MANILA, MARCH 3, 2008 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - The local online marketplace is expanding rapidly, according to leading online shopping site eBay.ph.

With 21 million Internet users in the Philippines, e-commerce is expected to grow 21 percent per year between 2008 and 2010, according to figures from market researcher IDC. This growth augurs well for shopping sites like eBay in the Philippines. As it is now, the site sells a watch every 15 minutes, at least three cellphones every hour and 158 toys every day.

Since eBay’s Philippine site was revamped last November to give Filipino users a better online buying and selling experience, over 36,000 new users have registered online. Ebay.ph itself is one of the most visited websites locally, with 1.6 million unique visitors per month, with each visitor spending an average of 23 minutes and viewing at least 18 pages per visit.

“Filipino users are among the most active and passionate in the eBay community worldwide,” observes Dan Neary, vice president of eBay Inc. “It is a very important market for us.”

Does this mean that the Filipino shopper has embraced the online platform for buying and trading goods?

Neary discloses that the eBay operations in the country are extremely profitable, although he did not disclose any sales figures. “The huge advantage of this market is that it is an English-speaking market,” Neary says. “The Philippine market can leverage on that and thus it is very well-poised to grow even further and there are a lot of opportunities here.”

According to a June 2006 survey conducted by ACNielsen International Research, there are over 3,000 local traders selling full-time on eBay.ph Another 6,671 sell online on eBay.ph to supplement their income. “That was in 2006; there could be so much more now,” says Eunice Lim, PR manager of eBay Inc.

Among the items that Filipino buyers prefer to purchase online are apparel, especially branded clothes; consumer electronic goods like cellphones and gadgets, and auto parts. “There is also a preference for products that are not sold or hard to find locally,” Lim says.

It’s still cash on delivery

It is interesting to note that in this robust and fast-growing online marketplace, the preferred mode of payment is still COD (cash on delivery). Local buyers bid for an item online and meet with the seller for the actual exchange of goods and cash.

Neary says this is not necessarily unique to the Philippines as it is the norm in most emerging markets. But as the market matures, other payment schemes are slowly adopted. There are many ways, he says, to pay for purchases online such as bank transfers, mobile payments through Gcash or Smart Money, credit card or PayPal, a global online payment system which is said to be the most preferred payment service on the Web in the US after Visa.

eBay itself is strongly advocating the use of PayPal for secure online transactions. PayPal can be used in different shopping sites, not just eBay, and one of its strongest advantages is that it doesn’t expose one’s credit card number when paying for purchases online, which is the usual fear of most potential online shoppers or those still mulling the possibilities of online trading.

Neary, however, emphasizes that one of eBay’s strongest advantages as an online global marketplace is its strong anti-fraud policy. It has over 2,000 employees dedicated to cross-border policing, settling online disputes and keeping the online trading environment safe. This team also liaises with different governments, law enforcement units and regulatory bodies to keep transactions aboveboard and actively supports moves to combat cybercrimes, including identity theft, phishing, and spoofing.

On the site itself, eBay has instituted a feedback mechanism wherein buyers and sellers are rated according to their performance and reliability.

eBay puts a high premium on trust and reliability, says Neary. And both buyers and sellers strive to achieve a high feedback rating because it is good for their business. The site also provides a safety net for buyers for purchases that are paid but not delivered, for having bought a product that is not as described on-site and other fraudulent transactions. Under the eBay buyer protection program, it reimburses buyers for fraudulent purchases up to P11,000.

Online fraud, however, is very negligible on eBay, according to Neary. “It is about 1/100th of one percent of all transactions,” he says.

This positive environment for buyers and traders has allowed the eBay marketplace to prosper globally in the last 12 years since its inception in 1995. It currently has a presence in 39 markets and has approximately 276 million registered users worldwide.

Gross merchandize volume (GMV), or the total value of all successfully closed items on eBay’s trading platform, reached $16.2 billion in the last quarter of 2007, according to public figures. Total GMV for 2007 is $59 billion.

Million-dollar purchases

A marketplace this big has its own quirks. Would anyone believe, for example, that the most expensive item sold online globally on eBay is a $4.9-million private business jet? Or that a jar bought for $3 at a flea market was sold on-site for $44,000?

But if you have 276 million users, expect the unexpected, such as a jar of air that came in contact with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt sold for $15,000 or a man getting a marriage offer from a buyer after he sold his ex-wife’s wedding gown for $3,800.

Such is the power of the marketplace, says Neary. And these unusual purchases should not come as a surprise since one of the founders of eBay sold his first item on the Web to test if the technology was working for a mere $14. The product? A broken laser pointer. Today, the largest item ever sold on eBay was a submarine in New England.

In the Philippines, the first eBay user registered on the global site in September 1996. In 2004, the company officially launched eBay.ph to serve the local online trading community. Who knows if someday you, too, can buy a private jet for a few thousand pesos. As the saying goes, “somebody’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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