Abid Hussain Barlaskar

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

We spoke to Pavan Ponnappa, head – growth categories, shipping and marketing at eBay about the brand’s relaunch after laying low for a couple of years since parting ways with Flipkart.

‘The ultimate destination for cross-border trade (CBT)’ – this is the new face of American e-commerce giant eBay in India. eBay touched ground in India by acquiring native online marketplace Baazee.com in 2005. However, despite being an early mover, and a prominent name in the Indian e-commerce space, the brand couldn’t make much of an impact. Things only became worse with the subsequent entries of players like Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon.

Eventually, eBay’s India business was acquired by Flipkart in 2017, only to be shut down the next year. Following the Flipkart-Walmart deal in 2018, eBay decided to end its journey with Flipkart, and announced plans to relaunch eBay in India specifically for CBT.

“eBay's cross-border trade was running as an independent line of business even at that point in India. We have been in the CBT business in India for over a decade now. The sellers who have been conducting CBT on the platform are pretty old and experienced,” says Pavan Ponnappa, head – growth categories, shipping and marketing at eBay. Ponnappa joined eBay from Snapdeal in June last year.

E-commerce in India has primarily been about domestic business, with little, or no conversation around CBT. In its original avatar, eBay was launched with the promise of facilitating local and regional trade online, while providing access to global markets for Indian sellers. The brand has been maintaining a low profile ever since its 2017 fallout with Flipkart. It had completely cut down its advertising and marketing communication.

Also, eBay’s ‘global’ push comes at a time when most other e-commerce players are trying to go hyperlocal. The conversation is largely around ‘offline to online’ or O2O, meaning the transition of small offline retailers to online sellers. It also coincides with the government’s ‘Vocal For Local’ campaign encouraging local manufacturing.

Today, folks at eBay in India are busy building the brand’s new CBT identity. Earlier this year, eBay onboarded Bengaluru-based digital marketing agency Clevertize as its marketing services provider, and has just put its new advertising campaign ‘Local to Global’ into motion.

While CBT provides access to a large international consumer base, it has challenges, too, like payment processes, high transaction fees, policy challenges, and logistics. Apart from eBay’s mainstream rivals AliExpress and Amazon, the space has recently seen interest from startups like Vdezi, Buyandship, Ensologic, Eunimart, and Club Factory.

According to an Accenture-Ali Research report from 2015, the value of global cross-border e-commerce would be a trillion dollars in 2020. The market is currently led by China.

Although silent, the last couple of years have also been quite eventful for eBay's offices in India. eBay is currently headquartered in Mumbai with offices in Delhi, Bangaluru and Jaipur. The focus has been on building backend infrastructure like eBay’s global shipping (an aggregation of global logistics providers), setting up business development teams across the country (to work with sellers), bringing new sellers onboard, growing category teams, and expanding to newer product categories.

Pavan Ponnappa
Pavan Ponnappa

“Now that there is a lot of traction globally for CBT, we are expanding our reach by onboarding newer sellers in categories where we had limited supply. The opportunity in markets like the US, UK, Australia, and mainland Europe has increased significantly. Buyers have evolved, and the trust in buying something from outside domestic e-commerce has increased tremendously. It is a good time for Indian sellers, who have products relevant globally,” Ponnappa says.

"It is a good time for Indian sellers, who have products relevant globally"

He mentions that domestic, and CBT e-commerce doesn’t make for a fair comparison. “For example, categories such as large appliances and consumer electronics, which form a large part of domestic e-commerce, don’t really play a significant role in CBT.”

In order to sell globally on eBay, a seller needs to have required business documentations like the import-export code, etc., in place. This is followed by listing, choosing the category of products, etc., and setting up a PayPal account for payments.

Once this is done, the seller can opt between own logistics partner, or eBay’s logistics partners for shipping. eBay primarily facilitates discovery, product promotion, and interaction with international customers in 190 countries.

The platform currently has around 10,000 active sellers in India. Ponnappa reveals that the number of registered sellers is almost 10 times that of active sellers.

"In markets like the US, and mainland Europe, the share of CBT in e-commerce is upwards of 50-60 per cent."

He says that from the CBT standpoint, it’s a large global market, and so is the opportunity. “In markets like the US, and mainland Europe, the share of CBT in e-commerce is upwards of 50-60 per cent. We haven’t even scratched the surface in India. We have been successful to some extent, but it is now time to build it structurally and scale it. It has been growing in terms of high double digits in the 20s year-over-year globally.”

Among the most popular exports from India via eBay is gold and diamond jewellery. It includes both mid/low range jewellery and high value items. It is followed by Naturopathy and natural remedy products like Ayurveda, etc. Ponnappa says that the latter has great scope for growth.

Other emerging categories are sporting goods, auto parts like spares and aftermarket parts. Fashion and electronic accessories are also catching up fast. The growth in demand and supply of auto spares from India goes back to the country’s capability as a hub for metal work and automobile manufacturing. With business development teams located across India, eBay is looking at tapping sellers from non Tier 1 cities as a source of supply.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, demand across eBay’s global market has only grown. eBay even made positive changes to its revenue projections for the quarter a few weeks ago. “There has been a significant uptick, and high double digit growth across eBay’s marketplaces globally. The reason could be shoppers resorting to e-commerce for purchases. Work from home essentials has seen a big uptick.”

"A lot of customers are buying ‘hobby’ products like tools, sports goods, collectibles, etc"

“Also, a lot of customers are buying ‘hobby’ products like tools, sports goods, collectibles, etc. Collectibles, as a category, is also growing in India. For example, collectible high ASP (average selling price) steel body armours from Roorkee are in high demand,” Ponnappa reveals.

While shipments from India were stuck due to the lockdown, things are gradually looking up, with movement picking up pace over the last 2-3 weeks. Folks at eBay expect normalcy in a few weeks to a month.

The brand is currently in early stages in terms of marketing efforts. The primary task at hand is to project eBay as a marketplace of choice for CBT, and to tell Indian sellers about the opportunities. The ongoing ‘Local to Global’ campaign is about showcasing Indian sellers and their successes, and will act as the base for future campaigns. Advertising will be largely digital in the short-term.

However, eBay has worked with mainline agencies like Wunderman Thompson (erstwhile JWT), and Webchutney in the past. The brand’s choice of Clevertize, a relatively smaller digital oriented agency, for its relaunch comes as a surprise. In fact, the brand’s first TV campaign in India in 2007 was crafted by JWT.

“The focus is to ensure that we are driving the right message, and digital is going to be the medium we chose to focus on for a few quarters, at least. It (Clevertize) made a good fit, in terms of partnerships, and the capabilities it brings to the table. We didn’t look at it as big, or small agencies,” Ponnappa signs off.

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