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  • 04.30.04

The eBay Experience

Andre Haddad is the vice president of user experience and design for eBay. Previously, he worked as eBay’s managing director for France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium. At GEL, he talked about eBay’s true origin, the service’s scope and scale, and what influences the eBay experience. What follows is a partial transcript of his remarks:

Andre Haddad is the vice president of user experience and design for eBay. Previously, he worked as eBay’s managing director for France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium. At GEL, he talked about eBay’s true origin, the service’s scope and scale, and what influences the eBay experience. What follows is a partial transcript of his remarks:

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I prepared a PowerPoint to describe the eBay experience. I used a different template than you saw in the last presentation. Pierre Omidyar’s vision was to create efficient markets. He was thinking of a public forum that could enable to interact based on commerce. In a public forum, honest dealings are encouraged, and despite the fact that buyers and sellers are strangers, the system helps support trust.

He wrote the original site in Perl, and it was about 750 lines of code. He launched it from his apartment when he still worked at General Magic. He looked around his apartment for something he could list on eBay, which was then called AuctionWeb, and all he could find was a broken laser pointer. On the last of seven days, at least two bidder began bidding on the broken laser poiner. The final price was something like $14.83.

Did the winning bidder not understand the laser pointer was broken? He emailed the bidder and got an email back: “I’m a collector of broken laser pointers.” The concept worked. Over the last five years, 105 million people have joined. They’ve also increased their activity and listed more items. Gross Merchandise Sales, GMS, is the way we measure commerce. That’s reached $8 billion.

What actually happens on the platform? A tractor or tractor part sells every hour. A video game sells every eight seconds. An IBM laptop is sold every 3.5 minutes. A digital camera sells every minute. And trading cards sell every six seconds.

There are two extremes thinking that eBay is a retailer and thinking that it’s a marketplace in which there’s no human intervention. eBay is a marketplace manager. We provide the framework for trade, inspire the culture to the community of users, and provide the eBay community with a suite of tools.

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Think about eBay as a neighborhood marketplace. It’s at the intersection of commerce and community. Interactions are personal. eBay works at the tale ends of the product lifecycle: collectibles and extremely new and scarce products.

What drives the experience? The framework’s roles, policies, pricing, and education provide clear guidelines for trade. Our culture celebrates the community, listens, learns, and involves users in all steps of product development. My organization has the user research team, and our users answer the longest surveys. They also provide us with unsolicited comments. The selling experience enables entrepreneurs to create businesses, turning consumers into producers. 400,000 people work full time out of their homes making a living on eBay. The buying experience brings a joy of discovery and excitement. Winning or losing an auction at the very last minute is a very human experience. And the community experience encourages interaction and communication.

Our main strength is also our biggest challenge, however. We cannot entirely control the user experience. We can only control what happens on the site.