EBay makes big b-to-b push

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EBay Business next month will begin rolling out the next phase of its vertical industry marketing campaign, targeting the agricultural, construction and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) markets.

EBay Business, which launched in January, is the first consolidated b-to-b initiative by online auction business eBay Inc. It is supported by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, handled by Slack Barshinger, Chicago.

The business is a subsite of eBay and is located at It is designed to bring together buyers and sellers of equipment in specific industries. The first print ads debuted in March and targeted the restaurant, metalworking, office technology and test and measurement industries.

Those ads, which feature testimonials by eBay Business customers, are part of an integrated effort that includes print, direct mail, online and e-mail. They are aimed at business decision-makers.

Broader brand effort

In addition to the vertical campaign, eBay is running a broader brand awareness campaign to communicate its new b-to-b strategy to a general business audience. Print ads launched in March in Entrepreneur Magazine and regional business journals.

The challenge is to educate small and midsize businesses about the opportunities for buying and selling equipment on eBay, which is widely known as a consumer auction site.

"When we looked at the business audience, the biggest challenges were building awareness and credibility in this space," said Jay Fiore, director of marketing for eBay Business. "The perception that eBay can be a valuable destination for business is very limited."

Recent research from IDC shows that might be changing.

In its 2003 Procurement Managers Survey released to clients in February, IDC found that eBay was one of the most popular destinations among purchasing managers for buying office equipment and other business supplies online, said Rob Rosenthal, senior analyst at IDC. He did not cite specific numbers because the survey was proprietary for clients.

Rosenthal said that while eBay ranks high among procurement managers as a destination for buying office equipment, eBay needs to continue to build brand awareness in the b-to-b space.

"A lot of people don’t think of eBay as a business destination," he said. "Vertical trades are the best place to start communicating that."

The testimonial print ads, running in trades such as Test and Measurement World and Modern Machine Shop, feature small-business owners who have used eBay to purchase equipment.

One ad, targeting the metalworking industry, features a testimonial from Danny Rail, owner of machine tool shop Dedicated Digital Technology Inc. in Gainesville, Ga. Rail said he outfitted his entire shop for $100,000 using eBay, and if he had purchased the equipment new, it would have cost $750,000.

"The deals are there," Rail said in an interview. "I have a shop worth three-quarters of a million dollars, and I didn’t even have to go to the bank."

EBay also is running online ads on the Web sites of vertical print publications, as well as direct and e-mail campaigns aimed at business decision-makers in the verticals being targeted.

Another important strategy eBay is using to reach the b-to-b marketplace is building relationships with trade associations, such as the Small Business Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. EBay will work with these and other industry trade groups on events and conferences, Fiore said.

Since launching in January, the business and industrial categories of eBay are showing strong growth, the company said. An eBay spokeswoman said that based on first-quarter data, those categories have an annualized run rate of $366 million in gross merchandise sales, representing a 99% increase year over year.

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