eBay. For well over two decades now, it’s been the place where you go to sell stuff and – as tends to naturally follow – also the place where you go to buy stuff. A digital marketplace where everything has value, even when it doesn’t, and where “stuff” really is the operative word.
Now, having earlier this year announced the official opening of their new UK-based sneaker authentication warehouse, a move which follows in reasonably quick succession from the opening of a similar facility in the US, eBay is clearly looking to graduate from the world of “stuff” and move on to bigger and better things. Two weeks ago it bought out the sneaker authentication service Sneaker Con, taking its existing relationship with the service to the next level.
And it’s no surprise, really. The site originally (if not widely) known as The AuctionWeb, on which the first item ever sold was a broken laser pointer to someone who collected broken laser pointers, still has a lingering scent of that same low-end, neckbeard-to-neckbeard mentality.
With other trusted and considerably more dedicated platforms already serving the UK sneaker resale market and thriving in the process – like the Kering-financed GOAT and the industry-leading StockX, to name but two – it’s clear why eBay would want a piece of that action. After all, the global sneaker resale market was valued at approximately $28 billion USD in 2020, not an inconsiderable fraction of eBay’s own $37 billion USD of total sales across all categories that same year, and is only projected to keep growing,
It’s also clear exactly why eBay just is not like either of those companies – or any of their fledgling competitors.
The thing is, eBay is home to a mishmash of, well, pretty much everything. From used cars to garden sheds to clothes to memorabilia – there’s pretty much nothing you can’t find on eBay. Or, at least, nothing you can’t find some version of. And that is very much the website’s USP: it’s a platform based on quantity, not quality. Availability, not authenticity is the defining hallmark of a day lost to mindless eBay browsing.
Not only would any attempt to change that mean fundamentally changing what eBay is – and, realistically, that’s not going to happen given how much time and effort has been dedicated to establishing that brand over the years – but it’s also hard to imagine real sneakerheads ditching specialist platforms that they know work for them and which, thanks to their relatively niche appeal, are built on specific industry knowledge rather than market speculation.
There's more to selling sneakers than just being able to say that the goods are legit. If the marketplace itself isn’t as authentic, then building trust is going to be an uphill battle – even for a site like eBay, with all the resources in the world to push its messaging.
More than this, though, it begs not only the question of whether eBay can make an entry into the high-end sneaker market but also of how we should view that insurgence.
For one thing, does the market really need a new volume-based competitor to further encourage big-ticket bot purchasing? For another, do dedicated platforms – sites or apps that have built their reputation, more or less from the ground up, off the back of genuine expertise and a real-life passion for sneakers – really deserve to be edged out by businesses so large that they can afford to make much lower margins on their sales?
It’s a more complex question, for sure: these aren’t exactly mom and pop operations we’re talking about when there’s Kering-level money involved – it’s more like Amazon vs Borders than Amazon vs your local indie bookstore. But the answer is still probably no.
And it’s with all of this in mind that the news this week of eBay’s acquiring Sneaker Con ought not to come as much of a surprise – but also why it might well raise a few eyebrows. As touched upon, the relationship between the marketplace and the authentication service is not a new one: eBay has been using Sneaker Con to authenticate sneakers sold for over $100 USD now for over a year – during which time 1.55 million pairs of sneakers have gone through the certification process.
The acquisition, however, marks a clear turning point: evidently, eBay has judged that high-end sneaker resale will continue to grow on its platform and become a major part of the brand’s offering and, in this sense, it makes a lot of sense to start bringing costly third-party processes in house. In a business sense, it isn’t much of a gamble at all. But it is, nonetheless, a flex: a statement that eBay, no longer content with ephemeral status in terms of sneaker resale, is making a major play for the marketplace with its eyes trained firmly on the top prize.
One thing is certainly clear from all of this: the sneaker resale marketplace is flourishing. But, in relative terms, it’s also still very much in its infancy – only one level up from grassroots. It’s clear why a company like eBay sees potential, but less obvious how the presence of such a behemoth could disrupt that industry at such a crucial point in time.