Last year, Australians spent roughly A$27.5 billion shopping for goods online. That’s an increase of 24.4% year on year. And it’s a number that’s only going to continue to explode, especially thanks to the impact of COVID-19.
For months, many were forced to stay home and socially isolate. Without the ability to leave the house to get everyday necessities from food to clothing and other nice-to-have items, shoppers turned to their computers or smartphones and high-speed internet connections to get their shopping haul – a habit that’s likely to stick around long after the pandemic is over.
This is great news for retailers who already have virtual storefronts as business can continue to boom. However, for those operating solely via bricks and mortar, the pandemic has been especially grim.
It has forced them to make a decision; either close their doors or pivot and go online. And eBay Australia’s Managing Director and Vice President Tim MacKinnon hopes they’ll choose the latter. "Our number one focus has always been to support Australian retailers and help them grow their businesses online," he says.
"With 11 million unique monthly visits, eBay provides instant reach and is the best option for businesses looking to get online for the first time or for those expanding their existing channels."
Throughout this challenging time, eBay Australia has steadfastly supported its retailers by keeping lines of communication wide open. It has initiated deferred fee payments and, in some cases, even waived certain fees. Even more, this leading online marketplace has encouraged those who’ve had to shut their doors to come and try selling on eBay – for free.
"We set up ‘Always Open on eBay’, enabling new sellers to sell fee-free for three months," Tim shares. "During isolation, many businesses were forced to close their doors. But, for us, things just accelerated. We’ve had almost two in three Australians coming to eBay every day for everything from the unique to the ordinary because we offer the best value."
eBay Australia also offers the best variety. It has 40,000 online sellers, ranging from quirky independent local retailers to bigwigs like Coles, Dan Murphy’s and Cotton On. And rather than compete, eBay partners with its sellers to help them roll out special promotions and grow.
"Price is the main thing Australian online shoppers care about, and people will pay even more attention to price now, given an estimated 46% of their household incomes were impacted by recent events," Tim explains.
"So we work with our retailers to create the best sales and shopping events, including clearing stock. We’re also giving shoppers more flexible and convenient ways to pay while continuing to create better experiences for them that drive loyalty like with eBay Plus. This program gives free express shipping on millions of products to our members in certain cities."
The popular shopping site is also able to provide extraordinary value to its buyers and sellers thanks to key partnerships. "Earlier this year, we teamed up with Afterpay to give our sellers all the benefits of Australia’s number one ‘buy now, pay later’ platform at no cost to them, giving them greater payment flexibility," he says.
"We also offer a fulfilment solution in partnership with Australia Post, which gives time-poor sellers Australia’s best prices to pick, pack and deliver items. And last year, we joined forces with Sendle, enabling contactless pick-up from door to door."
We’ve had almost two in three Australians coming to eBay every day for everything from the unique to the ordinary because we offer the best value.
This year, eBay Australia hit its 21st anniversary and, yet, it’s often compared to a startup company. With its "underdog" mentality, relaxed culture and extraordinary customer-centricity, it’s easy to see why.
"Even though we’re the market leader, we won’t stop thinking we’re the underdog and that we need to be even more connected to Australian sellers to help them compete and thrive," Tim says.
"When I started nine years ago, I saw it as my job to preserve our family culture where people are less formal and more comfortable being themselves – a culture that mirrors eBay."
Tim says he’s continually amazed at how well his Australian team works together to deliver complex projects, involving multiple teams from product to marketing and finance to legal. "They are able to move quickly and get things done," he shares.
"But we can’t take this ‘one-team’ culture for granted. We’ve had to consciously try to build spontaneous connections across teams through virtual social events like trivia and coffee dates. It’s a constant work in progress to maintain trust, speed and relationships when you’re not physically together."
While COVID-19 has strengthened eBay Australia’s online marketplace, behind the scenes, it’s been a bit more punishing. "We are still transforming to a virtual model in the way we work," he says.
"In the past, we relied on offline experiences like meetings, team offsites and travel to build trust. "We’ve had to learn how to build trust and relationships online. One of the biggest challenges has been that we constantly feel like we’re living in the office rather than working from home. So now we’re working to re-initiate some simple rules such as no emails after 7pm and you aren’t expected to respond after 5pm, and no afternoon meetings after 1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Whatever happens, whether we are in the office soon or not, we need to create better boundaries. We need to create the separation of work and life that was easier when there was a physical separation."
COVID-19 has also proven to be a time of growth for Tim. As a leader of the organisation, he’s found it critical to step up and empower his teams to make decisions in the face of uncertainty.
"My greatest achievement has been to maintain a culture where people can be themselves and continue to grow," he shares. "I think the most empowering thing about being a leader is realising you don’t need to change yourself. Effective leadership is all about being authentic. It’s the most powerful way to build trust and increase your impact. Once I realised the power of authentic leadership, my job has been to simply create an environment where other leaders can be themselves at work."
This leadership has also worked to create an atmosphere of innovation where ideas flow freely, and the entire ecosystem is encouraged to share ideas. "We find that our sellers are a great source of innovation and inspiration," Tim shares.
"They tell us the things we need to fix and what business opportunities they want us to enable. If we address their needs, it unlocks innovation." Every single day, eBay Australia pushes itself to be better and better.
Sometimes that means standing in as the global group’s guinea pig, running experiments and testing a lot of new features and products. Other times, it means sourcing out different partnerships like that with Coles to provide a world-first grocery offering, or with Gumtree to promote cross-listings.
However, whatever eBay Australia does, it does it with its sellers and shoppers in mind. "I am proud of how eBay Australia has built a unique position as the Westfield of online, working with small and large retailers," Tim beams.
"We’re Australia’s number one shopping site. And we’re managing the marketplace and building new retail standards at a scale of selection that others just can’t offer."