Once Upon eBay
Marketing chief Richelle Parham would love to share your eBay story. The story goes that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar created an auction site so that his then-fiancée could more easily pursue her hobby collecting PEZ dispensers. It was a quirky little tale that not only generated copious press coverage, but also perpetuated a legend that only grew larger over time.The minor detail is that the story isn’t true. A company publicist, struggling to whip up media interest in an obscure dot-com that earnestly promised to create a “perfect market,” made it all up. The truth is that eBay was conceived when Pierre wrote some code and posted it on his personal web page, which at the time also featured information about the ebola virus.
The first item Pierre listed for auction was a broken laser pointer, which promptly sold for $14.83. Puzzled, he contacted the winning bidder to make sure he understood that the laser pointer was broken. The buyer explained that he collected broken laser pointers. (In case you were wondering, ebola and the name eBay are unrelated. Pierre originally named his site AuctionWeb. He wanted to change the name to Echo Bay, after his consulting practice, but that domain name was already taken. So, he shortened it to eBay. True story.) eBay has today evolved from a pure-play auction site into the world’s second-largest e-commerce site, after Amazon. Auctions now account for just 30 percent of eBay’s business.
It’s a somewhat surprising turn for eBay, which until recently looked like it might be consigned to the scrap heap of e-commerce history. The company’s narrative arc took an upward turn thanks largely to its early entry into mobile and renewed focus on innovation and the customer experience. eBay is betting that the smartphone will continue to transform retail, but its fortunes are also grounded in a bedrock faith in the power of stories to create engagement, value and a better shopping experience. Maybe eBay has yet to produce the “perfect market,” but it certainly proves the power of a good story. As eBay marketing chief Richelle Parham says, “The stories really are foundational to who we are.” continue …