Tuesday, June 19, 2007

When is The Right Time to Improve Your Customer Experience? When The Stock Dips!

EBay is about to overhaul its customer experience. This news is interesting to me because although it is famously butt-ugly, it has a very loyal customer base. So why the need for an overhaul? Here's a snippet from a Seattle Times article:
And so with eBay entering something resembling middle age, with growth slowing and the stock price in a funk, the company is undertaking a crucial overhaul. The goal is to make buying things easier, more entertaining and more like shopping in the physical world — three counts on which the company has fallen behind.

"Our user experience has always been fantastic, but it didn't keep up, in my view, as well as it should have," Chief Executive Meg Whitman said on the sidelines of the eBay Live user celebration last week in Boston. "You will see more changes to eBay's buyer experience in the next 12 months than you probably have seen in the past three or four years."
Why is it that the stock price is the impetus for bettering the customer's experience? Why isn't there a process in place that makes the customer experience better all the time? I look forward to seeing how eBay preserves their customer loyalty while changing their experience. Here's a quote from the article from a lady who sells dinnerware:

"The more buyers they can bring in, we're going to cheer that," said Linda Hartman, an eBay "PowerSeller" who offers dinnerware from Bristol, Wis., and worries that a glut of sellers hurts her business. But she added that eBay might be banking too much on fancy Web adornments that will have little overall effect.

"The enhancements are great for techies," she said. "But my average buyer is probably a little old lady in Des Moines."
Interesting to note the shift of focus on eBay by "category managers":

… By now, because of eBay's wild success, there are plenty of traders, and no more new categories to add. Instead those managers are focused on wider-scale issues like improving eBay's overall buying and selling experience.

Here is a list of new features eBay is looking to add to the customer experience:
  • Feedback criteria broadened
  • Fraud reduction
  • Shipping costs more transparent
  • Bid assistant: Auto-enters auctions when you lose one for another
  • Social tools: Make experience more like a mall outing
I'd love to see eBay share a product lifecycle letting people know that they are consistently improving the user experience, regardless of stock price. These current enhancements on the surface seem like a combination of low-hanging-fruit (fraud, shipping costs, etc.) and adding what everyone else is adding, Web 2.0 social tools. Are these enhancements garnered from old ladies in Des Moines? Know anyone wishing to have a "mall-outing" experience online with their buddies? I expect more from a company who can afford to pay $4.1 Billion for Skype.


Steve Portigal said...

I liked the part in the NYT article (from yesterday) that described how Whitman instructed engineers to change the site background from gray to white by gradually lightening it over 30 days so no one supposedly noticed. Apocryphal but illustrative of something :)

Michael Grossman said...

OMG. Did that really happen? I hadn't read this yet. It would have been great if Tedeschi (NY Times reporter) shared how that story came his way. Did they share it with him? Does that story get propagated around eBay? Is some of it mythology at this point? Is this an example of their approach to being friendly to their customers? I'd love to find feedback online somewhere from the customer that did notice the subtle shade changes.