EBay Vendors Demand to be Skyped
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Reporter's Notebook: Hey, somebody grab a calendar and help me out.
Has it really been 15 months since eBay boughtSkype for $2.6 billion?
Has it really been six months since eBay began a pilot program to allow vendors in two-dozen or so categories to add "Skype Me" buttons to their listings?
And is it really already the busiest shopping season of the year?
My calendar says it's all true.
So why aren't eBay and Skype fully integrated yet? Even as this year's e-commerce numbers soar higher than ever, a group of eBay vendors is left hollering for it on the company's boards.
"I feel this is unfair they offer this awesome service but you can only use it in only certain categories," one eBay user with the handle cessisdream wrote in a forum titled "Please add Skype to all categories!"
Another user, modernjungle, wrote, "Hello there! I was VERY excited when I added skype to my preferences today, ONLY to find out that it is NOT available in the categories I sell in just yet. Please make Skype 100% available to everyone in ALL categories!"
The strange thing is that I doubt these eBay vendors would have been so grabby for Skype on their own. Their fire for it burns on eBay's own Skype hype of which there's been plenty in the last year.
"Skype represents a tremendous opportunity for our sellers to connect even more closely with their buyers," Bill Cobb, president of eBay North America, said in a statement only last June.
"Skype can increase the velocity of trade on eBay, especially in categories that require more involved communications such as used cars, business and industrial equipment, and high-end collectibles," eBay said when it bought Skype last year.
But if Skype is such a catalyst and vendors are screaming for Skype Me buttons on the eBay forums, why wasn't the Skype/eBay integration made a priority before this holiday season?
Why not give vendors the tools they want, which are the same ones you say they need? Wouldn't it help them succeed during their most important season? Is this an indication that the acquisition has been a mistake?
Forrester Research Analyst Maribel Lopez told me the reason eBay has been so slow to fully integrate Skype is that, despite how it might look on the forums, there is very little consumer demand for it.
There simply aren't enough Skype users out there to make it worth eBay's time to get cranking on the integration just yet.
VoIP overall has only been adopted by a very small percentage of consumers, she added. Especially when the numbers are compared with general eBay adoption.
Lopez's claim may seem ridiculous if you spend a lot of time on eBay's forums, but that's just her point. Not a lot of people spend that much time on the eBay forums. And even among those who do, it's only a very loud minority clamoring for Skype Me across the categories. Lopez dismissed them as "tech optimists."
She's not alone. Engineer Dan Pritchett, who is eBay's newest technical fellow, agreed with Lopez's assessment.
"When you look at feature opportunities, you always have to make an ROI decision," he said. "Like any company, we always have far more opportunities to pursue than we have resources to put against them. So then you have to prioritize ones you think will represent the best return."
Pritchett and Lopez make a lot of sense. EBay can't go investing its time and resources in features that most of their users won't want or need for another year or two.
But if eBay doesn't think the world is ready for a full eBay/Skype integration in the winter of 2006, then what were they thinking when they spent $2.6 billion to buy Skype in 2005?
Wouldn't you say that's a little bit too tech optimistic?