EBay shows how to serve thanks to sellers

December 26, 2005


Today is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. It's the day after Christmas. Huge crowds. Harried sales clerks. Customer service? Forget about it. You don't expect good service today, do you?

But you should!

Here's my advice to brick-and-mortar retailers. Treat your customers well today. If you do, they'll become evangelists who will sing your praises throughout the year. Borrow a page from Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, which is known for listening to its customers. Consider how Whitman's company is treating 34-year-old Wes Shepherd. EBay is serving him breakfast in bed. He's more than a loyal eBay customer. He's a committed eBay evangelist.

Shepherd is CEO of Evanston-based ChannelVelocity. His two-year-old startup just raised $750,000 in a Series A round. His business is red hot. ChannelVelocity helps companies such as Netherlands-based Royal Philips Electronics, with some $41 billion a year in revenue, figure out their strategy for selling products on eBay. According to Shepherd, Philips sells through traditional retailers, but wasn't sure how to sell on eBay.

Virtual outlet store

"Philips' product was selling on eBay and it was creating a channel conflict" with its brick-and-mortar clientele, Shepherd says. The solution was simple. Shepherd and ChannelVelocity built a virtual outlet store for Philips on eBay, just like the outlet stores in the distant suburban malls. Only this one is on-line.

"We supplied everything to retail their product on eBay -- the warehouse, the fulfillment, the customer support, auction management, everything," Shepherd says.

Creating online outlet stores on eBay is big business for Shepherd. He's doing the same for Milwaukee Power Tools, Belkin (the computer accessories company), Oreck vacuums and Nestle's Nespresso line of espresso products.

Shepherd is a big deal to eBay. The eBay execs don't take him for granted. Even though it's a busy season, they called him. Shepherd says, "They wanted to send something special. They picked several of the largest sellers on eBay to receive gifts.

"A gentleman shows up in my office saying, 'I'm from eBay.' He's carrying a black tray, an eBay mug, a juice glass, a rose and some pastries. He says, 'We're delivering you breakfast in bed because you are too busy to have it at home.'"

Shepherd can't stop talking about how impressed he is with eBay. He's out there evangelizing right now.

I hope your business partners treat you as well today.

Nanotest for mad cow

After a two-year hiatus, Japan is accepting U.S. beef again. Bill Moffitt, CEO of Northbrook-based Nanosphere, wants to close the nearly $700 billion U.S.-Japan trade deficit, and keep American beef exports flowing.

To do that, he is looking for better ways to test for mad cow disease, the reason Japan blocked U.S. exports.

Scientists don't know why mad cow starts or everything about its transmission. They know it results from an errant folding of brain-cell proteins. Today, there are no tests that can detect the aberrant protein in live animals. Brain cell tissue must be examined to confirm mad cow's presence.

"If you find a diseased animal, how do you test that herd?" Moffitt asks. "You have to slaughter them all.

"We need a test that allows us to work on live animals for research, and to screen the food supply," Moffitt says. Using nanotechnology developed by Northwestern University professor Chad Mirkin, Nanosphere is commercializing what it calls "biobarcode technology" that is much more sensitive in identifying abnormal proteins. The company recently received a patent for biobarcode.

According to Moffitt, it could enable future researchers to test for mad cow in cerebrospinal fluid or even the blood supply of living animals. That would be good news for meat eaters here and overseas.

"Chicago is a city that should have a thriving development- stage biotech business," adds Moffitt, who says a successful mad cow test would put Nanosphere and Chicago on the map.

It would transform Chicago from "hog butcher to the world" to a leader in biotech diagnostics while simultaneously reducing the trade deficit and keeping people healthy.

Now there's something to wish for in the New Year.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners