Preloved pioneer: eBay’s UK boss on why it’s more relevant than ever

Retail Gazette speaks to eBay UK boss Murray Lambell, a judge at the Retail Gazette Awards: The Game Changers, to find out how the marketplace has kept ahead of the game for almost three decades.

Preloved pioneer: eBay's UK boss on why it's more relevant than ever
Murray Lambell, eBay UK vice president and general manager

We live in the era of the tech giant, where new data-driven players are becoming the dominant force across business

However, one of the original tech businesses, eBay, which has been around for close to 30 years seems to be tapping into the zeitgeist of the moment. 

As concerns around sustainability and over-consumption rise, shoppers have looked to preloved items, the model eBay has been pushing for decades. 

“During the pandemic sustainability really fell down consumers’ list of priorities but it is now front and centre for many consumers,” says eBay UK boss Murray Lambell.

“People are much more thoughtful about ‘What am I buying?’ ‘Where am I from?’ ‘Do I need to have this product new.”

Resale is certainly rising in popularity with a plethora of businesses from Vinted to ThredUp to Depop soaring right now. But shoppers are still flocking to eBay, the original resale platform.

Searches for ‘preloved clothes’ have risen multiplied nine times in the last year on its platform and searches for ‘used dress’ are up by 156%. According to eBay’s global 2022 Recommerce Report financial reasons are the primary motivator behind this behaviour, however, 42% of eBay buyer respondents also cited environmental concerns and a hope to reduce waste.

Lambell, who has spent more than 14 years at eBay in roles such as loyalty and retention, cross-border trade, business selling strategy and trading before becoming UK boss in 2020, says this feels like a lightbulb moment for resale.

“We’ve been talking about this topic for a number of years in different guises and, for whatever reason, it’s hit the zeitgeist and something’s shifted,” he says.

He believes this growing trend can have a positive impact on the planet.

“Over 70% of mobile phones are still going to landfill, and we believe that the majority of those can have an extended life. 

“Even if you extend the life of a product by six months to a year, it has an exponential reduction in the amount of consumption.”

But it is not just sustainability concerns that are driving this trend. The growth in preloved also taps into another big consumer concern right now – saving money. 

As the cost-of-living crisis hits shoppers’ budgets, buying secondhand is a way to not just save the planet but save money too, a message Lambell is keen to share with the masses.

“I find it patronising and disappointing that the narrative seems to be that you can’t be environmentally friendly and cost-conscious at the same time,” he says.

Pre-Loved Island

Lambell is trying to get that message out there and capitalise on this surge in interest in resale through its sponsorship of hit reality TV show Love Island. 

The show is a big driver of fashion trends and has been synonymous with fast fashion with sponsors including Missguided and ISawItFirst. 

Its ditching fast fashion in favour of a preloved partner had garnered much attention.

Since the show started, the marketplace has seen 700% more searches for preloved clothing, while on Google there has also been 756% more searches for ‘eBay preloved clothes’ and 660% more for ‘preloved’, compared to last month. 

Love IslaneBay became Love Island's first ever preloved fashion partner
Love IslaneBay became Love Island’s first ever preloved fashion partner

However, the interest is not just coming from consumers, it has awoken the retail industry too.

“The phone was literally red hot and has been since we announced the partnership,” says Lambell. Retailers are like ‘how do we talk to you about this because we’re struggling with resale and need a hand?’ 

eBay ultimately helps by connecting retail sellers with huge array of buyers that are interested in resale products.

“A seller bothers with eBay because buyers keep coming back to us. One in every two households continues to shop with us. That’s grown over the pandemic and continues to grow,” says Lambell.

eBay then makes sure that products are discoverable.

“We work with sellers to help us provide the key bits of data so that when customers shop, their products are discoverable. It enables us to have a point of differentiation,” he says.

“Customers come to eBay because the selection is amazing, and that selection is discoverable. We need to keep that magic dynamic going.

“If I keep that going, then suppliers keep coming in, and the buyers keep coming back.”


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Innovation and improvement

Lambell may make it sound simple but underneath the bonnet there is a lot happening to ensure eBay is offering a great service for both shoppers and the retailers that sell on the marketplace.

“There aren’t many big tech players that have been around for 25 years. To have been around for that long, you have to have done a good amount of innovation, development and improvement, he says.

A lot of that innovation and improvement comes down to delivering “a safe, trusted, reliable experience”, says Lambell.

A judge at The Retail Gazette Awards: The Game Changers, Lambell has recently introduced a game-changing initiative of his own that has upped the ante in terms of creating that trusted environment.

The marketplace rolled out its Authenticity Guarantee in the UK last year, whereby the authenticity of high-end designer products are fully vetted and verified by independent experts. The service launched on luxury watches last year and has since rolled out to categories such as high-end trainers, handbags, and even preloved items.

“If I’m buying a watch for £50,000, I damn well want to make sure that it’s going to be a good experience,” says Lambell. “Those were being transacted on the platform before, but we felt that we needed to embellish it and add a whole new layer into that experience to make it better.”

eBay expanded its authenticity guarantee to include preloved luxury handbags.
eBay expanded its authenticity guarantee to include preloved luxury handbags.

eBay has also long held its Money Back Guarantee, which helps build trust with shoppers. “As a buyer, I know that if there’s a problem, eBay will be there for me to back me up and help sort out that issue,” he says.

In terms of reliability, although eBay does not offer fulfilment services like rival Amazon, it does offer tools to help sellers provide reliable delivery. It works with third parties like Royal Mail to give eBay sellers access to enhanced services for exporting goods overseas.

Trust and reliability will continue to be top of Lambell’s agenda for eBay.

“We will continue to remain at the forefront of this. We already deliver an incredibly good, reliable, and trusted experience but that will continue to evolve over the next couple of years.”


Post-pandemic normality

The retailer is looking to the future following a busy couple of years. Like many online retailers, eBay had a bumper pandemic as shoppers flocked online in the face of non-essential retail stores being closed.

Ecommerce peaked at 37.8% of UK retail sales in January 2021, when the UK was in its third lockdown, according to the Office for National Statistic. However, as normality has resumed as restrictions have lifted, ecommerce sales have stepped back.

eBay has been hit too. Globally, sales dipped 5.9% year on year to $2.48 billion in the first quarter of the year, when compared to the pandemic highs.

Lambell says: “Physical retail has such an important place to play in people’s shopping behaviour and is a key part of our society, and long may continue.”

“There was definitely a complacency in the online segments thinking that the sun had shone and the hay was made. It shows that where customers are at, and their changing needs, will ever evolve.”


Helping its sellers

eBay remains a huge channel not just for customers but for many retailers. As well as the legions of small sellers that sell through the marketplace, big brands such as JD Sports, Joules, Superdry, Fat Face and River Island have stores on eBay.

For many of these brands, eBay represents their clearance channel, a route to offload last season’s clothes to eBay’s huge audience.

As this can often attract a new customer, it holds the benefit of not cannibalising full price sales and ensuring their retail stores are packed full of current season stock.

Unlike rival Amazon, eBay does not sell its own-brand product and is seen very much as an ally to retailers.

The retailer has proven this in recent times when the retail industry has been grappling with the pandemic, the supply chain crisis and soaring inflation.

“Without our sellers, we have nothing,” Lambell says. “So if our sellers are having a turbulent time we need to be stepping in and helping them.” 

Earlier this year it launched the eBay Business Roadshow, a series of events designed to help small businesses navigate rising inflation and the impact of the pandemic.

Much like a Radio One DJ of yesteryear, Lambell’s team travel around the country from Glasgow to Plymouth meeting would-be and pre-existing entrepreneurs to both start up and scale up their online businesses. 

It has teamed up with Small Business Britain and the British Chambers of Commerce, and has invested over £1 million to deliver a year-long support programme.

Online learning tool the eBay Academy, will also provide businesses ongoing access to networking, skills and training.

The support to businesses doesn’t stop there. eBay is also helping sellers access financing to help them grow. 

Launched during lockdown, the marketplace’s ‘Capital for eBay Business Sellers’ (CEBS) offers businesses loans of UK to £1 million was originally designed to help those that had been let down by Covid support schemes and struggling to access funds from traditional lenders.

However, Lambell says the financing option, which is provided by third party platform YouLend is here to stay.

“We felt that the financial services industry wasn’t stepping up enough to help businesses. This wasn’t a pandemic issue, it’s more broad than that. We’ve lent around £70 million to UK businesses since we launched last year and we’re seeing exponential demand,” he says.

“These businesses want to grow, but they need to unlock the capital to do that.”

Lambell is clear that eBay’s sellers are its strongest assets and is determined to make sure those assets thrive.

Afterall, as its sellers grow, eBay grows. This will serve it well as the OG tech platform looks to retain its relevance for the next 30 years.

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