CLARE Gilmartin freely confesses to being a shopaholic. Which is fitting in her role as vice-president of eBay marketplaces Europe. During her eight years at eBay – she became VP in the Spring of last year – the site has evolved from being mainly an auction site where people sold off unused or unwanted goods, to being a hugely successful trading platform for both large high street retailers and small and micro-businesses.
There are now more than 100 high street retailers selling through eBay, including LK Bennett, Superdry, and House of Fraser. There are also 180,000 small and medium-sized businesses registered on eBay.
With 16 million unique users visiting eBay’s UK website every month, there are huge opportunities for firms to grow their business online. According to Gilmartin, the recession has led to greater numbers of small businesses choosing to operate through eBay.
She says: ‘We have seen 45,000 smaller firms coming online with us since the recession began, as they look at new ways to market and promote the services or goods they are offering.’
And many of those small businesses are boosting revenues signficantly by selling through eBay. Figures published last week by eBay predict the number of small businesses turning over £1 million or more a year through the site will soar by 25 per cent this year, rising from 120 to 159.
In 2010 five businesses recorded a turnover of £1 million or more in their first year of trading on eBay, while this year more than ten per cent of millionaire businesses are expected to turnover at least £3 million.
Nearly all, 98 per cent, of those firms making £1 million or more through selling on eBay are boosting their sales through exports – globally there are about 90 million unique users every month to eBay. Overseas sales from small and medium-sized businesses on eBay hit £446 million in 2010.
The biggest growth area for eBay has been fashion, which has seen sales growth of about 30 per cent year on year says Gilmartin, with about four million users looking to buy fashion items through the site. This is closely followed by homes and gardens, which has become increasingly popular with consumers. However, some areas are less popular, such as books and CDs, as growing number of people choose to download books and music rather than buy actual hard copies.
Gilmartin, the mother of two small children, says she does ’90 per cent’ of her shopping online, and loyally claims that a substantial amount of this is carried out on eBay. ‘The biggest challenge I have, like most of us who work, is time – there are never enough hours in the day. The benefit of shopping online is that you can do it any time and almost any place if you have a computer or mobile device.’
Recent purchases made by Gilmartin on eBay include a swingball set for her children and an alarm clock and she does most of her grocery shopping online too.
Gilmartin points out that the surge in the use of smart phones, mobile phone applications and mobile web devices has also boosted online spending, by making it easier for people to shop wherever they are.
‘The boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred between offline and online spending’, she says. ‘We believe now about 50 per cent of retail purchases are enabled by web or phone browsers. This has provided a new challenge for traditional high street retailers but has also offered huge opportunities for smaller firms to compete with the bigger names online.’
Gilmartin attributes a large part of eBay’s success with retailers to the fact that it does not compete with firms using the site. She says: ‘Unlike sites such as Amazon or Tesco, we are not selling competing products. Our interests are aligned with vendors. There is no conflict.’
EBay has also increasingly concentrated on providing support to small and medium-sized firms selling through it. Gilmartin says: ‘Figures show that 38 per cent of sales come via our Top Rated Sellers. This is an eBay term which is given to those sellers, whether tiny or larger, which have achieved the gold standard for customer service.
’We work closely with these firms to ensure they have the support they need, for example, dedicated account managers and other help.’
‘We also speak to buyers every week on a range of different topics, including what they think of eBay, and whether there are problems or issues we can help with. We take their views and comments very seriously.’
GHOST BIKES BUSINESS BOOST
Adam Patel, 43, set up Ghost Bikes, a business selling motorcycle clothing and equipment, in 2004 on eBay. He chose eBay because it was ‘cheap and less risky’ than setting up a bricks and mortar business, and in order to target motorcycle enthusiasts across the world.
Almost immediately the business took off, growing by 30 per cent year on year. As the company became increasingly succcessful, two years ago Adam and his business partner Ian opened a shop in Preston, Lancashire. They now employ 36 people across the business.
To date the business is entirely self-funded – ‘we have absoutely no bank borrowing’, says Adam. In the year to the end of June the business saw a turnover of £3.5 million, up from £2.8 million in 2010, well over £1 million of which came through eBay sales.
Adam says: ‘eBay is no longer just seen as a place for second-hand goods, there are blue chip retailers on there and well as smaller firms and it’s been a huge source of business for us.’