eBay: ‘We’ll teach you what it means to be successful selling online’

eBay’s head of Commercial Operations Colin McCallion wants to open more and more Irish SMEs up to a global marketplace of 147m buyers.

There appears to be a feeling out there that the pandemic switched many Irish SME business over to e-commerce and for many of these being able to trade online during lockdown was a life saver.

From the perspective of Colin McCallion, head of Commercial Operations for the UK, Ireland and Europe at eBay, this is not entirely true as there are still a vast amount of small businesses that have yet to embrace the concept of online shopping.

“UK businesses are keen to learn about becoming multichannel sellers while their Irish counterparts are barely at the starting lines on what e-commerce is all about”

Worse still, the knowledge gap between Irish businesses and their UK counterparts is immense.

“The reality is many Irish SMEs are still set in their ways and the reason why many hadn’t embraced digital before the pandemic is because they were happy with their profit margins and didn’t feel they needed too.”

As well as managing relationships with thousands of businesses across Europe, McCallion’s mission is to educate SMEs about using the eBay marketplace, in particular Irish SMEs.

The move to multichannel

He says there are many positives to selling on eBay, but the key positive is how small Irish businesses can tap into eBay’s global customer base and sell to millions worldwide.

And it is a formidable marketplace when you consider there are more than 147m active buyers on the platform across 190 different markets.

In the past eBay has supported Irish SMEs through its Retail Expansion Programme and more recently through its Up and Running Programme, which offered Irish SMEs a free store, reduced fees and training to sell successfully on eBay.

What surprised McCallion the most in his day job connecting Irish and UK buyers to eBay was how Irish SMEs just weren’t engaging on e-commerce.

“There were front runners like Mick’s Garage and Arnott’s, but the general small and medium-sized businesses weren’t engaging. The knowledge gap was profound – UK businesses are keen to learn about becoming multichannel sellers while their Irish counterparts are barely at the starting lines on what e-commerce is all about.”

McCallion is on a mission to change this. “The average UK business wants to be multichannel – they want to not only be on eBay and Amazon as well as their own web pages but they are anxious to show up in the places where the different buyer cohorts are showing up and different buyer profiles exist. But in Ireland, they are still talking about the convenience factor of selling online.”

Knowledge and expertise

The pandemic has been a game-changer for sure, but McCallion is hoping to distil training and knowledge to Irish business owners in a post-pandemic environment where the skills and know-how for online selling have moved on.

“I’ve heard scary stories of Irish businesses setting up websites and web designers charging some high fees for a bespoke website, telling them all they need to do is sit back and watch the sale come in. We know there’s more to it than that. It’s about advertising your website on social media and tapping into traffic via search. That’s the beauty of what we are proposing with eBay, we have 147m active buyers worldwide who come to us before they’d go to any other website.

“We’ll teach you what it means to be successful selling online. eBay works primarily on search engine optimisation and that’s transferrable to Google Search and other marketplaces. For businesses that have never sold online, I try to get them to think of eBay as a shopping centre and we’re giving you one of the stores. And then we’re going to drive traffic to that store.”

McCallion said that globally products from Ireland are seen as high value and the platform can be used to expose these businesses to more markets worldwide.

One example of an Irish business that has embraced multichannel e-commerce to successfully sell to markets in Australia and Japan is Rí na Mara, the Galway maker of natural seaweed beauty products, which sells directly from its own website as well as on the eBay platform.

McCallion said that what the platform offers for SMEs that have yet to go online is a starting point as well as a way to augment their existing web presence. “We would see our platform as certainly enabling Irish SMEs to reach a global audience.”

He said the journey onto the eBay platform begins with registering on the eBay.ie webpage. “We’ll see that registration and will potentially give you a call. We are super-enthusiastic about helping the acceleration of e-commerce in Ireland. The only skin we have in the game is giving something back. Our day job is mainly UK-focused but what we are trying to do is disseminate that knowledge picked up over 17 years mainly working with business sellers in the UK and just to share that to the benefit of small and medium-sized Irish businesses.

“The beauty of eBay is we can only be successful if our retailers are successful. We are not a retailer, we are a marketplace. If our sellers do well on our platform and our buyers find the products they are interested in at a good price point, that is how we do be successful.”

A growing space on eBay is the market for refurbished goods which McCallion says will prove pivotal in protecting the environment in the years ahead.

No doubt there is increasing competition between eBay and Amazon in the Irish marketplace, with the latter increasing its warehousing operations in the Republic.

“eBay has been here in Ireland for years and we came here as an employer first and a marketplace second. Our brand is well known in Ireland and we can see that in our sales. You’re right, Amazon are looking at the Irish market. It’s an interesting market. Irish household spend online is quite strong, but I think our brand and our values and what we stand for, offer unique selling points online, even if Amazon has a bigger presence on our shores in the near future.”

Fundamentally, McCallion wants to see more Irish businesses selling digitally. “eBay wants Irish businesses to be successful and we will endeavour to do that. We offer significant VAT savings for Irish businesses as well as negotiating more affordable shipping costs on behalf of small Irish businesses.

“eBay is here and we are trying to help local Irish businesses from our offices in Dublin 15.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.