Regular retail and what you really need now

What happens if you lose your gloves towards the end of winter? It is still cold outside – freezing in fact. So, you need to wear gloves even though spring is just a few promising weeks away.

Well, you could go over to the nearest general retail outlet and buy yourself a pair, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. I lost my gloves (or rather just one glove which makes the other one a decorative plant warmer). My first inkling was to look on eBay – whatever it is, you can get it on eBay, baby! But in addition, I decided to check out the retail stores as well.

I trekked to Macy’s – “Gloves? Oh no, we’re out of gloves, we have our spring season in already. Try H&M or The Gap.” Same story at H&M. Same story at The Gap where I got “Try H&M, they always have it. No?? Well, then Macy’s!!”

Regular retail is messed up beyond belief. Really long product planning cycles are the key problem. Lead times are so long that what gets sold for spring (not *in* spring) is probably decided in the fall of the previous year and all orders are placed.

But the consumer is made to pay for this silly process. Spring season items arrive in late Feb when most of the country is still covered in snow. Can you really think of buying that short pink skirt when you walk into the store in three layers, a scarf, ear warmers and a winter coat? I can’t. And on the flip side, you have to buy your winter boots when it is 80 degrees outside and the last thing you can think about is trudging through snow.

To save you from this messed up world, eBay to the rescue. I got online. Did a search for the brand of glove I had. I immediately found a pair that was just a couple of shades lighter than what I had, but otherwise exact. It was listed with Buy It Now. Hit buy, paid via PayPal and was done in exactly 2 minutes and just a few clicks. Amazing. The gloves cost a third of what they would at retail and arrived in perfect condition four days later, brand new with tags still on them.

When we were doing user research for eBay Express, this point kept coming up – off-season retail. It is such a critical market. Why should retail stores dictate when you can buy gloves? What happens if you really need them like I did? They just don’t care because their economics will not let them care. But with eBay’s distributed warehousing, where each seller has a pair or five, the cost structure is very different. Even all these years later, even having worked there for so long, I am still amazed by the power of the model.

So, if you ever want to buy boots when you really need them or a bikini when you really want it, head on over to eBay.

  • Excellent observation. Maybe there is an entrepreneurial opportunity in the current situation since a lot of these products really benefit from trial to help purchase. There could a store called Off-season clothing so people can get gloves in the summer for their Ski-trips and espadrilles for their beach holidays… 🙂

  • Very good point. The same is true, at least here in Europe, if you decide to take a vacation on a tropical beach in the middle of the winter and want to buy a new swimsuit BEFORE getting to the resort, where you know the swimsuits will be ill-fitting, expensive, and in dubious taste. If you know a brand that fits your body type, online is so much easier!

  • I’m obviously biased, but it’s amazing how this can really take hold. Carolyn basically checks eBay Express first for almost everything.

    Adam

  • Shripriya

    @ Prithvi – perhaps… the cost of doing it in the real world would likely be exorbitant, though. You have two key problems – the cost of warehousing/showcasing the inventory *and* the fact that a physical store can only get the clients who live/work around there. Both of those problems are elegantly solved in an online marketplace with no/low cost of inventory (distributed to each seller) and the entire online world as potential customers.

    @ LivePaola – How’s eBay Express doing in Europe? It should really do even better than in the US for the reasons you mention and the fact that the offline retail experience in Europe is significantly worse than that in the US.

    @ Adam – she should, especially since you work on Express! 🙂

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