What exactly IS going on with eBay? Are the black helicopters coming for us?

It is time for eBay to end all the ongoing drama and explain what their long-term strategy is for the business.

Reading the eBay forums, message boards, and some of the eBay topical blogs, is a bit like reading conspiracy theories about the Kennedy Assassination or the death of Princess Di.

I was in the middle of reading a very strange post when I heard the thump-thump-thump of nearby helicopters. “Oh crap," I thought. "They are coming for me.” I put on my aluminum foil hat and looked out the window.  Whew! It was just a Coast Guard helicopter passing over.

Seriously folks, the problem is that we don’t really know what is going on with eBay.  Conspiracy theories aside, their strategy is unclear and eBay could end a lot of drama by explaining it. 

Other than stating they are trying to improve the buyer experience, it is difficult to understand where eBay is headed. Here are some questions I have:

Is eBay trying to raise the bar to discourage small sellers?  It is obvious that the thousands of small sellers pay a small portion of eBay’s fee income relative to the amount of support and bandwidth they take up. But these are the sellers who have all the niche products, collectibles, used merchandise and unusual things that so many eBay buyers come to the site to look for.  If someone is looking for a curling stone or a pie whistle, they are unlikely to start on Amazon –eBay has always been the destination for the unusual or hard to find stuff. Kill that and you destroy the very essence of eBay and where it came from. In short you destroy the brand.

I often wonder how much of my business for my new products is from people who came to eBay looking for some weird collectible or niche product –and after they found it, they looked for a barbecue grill or one of my knife sets. I don’t have hard data, but I know from my email that this happens.

If you get rid of all the small sellers selling the really unique things, you are left with just the big guys selling iPods, DVD players, shoes, cars and digital cameras. This puts eBay on the same page as Amazon and Overstock.com.  I am not sure that is where eBay wants to be.

The other big theory surrounds the issue of merger, acquisition or selling off parts of eBay to increase shareholder value.  This could be a real possibility and there are some merger possibilities out there that could make sense.

The new CEO John Donahoe comes from an M&A (merger & acquisitions) background. Before he joined eBay he worked for Bain, a private equity company that buys companies, sells off the pieces and turns them around.  eBay has a lot of stuff to sell including Kijiji, Skype, ProStores –and the crown jewel, PayPal. The value of these holdings to another company who could buy eBay is obvious.  Someone such as  Microsoft (Please God NO!) or Google looks at eBay and says. I can buy this for $50 billion, raise $40 billion selling off the parts and end up owning eBay for $10 Billion which would be about ½ its real value if you look at projected earnings from just the auction platform.

At the risk of starting another conspiracy theory, the fact that eBay is being so quiet about their plans is what has me worried. The seller community (and even many buyers) reaction to eBay recent changes has been nothing less than a firestorm and eBay is only fanning the flames with their silence.  Yes, they keep trying to explain and clarify the changes but they aren’t giving us any direction.  That is what it will take to calm everyone down.

I know the risk in not explaining yourself.  In an article in the San Jose Mercury I was quoted as saying the boycott would be a “blip” on eBay’s radar. The reporter got the quote a little wrong. What I really said was that “eBay would consider it a blip on their radar.”

My comment led to dozens of posts on the eBay message board saying things along the lines of “Hey Skip…blip this” with the symbol for the middle finger extended.  So many others accused me of being on eBay’s payroll that I tried calling the company and asking when my checks would start arriving but they wouldn’t return my calls.

If anyone at eBay is reading this, could you forward it to the payroll department. I’ll be checking my mailbox every day.

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