eBay-SkypeMe: convenient, yes, but where's the $2.6 billion ROI?

 The way this new SkypeMe "Ask The Seller a Question" functionality in 14 U.S.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor

The way this new SkypeMe "Ask The Seller a Question" functionality in 14 U.S. eBay categories is supposed to work, these categories have a certain cachet where instant communication such as via Skype can turn lookers into buyers.


Lookers who, presumably, wouldn't be quite convinc

ed to bid or buy based on the "Ask The Seller A Question" functionality that's already there (and I show you at the top of this post).

These categories, it is believed, are those that would engender a large number of questions on the part of prospective purchasers. Whether for the purpose of additional details or reassurance, eBay believes that the nature of these categories will be immeasurably helped by Skype conversations in which seller answers the buyer's questions, satisfies their concerns - and then cinches the deal.

What's not being said directly, but what I want to know, is:

  • If this functionality is supposed to not only drive eBay sale commissions, but new SkypeOut and SkypeIn minutes, then how many new revenue-producing minutes will be generated from this new feature?
  • If the cost of SkypeOut is rapidly approaching zero, and this deal involves no-cost Skype minutes between buyer and seller where's the income stream supposed to come from for Skype? 
  • How many prospective buyers will feel the urge to call the seller before they buy who are not doing this now?
  • How many prospective buyers who have a notion to call the seller will revise their telecommunications feng shui by strapping on a headset and using Skype? 
  • I know there's more coming, but how does Skype-eBay functionality even remotely approach the $2.6 billion eBay paid to buy Skype?
  • Why couldn't this functionality be the fruits of a vendor partner alliance, rather than a $2.6 billion (and more, if all other financial terms kick in) acquisition scenario?

Color me skeptical. I am having trouble understanding how the new SkypeMe-fueled, "ask the seller a question" is materially any different than  the current, text-based "Ask the seller a question" functionality already included in eBay. (which you see at the top of this post).

The eBay Power Sellers I know will go back and forth a few times, diligently answering these questions via text-based "ask the seller." I fail to see what questions a prospective buyer would have that would require a verbal explanation over a Skype call rather than the text-based information now available.

OK, I am selling a bed (one of 14 categories). Maybe my prospective bidder has a question about the headboard, or the mattress. No problem to use the existing text-based"ask the seller a question. Or OK, I am ready to bid on this item, but where are you located? Will you deliver? Can you deliver this Saturday around 11 a.m.? 

I guess the upsell is more instant lines of communication, quicker answers to questions, as well as a presumption of trust when you hear the seller's voice.

But how often will this really happen?

That presumption of trust, though, should already be there. That's what the sellers ratings are there, for.

Granted, there will be a smattering of prospective buyers that will want more details before they bid. But in a competitive selling landscape, won't those sellers who already include as many details as possible about what they are offering already have a natural advantage? If I am a buyer or bidder, won't I automatically defer to what seems to be the offers with as much information as possible?

I see a scenario in which eBay sellers with poor product descriptive skills use SkypeMe as a crutch. Sellers with that lack of ability will already have two strikes against them.

Even if the SkypeMe feature is a huge hit, though, then how does it even start to even approach an ROI scenario for eBay's $2.6 billion purchase of Skype? The ROI demands are staggering: hundreds of millions of dollars a year in eBay commissions from sales that would not have been made but for SkypeMe; income from new Skype customers intially drawn in by the eBay integration, who love Skype so much they want more and are willing to pay for added features?

Keep in mind that since the service will be free,there won't be any additional income from those extra SkypeOut minutes. SkypeIn minutes in which the seller can call you, yes, but that's not really what's being pushed here.

For this deal to cost out in anything approaching an ROI, you would have to look at a major revolutionary change in eBay buyer behavior: taking the time out to install the Skype client; as well as asking questions via headset instead of text-based inquiry now already in place.

These numbers don't add up for me.

Verdict: SkypeMe-enabled "Ask the seller a question" functionality is a nice convenience and value-add. But these are the kinds of functionalities that are engendered by vendor partnerships- such as between an ecommerce site and an Internet telephony provider.

Partnerships. Not $2.6 billion "buy the company" transactions that must be legitimized. 

Editorial standards