For eBay’s buyers, sellers, and investors, sustainability still ranks second place to earnings

February 23, 2023, 4:02 PM UTC
eBay's Recommerce Report shows consumers care more about cost than sustainability. Investors are of the same mind.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Despite the attention ESG metrics receive in the media and the Republican political circuit, it’s sometimes hard to see investors focusing on much other than profits and sales. Take, for example, eBay.

On Tuesday, eBay released its third annual Recommerce Report, brimming with positive spin on the sustainability impact of the company’s “recommerce” model—that is, the reselling of goods through e-commerce.

According to the Recommerce Report, which is a survey of over 18,000 eBay buyers and sellers, “recommerce resulted in 73,000 metric tons of waste avoided from landfills, 1.6 million metric tons of avoided carbon, and $4.6 billion in positive economic impact created by eBay’s sellers and buyers.” The report also notes that 79% of eBay sellers said their sales had stayed the same or increased over the past six months.

“We have proof from our sellers and buyers that more recommerce is happening now than there was even a year ago,” eBay chief sustainability officer Renee Morin told me on Wednesday, ahead of the company’s quarterly earnings report.

When the fourth quarter earnings were released, however, shares in eBay slid 4.5% after the company reported below-expected earnings and sales. The e-commerce pioneer reported a 12% drop in the gross merchandise value of goods sold on its platform, falling to $18.2 billion from $20.7 billion the year before. The number of active buyers shopping on eBay slumped 9% in the fourth quarter over last year, too, falling in at 134 million customers.

“EBay is back to where it was before the pandemic, losing customers and declining sales,” Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co., told Bloomberg. “Unless you’re looking for an odd item, eBay is forgotten by most consumers. You just don’t hear a lot about it the way you do the Walmarts, Targets, and Amazons of the world.”

It’s worth noting that eBay ranks second to Amazon in terms of U.S. online gross merchandise sales, cinching above Target and Walmart. But, with active buyer and GMV numbers dropping for seven consecutive quarters, it’s no wonder why eBay has been busily promoting its identity as a “circular economy” supplier, to capture the zeitgeist of sustainability-conscious consumers. (See this Fortune report on the matter from last year.)

“Sustainability is a concern for both sellers and buyers on eBay, especially when we look at Gen Z and millennials, who tend to be a bit more value-conscious in their decisions around what they want to purchase,” Morin said. 

But even there, on eBay’s consumer and seller side, sustainability is secondary to economics.

According to the Recommerce Report, buyers said saving money was the key consideration leading them to shop secondhand, while sellers said earning money was the primary reason for listing previously owned items on eBay. Sustainability was the second-most important driving force for both.

Eamon Barrett


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