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Posts from the ‘E-Commerce’ Category

eBay’s Value Problem is a Search Problem

It has been quite a long time since I posted here about eBay.  I still use the site regularly (I typically still list at least a few things every month), and while I may tweet about things from time to time, I rarely feel the need for a full blog post.

On January 21st, Ikai Lan (@ikai) posted this tweet:

What’s the big deal, right?  So what if Ikai found a better deal on Amazon for his Star Trek geekfest?

Here’s the big deal. This was my response to Ikai:

The issue here isn’t that I was somewhat obnoxious (although clearly, I was a bit obnoxious).  Ikai & I worked together at LinkedIn, so it’s not unexpected to have a little bit of fun with the back & forth on Twitter.

The problem is that Ikai is a smart, technical guy.  He’s also someone who looks for a good deal.  If someone like Ikai thinks that Amazon has a cheaper price on an item like the complete DVD collection for Star Trek DS9, then eBay has a real problem.

eBay’s Value Problem

When I wrote my Eulogy for eBay Express in 2008, I talked about four key value propositions that eBay navigates: value, selection, trust and convenience.  One of the motivating factors behind eBay Express was trying to find a way to leverage eBay’s huge advantages in value and selection, while shoring up perceived weaknesses in trust and convenience.

But here we are in 2010, and while eBay has the item, apples-to-apples, for over $100 less than Amazon.com – Ikai didn’t know it.  And you know what?  If a low price falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound… or a sale.

eBay’s Value Problem is actually a Search Problem

The point is, despite the fact that Ikai is an engineer working at Google, he couldn’t find the item.  So a $115 price advantage was nullified.   Why?

I’m not a 100% sure what Ikai did to identify the proposed “$350 price”.  When I searched on eBay, I found literally dozens of items priced below $300, many of which were from top sellers, and many of which that offered returns.  In fact, I saw items as low as $130, but I tried to find the lowest priced item that matched the quality of service Ikai would expect from an Amazon third party seller.

Of course, I’ve been on eBay since 1998, and I spent years working on structured data and search products at eBay, so I have a hunch why I found the items and he didn’t.

He typed the wrong query. My guess is that he typed something like this “Star Trek DS9 season 1-7” in the DVD category.  Makes sense, right?  Unfortunately, this only returns two items, the cheapest of which is $299.

Despite years of investment, the eBay search engine still doesn’t understand that “DS9 = Deep Space Nine”, and that “1-7″ is a range, and that “season” is an attribute that DVD sets for television series can have.

Now, what I did do?  Simple:

  1. I typed the query “deep space (nine, 9)”
  2. I selected the category for DVD
  3. I selected “Buy It Now” for listing type
  4. I sorted from highest price to lowest

Let’s review the tricks I used:

  1. The () notation is how the eBay search engine does OR.  So I was able to find listings with both “nine” and “9” in them.  To be fancy, I could have used “DS9″ in there too, but it wasn’t necessary.
  2. Filter to DVD category to clean out other clutter.
  3. I figured Ikai didn’t want to bid on an auction
  4. Sorting from high to low is a counter-intuitive trick, but if you assume that the collection will be more expensive than individual DVDs, it makes sense.  I use this all the time with high priced items, since quality tends to float to the top.

I then scanned down the list to find the cheapest collection sold by a credible seller (someone with high feedback and % satisfaction).  And then I tweeted it to Ikai.

Would anyone else know how to do this? Would anyone else want to do this?

I do it, largely because I still love eBay, and because I actually know how to do it.  Plus, I really appreciate saving money on items like this, so the $115 is worth a few minutes.

But all I know is that if eBay can’t leverage it’s intrinsic price advantage with buyers like Ikai, then it has a serious problem.  They can never beat Amazon or traditional retailer e-commerce sites on trust and convenience.  They can, however, beat them on price and selection.

But customers have to be able to find those advantages to value them.

How Virtual Goods Caused the Market Crash of 2016

No, that’s not a typo.  I have seen the future.  And in the future, a burgeoning virtual goods economy that has been building over the past few years will lead to the next great financial bubble and crash.

Far-fetched?  Read on.

In some ways, virtual goods are almost as old as role-playing games.  Experience and special weapons are time consuming to earn, so a light grey market to “cheat” by purchasing equipment or characters has always existed.

This ecosystem exploded with popularity of massively multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft, and virtual worlds, like Second Life.  For the first time, cottage industries of real human beings sprang up to devote full time effort to investing time and resources into accumulating virtual wealth.

While typical Silicon Valley chit-chat turned to the impressive revenues that virtual goods firms began generating in 2008 & 2009, it wasn’t until Zynga IPO’ed in 2010 with eye-popping revenues of more than a quarter billion real dollars that the concept of virtual economies really became mainstream.  Major players from across the entertainment and technology domains raced to enter the market, and to leverage the powerful virality of social platforms combined with the fundamental addictiveness of gaming.  Add the final magic ingredient – pure monetary greed, and you had all the animal spirits needed to create the great virtual goods boom.

Unfortunately, as described in Devil Take the Hindmost, almost all great booms and busts are created through a combination of financial innovation in products that create leverage combined with a technology innovation that drives wildly optimistic views of future value.

Virtual goods and virtual economies had all the right elements to boom.  Initially, the conversion from real world stores of value into virtual stores was highly controlled.  Some of these economies allowed for the transfer of goods and virtual wealth, and some didn’t.  Quickly, however, competition forced a basic truth – people like obtaining virtual wealth in the form of virtual goods.   They like seeing that value multiply and grow.  More and more innovative services and economies were built, and increasingly they enabled mechanisms to convert those virtual stores of value into other virtual stores.  They also enabled players to compound their virtual wealth.  In fact, some even enabled the conversion back into real money.

Thus the vicious cycle was born.  Converting real money into virtual goods, and then taking advantage of the ability to compound that virtual value at unrealistic rates, set off a true boom.  The rate of return on virtual investments was so high compared to the anemic returns offered by the still moribund real economy, that early adopters looked like geniuses.  In 2014, the meme began to spread that everyone should have a portion of their portfolio allocated to “virtual assets”, which were not highly correlated to traditional stores of value.   Funds sprang up to allow the average individual without the time or inclination to invest and build virtual wealth to access the market.

The companies providing these ecosystems had no reason to dampen this enthusiasm.  Their systems, like those of investment bankers or market makers of yore, ensured a percentage of all transactions as revenues.   They made money as people converted real currency to virtual currency, and technically, as they converted it back.  Like central bankers with no fear of inflation, they juiced their economies to juice their own revenues.  Fortunately, the higher the internal rates of return in the virtual worlds, the less people were incented to take their virtual goods out and convert to real money.  Everyone effectively let their money ride, watching their virtual wealth grow.

By 2015, the notional value of virtual goods exceeded $1 Trillion for the first time.  Government bureaucrats began to explore the possibility of taxing these virtual economies to help cover increasing deficits.  Lobby groups sprang up to protect this “new economy” from destruction.  Pundits debated this nightly on all major cable networks.  People borrowed real money at relatively low rates in the real world to invest in virtual goods, because the returns were so much higher.  Real debt grew, savings dropped, but virtual assets grew faster.

Then, in 2016, one of the more flagrant virtual worlds began to see withdrawals rise.  Not significantly at first, but it turned out they had allowed virtual wealth of their members to grow high enough that people began to “retire”.  Everyone was in the game, so new entrants with smaller balances could match the asset loss.  Suddenly, the bear arguments, which had been discussed for years (beginning with a famous blog post from 2009) began to make more sense.

No one had the real money to cover these virtual “liabilities” the companies implicitly had to their members.  There was no virtual FDIC to cover accounts.  There was no regulation to ensure that these accounts would be paid.  The first “run” on a virtual economy had begun.

Suddenly, it became clear that these virtual economies were linked, even if owned by different giant companies.  People who lost money in one virtual economy, began pulling real money out of others.  One virtual world froze conversion, like a panicked 20th century third world nation.  Then the run really began.

Virtual asset values plummeted.  But the real debts did not.  Suddenly it turned out that more companies had their fingers in the virtual pie than most people thought.  Asset management firms.  Insurance firms.  Hedge funds.  Large banks.  Tech giants.

And that’s how virtual goods caused the market crash of 2016.

Do I believe that it will really happen?  No.  Do I believe that conceptually, virtual goods and economies could lead us into uncharted waters economically if we are not careful?  Yes.

I’ve read quite a bit in the past decade about the history of market bubbles and panics, and the patterns of each.  In every case, financial innovation creates some new way for people to assume liabilities in a highly leveraged way, outside of existing regulation or norms.  In combination, some technology offers the world hope of a much larger economic future.  Given the new found ability to invest heavily in that future, and radically different perceptions of that future, people invest, creating a virtuous cycle of high returns and increased investment that sucks almost all the air out of the system… and then keels over.

A fun mental exercise for a Thursday night.

Still I wonder. Since it’s only 2009, I feel like I don’t own enough stock in these companies.  It’s going to be quite a ride.  :)

The Real eBay Magic: Irrational Commerce

It’s been quite a while since my last eBay-related post, and nine months since my high traffic post, A Eulogy for eBay Express.  However, this past week Keith Rabois wrote a fairly inflammatory article for TechCrunch that I thought was worth discussing.  Keith is currently an executive at Slide, and was formerly a founder at LinkedIn and an executive at PayPal, so his consumer internet credentials are fairly substantial.

His article was entitled:

TechCrunch: How Facebook, MySpace and YouTube Killed eBay

Told you it was inflammatory.

However, I’m not normally the one to take eBay flame bait.  After all, if I was, I’d be posting twelve times a day on the topic.  But Keith actually hit upon a deeper insight in his piece that is worth calling out, because it provides insight into both eBay and other successful, engaging web products.

Although it was always classified as an e-commerce destination, the quirkiness of the eBay marketplace was once a major source of entertainment on the Web. It was where people sought and bought everything from the first broken laser pointer to Beanie Babies to Bob Dylan’s boyhood home. While the catch—anything from an antique clock to a Gulfstream II—was rewarding for the buyer, it was generally the entertainment and excitement of the chase that brought a buyer to eBay in the first place.

This insight, that eBay’s success was driven by entertainment and engagement is extremely strong.

The rest of the article follows this path:

  • In January 2004, over 47% of internet users visited eBay once per month.
  • In December 2006, while the % of audience stayed the same, people were spending 3x the time on MySpace
  • In 2007 Facebook & Youtube added to this drift of attention and engagement (timeline is off here a bit, since Youtube took off well before 2007).
  • eBay stripped out the fun, not pursuing eBay 3.0 strongly enough, and then Donahoe pushed towards an Amazon-focused approach.  Fun gone.

I don’t personally agree with much of the deductive flow here, actually.  Overall, Myspace, Youtube & Facebook have significantly increased the engagement overall on the internet, taking metrics like “daily visits” and “daily unique users” and “time on site” to previously unthinkable numbers.  It isn’t a zero-sum game, per se, because the overall number of users and time spent on consumer internet sites has grown dramatically.

More importantly, the assessment of eBay 3.0 and the current strategy makes it sound like eBay’s current approach is largely management-driven, when in reality the overwhelming global scale and activity of eBay buyers (and sellers) has made the current direction almost fait accompli.  In 2006, the number of eBay listings that were fixed price (including store listings) was already well north of 50% and rising rapidly.  The marketplace was voting through billions of bids, BINs and listings, and it was voting for a higher and higher proportion of fixed price commerce.

But I digress.  The point is that Keith got something very, very right in his article about eBay.

eBay was never meant to be just e-commerce.  It was fun.  It was exciting.  It was empowering.

It was engaging.

There are a couple strong reasons for this.

First, if you’ve read my previous posts on game mechanics in the design of engaging software and websites, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Amy Jo Kim‘s work here.  In fact, eBay demonstrates all five of the “fundamental games” that humans like to play.  This wasn’t done intentionally, but it explains a lot of the almost visceral, addictive reaction that people had to eBay.

Second, eBay captured irrational economic behavior on both the buyer and seller side of the marketplace brilliantly.  Buyers exhibited a number of irrational behaviors that we now describe and associate with behavioral finance.

These irrational behaviors on the buyer side, combined with the game mechanics of the site, effectively created a lift in demand.  Combined with the transparency and breadth of the online marketplace, you had literally a huge multiplier on e-commerce demand.

On the seller side, however, engagement was driving irrational behavior too.  Buyers of collectibles became sellers in order to “fund their habits”.  (I know this personally, since I began selling coins on the site to help keep my PayPal “slush fund” fully tanked so I could buy coins…)   More than anything, people fell in love with the empowerment eBay offered.  You didn’t have to have $100,000 to open a business, an SBA loan, or an MBA.  The web was full of stories of people just driving around garage sales, picking up items on clearance at local department stores, and stocking up at flea markets.  Some of these sellers grew businesses that measured in millions of dollars, promoting hope that anyone could build a business on eBay.

Of course, there was a kernel of truth to this.  An unprecedented number of successful businesses were built over eBay.  But most sellers were nowhere near any sort of traditional business scale.  There is a reason, after all, that PowerSeller starts at just $1000 a month.  And that’s $1000 of sales revenue, not profits.

Can you imagine any real-world storefront with only $12,000 a year in sales?

People would spend 8, 10, even 12-hours a day looking for inventory, listing items, answering questions, and shipping goods.  When people went to the first eBay Live, they even made sure that on the road trip out to California, they brought enough packing materials to keep shipping items.  They made buyers happy because it wasn’t just a business for them, it was a way of life.

In every sense of the word, it was irrational commerce.  It was a labor of love, not economics.  Sure, it was a good way to pad the income of a family.  But for many the money was just a rationalization – they were really in it for the excitement, the activity, the empowerment, and of course, the community.  If you calculated the “wage rate” of many of these sellers, it would be shockingly low.  But no one did, because that wasn’t the point.  It was fun.  It was empowering.  And it was only just the beginning…

I didn’t get to go to the first eBay Live in 2002, but I did go to three starting with the third in New Orleans in 2004.  I’ll never forget, at one point Pierre was touring the booths (I believe he was giving a speech that day).  A group of us were discussing how to manage the insanity of the event – the intensity and sometimes aggression of some attendees who had to have every pin, every collectible.

I won’t get the quote right, but Pierre said something there that has stayed with me to this day.  To paraphrase, he said that he loved the energy, and that the insanity is part of what made eBay great.  If eBay became just another sales channel, then it would lose its magic.

It has been five years,  and for me personally the growth in my understanding of game mechanics, behavioral finance, and web 2.0 product design have given me terms and tools to help explain the irrational engagement that people had with eBay, and currently have with sites like Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter.

eBay has a very metrics-driven culture, but while site and business metrics accurately reported the results of the incredibly engagement and activity on eBay, as always they never actually provided  the full picture around causality.

So, from my point of view, Facebook, MySpace & Youtube did not kill eBay.  (eBay, of course, is no where near killed in any case, since it continues to be an incredibly large and active site.)

Instead, eBay fell victim to a much more insidious threat than simple competition for eyeballs or time on site.  It fell victim to a version of the Innovator’s Dilemma.  There is a limit to how many people will wrap their lives around selling on eBay.  There is a limit to what percent of people’s purchases they will pursue through an auction process.  There is a limit to the disposable income to spend on collectibles and hard-to-find items – most purchases, in fact, are of new, standard commodity products.  Thus the company and the site follows the aggregated votes of hundreds of millions of buyers and millions of sellers, their “best customers”, and those votes are eventually dominated by the bulk of the e-commerce market.

Reading articles this weekend, like this piece in VentureBeat, they quote Donahoe in the Wall Street Journal as follows:

Asked about eBay’s identity, Mr. Donahoe said he wants shopping on the site to offer the same sort of low-price experience as buying at bulk retailer Costco Wholesale Corp. There, “the inventory is somewhat fluid, but everything they’ve got is a great deal,” he says in an interview.

(Ironic for me, since Costco was one of the examples we looked to frequently in the design and thought behind eBay Express.  I am a huge, unrepentent fan of Costco as both a customer and as a student of great companies.)

eBay 2009 cannot go back to the eBay of 1999, or even 2004.  The size and scale and make-up of the market means that any attempt to “crowd-out” the less engaging aspects of the market would mean drastically reducing the size of eBay.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.  There is still time for eBay to re-invigorate its experience to capture and create elements that drive engagement.  There is time to learn from both the past and the present, and chart a course that will inspire and empower millions.

The original needs that drove eBay to success still exist.  People are finding some of the serendipity and empowerment from Craigslist… but it’s not as actionable or broad.   The game mechanics, for the most part, aren’t there.  Amazon has increased its breadth, but it’s truly an ecosystem designed for large sellers (by eBay standards).  Google has enabled independent websites to purchase traffic… to an extent.  But the more you make selling online like running a business, the more you lose that sense that this is fun instead of work.

Collectors still want to collect.  People still want to find ways to make a little extra money and to be a part of something bigger.  Little kids still collect and trade things from a very young age – no matter if they are stickers, baseball cards, Pokemon, or whatever small colorful items come in sets with variable rarity.  I sold my brother’s broken iPhone (he dropped it in the ocean) for $130 to a man on an island (Reunion) that I had never heard of.  Those eBay stories still exist. Small businesses are still being built on eBay.  Sellers are multi-channel, but eBay can and should offer them unique dynamics that capture a disproportionate amount of their attention, if not their business.  Apple has a small fraction of the computer market, but it captures the lionshare of its attention.  That could be eBay if it was prepared to act boldly and ask hard questions about what eBay reall should be… and shouldn’t be.

eBay cannot be MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Twitter.  Nor should it be.

It should be eBay.

Update (5/27/2009): Turns out I had missed a great post from Rob Go on this same topic, just a few days ago.  Worth reading.

Scot Wingo & Seeking Alpha: Traffic Drivers

It’s still fascinating to me how many insights I gain from the traffic to my own personal blog.

Today, I checked my stats briefly and noticed something really strange: my post about eBay Express, A Eulogy for eBay Express, had jumped with a vengence to the number one post on the blog.  My overall traffic spiked a bit too.  A little strange for a post that is over 6 months old.

Perusing my top referring sites, I saw one obvious culprit: eBay Strategies.  Scot Wingo has a new post up entitled Episode IV – How to fix eBay (you are here) – A NEW HOPE – Introducing eBay 2.0. It’s a long post, but there are a couple of paragraphs in it that point directly to my last eBay Express post:

You may recall an experiment eBay had called eBay Express where they tried to extend the brand with a different fixed-price site, but failed.  Ex-eBayer, Adam Nash had a great eulogy and behind-the-scenes view of what happened that I recommend everyone read to see his perspective.

I always likened eBay Express to diet donuts.  It just isn’t an extension and you are admitting that, well, if you have an eBay express, that makes eBay – what- eBay slow and poky?  There were other problems too that Adam details, like they didn’t send it any traffic and small things like that.  Also the way the inventory worked was all jacked-up, it was a sub-set of fixed-price items on eBay (what?!).  I’ve read all of Adams thoughts on eBay Express and chatted with him before on what eBay’s doing wrong/right and many of his ideas have found their way into eBay 2.0. (BTW, eBay needs to get this guy back.)

OK, it’s hard not to find that last line flattering.

Scot’s post is fairly long and detailed, and while I don’t agree with everything in the article, I did find all the talk of “New Coke” amusing in one sense.  You see, Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink had just been released when we kicked off the eBay Express concept efforts.  As a result, one of the specific guiding statements for the project was: “Don’t build New Coke.”  As I mentioned in my original post, one of our key goals for eBay Express was to NOT change the original eBay, but instead focus our efforts on a new site in order to protect what buyers & sellers loved about eBay.com.  Our analogy was, in fact, Diet Coke, which is not totally surprising given that I have an entire category for Diet Coke-related posts on this blog…

Still, the branding point around the name “eBay Express” is fair, and as I mentioned previously, branding was one of the obvious mistakes made in retrospect.

In any case, a little more snooping and I discovered that while eBay Strategies was the source of some of the new traffic, even more traffic was being sourced from the Seeking Alpha distribution of the article.  I’ve been an active reader of Seeking Alpha as an investment site for years, and I’ve noticed their recent push for sourcing content from any major blogger.  However, this is some real evidence that bloggers who leverage Seeking Alpha are likely seeing significant boosts in distribution.

I wonder if I have any posts that are Seeking Alpha worthy… I’ll have to think about experimenting with them at some point.  I’ve actually been cited in Seeking Alpha posts before, but typically with pointers to my articles on investing in Timber as an asset class

US Patent 7,490,056 Has Been Granted

Interesting milestone this week.  My very first patent granted.

USPTO: Patent #7,490,056

  • Filed: November, 2004
  • Granted: February 10, 2009

Ironically, I wouldn’t have known about it except for a promotion catalog I got in the mail today with a list of plaques I could buy to commemorate this patent from some souvenir company in Florida.  Yes, I know.  Weird.

This was the first of several patent applications I submitted while at eBay.  This particular application surrounded the logic and algorithm around assessing popularity for e-commerce listings based on “following” behavior, aka “Watch” in eBay terms.

Yes, this was the “Most Watched” patent, from the debut of eBay Pulse.  (Sadly, it looks like the patent office has actually moved faster approving this patent than eBay has updating eBay Pulse since that 2004 launch.)

There is a lot I could comment on here about the USPTO, the dubious nature of software patents, the length of time, etc.  Normally, I’d go on at length about some of these issues.

Instead, however, I’ll just note that it’s a somewhat sentimental moment for me, because I always remember hearing about how my late grandfather had filed an important patent on his path to business success.

Would You Ship a Broken iPhone to Réunion?

My brother dropped his iPhone in the Pacific Ocean.  An original, $399 iPhone.

Needless to say, saltwater does not do good things to an iPhone.  It doesn’t boot anymore.   No recourse with Apple or AT&T.  He had to get a new phone.

As a result, I ended up with my own variant of Pierre Omidyar’s famous broken laser pointer… I listed the broken iPhone on eBay.

Well, it sold today, for $122.50.  However, it sold to an international buyer… in Réunion.

Réunion, as it turns out, is a little island in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Madagascar.  It is a French island, and happens to be the first place in world (due to time zone) to adopt the Euro.

So, would you ship a broken iPhone to Reunion?

They paid with PayPal.  All the info lines up, roughly.  eBay has a hotmail address for the user, but the payment came from a wanadoo.fr email address.  However, the name and address on both is the same, although eBay lists United States for the registered country (with the Reunion address).

That could be a sign of fraud.  Or it could be the sign of a user who moved.  eBay data is pretty messy at times.

He has made recent purchases with positive feedback.  A cheap piece of wireless equipment, and an expensive ($259) piece of tree climbing equipment.  So, not just trivial items.

So, do I ship it?  Not sure.  The worst that would happen is that the credit card would end up being stolen, so PayPal would seize the funds.  And I’d be out a broken iPhone.

But, on the plus side, selling to Reunion is a new destination for me.  I’ve sold to over 30 countries on eBay at this point, and it’s getting harder to attract buyers from new ones.

I think I’m going to ship it.

People are basically good… right?

PayPal Micropayments: A Step in the Right Direction

Paypal quietly launched it’s PayPal Micropayments service level this week, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.  It’s a service that has been in testing and research for quite some time, but it’s nice to see it finally launched publicly.

Here is the new PayPal Micropayments site, which explains the terms.

For those of you unfamiliar with PayPal economics, PayPal charges a fixed fee and a variable rate on every transaction for premium customers.  A premium customer, by the way, is basically anyone who wants to receive more than $500 a month and/or accept credit cards.

The payment scheme is similar to the credit card companies, although of course PayPal charges the same fee for bank & debit payments too.  They even charge the fee on PayPal balance purchases.  There is a reason why PayPal is a phenomenal business in its current form.

The problem is that for low cost items, the PayPal fixed fee can be expensive.  The fees for a basic premium account are:

$0.30 + 2.9% of the transaction.

So, if you are selling a $100 item, your fees would come to:

$0.30 + $2.90 = $3.20, or 3.2% of the transaction.

Not a huge fee, but certainly a significant line item for normally thin retail margins.

Now look at the cost for a $5 item:

$0.30 + $0.145 = $0.45 (rounded), or 9% of the transaction.

Wow.  9% for payment processing.  Hard to build a great business there.

The micropayments service offering fixes this, by lowering the fixed fee, and raising the variable fee.  The new fee structure is:

$0.05 + 5% of the transaction.

So, that same $5 payment now costs:

$0.05 + $0.25 = $0.30, or 6% of the transaction.

6% is still high, but much, much better than the old fees.

Of course, given the scalability & cost issues with PayPal infrastructure, the launch is typically limited in terms of implementation:

  • You can’t really find this on the site, you have to go to the magic micro-site to sign up.
  • You have to sign up for this fee structure separately.  You can have the micropayment structure, or the normal structure, not both on a single account.
  • You have to wait 2 days for the fee structure to take effect.

This means that as an e-commerce seller, you have to keep two accounts open – one for your items over $12, and one for the rest of what you sell.  It also means you have to juggle the fact that PayPal doesn’t like to see two accounts linked to the same bank account, credit card, or email address.

Still, it was fairly trivial for me to set up a new email address on my personal domain, and get the new account.  I’ll start using it immediately on Media items, like used DVDs, that tend to get below $10 prices.

If I was in the eBay selling tool business, I would definitely build in a feature to automatically assign the right PayPal account to listings based on the fixed price or expected final value of an auction.  It probably wouldn’t take more than a day or two to implement.  An eBay seller with $100,000 GMV per year, with 50% of items below $10 could likely save thousands of dollars with this technique – that’s margin that is worth taking.

I’m not sure this fee structure will get PayPal into the true micropayments arena.  If they want to be collecting payments under $1, they will really need a fee structure that operates on the aggregate – grouping together charges like they do for iTunes to minimize charges.  Still, I’m glad to see them make at least this small step forward.  It must not have been easy to face the potential cannibalization for existing sellers who are using PayPal today on eBay for under $10 items and who will move to this payment structure.

What would be great is a true wrap account from PayPal that would mix together a true micro-payment pricing (sub-$1), low price item band (sub-$10), and regular merchant fees, with PayPal handling all the aggregation and management to deliver payments for a broad product line at a fixed rate based on monthly volume.

Still, I’m sure there are a few people at PayPal who slaved over this recently, and I do want to say to them thank you for shipping it.  I’m hoping this will help make selling lower price items viable again for me.

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