In Depth

eBay Turns 20: A Look Back In Time

It’s been a milestone year for two big Internet companies. Amazon celebrated turning 20 in July; now eBay has hit the big 2-0.

That history was shared in a blog post by eBay CEO Devin Wenig, who took the reins in July when the company parted ways with PayPal. What that history demonstrates is how one company can grow from modest beginnings to become a multibillion-dollar eCommerce company, despite plenty of bumps along the way.

Taking a trip back in time, Wenig reflects on eBay’s founding on Sept. 3, 1995, when eBay was known as AuctionWeb.

“It was during Labor Day weekend 20 years ago that software programmer Pierre Omidyar set himself a coding challenge. He wanted to create an online marketplace built on mutual trust and mutual reward. A place where you could buy something you wanted by selling something you didn’t. He started with a broken laser pointer,” he wrote.

And as you can guess, his gamble paid off.

“The laser pointer found a buyer, and Pierre’s simple, brilliant idea went on to become an iconic global brand and a vibrant marketplace where great finds and great deals are the norm,” Wenig continued.

[bctt tweet=”CEO Devin Wenig reflects on eBay’s founding on Sept. 3, 1995, when @eBay was known as AuctionWeb”]

ebayAnd in that 20 years of history, eBay has hit some major milestones of its own. eBay now has 25 million sellers; a user base of about 157 million. There’s roughly 800 million items on sale at one time; 80 percent of merchandise sold is new. eBay is now available in 180 countries, with 59 percent of revenues coming from outside the U.S. In 2014, eBay brought in roughly $18 billion in revenues.

And to put into context how much eBay has sold of a few products, Wenig provided a colorful comparison.

“We have now sold enough cars to encircle the moon more than four times. The number of paintings we’ve sold could fill the Louvre over 45 times. eBay’s apps for iPhone and Android have been downloaded 279 million times,” he wrote.

Looking back, and digging through the Internet archives also unveils a letter from Omidyar on Feb. 26, 1996, when he shared the growth of eBay after just six months. He explained why eBay needed to be an open, and honest marketplace.

“I launched eBay’s AuctionWeb on Labor Day, 1995. Since then, the site has become more popular than I ever expected, and I began to realize that this was indeed a grand experiment in Internet commerce. By creating an open market that encourages honest dealings, I hope to make it easier to conduct business with strangers over the net,” he wrote.

[bctt tweet=”It’s been a milestone year for two big Internet companies. First Amazon, now eBay has hit the big 2-0.”]

“This grand hope depends on your active participation. Become a registered user. Use our feedback forum. Give praise where it is due; make complaints where appropriate. For the past six months, I’ve been developing this system single-handedly, in my spare time. Along the way, I’ve dealt with complaints among participants. But those complaints have amounted to only a handful. We’ve had close to 10,000 auctions since opening. And only a few dozen complaints.” he continued.

And in its 20 years of history, eBay’s reputation and the reputation of its seller base has been questioned plenty of times. eBay has struggled to keep its number of buyers growing at the pace it expects, and has faced the challenges of being a modern-day online marketplace that’s been hacked. Luckily for eBay, that hack in 2014 only leaked email addresses, but it still miffed some buyers and sellers.

And now, without PayPal under its umbrella, it must face new challenges alone. Like the slumping marketplace figures it’s produced for the past few earnings seasons. Or coming back from the challenges presented by Google’s algorithm change that mixed up how eBay’s items were found in search.

Regardless of the challenges ahead, eBay has made some major steps along the way, including the acquisitions of companies like StubHub, Skype and Craigslist. And, of course, PayPal. No matter what eBay’s future holds, it’s worth recognizing as one of the major movers and shakers in the eCommerce space.

That alone is worth marking as a major milestone.

Happy 20th, eBay.


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