INTERNATIONAL – EBay chief executive Devin Wenig has long argued that the 24-year-old online marketplace can thrive in the age of Amazon by not being like, well, Amazon.
EBay has no Prime-style subscription and makes a big deal about helping shoppers discover products rather than mission shopping as they typically do at Amazon.com. To compete against his larger rival, Wenig has tried to freshen EBay’s image with younger shoppers, made the site easier to navigate and harnessed artificial intelligence to give EBay merchants real-time insights about what shoppers want and how much they’re willing to pay.
Wall Street bought the story for a while, but with Amazon gaining and EBay atrophying, investors have been losing patience with Wenig’s slow-and-steady approach. That impatience came to a head on Tuesday, when Billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management – which owns more than 4 percent of the company – published a letter outlining “urgently needed” steps that included assets sales and share buy-backs.
EBay’s growth was languishing even before Wenig took over in 2015 after the company split from faster-growing PayPal Holdings. Many shoppers still think of EBay as the online rummage sale of yesteryear, where you could snag a deal on someone’s baseball card collection or video game console by bidding in an auction. In fact, EBay is much like any e-commerce site these days, replacing a trip to the mall by offering deals on new iPhones, Under Armour shirts and cordless drills from DeWalt.
Wenig has increased the company’s marketing budget and launched a rebranding campaign to freshen its image in an attempt to appeal to younger shoppers – and women in particular – with an emphasis on inventory they want such as clothing. He is also pushing EBay deeper into digital advertising and a new payments business to replace PayPal, both of which Wenig sees as billion-dollar revenue opportunities.