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20th anniversary for the ‘democratiser of ecommerce’

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3rd Sep 2015
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It may have been NetMarket’s sale of the album ‘Ten Summoner’s Tale’ by Sting that paved the way for the birth of ecommerce, but it was arguably two businesses that took ecommerce forward from then onwards.

The first was, of course, Jeff Bezos’s bookseller-come-global-behemoth, Amazon, which was set up in somewhat quintessential tech start-up style when Bezos, already a well-respected businessman, quit a high-paying job to create a company in his garage based around a vision he had for selling products on the internet.

The second was everybody’s go-to online auction house, eBay, which ended up a global force of equal stature to Amazon, but chose a less obvious path of inception.

Pierre Omidyar, a 28 year-old software designer, had been working with Apple spin-off, Claris, when he found the urge to auction off a single broken laser pointer via a site he’d developed, AuctionWeb, to see if it would sell.

He was surprised when the item sold for $14.83, and when he contacted the winning bidder to ask if he understood that the pointer was broken, infamously received the response "I'm a collector of broken laser pointers", and an idea was formed.

Today marks 20 years since the day AuctionWeb was officially founded. The company was soon renamed eBay, short for Echo Bay, which was the name of Omidyar’s consulting firm at the time, and by 1996 the company was large enough to require the skills of a Stanford MBA in Jeffrey Skoll, who came aboard an already profitable company, which then grew rapidly.

eBay's vision for success transitioned from one of commerce—buying and selling things—to become something far more significant. However, Barbara Marino, EMEA commercial director for Datalicious believes it, like Amazon, has thrived because of its understanding of customer data being at the very heart of the business from the beginning:

“eBay was one the first websites of its kind and by giving people a high level of bargaining power it completely democratised ecommerce,” she says. “That created a certain expectation that certainly influenced the culture of the internet and spawned the success of 'market places' on the internet. Companies such as notonthehighstreet.com or Etsy, would not have risen so rapidly had eBay not paved the way for them.

“eBay has pioneered an ecommerce marketing revolution, particularly when it comes to utilising customer data in order to deliver a more engaging, seamless online experience. From day one they've used customer data to improve platform experience and they're only getting better at contextualising their data sources. eBay might be 20 years old, but its lesson to the internet has been that success comes from continual data innovation.”

Today, eBay and Amazon are somewhat different companies in terms of how they see the future of ecommerce evolving, but their philosophy around customer data leading to better customer experiences is still the same, and will surely remain that way for the coming 20 years.   

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