What eBay Could Learn From Boeing Aircraft

One of the reasons Boeing is the only remaining large aircraft maker in the US is because they not only listen to their customers, they involve them in the design of new aircraft.

About the time eBay was started 15 years ago, Boeing set out to design the next generation airliner.  One of the things Boeing learned back in the 1950s when they started building the first jet airliners was to listen to their customers.  If you fly on airliners, you might think I am talking about you –but I am not.  Boeing’s customers are not the flying public. Boeing’s customers are the airlines.  The same thing is true of eBay. We the sellers –not the eBay bidders and buyers –are the customers.  The bidders and buyers are our customers –not eBay’s. This is analogous to passengers being the airline’s customers.

When Boeing set out the build the next generation aircraft that would become the 787 Dreamliner, soon to begin production, they contacted all of the world’s airlines and invited them to send representatives to Seattle where they met for weeks listening to what the airlines wanted.

Boeing didn’t bring the airline reps in to listen to a sales pitch telling them what the next airliner would look like and how great it would be. They brought them in to listen and give input.   Did Boeing consider the needs of passengers? Of course they did. And, they shared this information with the airlines and the airlines shared their passenger input and data with Boeing.

In a sense the 787 Dreamliner is a collaborative aircraft designed by the customers and Boeing together –both of whom understood the needs of the passenger. But more importantly, Boeing had the input from the Airlines who told them what kind of aircraft they needed to make money.

So what could eBay learn from this? eBay earns enough in fees paid by sellers (eBay’s customers) to fly a couple hundred representative sellers into San Jose for several days of workshops where instead of presenting, eBay spends the time listening. Had eBay leveled with sellers a couple of years ago when the growth started to slow and the current problems were becoming known, they could have made us part of the process and the solution. Who knows, the end result could have been massive changes to the feedback system and even DSRs –but I suspect they would look different –and most importantly the seller community would embrace the changes instead of fighting them because they would have been part of the solution –rather than being asked to accept a solution that was imposed upon them.

It’s not too late. eBay has cancelled eBay Live in 2009. Instead they said they would be doing a series of “events” around the country. What will these events look like?

I have been to some of these eBay “workshops” before. Yes, we get to get to stand in line before a microphone and ask questions and give comments.  And all the players on the stage nod their heads and look concerned. Then they give us answers. Where is the real input?

Does eBay ever send their managers out to sit beside an eBay seller all day and see what we really do –what our challenges are and what we have to contend with to make a profit? Does eBay have workshops where ten sellers sit down with ten managers for an entire day and examine the wealth of data that eBay has amassed. Where we get to ask in-depth questions, submit ideas and concerns and where we tackle the problems together? If this is going on, I don’t know about it.

eBay has a choice. They can continue to try and sell us on their new systems and methods, or eBay can come clean with us and share their data and research. They can stop the spin and actually ask for, consider and respect our input, opinions and ideas –and then go back to San Jose and actually put them to use.

I understand that eBay’s management doesn’t work for us. They work for the stockholders. I was once a stockholder. I bought stock shortly after eBay went public and made a lot of money on eBay stock. But I dumped it shortly after the last split. 

I would like to be a stockholder again. But at $27 a share eBay looks way over priced to me. If, however, eBay were to learn something from Boeing, I might take another look.  eBay could embrace their customers and bring us into the design decisions. There are a few rivets popping on this 15 year old airplane we call eBay, but there is still time to turn this thing around before the flaps start falling off. If eBay would invite us into a truly collaborative effort, we could all build our own Dreamliner together.

Stay tuned – More on this tomorrow

Skip McGrath

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