Does eBay Have a Teespring Problem?
eBay seems to have angered some of its sellers, as the e-commerce company partnered with Teespring to beef up T-shirt listings during the holiday period, allegedly at the expense of smaller merchants. Some of those sellers theorized that eBay bent its own rules to allow Teespring to have as much of a presence as it did. And they aren't happy.
"Three out of four shirts on eBay are now from the Teespring marketplace," Danny Hone, who sells under the name Honeville1, said, according to E-commerce Bytes. "Under our rules, if any of the rest of us tried their model we'd lose in excess of over $500,000 a month just in listing fees. They obviously aren't playing by our rules."
In a podcast this month, Bob Kupbens, eBay vice president of seller and marketplace operations, addressed seller concerns and admitted that the decision to use Teespring to boost T-shirt listings might not have been the best thing to cultivate other users' sales. But he dismissed the claim that it was fully at fault for others' diminished sales. On the podcast, one user asked how their business can compete with large companies eBay allows to "[overwhelm] the market with lots of listings."
"We looked at key categories, fashion obviously is a key category, and said, 'Wow, there's just not enough listings here," Kupbens said in response. "So, we went out on purpose to try to add listings to the marketplace. Did we overdo it a little bit in the T-shirt category? I'd say probably. And, in fact, we're going to look at how we back that down in the very, very near term, but that said, we're always going to be looking."
His answers also veered strangely into claiming that it's actually a good thing for the marketplace. This would be akin to claiming that a Walmart moving into a small town is actually good for the small, mom-and-pop businesses in town. In his answer, Kupbens pivoted from admitting that the Teespring decision made more of an impact than planned to placing blame on smaller sellers on the grounds of capitalism and business Darwinism, before not-so-subtly urging those smaller users to shell out cash for promoted listings.
"The best inventory is going to win," he said. "If you're worried about the visibility of your listing, I think that's an opportunity to give more promoted listings a try. Increase the rates and just see what additional visibility you can get by leveraging promoted listings and put yourself ahead of any of those listings that you might believe are flooding the category."
It's a strange response. Basically, Kupbens is saying, "Yeah, we did something that skewed the natural balance of the site, but we don't really care. If you got the short end of this stick, pay us more money and you might be able to compete with these conglomerates that have more money to pay us. Also, get better merchandise and people will want to buy it."
Kupbens declined to address what incentives eBay was giving Teespring for its hand in boosting T-shirt listings during the holiday season. Smaller sellers also voiced their concern about other big companies swooping in and further diluting the eBay marketplace and affecting their bottom lines.
"If you'll do this with the Teespring marketplace, what assurance does anyone have that you won't do this same agreement with other marketplaces, like Etsy, Walmart, Wish or Amazon?" Hone asked.
Kupbens declined to answer.
It's unclear whether eBay plans to continue allowing more big companies, like Teespring, to sell through its platform, but Kupbens' responses and reluctance to assuage seller doubts certainly says a lot about eBay's stance toward small sellers. And it appears the move wasn't limited to T-shirts.
"This is just a hot mess," said one commenter on the E-commerce Bytes article. "One of the categories I sell in eBay [was] saturated with more listings than is normal for this time of year. I got buried. It was beyond bad for me. In the other categories I sell in I did fine. But one clearly eBay got some of the big mega sellers to just bury the competition, as if us small sellers could compete with them in the first place."
"We obviously don't all play by the same rules," said another commenter. "How to gain these advantages is as mysterious as their search engine and preferential merchandise hiding algorithm. The idea the common man can buy a 'promoted listing' and compete with a volume-seller that tramples your category is just a joke, Bob Kubpens."