Inside eBay, Team Leads Seller Insights, Startup Outreach

I’m in the market for a new refrigerator. A little more than a year ago, I would have turned to, the Seattle startup that crunched review and pricing data from the Web to help shoppers know what and when to buy.

It was acquired by eBay in September of last year and this extremely useful, Consumer Reports-like service went dark.

“If you were selling on eBay anytime soon, we’d have you covered,” said former CEO Mike Fridgen, now the general manager of seller insights at eBay.

The team of data mining and machine learning experts—many of whom also built and ran airfare price predictor Farecast, acquired in 2008 by Microsoft—has been working on new services to help eBay sellers tune their pricing to maximize sales. They’re based in eBay’s data-focused Bellevue, WA, office, which has grown from more than 200 employees when Decide was acquired to more than 340 now; 26 Decide employees joined eBay.

Fridgen is also driving an effort to build tighter links between the San Jose, CA-based online commerce giant and Seattle-area startup companies.

“There’s a plan to continue growing in the office, and there’s a plan to continue to connect at a deeper level with the startup and investment community here locally,” Fridgen said in a recent interview.

That plan begins with sponsoring a Startup Weekend event focused on marketplace companies to be held at the local office later this year. EBay is also evaluating the creation of a startup incubator in its Seattle-area operation like the ones it has in Boston and New York—efforts that are also headed by leaders of other startups eBay has acquired over the last few years.

“In New York, they have an incubator called Friends of eBay,” Fridgen said. “This is run by the former Hunch team, where they’re bringing in startups with incubator space, providing mentors, helping them get off the ground. In Boston, one of the original members of [the Where team, acquired by eBay in 2011], is leading a group called Start Tank, which is another incubator in Boston, helping get companies off the ground, providing resources.”

Fridgen said eBay’s model for these incubators is to provide resources for cash-strapped startups, as well as mentorship, and exposure to investors, and to eBay itself. The company does not take an equity stake, but does get a first look at companies it might want to invest in or acquire. It’s also a potential pipeline for new talent if the startup companies don’t work out, Fridgen said. “There’s a lot of benefits that go both ways,” he said.

The Decide team has built eBay Insights, which compares the huge number of queries from buyers on eBay to an individual seller’s listings to determine how many impressions the seller is receiving, how that compares to others selling similar items, how the wording of the listings compares and could be improved, and whether pricing should be increased or decreased for specific items.

eBay Insights

eBay Insights

“We’re giving specific sellers actionable recommendations on how to price,” Fridgen said. “We’ve also applied data science to look at how to structure titles to get more impressions, more demand on listings, and to improve the quality of the overall marketplace.”

EBay Insights can also make inventory recommendations, and forecast the impact of the suggested changes to a seller’s results.

Fridgen said eBay Insights help the company create “a more efficient, transparent marketplace.” The company has yet to announce pricing for the service. It is currently free for professional sellers.

“Unlike other e-commerce players, this is all about a great experience for buyers and sellers,” he said. “There’s no competition. There’s no reason for eBay to withhold insight that helps sellers be more successful.”

He didn’t mention it by name, but Alibaba—a greater presence in the minds of buyers and sellers outside of China thanks to its IPO last month—represents a major competitor through its Taobao unit.

As for my new refrigerator, Fridgen had no help in the near term, but did dangle this prospect:

“There is a possibility, down the line—and we do talk about this—that we might revisit bringing some of those buyer features back in,” he said. “Don’t fully give up hope. I know you need to buy one now, so you’re on your own. But don’t give up hope.”


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