Four trends that drive eBay’s M&A strategy

Fredrik Ahlberg, head of expansion at eBay, reveals there are four current trends in commerce that underpin the online shopping giant's mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategy. These are: mobile, local, social and digital.

Ahlberg, whose role includes managing organic expansion, primarily into Eastern Europe, as well as co-ordination and leadership of all M&A activity across Europe, says that the company’s current focus is on growth in mobile commerce.

In pursuing growth, he points to the fact that 10 per cent of all items purchased on the online marketplace, which counts 97 million active users, are bought through a mobile device, namely via a smartphone. He says the company predicts that will increase exponentially by the end of the decade.

‘If we look forward, at eBay we see the boundaries very much blurring between what has been called e-commerce and off-line – that is largely driven by smartphone and mobility devices,’ he explains in his keynote speech at the European Tech Tour’s Web & Mobility Summit in London this week.

‘We think there will be more change in the next three to five years within the world of commerce than we have seen in the past 10 years. Many off-line, the bricks and mortar companies, are realising this quickly.’

Ahlberg says eBay research has found that the web influences 60 per cent of purchases made in an off-line store through consumers researching, reviewing and/or comparing prices before going shopping. He says there are four trends that are driving consumer behaviour and these are mobile, local, social and digital.

Ahlberg remarks that the explosion in the popularity of mobile devices, specifically smartphones and tablets, and their ability to enable users to be connected to the internet at all times, means retailers have to meet demand in ways they have not historically.

In terms of the trend of local, more people than ever are using the internet to search for items that are close to them locally. He says the trend has come about as more consumers attempt to seek out items that are both close by and in the right place.

‘What about social? Commerce is inherently a social activity,’ he explains. ‘You used to go in the shop with your friends, put on a sweater and they tell you whether they like it or not. Today, you go alone, put on a sweater, take a photo and send it to your friends to find out whether it is a good buy or a bad buy.’

He continues that the ever-increasing advance in digital technology is also having a big impact on commerce, particularly in the way consumers make payments.

‘For ebay, our business strategy in M&A is of course aligned completely to this, the four trends, and we are responding to these trends,’ Ahlberg says. ‘eBay is much more than just eBay, the marketplace, which is perhaps the brand most people are familiar with. We are about enabling commerce as a corporation … so that is why these trends are shaping all parts of our business.

He continues, ‘To keep up with the pace of innovation, because it is brutally fast, we have to be able to accelerate and continue to be very active in the M&A space.’

In explaining the M&A strategy, he highlights three acquisitions: shopping engine Milo, completed last December, which fits into the local trend: Israeli social e-commerce platform Gift Projects, completed in September this year, which fits the social trend; and, barcode scanning app for iPhone Red Laser, completed in June last year, which fits the mobile trend.

Ahlberg explains that eBay’s acquisition strategy is about ‘bringing people, technology and technological know-how, and adding geographical reach’ to the company so that it can respond to the four specific trends. He adds that there is an emphasis on acquiring companies that can improve or address ‘certain end-points for buyers’.

Additionally, acquisitions will be sought in eBay’s core verticals, which include fashion, electronics, car parts and accessories, with the aim that the companies will strengthen the proposition in that specific vertical in order to achieve growth for the entire company.

Todd Cardy

Todd Cardy

Todd was Editor of between 2010 and 2011 as well as being responsible for publishing our digital and printed magazines focusing on private equity and venture capital.

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