Inspiring, Exciting, and Innovating: The eBay OPEN Conference

Inspiring, Exciting, and Innovating: The eBay OPEN Conference

a speaker on stage at the 2016 eBay OPEN conference Inspiring, exciting, and innovating. These aren’t the words I would have previously used to describe eBay, a company that’s been met with growing frustration from their sellers, and resistance from its long-time American consumers. In an unofficial poll of consumers, they expressed an aversion to eBay (when compared to Amazon) because its marketplace of selling individuals, which they’re reluctant to trust. As Devin Wenig, CEO of eBay, explained in his breakout talk, however, eBay is going to turn these individualistic sellers into their biggest asset: by telling customers stories.

ebay OPEN

Las Vegas is the city that boasts, “whatever happens here, stays here”. This was a sentiment that was not shared by eBay OPEN attendees. The eBay OPEN conference produced a sense of excitement and anticipation at every turn, promising new features, outlooks, and leadership, but more importantly: a strategy of taking this energy outside Las Vegas and into the homes of people of expanded demographics and geography than ever before.

Despite long-time frustration with eBay and its complicated interface and arduous catalog of products, you could feel the electricity generated by attendees in the halls of the conference area. Presentations given by CEO Devin Wenig, SVP Hal Lawton, and CMO Suzy Deering energized the crowds and gave a sense of some long-awaited forward momentum. One attendee, Jim Miller, left a Facebook comment after Wenig’s talk, “The size and energy of this event reminds me of the first eBay Live event in Anaheim. Encouraged by Devin’s long-term view.”

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A Chat With CEO Devin Wenig

Training sessions ranged from the general to more advanced, which gave an opportunity for businesses at every stage looking for insight and solutions. One such workshop was, “Create Listings That Sell”, which had sessions for both beginning and advanced sellers. In addition, there were other more general workshops including streamlining customer service, managing after the sale, and shipping 101.

Perhaps the most important session, however, was the address and pep talk given by CEO Devin Wenig. In his lecture, he let attendees in on some of eBay’s plans for creating a new experience for customers, and a progressive business model for sellers. Wenig explained how he is moving forward to not only catch eBay up to their eCommerce competitors, but become the best comparison shopping experience in the world.

The Root of the Problem

Wenig admits eBay has fallen short in multiple ways when it comes to competing in eCommerce. He admits it’s unacceptable how expensive and complicated selling on eBay can be for sellers, and how the billions of items found on eBay are complicated and not easily consumed for shoppers. He promised upcoming changes that will make these struggles a thing of the past.

While expressing some of these shortcomings, he explained that eBay started with simple “collections and curations” and he hopes to finally grow past that — and begin to tell stories. He promised, “you will start to see product reviews evolve more quickly to something you won’t find anywhere else, on any eCommerce site,” then added, “But stay tuned for that.”

“Those Who Tell Stories Rule the World”

Wenig was a powerful speaker, infusing jokes and ambitions that generated praise and applause from the crowd. What was perhaps most powerful was his demonstration of passion for both eBay customers and sellers. He explained how much he’s enjoyed getting to know sellers on a personal level while learning their struggles and successes at conference dinners. Wenig encourages sellers to get these stories into the ears of customers, “if our shoppers heard that story, they would buy. So why don’t we let you tell that story?”

So what does becoming a “storyteller” mean for you and your business? It’s a good time to remind yourself of the marketing mantra to, “think global, act local”, because the future of eBay is going to get a lot more personal. eBay wants sellers to connect more intimately with their customers, which means creating an experience on your page to engage customers and “de-commoditize”. Some ways to do this would be providing a company video, which shows the faces behind your products, or maybe a regularly updated blog.

Wenig goes on further to explain that he plans to convert simple purchases on eBay into customer experiences. He wants sellers to begin telling stories to customers about unique items. Movements like this have been made with companies like Amazon who have begun selling KickStarter products and handmade goods. More eCommerce companies are seeing the benefit of integrating these products into their catalog and making these unique products more accessible to eager consumers.

Continued Growth

In his address, Wenig promised new exciting categories in late summer and touted the growing success of their wine launch earlier this year. He also promised continued efforts in cross-border trading, while revealing and reminding sellers that eBay is number one, two, and three in online sales in Turkey.

Wenig admitted that in the past, eBay hadn’t focussed enough attention into Millennials. In recognition of their immense buying power, and desire to experience online shopping differently than their parents, he assured eBay would reflect these needs in the near future. In addition, he also assured increased aggression into other new demographics and geographies.

At the end of his talk, he began explaining how eBay is branching out from basic eCommerce— as exhibited in its 2007 purchase of StubHub. He showed his enthusiasm for other brand extensions like his “taking bets” on artificial intelligence and other ventures. He explains, “This is a competitive landscape, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

New Things on eBay’s Horizon

Among the many exciting lectures given at the eBay OPEN conference, there was also some other big announcements, which got everyone pretty hyped up.

  • Sellers can advertise on eBay— potentially at no charge. While you still bid on eBay advertisements, you will only pay when the click converts into a sale.
  • In an effort to repair relationships and grow eBay into the eCommerce giant Devin Wenig sees the company being, eBay announced a forgiveness program in the fall that will reconnect with sellers that have been previously suspended.
  • They reworked and renamed an old tool and gave new bulk listing functionality (Seller Hub).
  • In the fall they’ll be making it easier for sellers to find needed information by creating a central location for sellers to access it.
  • On July 26th, for the start of the conference, eBay launched a significant mobile app update, which has been met with enthusiasm.
  • eBay will launch a national television campaign on August 1st, in an effort to reach their goals of an expanded customer base.

The Biggest Winners

At the end of the conference, The Shine Awards offered an opportunity for eBay to pat their loyal sellers on the back. We wanted to give a shoutout to this year’s hard-working winners, who inspired everyone in attendance:

  • Woman Small Business Owner: Tanya Crew, Motorcycle-Works.
  • Growing Business: Spencer Apland, 541-Motorsports.
  • Global Business: Neha Gajwani, Smack-Tom.
  • Charitable Business: Lauralee Lindholm, Heart for Ethiopia.
  • Family Business: William Wolstenholme, Rhode Island Internet Consignment and Sales.
  • Grand Prize: Laurie Wong, ReflectionsfromTrinity


Overall I feel like the conference gave me insight into what some of today’s eBay sellers are facing. True to Wenig’s conjecture, I was inspired by the accounts I heard from sellers and believe these stories are what will propel eBay forward. I went to this conference skeptical of how much I would get out of it, and came back with a renewed faith that eBay can restore trust and be a viable marketplace for sellers again. Inspired, excited and believing eBay can offer the innovation they’re promising, I look forward continued growth under Wenig, who promises, at eBay, “everyone gets their version of perfect.”


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