John Ozimek, associate

John Ozimek, associate director at Mi liberty

Let me start this month’s column with a question. How many readers of Mobile Business do you think have visited eBay recently? None? A few? What about 50%? Would that sound about right?

If you picked 50%, then take a bow. Amazingly, about half the population of the UK visits the UK version of online auction site eBay at least once a month. That’s like having an out of town shopping centre that has parking for 30 million people. It’s a huge audience of potential customers hunting for a bargain, and it’s why more high street retailers are joining the many thousands of individuals who already make a living out of buying and selling on eBay.


Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten I’m meant to be writing about marketing. But for some businesses, eBay can be a valuable and cheap marketing channel. Step away from the detail for a second; isn’t the overall objective in marketing to increase awareness amongst a particular audience? The skill of marketing is in getting the right message to the right audience to create that awareness.

Often, we end up focusing our energies on what that message looks like, rather than how it’s delivered.

eBay represents the largest single collection of consumers in the UK at any one time, day or night. You may think that it’s just a place where people go to trade bits of junk that they don’t want any more, but the reality is that eBay accounts for more than 10% of the time UK people spend on the Internet. And the chances are good that a fair proportion of those visitors are looking to buy something that you have to sell.

A huge proportion of people’s time is now spent on the web. In fact, a study out this month from Ofcom shows that many consumers are now spending time online at the same time as watching TV or talking on the phone. Boundaries are blurring. So it follows that smart businesses are changing the way they market themselves to encompass those changing habits.

Before I go any further, let me be clear; using eBay as a marketing tool isn’t for everyone. For many, the investment in time and organisation isn’t worth it; like any form of online retail, eBay requires a level of responsiveness and detail that can drain the resources of many businesses. But for companies dealing with a classic retail environment, eBay can be an extra ace up the sleeve. In fact, you might be surprised by some of the companies who have recently set up shop on eBay. Argos, Littlewoods and fashion brand Schuh all use eBay to complement their physical and online retail presence. Even Orange has an eBay store, which it has run since 2006.

For a business wanting to inform customers about its products, online gives a degree of flexibility that physical retail can’t match. The catch is, that’s only of use if you can dedicate time and effort (and money) to keeping your site fresh and appealing.

That’s why eBay is such an interesting opportunity; it offers retailers the framework and tools to manage an online presence for a small fee. Some businesses are using eBay as a shop window for their existing online stores, offering premium products as a hook to get shoppers through the virtual door. Done right, this can be cheaper than using keyword advertising or banner adverts, with a much greater chance of creating a sale.

As I write this, there are currently 103,400 mobile phones and accessories listed on Some of these will be listed by individual sellers, but a big proportion will be from businesses selling exclusively or partly through the site. For example, a seller with the name, Prepaymania, has so far had more than 34,000 sales through the site; it’s a great example of what can be achieved with a bit of planning and thought.

Already, the success of eBay has seen big web retailers like Amazon and introduce marketplaces where authorised businesses can sell directly to customers within the parent site. It may look like they are handing over sales they could have made themselves, but in fact it’s a pretty smart strategy; the site not only gets a proportion of the transaction, but the consumer still feels like they have bought something from Amazon, not from Joe Bloggs’ local store.

Online retail isn’t just for companies who can afford to spend thousands creating their own sites. The growth of online marketplaces means that anyone with something to sell can create their own channel – it’s just a question of figuring out who you want to reach.

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