Fool on Call: eBay's Social Salvation?

Fellow Fool Rick Aristotle Munarriz has already offered his analysis on eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) second-quarter results, breaking down each of its major business segments. According to Rick, eBay's online auction business is not a pretty picture. In the company's latest quarterly earnings conference call, CEO Meg Whitman laid out its plans to re-energize those auctions. In this edition of "Fool on Call," we'll take a closer look at those remarks, particularly regarding the company's plans for social networking.

A whole new 'do
The company will roll out a redesigned eBay homepage sometime before the upcoming holiday season. It's also working to improve the "finding experience" among users, adding an algorithmic search engine that factors in a user's prior searches, as well as items sought by other people searching for the same items. As a result, buyers should be more quickly connected to the right sellers.

Other tweaks now available or on the way include Bid Assistance (making it easier to bid on more than one product at a time), eBay Countdown (which visually represents an auction's sequence), and improved customer support. The company will better link PayPal and eBay call centers, sparing customers from being transferred from one to the other. All these steps should help eBay increase the number of closed auctions.

Reaching to Germany
Besides improving eBay's usability, Whitman indicated that the marketplace's current gross merchandise value (GMV) performance is not where it could be, despite the success of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone auctions for eBay in the second quarter. She focused most of her attention on the U.S.A. and Germany, where she asserts that the company's spending considerable time and effort to once more accelerate GMV.

In Germany, ebay.de will get an overhaul of its community section. eBay hopes to retain and draw in more users by getting them better connected into an online community. Whitman hinted that if eBay's social networking platform catches on in Germany, we can expect similar features in the United States.

On the go
I was especially intrigued by the eBay To Go concept, currently being tested in the U.S. market. The program aims to let users easily grab and post interesting eBay content or listings on other blogs, message boards, or websites -- ultimately driving more traffic back to eBay.

I think this initiative has enormous potential. It just makes good business sense to tap the potential of social networking sites like Bebo, MySpace, and Facebook. eBay To Go could turn any MySpace or blog page into a virtual storefront. The concept's hardly a stretch -- savvy netizens are already accustomed to enhancing their virtual spaces with YouTube videos and Photobucket or Flickr images.

Potentially, eBay could go one step further here, partnering with social networking sites to make its Skype communication tool a feature on these sites as well. Instead of messaging or leaving comments for a friend, why couldn't a user place a call through Skype without leaving the site? That would spur fresh expansion to Skype's already astronomical growth numbers; the voice and video chat service now boasts roughly 220 million users. (eBay's deal with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) to sell Skype gear in 1,800 of its domestic stores should continue this growth.) Time will tell, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a "Skype Me" button pop up on a personal profile near you.

Ignore eBay?
In a previous "Fool on Call," we examined how the company planned to foster a healthier online marketplace by reducing the clutter of product listings. Those efforts now seem to be paying off: Though global auction listings declined 6% from a year ago, GMV improved by 12%. eBay's now hoping to further accelerate GMV growth, and the plans it's outlined in its latest call should give it ample opportunity.

For this reason, I'm still bullish on eBay. Foolish investors with long-term horizons should find eBay's big three (marketplace, PayPal, and Skype) too pervasive of an online presence to simply ignore.

Related Foolishness:

eBay is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. There's no need to bid on either; try a free 30-day trial to any of our Foolish newsletters today.

Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is bidding on a signed photo of Warren Buffett.


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