If you were surfing the world wide web to sell or find a pair of rare sneakers in the late '90s or early '00s, you probably did it on eBay. Before consignment shops or social media sneaker groups, the platform was one of the few places online for collectors to track down sneaker relics, pick up hyped releases on the aftermarket, or resell shoes.
"Sneakers are at the root of eBay," the company's North American GM of sneakers, Mark Flaa, says. "We were the OG marketplace of choice for a lot of folks, but in the face of a changing landscape, we've had to sharpen our focus to reassert our place in the industry."
Not only has heavy competition from online sneaker startups entered the territory, but it hasn't always been easy to buy and sell sneakers on the marketplace over the last 25 years. Any sneakerhead who's used eBay is familiar with some of the stories: buyers getting burned with fake sneakers, sellers getting scammed with phony returns, and the amount of research a customer has to do in order to find a trusted seller.
Now, eBay is looking to make business easier for resellers and ramp up sneaker transactions on the site by rolling out some new initiatives. The company introduced sneaker authentication in October, where resellers ship their sold items to an eBay authentication facility (run by third-party authenticator Sneaker Con) before they reach their buyer.
"The demand is high right now as the market for collectible sneakers continues to grow at an exponential rate," says James Hendy, eBay's GM of authentication. Sales of Air Jordan and Jordan memorabilia in particular skyrocketed on the platform after ESPN's The Last Dance documentary released this year. "For us to have a clear value proposition, we need to have authentication."
Although other online, sneaker-specific marketplaces have launched within the past five years, eBay is still one of the largest for sneakers today, with over half a million listings each day. A sneaker is sold through eBay every 1.5 seconds. Almost 6 million sneakers were sold in North America on eBay in 2019 alone.
Flaa says a key difference between eBay and its competitors in the sneaker space is that eBay allows resellers to grow a customer base. "Compared to other platforms, we let you build a brand," Flaa said. "We want those sneaker shops to come on to eBay and sell during Covid and keep their businesses alive. They're able to take advantage of eBay as a platform and we want to help them grow."
While this authentication program may seem very similar to that of its sneaker marketplace competitors, there are nuances. For one, authentication isn't just one size fits all, since transactions on eBay range from deadstock to used and everything in between. Sales could also include factory samples or vintage originals from the '80s.
"We're not just authenticating the product itself, we're verifying that the sneaker is exactly what the seller said they're selling," Flaa said. "That's another benefit. We allow sellers to list those photos and show folks what they got."
Benefits for sellers have been a key focus this past year. The platform also removed seller fees for sneakers that were sold over $100. Sellers who use eBay's managed payment system also don't have to pay any payment processing fees.
eBay may be offering sneaker buyers peace of mind from getting scammed for counterfeit shoes, but Authenticity Guarantee protects sellers, too. The program allows resellers the option to not take returns and if they do, the buyer has to send the item back through authentication to make sure the item they're returning isn't damaged or worn, and is still actually the same item.
"As a flipper, you always had to account for eBay's Money Back Guarantee," Flaa says. "Buyers knew they had the opportunity to make returns for many reasons, but with authentication eBay takes on the responsibility of ensuring each return is valid and aligns with the seller's return policy. "
eBay's Authenticity Guarantee is currently only available for Air Jordans and Yeezys sold over $150, but will expand to include all new and used collectible sneaker sales over $100 by early 2021. Sneaker Con's authentication team currently has a staff of almost 80, with plans to ramp up as volume increases. The company will also be looking to open an authentication facility on the West Coast next year.
Authentication may be a new territory for eBay, but it's something the company is fully leaning into, especially when it comes to sneakers. The next phase of the process will be looking into ways to expedite shipping of sneakers and find ways to make items covered by Authenticity Guarantee more visible to users.
"This is something we're committed to. It's an evolution of the business," Flaa says. "Where we belong is at the intersection of culture, community, and commerce."