, ship and deliver goods, and ultimately boost sales on eBay UK. Our dedicated Seller Centre is on hand 24/7 to help all our eBay SMEs. 

IR: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities of selling via a marketplace, and how can retailers best approach both?

RH: The biggest opportunity is the huge audience that your products can reach – we offer eBay sellers a shop window to 27 million customers. During this period of extreme uncertainty, and while the bricks and mortar retail world is on lockdown, we want to be a lifeline for these businesses by doing what we can to help them get up and running online and keep their enterprise moving. However, alongside such an opportunity there are challenges. Given the wide range of business and products that can be discovered on eBay it’s important for sellers to do what they can do to stand out. That’s why we offer plenty of support and advice to make sure sellers, particularly those new to the world of e-commerce, are making the most of the opportunity through promoted listings, the best imagery and using the top buzzwords to get attention.

IR: What other factors do you see driving change in retail at the moment – and how can retailers respond?

RH: On eBay UK we’ve noticed increasing demand for more sustainable products, whether it’s reusable straws, water bottles and eco-friendly cleaning products. The trend in more mindful, eco-conscious shopping has also led to a real boom in second hand sales on the platform. So far in 2020, two pre-owned fashion items have been sold on the platform every single second and I expect this upward trend will continue as we all become more aware of our environmental impact. In response, we’ve launched a dedicated page on our platform to profile eBay businesses that sell refurbished and recycled products, to make it easier for shoppers to find the sustainable product they’re after. We have also introduced a 12-month guarantee on many refurbished goods on eBay to give shoppers peace of mind when choosing pre-owned items.

The trend for more sustainable and recycled products isn’t going away any time soon, and it presents a real opportunity for retailers who haven’t yet considered how they can appeal to more eco-conscious shoppers. Retailers should think carefully about whether the products they sell, and the packaging they are sent in will either entice customers or put them off buying again. 

IR: How do you see eBay developing/changing over the next five years – and why?

RH: eBay is a global business with a 25-year heritage – we have stood the test of time and that’s in part because of our ability to adapt and flex to the challenges thrown at us. Be it Brexit or Covid-19, we’ll continue working to connect buyers and sellers across the world. 

eBay is a place where enterprise can thrive, and it offers growth opportunities to people all over the UK to create and grow a business of their own. The 300,000 small businesses that trade through eBay UK are proof of that, and our goal over the next five years is to provide them with opportunities and support to succeed. It’s equally important for our customers who shop on eBay too, as the majority of purchases on eBay are made with an SME.

For our customers, eBay is where you find niche and unique treasures alongside everyday staples at great prices. Over the next five years, delivering value for money across our vast and unrivalled product range will continue to be our focus.

Main image: Adobe Stock

Interviewee image courtesy of Rob Hattrell/eBay

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