Aishwarya Ramesh
Interviews

"Want people to realise you don't need to be a big brand to sell globally.": Pavan Ponnappa, eBay

On the sidelines of the new campaign launch, Ponnappa discusses e-commerce, cross border trade and the platform itself.

eBay is a US-based company that entered India in 2005. Like many other e-commerce brands, it has also chosen to highlight the sellers on its platform in a new ad campaign. It showcases entrepreneurs who use the platform to reach out to customers in different countries.

The campaign is eBay’s attempt to push cross-border trade, i.e., Indian sellers selling their products in different parts of the world. The US is the largest buyer market for the business to consumer (B2C) model. The other major markets include the UK, Australia, Germany and Canada.

On the sidelines of the campaign launch, we spoke to Pavan Ponnappa, head of categories and marketing, eBay, about e-commerce, cross-border trade and the platform itself. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:

How is India, as an audience of your business, different from other markets?

We work with the seller base in India. We work with the manufacturers and entrepreneurs, who are looking to sell abroad. There is a significant difference between India and other markets, from an ecosystem point of view.

As an ecosystem, India has a different maturity level, as compared to some developed countries. Indian entrepreneurs create a lot of products that are extremely relevant in the global markets today.The challenge, though, is that the businesses are still trying to understand cross-border trade – they are not used to it.

"The challenge is that the businesses are still trying to understand cross-border trade – they are not used to it."
Pavan Ponnappa
Pavan Ponnappa

Your main aim is to make Indian products available in other countries, right? What kind of Indian products are popular in other countries?

eBay is a B2C marketplace, but one of its unique elements is that it offers an auction-based format for the sellers to sell their product. So, the products don’t always have a fixed price.

Typically, in India, we're all used to the fixed price format. The auction-based format works well for certain categories that are unique on eBay. For example, collectibles like art or limited edition products.

We also export a lot of jewellery – both costly and inexpensive ones. There is a lot of opportunity for B2C transactions in jewellery. We also look at product lines like home decor and home linen, something we manufacture quite a lot in India. Handcrafted and Ayurvedic products are also popular.

Globally, automobile parts are a huge category on eBay. India is beginning to see huge growth in OEM partners, who manufacture auto parts and spares.

Why doesn’t the auction-based system work in India?

eBay is still a B2C platform globally. But as a platform, we have a lot of different formats. The customer to customer (C2C) format is one of the models. It's not necessarily the largest, in terms of volume, but there are a lot of individuals who do C2C transactions.

For eBay, every market is different. If I look at the US, the evolution curve has been very different. There has been a lot of C2C as well as B2C transactions. If you look at markets like, say, the UK, Australia or Germany, B2C is definitely the predominant model.

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Some of the sellers on the platform are also featured in your video. Can you tell us a little bit more about the campaign and the insight it was based on?

eBay has always been about the seller. We don’t have our own set of products that we sell on the platform. It's all about the sellers. The idea is to bring to the fore a lot of these stories of Indian entrepreneurs and sellers, who have made it big, globally.

Cross-border trade is pretty big, but still nascent in India. We want people to realise that you don't really need to be a big brand, to be able to sell globally. We want to highlight the fact that no matter whether you're a small or big business, the opportunity is massive.

There are great stories about how Indian sellers have been resilient and grown their businesses, even in these tough times. We've been discussing with our agency, which is Clevertize, for quite some time about how to get Indian businesses, whether it is an MSME or a B2C brand, on board.

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The Indian consumer tends to be very mistrustful. They have a hard time trusting brands and their claims. So, how do you really build brand trust?

As an open marketplace, our entire focus is on the element of trust. It's not just about the buyers and sellers having the right product, but how do they ensure the best customer experience.

In terms of building trust, one of the key elements that we try to highlight, both to the buyers and the sellers, is the importance of all metrics related to the post-transaction experience. Whether it's with respect to how quickly your product will be delivered to you, or the feedback.

Why is the C2C model not available in India?

We exited the India business because of how the market was shaping up at that point. We decided to come back and refocus only on cross-border trade (which has been growing rapidly over the last 3-4 years) because there was always a huge Indian seller base that was selling across the world. It's a more strategic call from a global business standpoint to not operate in the domestic marketplace right now.

Also Read: eBay India's marketing head on second innings; local sellers in spotlight

What is the challenge that Indian sellers face when it comes to assuring a global audience about the quality of products?

As far as eBay is concerned, we don't normally authenticate or check a product. Nobody can check every product that gets shipped. There are certain products, where there is authentication. For example, diamond jewellery, which is certified with a renowned lab. Those products are then shipped with the certificate to the buyers.

In the US, the customers have watches, and sneakers above $100, which are authenticated for genuineness. Feedback about a seller helps build trust about the authenticity of a product.

Which Indian products are popular on eBay?

You will see a lot of interest for ethnic wear. Jewellery is always going to be one of those popular categories, in terms of the design and the variety of options that are available. India probably exports more jewellery than any other country.

How did the COVID pandemic impact your business?

The first (COVID) wave had a dramatic impact because a lot of the businesses had to literally shut down and stopped operations for almost two months. I think that took a significant toll on the health of the businesses, and they had to find ways to quickly get back on their feet.

When things normalised, we got our sellers back on the platform and started selling aggressively. That led to a strong business rebound in the last two quarters of 2020. And that continued into 2021 as well.

As far as cross-border trade goes, there was a massive spike for Indian sellers. The buyers were largely buying the products online. It meant that the opportunity for Indian sellers to sell their products increased multifold.

There has been a strong rebound over the last 3-5 months. I think that the businesses have also understood the importance of e-commerce and ensuring continuity.