Ebay Reveals Super Secret Skype Plans [Insert Yawn Here]

On Tuesday afternoon, eBay’s North American Operations President, Bill Cobb, was scheduled to uncover the exciting integration of Skype into eBay, and for us to finally understand why they paid a king’s ransom for Skype. But the news was underwhelming. According to Cobb’s Keynote, they plan to use Skype to allow buyers to communicate with sellers with voice. Is that all? You might recall that that’s the same lame reason they trotted out the day they announced the Skype deal. At the time, Techdirt said, “the buzz going around that this will let buyers and sellers talk to each other is ridiculous [as in ridiculously lame]… There seems to be very little in the way of real synergies between the two companies at all.” Now, after 9 months, eBay hasn’t been able to come up with any better ideas. If buyers calling eBay sellers were such a great idea, wouldn’t we have seen prior evidence like phone numbers being included in auctions?

Buyers calling sellers, by the way, isn't a bad idea. It's just not that good. Some will use it, but many sellers probably don't want to be called. Heck, most of the eBay sellers I communicate with barely respond to emails. Is it sensible to expect these eBay sellers to want to undergo the cost and operational expense of setting up and staffing a call center or support operation? Many other sellers revel in the asynchronous nature of eBay. Unlike a yard sale, or a classified ad, you don't have to be available by the phone or the front yard to deal with prospective buyers. As for the few auctions in which a voice call really is useful, there are far cheaper options than buying Skype: build VoIP yourself, partner with a VoIP provider, or suggest the seller use the...um...what's that thing...it's in five rooms of my house...got a speaker..and a mic...ends with phone...tip of my tongue...ah forget it, just use Skype.

It's odd that eBay missed the boat on P2P payments, letting PayPal become deeply established, right under their noses, while ignoring the obvious demand for payment fulfillment services. The demand, in that case, was proven and demonstrated by buyers and sellers demanding Paypal payment, and writing that into their auction listings, but eBay was OTL. Later, eBay tried to compete by launching their own payment service, but it was just way too late, so they had to buy Paypal at a premium (which, at the time, was a good move for eBay.)

So now they are so paranoid of missing the next boat, that they jump the gun before there is any evidence of demand for VoIP? I don't think that's the truth. I think they got sucked up in the VoIP hype that was growing (around Skype in particular) last fall, and made the deal without thinking it through. Now, they're just struggling to find a good reason, or should we say excuse, for the deal.

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