Motley Fool Stock Advisor
Last week, we had a chance to dig deeper into fellow Internet big leaguer Yahoo!
In this edition of Fool on Call, we will highlight these three key areas of eBay's business:
1. Marketplaces and eBay
2. Payments and PayPal
3. Communications and Skype
1. Marketplaces and eBay: When fewer is better
Despite the competition, particularly in international markets, eBay remains the "world's No. 1 e-commerce franchise," according to CEO Meg Whitman. But the company still has its share of headaches.
The big news with eBay, of course, has been its move to increase fees for store inventory listings. When the news first came out, much of the media jumped to the conclusion that eBay simply wanted to gain from the increase in fees. In reality, the company wanted to reduce the number of store inventory listings.
Why would eBay want to do something like that? It was finding is that there can be too much of a good thing, in that an "overabundance" of inventory listings was diluting the buyer experience. As Whitman explains, "Buyers were overwhelmed by many identical items at relatively uncompetitive prices, which led to high exit rates and fewer return visits" -- problems that "negatively affected conversion rates and eBay's gross merchandise value."
eBay's "fewer-is-better" strategy is not too different from what Harley-Davidson
Combining price increases for listings along with promoting core listings will help the company to restore balance to the marketplace and provide a more pleasant shopping experience for buyers as well as improved cash flow for sellers. Most of these initiatives did not take place until late in Q3, so it is too early at this point to see whether the strategy is working. Management says it will have "more visibility" on the progress of these initiatives after the fourth quarter.
2. Payments and PayPal: Cha-ching, Internet-style
From the world's leading e-commerce concept, we now get to check up on the "No. 1 online payment service in the world," PayPal. Are you seeing a trend here?
PayPal now sports roughly 123 million accounts globally, with the greatest growth coming in "newer markets such as Italy, Australia, and France." In addition to new market penetration, this segment is also benefiting from an increase in the number and quality of e-retailers who are teaming up with PayPal and its VeriSign payment system. Barnes & Noble
These companies are attracted to the service by PayPal's flexibility and customization -- it can be tailored to the size and individual needs of each business. Additionally, PayPal's scalability across multiple currencies (currently 17) and markets (103 around the globe) makes it appealing for merchants and shoppers alike.
PayPal doesn't get the headlines the way eBay does, but folks, it is there, and it is everywhere. Buying books off the net? Yep, there it is. Gotta get those new hiking boots for the winter? Well, golly, there it is again. Applying to law schools? Get ready -- you'll see VeriSign lurking in the background. With total payment volume increasing 37% year over year, the ever-present PayPal and VeriSign should continue to benefit from rapidly expanding e-commerce and may end up as the most valuable brands in eBay's portfolio.
3. Communications and Skype: "The early stages of something big"
I'm not invested in eBay, but even I can't help getting excited when I hear Whitman say of Skype, "I think we're in the early stages of something big here." It is the mystery behind that "something," tied together with the "big" part, that opens the world to so many possibilities. And that's exactly what eBay sees in its communication service -- a world of possibilities.
Check out this amazing statistic: Skype is adding, on average, 250,000 new users per day, or 23 million in Q3 alone. This brings the total number of users to approximately 136 million. Folks, given the infancy of Skype, these are phenomenal numbers.
Beyond the functionality of the service itself, what's fueling a surge in new users is the "active ecosystem" of other products and services that partners are developing to compliment Skype. More than 150 "Skype-certified products" are currently available to both desktop and wireless users.
But does Skype equal hype? As of yet, the hyped brand has not contributed positively to the parent company's bottom line. User growth has been astronomical, but investors are waiting to see whether the service will finally translate into profitability. Management remains cautiously optimistic that Skype will reach breakeven status during fiscal 2007.
Whitman and company have three powerful concepts that by themselves are heavyweights in their respective markets. But management is intent on showing the power of the three working in synergy.
To date, "Skype Me" buttons are being tested in 20 of eBay's global markets, including 150 product categories. The company says the real benefit of this service will likely be in "higher-price categories like motors, jewelry, and electronics" and that it's expected to help "buyers establish more trust with sellers to complete more transactions." Additionally, PayPal is rapidly becoming the "preferred" method of transaction for Skype users; it now represents nearly a quarter of Skype's payments.
Increasing the synergy among the brands also adds value for advertising partners, and eBay is seeing increased interest in this part of its business. But more importantly, synergy adds value for long-term shareholders, who are also likely at the early stages of something very big here.
Dial into more conference call analysis:
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- Fool on Call: Pepsi as Sexy as Ever
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