Online marketplace eBay (EBAY) is launching an outlet store, which will sell products from retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Spanx and Bluefly (BFLY), on Sept. 19. The new site, which the retail partners will use as a platform to reach new online shoppers, is another milestone in eBay's drift away from its madcap auctioneer roots toward straight-up name-brand fashion.
Don't panic: For now, it's still got the mechanical bulls, broken CPR training mannequins and people willing to wait in line in your place to get you Harry Potter tickets. (You can read more about those weird eBay items, and many others, on this eBay fan blog.)
Still, single auctions make up fewer and fewer of eBay's transactions. In the first quarter of 2011, fixed-price items made up 61% of eBay's sales, up 4% from last year. "Buy it now" or fixed-price items belong mostly to "power sellers," or medium- and large-scale retailers that use eBay as a virtual storefront, rather than a place to auction off overstocked or used goods.
Small businesses and individual sellers still use eBay, along with a slew of other sites like Etsy, Groupon and LivingSocial, to reach customers.
Focusing on Fashion
EBay also has been focusing more on fashion since April 2010, Miriam Lahage, general manager of eBay fashion told women's fashion site WWD. That's when the company launched a fashion outlet store at its UK Web address, ebay.co.uk. In the company's earnings report for the first quarter of 2011, CEO John Donahoe praised ebay.co.uk as eBay's fastest-growing country site in Europe.
In mainstream fashion, Ebay.com faces competition from new sites, such as Gilt and RueLaLa, which also sell expensive clothes at discount prices, but make them much easier to find and purchase than eBay does now. Shopping for a pair of shoes on Gilt requires neither screening for sketchy sellers nor cutthroat bidding wars.
Perhaps its new Outlet suffix will help eBay reorganize and rebrand. Of course, for some, the fun of eBay shopping was always the stress its marketplace inspired: the hunt through bogus listings, the obsessive daily monitoring of auctions, the thrill of winning one, the shock when your sweater arrives in an unpredictable color.
It's shopping experience completely alien to outlet malls, with their numerated parking lots, soothing fountains and coffee shops on every corner.
Perhaps eBay will be able to become both a virtual flea market and a virtual outlet mall. But, as Gilt Groupe's CEO Kevin Ryan told DailyFinance in an interview last month, "When you think of eBay, you think of auctions. It's hard to change your brand."
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