Former Best Buy CMO Brings Retailer's Focus to EBay

Michael Linton to Lead Auction Site's Marketplaces Unit

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Online auction giant EBay, hoping to strengthen its retail focus, has snared Michael Linton, Best Buy's former marketing chief, for a newly created general management post in its marketplaces unit.
Former Best Buy CMO Michael Linton is now eBay's senior VP-marketplaces adjacencies.
Former Best Buy CMO Michael Linton is now eBay's senior VP-marketplaces adjacencies.

"It was time for something different," the freshly installed senior VP-marketplaces adjacencies told Advertising Age in an exclusive interview squeezed in between weeklong leadership meetings. "I like the chance to broaden my skills a bit and do general management a bit."

Oversees four groups
Mr. Linton's first day on the job was Dec. 4. In his role, he oversees four groups within eBay's marketplaces unit: eBay Canada; eBay Motors; discount merchandise site Half.com; and eBay Stores, the e-commerce service for online merchants, which includes the ProStores virtual storefronts for brick-and-mortar merchants. He will report to Bill Cobb, president-eBay Marketplaces North America, and he'll work with Gary Briggs, senior VP-chief marketing officer.

Mr. Linton brings two key areas of expertise to the online retailer, an eBay spokesman said. "He is one of the best direct-response marketers out there and he brings a retail focus to our business," he said. "As e-commerce becomes more mainstream, we want to think and act more like a retailer." While the marketer boasts a global community of 212 million users, it also wants to improve its customer-retention performance. "Mike brings this retail focus and customer retention mindset, which are the core two muscles we want to strengthen in eBay," the spokesman said.

Critical time for e-tailer
Mr. Linton's skills are needed at a critical time for the e-tailer, which is facing slowing sales, growing competition from both retailers and internet companies and some business-model missteps. One example: The number of sellers using direct-store listings to sell items at fixed prices rather than by auction had been growing, turning off buyers looking to set their own prices. In late August, the marketer raised its fees for such inventory listings to help re-balance core auction listings.

Following a two-year slide in its share price, in October eBay's posted rosier financial results after management took steps to restore the imbalance between its core auctions and direct sales.

Mr. Linton left Best Buy in August after seven years, including four as CMO. He is credited with helping draft a "customer-centric" merchandise and marketing strategy based on local store demographics. He also was instrumental in exclusive music deals with Sting, Elton John, Celine Dion and the Rolling Stones for concert DVD sales packages and "Golden Ticket" instant-win sweepstakes. Under his watch, Best Buy also partnered with McDonald's Corp. in 2002 to relaunch its Monopoly game for the following year. In addition, the chain launched its Reward Zone loyalty program in 2003, building 4 million members. It also won an Effie award for its in-house produced "Thousands of Possibilities" campaign. He also played a role in the launch and expansion of the Geek Squad computer support services nationally.

Praise for new partner
"I'm most proud of being the first CMO for Best Buy and creating the department," he said, calling his new partner, Mr. Briggs, a "great CMO."

So far, he's still getting his bearings before setting a strategic plan. In fact, he hasn't yet established an office or corporate phone or e-mail. "There is a huge amount to learn," he said, adding, "I'm really interested in working on the products."

But he already has some experience with eBay's various services. "We bought a fishing garden gnome for a friend the other night," he quipped.

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Abbey Klaassen contributed to this report.
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