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eBay: a huge data challenge

When it comes to experience-driven retailing, few companies face data challenges and opportunities on quite the same scale as eBay.

At the Gartner CRM Summit in London in 2014, eBay's Head of Global Analytics, David Stephenson, noted that the company's 100 million customers generated 100 million hours of customer interaction data every month from their travels around the site – a volume of data that is effectively impossible to analyse fully.


When it comes to experience-driven retailing, few companies face data challenges and opportunities on quite the same scale as eBay. At the Gartner CRM Summit in London in 2014, eBay's Head of Global Analytics, David Stephenson, noted that the company's 100 million customers generated 100 million hours of customer interaction data every month from their travels around the site – a volume of data that is effectively impossible to analyse fully.

Simple queries about the most popular items appearing in daily searches can involve processing five billion page views, he said – "so there is a huge problem just to ask a basic business question".

That hasn't stopped eBay from trying. In 2014, the merchandising site alone generated sales of $83 billion, not far short of retail giant Amazon's sales over the same period. Overall, the company reported a total enabled commerce volume of $255 billion, thanks to its other specialist marketplaces such as StubHub and payments processed via the PayPal subsidiary.

Perhaps most importantly, revenue grew by 12 per cent, a key indicator that the company is finding some good answers to those business questions despite the challenges.

Much of eBay's recent growth has been through its mobile apps, which it launched early on smartphone platforms in response to increased customer mobile usage data. In 2009, eBay's first iPhone app accounted for more than $600 million in volume in its first year; by 2014, total mobile payments had grown to more than $45 billion, around 20 per cent of the entire payments volume.

But eBay's investment has not stopped at apps. With the right data to hand, it can continually improve everything from its trademark feedback mechanisms to merchant incentive strategies, search algorithms and seller tools. One significant result of such ongoing improvements is that eBay's central merchandising brand has evolved far beyond its origins as a simple auction site; today, more than 75 per cent of its business comes from fixed-price, buy-now listings.

eBay continues to evolve rapidly, and will see further change this year when PayPal becomes a completely separate company. But the company has long been ready for such upheaval. John Donahoe, chief executive, said in a 2011 Harvard Business Review interview that the company was very focused on "capitalising on this period of dynamic change in how consumers behave". Today, that focus is paying dividends – a valuable pointer to any bank trying fully to engage with the customer data challenge.